ONTD Political



I have been traveling to East Asia (and many other parts of the world) for more than 25 years and over that time one of the things that has always struck me is how intelligent the general public in countries like Japan appear to be. It's not that there aren't dummies in East Asia, but it always seems that the average level of education and ability to think about the world intelligently and critically is impressively widespread. I've often thought about why this is the case and also why the same seems more difficult to say about the U.S. The answer, I think, can be found in a comment science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made about the U.S. while being interviewed in the 1980s: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Asimov is right on the mark, and this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such a major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.

Many Americans are aware that the U.S. does not score well on measure such as international student assessment tests when compared to other industrial countries. For example, the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) the top five societies for math were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan-- the U.S. is not in the top ten. It is better by 8th grade, where the same societies are in the top five (although the order changes) and the U.S. makes number 9. Roughly the same pattern can bee seen for science results. This doesn't seem too bad, but in a different testing organization's measure, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. does not fare quite so well, scoring 36th for math, 28th for science, and 24th for reading. With the exception of science, where Finland is ranked 5th, all of the top five countries in this measure are from East Asia.

American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan's educational system is better than the U.S.--at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school--is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.

The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history--such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists--which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.


Americans need to recognize that if the cult of ignorance continues, it will become increasingly difficult to compete politically and economically with countries that highly value intelligence and learning. Nowhere is this more problematic in the U.S. than among a growing number of elected officials who are products of that cult of ignorance and who, thus, are not equipped to compete with their international peers. Why is this a problem of national security? Because a population and its leadership need to have the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to analyze world affairs in an intelligent and sophisticated way and to elect intelligent, capable representatives. The problem is not really with our educational system; it is with our educational culture. Americans need to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: "if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be."

This article also currently appears in The Diplomat.

By John W. Traphagan. Professor of Religious Studies, University of Texas, Austin.

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Last year, when lawmakers across the country proposed 476 new restrictions on abortion and reproductive rights, few bills were more popular than bans on sex-selective abortions. The bans, on the books in eight states, make it a crime to perform an abortion for a woman who is motivated by her fetus' sex.

But debates around these bans have been lacking something: cold, hard proof that there is a "growing trend," as a failed US House bill put it, of women in the United States having abortions to select for gender. Instead, anti-abortion activists have justified these bans on the basis that there are Asian women immigrating to America—women who supposedly bring with them cultural biases against having girl children.

This week, the University of Chicago Law School released a new study that scrutinizes large sets of data for evidence of sex-selective abortions in America. Titled "Replacing Myths with Facts: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States," the paper kneecaps the racist arguments behind the bans.

The authors draw on an analysis of US birth data, numerous interviews in the field, and a broad survey of peer-reviewed social-science publications to identify and bust numerous myths used to promote sex-selective abortion bans. Notably, the study undermines one of the only pieces of empirical support proponents of these bans can point to, a 2008 paper by economists Lena Edlund and Douglas Almond. Edlund and Almond concluded that when foreign-born Chinese, Korean, and Indian women have two daughters, their third child will tend to be a son—a trend that suggests sex-selective abortions are being performed, ban proponents say. Their source is US census data that is nearly 15 years old. The University of Chicago study, using newer data from the 2007 and 2011 American Community Survey, found that when all their children are taken into account, foreign-born Chinese, Korean, and Indian parents actually have more daughters than white Americans do.
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People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study. Female-named storms have historically killed more because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

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The Next Frontier In The War Over Science

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and the scientific community at large are expressing serious alarm at a House Republican bill that they argue would dramatically undermine way research is conducted in America.

Titled the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014," the bill would put a variety of new restrictions on how funds are doled out by the National Science Foundation. The goal, per its Republican supporters on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, would be to weed out projects whose cost can't be justified or whose sociological purpose is not apparent.

For Democrats and advocates, however, the FIRST Act represents a dangerous injection of politics into science and a direct assault on the much-cherished peer-review process by which grants are awarded.


"We have a system of peer-review science that has served as a model for not only research in this country but in others," said Bill Andresen, the associate vice president of Federal Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. "The question is, does Congress really think it has the better ability to determine the scientific merit of grant applications or should it be left up to the scientists and their peers?"

