Oy gewalt: Ecklund gets even more Templeton money to show that science and faith are friends

The PR machine at Rice University in Houston has proudly announced that Elaine Ecklund—a sociologist whose life’s goal is to show two things: 1) science and religion are compatible, and 2) scientists are far more “spiritual” than everyone thinks—has just been given another huge grant from the Templeton Foundation. It’s for 1.08 million dollars.

Note that I said her life’s work is to show stuff rather than (as scientists do) test hypotheses. That’s because Ecklund has repeatedly distorted her own survey data in the service of her (and apparently Templeton’s) mission to harmonize science and religion.  To see this odious massaging, just go here, here, here, or here.

From the PR site:

“Much has been written about how science and religion relate to each other, and it will be interesting to see if the generalized media portrayal of science being in conflict with religion is really accurate,” said Dean of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale.

I can already tell you what Ecklund will find, for she operates not like a scientist but like a theologian, knowing what her conclusions will be in advance and then twisting the data to fit them. She’ll find that the “generalized media portrayal of science being in conflict with religion” is not accurate.  For if it were, all her previous papers showing no conflict would be wrong.

The PR machine grinds on:

Ecklund says ‘This grant will provide a great opportunity for us to conduct cutting-edge research about how these religious groups understand science and provide outreach and translation to individuals who might have some difficulties with some aspects of science.”

Doesn’t that already sound like she knows what the results will be? No conflict!

The renewal of the grant to Ecklund goes to show one thing: if you demonstrate what Templeton wants to hear, you get a permanent seat on their Gravy Train. This is a total waste of a million dollars, for the results are preordained.  It’s one case where there’s not very much “science” in “social science.”

But I’m sure Ecklund and Rice are very grateful for the one million dollars, which could save the lives of countless African children.

h/t: Mark

32 Comments

  1. Stan Pak
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    “But I’m sure Ecklund and Rice are very grateful for the one million dollars, which could save the lives of countless African children.”

    Well, it will certainly be used to save some children… for Jesus.

    • Posted June 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Well… for the priests…

      /@

  2. Steven in Tokyo
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    More money for worse than useless research.
    Cutting-edge? I wish she’d use it on a part of her body where the blood vessels are close to the surface. (Not that I am advocating any sort of violence. The blunt instrument that it is, it wouldn’t do any harm in any case …)

  3. Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Proof positive once again that our society is basically fragmented into three distinct classes of people: the enlightened, the clueless and the shameless – those who consciously and deliberately seek wealth and fame by mining the depths of the second class.

    I weep for this nation.

  4. Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    This kind of stuff needs to be interpreted in light of the dismal level of funding for the social sciences. Templeton is buying prestige for ideologues. Obviously, Rice LOVES having a sociologist who is actually getting BIG grants, and they don’t care from whom or for what. For the rest of us, money is extremely tight—I have to beg to get $10k for a conference, and feel lucky to get it. Nobody in sociology is getting that kind of money, in the last cycle the largest NSF sociology award was $400k. With money tight, Deans and Provosts don’t give a crap about the veracity of people’s research. In a few decades, all we will have in the social “sciences” will be right-wing ideologues like Ecklund.

  5. Sastra
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Ecklund is a master at dealing with “deepities” — those Trojan horse terms and ideas with two different interpretations. Ask a scientist if they are a “spiritual” person and watch how awe at the universe and concern for other people are then spun against there being a conflict between science and religion.

  6. darrelle
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I despair that our society rewards so many talentless hacks who make no positive contribution, and in fact are detrimental, when so many people that do make positive contributions are left to struggle. I don’t know which is worse, religious faith or faith in “the invisible hand”. It seems the only sure way to get ahead is to lie cheat and steal.

    • eric
      Posted June 6, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t call Eklund a talentless hack. AFAIK her surveys are pretty well constructed and her survey techniques use decent methodology.

      AFAIK the big complaint against her by folks like JAC and PZM is that her descriptions of her conclusions don’t match her actual conclusions. In other words, she is publicly reporting compatibility when her own data doesn’t support that conclusion. AFAIK, JAC and others are not questioning the scientific validity of her data, just what she says about it. See, for example, here for an example of PZ Myers complaining about her misinterpreting her own results.

  7. Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    See pandering works!! Why can’t we all pander and git sum of that there green?

  8. mordacious1
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    This kind of thing always reminds me of Ned Beatty’s character in “Back to School” when he says: “In Mr. Melon’s defense, it was a really big check”.

  9. Posted June 6, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    This is depressing. Think of all the recycled Ecklund dreck! Because what can you do with this stuff but recycle it. It’s nice to get a million dollars for the stunt, but this really puts Templeton in perspective. They know propaganda when they see it. Isn’t that nice for them?

  10. Posted June 6, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    She’ll find that the “generalized media portrayal of science being in conflict with religion” is not accurate.

    …well, like most media portrayals, it’s not. The degree of conflict is shown as more sensationalized than it is.

    Ecklund, however, seems to be trying to show a boolean qualitative contrary, that there is no conflict. A more quantitiative analysis shows that there does appear to be some dissonance between the ideas, making it harder for them to coexist.

