In defense of Richard Dawkins: Elaine Ecklund and team write a pointless, Templeton-funded paper saying that Dawkins “misrepresents science”

As you can see from the many posts I’ve written about Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund, she’s made a career out of showing that scientists are far more religious—or friendly to religion—than commonly assumed. But her methodology is often suspect, so that her data are cooked or twisted to meet her agenda: to show comity between science and faith. I hardly need to mention that behind this perverse and misguided agenda stands the swollen coffers of the Templeton organization, which has funded Ecklund’s “research” for years.

And now we have the most bizarre publication of all from the Ecklund/Templeton Enterprise, a paper consisting solely of statements by scientists who, by and large, don’t like the way Richard Dawkins popularizes science. It’s just a hit job on Dawkins, and the bizarre thing is that it’s a byproduct of a survey of scientists not on Dawkins himself, but on their religiosity and attitude toward science and religion. Ecklund’s team took the scientists who mentioned Dawkins, and showed that most of them didn’t like his style. From that she managed to squeeze out an entire publication! She and her coauthors conclude that the opinion of UK scientists is that Dawkins “misrepresents science” and that British scientists “reject his approach to public engagement”.

The hit job is in a paper in Public Understanding of Science by David Johnson, Elaine Ecklund and two other authors (reference and abstract below; paper behind a paywall but judicious inquiry can yield you a pdf). The summary is in a publicity blurb at Rice University, and the study is also summarized by a piece in The Independent. I’ll look at the original paper (ask and ye shall receive).

As part of a study of “the social context of science” in Italy, India, France, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the UK and the US, Johnson et al. interviewed 609 biologists and physicists, 137 of them in the UK. Of these, 48 mentioned Richard Dawkins, 35 without prompting and another 13 when asked about “influences on their perception of the science-faith interface.” (23 scientists outside the UK also mentioned him but “had relatively little to say about him”, so the conclusions are limited to UK scientists).

The Big Result: of the 48 scientists who brought up Dawkins, 10 were favorable to his science popularization and his view of the incompatibility of science and religion.

BUT 38 of them (80%) had bad stuff to say about Richard as a “celebrity scientist”. These critics were both religious (15) and nonreligious (23).  When you read their comments, though, most of them seem ticked off by Richard’s comments on religion, his “stridency”, and his atheist “fundamentalism”.  Here are all the quotes given in the paper by Dawkins’s detractors (each is a separate comment):

Some people like Richard Dawkins … He’s a fundamental atheist. He feels compelled to take the evidence way beyond that which other scientists would regard as possible … I want [students] to develop [science] in their own lives. And I think it’s necessary to understand what science does address directly.

You can understand someone like Richard Dawkins being particularly hacked off by it and retaliating, but … people on both sides … [are] overly dogmatic … [and go] beyond perhaps what the state of the agenda is. The agenda of the scientist is to ask how, but it’s not because I want to prove that God doesn’t exist.

He’s much too strong about the way he denies religion … As a scientist you’ve got to be very open, and I’m open to people’s belief in religion … I don’t think we’re in a position to deny anything unless it’s something which is within the scope of science to deny … I think as a scientist you should be open to it … It doesn’t end up encroaching for me because I think there’s quite a space between the two.

I mean I haven’t read any of his recent books … The impression I get from the newspaper reports … I just kind of feel that … he’s kind of trying to be sort of a perfect, rational person somewhere but you know he’s … kind of portraying that that’s how scientists kind of think, that’s what scientists say and so on and that kind of does … create the wrong impression.

Well, he has gone on a crusade, basically … I think that it’s an easy target, and I think that he’s rather insensitive and hectoring … [A]lthough there is a lot of truth behind what he says … he does it in a way that I think is deliberately designed to alienate religious people.

He picked quite an easy target I would say … If you say they have these extreme atheists and extreme radical religious persons, when they meet they will not be able to talk, they won’t be able to understand … But if you talk beliefs to people which are next to each other, probably they have more in common there … [T]hey will be able to talk even though they have slightly different beliefs.

I think you have to be very careful about stripping away people’s beliefs without offering anything in return…If I talked to people, I talk to them [about] how I view things and how I understand things and I will ask questions of them…But just sort of shouting at people, “You’re wrong and stupid” is not very productive.