In recent weeks, the Obama administration and science agencies have -- in less-than-subtle terms -- offered up similar criticisms of the FIRST Act. At an American Association for the Advancement of Science forum on Thursday, presidential science adviser John Holdren said he was "concerned with a number of aspects" of the bill.

"It appears aimed at narrowing the focus of NSF-funded research to domains that are applied to various national interests other than simply advancing the progress of science," Holdren said.

Meanwhile, in a show of protest that several officials in the science advocacy community could not recall having witnessed before, the National Science Board released a statement in late April criticizing the bill. As the oversight body to the National Science Foundation, the NSB traditionally stays out of legislative fights. So when it warned that the FIRST Act could "significantly impede NSF's flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas," advocates said they were surprised and pleased.

"The fact that the NSB commented on legislation, I don’t know if it is unprecedented but it is at least extremely unusual," said Barry Toiv, a top official at the Association of American Universities. "And we think that speaks to the really serious problems posed by the legislation."

And yet, for all the concerns with the FIRST Act, it seems unlikely that the bill"s main author will incorporate additional changes. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House science committee, decided early on that he would take a different approach to re-authorizing science research funding. Instead of passing an updated version of a 2010 bill that funded four agencies under the committee"s purview, he chose to split the bill in two and offered two years of funding, as opposed to four years. From that decision came the FIRST Act.Collapse )

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Measles outbreak worries health officials as hundreds of cases are reported across U.S.

Authorities say 129 cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in California and New York City.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS / Published: Friday, April 25, 2014, 2:49 PM / Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014, 2:49 PM

NEW YORK -- Health officials are worried about recent U.S. measles outbreaks that so far have caused more illnesses than at the same point of any year since 1996.

Authorities say 129 cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in California and New York City. Most were triggered by travelers who caught the virus abroad and spread it in the United States among unvaccinated people. Many of the travelers had been to the Philippines, where a recent measles epidemic has caused at least 20,000 illnesses.

The U.S. numbers remain relatively tiny, but officials are worried to see case counts growing.

Since 2000, the highly contagious disease has been considered eliminated in the United States, aside from occasional small outbreaks sparked by overseas travelers. For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year.

But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.

"This increase in cases may be a `new normal,' unfortunately," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Contributing to the problem: Decades of measles vaccination campaigns have been so successful that many doctors have never seen a case, don't realize how contagious it is, and may not take necessary steps to stop it from spreading.Read more...Collapse )

Source thinks it's high time governments stopped catering to the anti-vaxxers and allowing children to forgo vaccination due to "philosophical reasons." Vaccination is based on SCIENCE. "Philosophical reasons" do NOT disprove science, nor should they be used as an excuse for ignoring it.

According to this, "Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow exemptions for religious reasons. The 19 states that allow exemptions for philosophical reasons are Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin." If I lived in one of those states, I'd be lobbying my lawmakers to get rid of those exemptions.
Why are geocentrists trying to undo centuries worth of accepted science? (Hint: The Jews)

Most people probably assume the scientific debate over the Earth’s place in the universe has been settled for centuries, but a small group of conspiracy theorists have been quietly pushing the idea that Galileo was wrong.

The Raw Story brought them blinking into the light earlier this week with a report on their plans to release “The Principle,” a film narrated by “Star Trek: Voyager” actress Kate Mulgrew and featuring interviews with several prominent scientists, that questioned the Copernican principle placing the sun at the center of the universe.

Mulgrew and scientist Lawrence Krauss both reacted to the controversy by claiming they’d been duped by the geocentrists — and two of their ideological opponents say the group intends to dupe the public.

The film’s producers deny it promotes geocentrism but instead focuses only on the Copernican principle that lends the movie its name.

“The difference between geocentrism and denying the Copernican principle is not subtle,” said physicist Alec MacAndrew. “In the former case, the claim is that the Earth is stationary at the center of the universe. In the latter case the claim is much more vague – that the Earth is somehow in a privileged or unusual position.”

While he called the geocentric view “utter bunkum,” MacAndrew said the Copernican principle offered “a nice cosmological and philosophical question.”
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The Columbian Mammoth gets caught in the crossfire of the culture wars

The Columbian Mammoth is about to become an official state symbol of South Carolina, but its path to the limelight was long and fraught with controversy. Let’s see if you can guess why. Here's the text of the bill that made it official:

Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the 'Columbian Mammoth', which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.