    In honor of Dr. Coyne, I’ll suggest a feline-based biological analogy. She’s studying the houses of cat fanciers, finding there’s sometimes still a few mice, ignoring the disproportionate rarity of mice as the number of cats increases, and concluding there’s no conflict between cats and mice. She may also not being paying attention to the detail that such mice tend to be sheltered cages; and possibly not distinguishing between mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, and bunny rabbits in her counts. Despite this… yes, there is a conflict between cats and mice, even if not every cat will dedicate its entire existence to the destruction of every mouse it sees.

    Some of her raw data gathering may still be useful, even if her own analyses of the data are lousy. Studying the scientists who remain religious might help identify why non-scientists are unpersuaded by science — and possibly, how to more effectively persuade non-scientists.

    • Posted June 6, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Oh, to extend the analogy minutely… the media portrayal of the conflict between cats and mice is “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

    • eric
      Posted June 6, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Nice analogy. I tend to think that as long as she’s collected valid cat-mouse data, science (as opposed to Templeton) is going to get the last laugh out of this research.

      Dr. Ecklund can interpret her own data whatever way she wants, but as long as the data is valid and is available to the community, other scientists are free to use it to show the exact cat-mouse relationship she’s trying to downplay. Others have already started doing this in a superficial sense. As PZ pointed out in the link I gave above, the data that shows 17% of atheists take their kids to church at least once per year also implies that 83% don’t even bother with the social gesture of showing up at Christmas or Easter.

      • Marella
        Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

        Perhaps that 17% are the ones who had a family wedding to go to.

  11. Frank
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Two utterly depressing posts in a row. Oy vey!

    Ecklund seems to epitomize the statement by Russell: Every man [or woman!], wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day. Sceptical Essays (1928)

    • Darth Dog
      Posted June 6, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Or Upton Sinclair:
      •”It is difficult to get a man (or woman) to understand something when his (or her) salary depends upon his (or her) not understanding it.”

  12. Posted June 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I so totally agree that empirical rationalism is perfectly compatible with hopeful rationalization.

    …I can haz $1M nao?

    b&

  13. Posted June 6, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Crafty faithiests offer a sly hand to science in order to bask in its truth. Claiming quality by association. All the while struggling to maintain credibility with the help of vast sums of money. Templeton, the last bastion of magic mystery and myth.

    • Posted June 6, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately there are plenty of other mythmakers out there, but they don’t call themselves that, and are seldom recognized as such.
      And from the above post, it seems that New Age self-promotion has hit the big time.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Ecklund says ‘This grant will provide a great opportunity for us to conduct cutting-edge research about how these religious groups understand science and provide outreach and translation to individuals who might have some difficulties with some aspects of science.”

    Translation:

    Besides coddling my beneficiaries with tall tales on how religion still is a social force in science, besides offering public propaganda for religion, me and mine can do religious outreach for accomodationist theology – all in the name of “science”. My boul iz filld wit cream nao.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 6, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Forgot examples of accommodationist theology: say, Miller’s quantum woo.

  15. Leon
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s one case where there’s not very much “science” in “social science.”

    Truth be told, there’s never very much science in the “social sciences”. The old term “liberal arts” is much more descriptive. (Disclosure: I say this as someone who holds a political science degree, and found that the more into it I got, the less interested people became in facts and information–you know, those sorts of things science is supposed to be all about.)

  16. KP
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    “…countless African children *whose lives have been worsened by religion*”

    Fixed that for you.

  17. Robert Bray
    Posted June 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Any professor who writes stuff like this–’provide outreach and translation to individuals who might have some difficulties with some aspects of science’–has nothing of worth to say to the intellectual community she pretends to serve.

    • Frank
      Posted June 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      On the whole, accomodationists do not write particularly well. Part of this may be because ‘woo’ thrives on obscuring simple facts rather than stating them plainly.

      • Posted June 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        The rhetorical problem we see with this stuff is they have to lie and it’s real hard to not get caught outright or start a vicious cycle of lies upon lies.

        The response it usually to throw in a lot of ideas and terms that are pop culture/self-help based, or marketing “hooks”, to trigger warm fuzzy emotions or fear. These are the most reliable ways to deflect thought and serious consideration while getting and keeping attention.

        We just read research, in Texas the big three hooks are family, evangelical christianity and football. The common theme seems to be male dominance and competition. This would occur in ecosystems where males are deeply insecure. Apparently, this happens in warmer climates, thus the macho culture belts around the warmer latitudes.

        Yes, reproductive biology comes before culture! It appears male-male competition for mates is more fierce in warmer/more sun climates.

        • Leon
          Posted June 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          So does spicy food–I wonder if that might tie in there somewhere! (Not trying to be a smartass; I’m wondering if there might be something about the warm climate that leads to both phenomena.)

          • Tim Harris
            Posted June 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

            Try a Korean winter.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            I have been told from this cold climate with little indigenous spices and not much spice use in native foods that: warmer climates means better access to spices and more incentive to use them (hides bad food). YMMV.

      • Posted June 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        You’re exactly right about that. (See how easy it is to be clear and direct?)

        I love how Teilhard de Chardin’s hand-waving efforts to reconcile theology and evolution were critiqued by this reviewer: “In spite of all the obstacles that Teilhard perhaps wisely puts in our way, it is possible to discern a train of thought in The Phenomenon of Man” (Peter Medawar, quoted in Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea).

  18. Swimmer
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    What is with the use of Yiddish in the headline and subsequent comments? Is there some relevance to Ecklund’s work?


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