If you’re talking to somebody who is indoctrinated and has a hundred percent belief in their belief system, then you’re getting absolutely nowhere by saying [God doesn’t exist] … [To] break them down, by far the easiest way is to actually study what their faith is.

There are other snippets as well, for example someone calling Dawkins “Mr. Anti-God Europe” and others calling him “extremely arrogant” and “overly aggressive.”

Note that in none of these quotes does someone say that Dawkins “misrepresents science”—one of the major conclusions of the study that appears in the abstract and conclusion. Rather, the common theme of the comments is that Dawkins is too strident in denying religion, is on a crusade, is attacking peoples’ beliefs without replacing them, and is ineffective in dispelling religious belief.  As is typical of Ecklund’s approach, she simply distorts what she finds in the service of her agenda (and that of Templeton). Given the data, the center does not hold.

Again, here’s the abstract, which is not qualified:

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-9-21-09-am

The “misrepresentation of science” trope is repeated throughout this paper, but is not at all supported by the quotes themselves.  Indeed, where are the quotes showing how Dawkins distorts evolutionary biology—his primary scientific subject? People could have said that his gene-centered approach misrepresents the opinion of evolutionary geneticists (it doesn’t), but nobody said anything close to that. No, it’s all about religion. You could, I suppose, say that Dawkins misrepresents science by saying that it’s in opposition to religion, but you don’t find that, either. Instead, you find comments about his style, his stridency, etc. Where, oh where, is the “misrepresentation of science?” Nowhere. It’s in Ecklund’s mind and agenda.

The only comments that come close to a “misrepresentation of science” are these. First:

He’s much too strong about the way he denies religion … As a scientist you’ve got to be very open, and I’m open to people’s belief in religion … I don’t think we’re in a position to deny anything unless it’s something which is within the scope of science to deny … I think as a scientist you should be open to it … It doesn’t end up encroaching for me because I think there’s quite a space between the two.

But that’s bizarre. Should we be open to the possibility of Santa Claus or fairies? And, in fact, Dawkins doesn’t absolutely deny the existence of God: he says that, based on the absence of evidence when there should be evidence, he puts himself as either a 6 or a 6.9 on the 7-point “spectrum of theistic probability,” where 0 represents a strong theist (“I know there is a God”) and 7 represents a strong atheist (“I know there is no God”). So his position is that he finds very little evidence for God, but leaves open the possibility. That is not complete denial of God, and of course not a “denial of religion”—whatever that means.

and this:

You can understand someone like Richard Dawkins being particularly hacked off by it and retaliating, but … people on both sides … [are] overly dogmatic … [and go] beyond perhaps what the state of the agenda is. The agenda of the scientist is to ask how, but it’s not because I want to prove that God doesn’t exist.

That’s a bit confusing, yet Johnson et al say that this quote instantiates “the public impression that scientists practice organized dogmatism.”

Johnson et al.’s conclusions are also suspect for several reasons:

  1. The authors don’t consider the obvious: that those UK scientists who disliked Dawkins were more likely to bring up his name unprompted.
  2. Religious scientists despise Dawkins for having written The God Delusion, and so would be likely to denigrate him.
  3. As with Carl Sagan, many scientists are jealous of Dawkins’s popular success, and so would have a motivation to criticize him besides his supposed misrepresentation of science.
  4. Most scientists don’t like criticism of religion because it “rocks the boat”—even if they themselves are atheists. I’ve experienced this with Faith Versus Fact, which accrued many of the same criticisms although nobody I know of has said that I’ve “misrepresented science”.
  5. Johnson et al. ignore the many laypeople who have been converted to both evolution AND atheism by Dawkins’s efforts. You can see examples of those in the old “Converts Corner” website that was once part of the Dawkins Foundation site. Note that there are 159 pages of testimony on this site! We see that many people have been convinced by Dawkins’ messages about both religion and evolution, and, as I often say in my talks, there’s a salubrious synergy between these areas, so that people who get converted to accepting evolution often give up their faith, and those who lose their faith often subsequently accept evolution. In contrast, there is no person I’ve ever seen who has said, “You know, I’d accept evolution if only Dawkins stopped banging on about atheism.”