This is actually the watered-down version of the bill; one version, proposed earlier, made even more explicit references to the role of a divine creator in the mammoth's history.


This all started when an 8-year-old suggested that the Columbian mammoth become South Carolina’s state fossil. Olivia McConnell had some good reasoning behind her suggestion: Mammoth teeth found in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 were the first vertebrate fossils identified in North America.Collapse )

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Aaron Miller, a Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota, said a big reason he's running is to end classroom instruction on evolution, according to the Mankato Free Press.

Miller, a hospital account manager and Iraq War veteran, said during the congressional district's Republican Party convention in Albert Lea on Saturday that Minnesota needs more religious freedom. He cited an incident in which his daughter was forced to learn evolution in school.

According to the Mankato Free Press:

"He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson."

Miller first mentioned his daughter’s evolution lesson at the Blue Earth County convention in March, according to the Mankato Free Press.

"We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington, D.C.," Miller, who won the Republican endorsement for Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District on Saturday, said during his speech.

Despite Miller’s attacks on Washington's influence on education, Minnesota's academic standards in science are set by the state Department of Education.

Former state Rep. Allen Quist (R), who said he believes dinosaurs coexisted with man, has endorsed Miller’s campaign against four-term state Rep. Tim Walz (D).

By Shadee Ashtari. Posted: 04/07/2014 8:30 pm EDT. Updated: 04/07/2014 8:59 pm EDT.

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The Solar System just got a lot more far-flung. Astronomers have discovered a probable dwarf planet that orbits the Sun far beyond Pluto, in the most distant trajectory known.

Together with Sedna, a similar extreme object discovered a decade ago, the find is reshaping ideas about how the Solar System came to be. “It goes to show that there’s something we don’t know about our Solar System, and it’s something important,” says co-discoverer Chad Trujillo, an astronomer at Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii. “We’re starting to get a taste of what’s out beyond what we consider the edge.”

Trujillo and Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, report the finding today in Nature.

“This is a great discovery,” says Michael Brown, a planetary astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “We’ve been searching for more objects like Sedna for more than 10 years now.” Finding another one like it reduces the chances that Sedna is a fluke, he says. But astronomers now have to come up with ideas to explain how these objects remain tightly gravitationally bound to the Sun when they orbit so far away.

The newfound object's official name is 2012 VP113, but the discovery team calls it VP for short, or just 'Biden' — after US Vice-President Joe Biden.
In several years time, after observations have pinned down its orbit, the scientists will submit a name for consideration by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization in charge of celestial nomenclature.
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source: Nature has diagrams explaining its movements better


Creationist groups have made yet another complaint about Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

Since the show debuted on FOX this month, creationists have not kept quiet about the science documentary series. What's the problem now?

While some have shunned the reboot of Carl Sagan's 1980 PBS series altogether, other creationists now have made a request: equal airtime.

Appearing on "The Janet Mefferd Show" on Thursday, Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis voiced his complaints about "Cosmos" and how the 13-episode series has described scientific theories, such as evolution, but has failed to shed light on dissenting creationist viewpoints. He said:

"I was struck in the first episode where [Tyson] talked about science and how, you know, all ideas are discussed, you know, everything is up for discussion –- it's all on the table -- and I thought to myself, 'No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem.'"

Tyson recently addressed providing balance when it comes to discussing science. In an interview with CNN, the astronomer criticized the media for giving "equal time" to those who oppose widely accepted scientific theories.

"I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn't really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced," Tyson said, adding, "you don't talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let's give equal time to the flat-earthers."

"Cosmos," broadcast by FOX and National Geographic, covers a broad range of content from Earth's place in the universe to the origin of life. However, the documentary series' focus on Darwin's theory of evolution has stirred the most controversy.

An Oklahoma TV station faced backlash shortly after the first episode aired when a YouTube user posted a video of the FOX affiliate's abrupt transition from "Cosmos" to a news promo, cutting out a part of the show when Tyson mentions evolution. While some speculated that the placement of the promo was intentional, TV station KOKH explained in a tweet that the interruption was accidental.

Tyson was not available for comment.

Posted: 03/22/2014 12:26 pm EDT. Updated: 03/22/2014 12:59 pm EDT.

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