As senior author of this paper and of many other papers on science and religion, Elaine Ecklund has proven herself an execrable scholar, constantly distorting her findings in the service of her agenda, which just happens to be one that attracts Templeton money like dung attracts scarabid beetles. This “paper” is not scholarship, but a simple hit piece on Dawkins, and the conclusions—that British scientists think Dawkins misrepresents science—are worthless in view of the paper’s methods. It may well be that most British scientists don’t like Dawkins, or think he’s too hard on religion, but that isn’t shown in the paper either, for this is not a random sample of scientists. It’s a summary of what people said who brought up Dawkins without asking. Here’s one more distorting quote from the paper (my emphasis), with a next-to-last sentence that’s nothing other than a gratuitous slur:

To be clear, none of the scientists we interviewed questioned Dawkins’ identity or integrity as a scientist. The critique is aimed at his representation of science to the public. What makes this critique so ironic is the fact that Dawkins held a pre-eminent endowed chair in public understanding of science at Oxford from 1995 until 2008. It is also noteworthy that many of his critics are, like Dawkins, atheists.

What are her (and possibly her team’s) motivations and conclusions? To show that Dawkins is disturbing the Force Field of comity between science and religion. Here are two quotes from Johnson et al.:

To be sure, diverse publics are intelligent enough to make their own judgments about science and scientists, but for those who are interested in a more nuanced perspective than can be offered by specific celebrity scientists, dialogue and social exchange between scientists and non-scientist publics could be a valuable mechanism for change. Implicit in these narratives of understanding the public and foster- ing dialogue is a view that even in a socially contentious debate, scientists can promote public understanding of science by focusing on areas where scientists and skeptical groups can agree.

(Always run for the hills when you hear the word “more nuanced” in a discussion of science and religion. They’ll always be uttered by the religionists!)

Although the empirical context is scientists’ perceptions of Dawkins, Dawkins is simply an analytic case through which the role of the celebrity scientist in socially contentious debates can be analyzed. This study is important because it is the first of its kind to empirically assess whether scientists perceive celebrity scientists as ideal representatives of science. The study of Dawkins’ role in debates about the relationship between science and religion in the United Kingdom, his home nation, is an interesting case as well; while he argues that there is an intrinsic conflict between science and religion, many scientists—even most nonreligious scientists—do not perceive a conflict between being religious and being a scientist in the abstract sense (Ecklund, 2010; Ecklund et al., 2016; Ecklund and Park, 2009). Analyzing how scientists perceive Dawkins thus represents an important case from which recommendations can be made for improving dialogue in debates related to conflict between science and social values.

There’s no mystery about what’s going on here. Ecklund’s agenda is not a secret: her constant theme, reinforced by collecting data and then twisting it in any way she can to support her agenda (and get her Templeton grant renewed), is that science and religion are compatible, and that scientists are far more spiritual and religious than most people think. Just search for her name on this site and you’ll find many critiques of the work of her and her colleagues. I find the whole enterprise reprehensible: a caricature of what sociology should be. But of course, follow the money, in this case in the acknowledgments of the paper:

Data collection for this study was funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation; Elaine Howard Ecklund, PI; and Kirstin R.W. Matthews and Steven W. Lewis, Co-PIs (grant no. 0033/AB14).

richard-dawkins-devil

Dawkins, as seen by Ecklund

_________

Johnson, D. R., E. H. Ecklund, D. Di, and R. W. Matthews. 2016. Responding to Richard: Celebrity and (mis)representation of science. Public Understanding of Science, early publication. DOI: 10.1177/0963662516673501.

98 Comments

  1. Posted November 18, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Dawkins has them rattled! They can’t deal with his arguments, so they attack the man.

    Please keep it up Richard!

    • GBJames
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I have a new title for the paper: Richard Dawkins has an inappropriate hair style for a scientist.

      That’s about the level of this rubbish.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Very good posting. Not that we needed confirmation of the pathetic nature of Templeton and it’s dogma but Ecklund just makes the whole thing seem like something you need to wash off when you are done. Nothing poisons reason and honest thought like religion.

  3. darrelle
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    This isn’t a scientific study, it’s a propaganda piece. And it is truly a nasty piece of work. That the authors would be a party to it does not reflect well on their character for, surely, they are not ignorant enough to actually believe that this is a valid study?

  4. jaxkayaker
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    How did a series of anecdotes become publishable data?

    • busterggi
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      With god all things (except intellectual honesty) are [possible.

    • ploubere
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      That is the most valid criticism of her work. It should never have gotten to the publication stage. It is neither scientific nor scholarly.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      How did a series of anecdotes become publishable data?

      Through the transubstantiative effect of the Templeton Dollar.
      I feel the need … the need to make some unleavened bread mix and some moulds shaped for a parody of a dollar coin – Templeton dollar variety. No, maybe not unleavened bread mix. Cookie dough?
      It would almost be worth doing to distribute the “Templeton Dollar” in a more … palatable … form at suitable venues.

  5. Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    As you seemed to be working toward, the comments Johnson et al will take as misrepresenting science are these, I suspect:

    “He feels compelled to take the evidence way beyond that which other scientists would regard as possible … And I think it’s necessary to understand what science does address directly.”

    “The agenda of the scientist is to ask how, but it’s not because I want to prove that God doesn’t exist.”

    “I don’t think we’re in a position to deny anything unless it’s something which is within the scope of science to deny”

    It’s the old overlapping magisteria thing – science can go so far but no further. Dawkins, so they think, misrepresents how far science can go.

    In any case, this is a paper for which the conclusion was written first, and that makes it the very opposite of scientific. It’s ironic that a paper which calls for improving dialogue is nothing more than a hit piece itself, and an attempt to sideline an important voice in the science and religion debate and, by extension, anyone else who dares to gainsay the opinion of Templeton.

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      And Rice University Sociology Department is where Dr. Craig Considine works, a man who seems to have been made up by Nick Cohen.

  6. Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Not only has Dawkins misrepresented evolutionary biology, he also misrepresented the God of the Old Testament when he said Jesus’ Dad was “… arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” No, wait… er…

    • phoffman56
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Missed the word “fiction” at first, so I reacted by wondering why I’d not earlier realized that Donald Drumpf was Jesus’ dad.

  7. dabertini
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    A complete misrepresentation of the man. I by pity those who have their ears covered and their eyes shut by religion.

  8. Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    To borrow what Holden from the Catcher in the Rye says about his brother D.B., Elaine Ecklund has sold herself like a prostitute.

  9. Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    So did anyone get around to criticising the actual science supposedly ‘misrepresented’ in his books?

    Like a list of errors of the kind you recently made of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book on genes or Tom Wolfe’s book on language?

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      No. The paper has NO comments about any tangible misrepresentations of science by Dawkins. None. I have a pdf and if anyone asks they can see for themselves.

      • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        So essentially the paper is just attacking his tone.

        I wonder how much they cherry-picked the criticisms. Presumably the interviews were much longer than the sections they quoted.

        • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          The incorporated a protocol-level confirmation bias routine. This kind of “paper” should be counted as a subtraction from someone’s publishing record, with a 5X weighting factor applied to it.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

            The incorporated a protocol-level confirmation bias routine.

            Only one? I counted at least two. (One in the selection of people to interview, than in the selection of quotes from those interviews.)
            P>Any advance on two layers of confirmation bias?

      • Dominic
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Matt & Di Di Matthews…
        https://www.facebook.com/kingjesusyouthny/

        Corresponding author:
        David R. Johnson, College of Education, University of Nevada, Reno, 1664 N Virginia St, Reno, NV 89557, USA.
        Email: drj@unr.edu

        Perhaps we should ask him – nicely…

        • Dominic
          Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          That cannot be the right Matthews, surely…

        • Dominic
          Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Ah – I see what I did wrong…
          “Di Di is a doctoral candidate in the Sociology Department at Rice University. Her research interests include gender,immigration, religion, and science ethics, and her work appears in journals such as Science and
          Engineering Ethics and Journal of Religion & Society.”

          You know these folk regard ‘us’ as the atheist mafia – I have been told that…

          • darrelle
            Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

            We need an old school Italian restaurant to hang out at. Any suggestions?

      • Kevin
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        She sent me a copy. I could not find anything in it that suggested scientists thought Dawkin’s did or said misrepresented science. Publicity for the paper was worse than the paper.

      • steve
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        And quoting Dr Coyne:

        “(Always run for the hills when you hear the word “more nuanced” in a discussion of science and religion. They’ll always be uttered by the religionists!)”

        Also right in their as cause for running even faster as you accelerate up the hill, is any instance of the use of “narrative” as used in the very next sentence: “Implicit in these narratives of understanding the public…..”

  10. loren russell
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Well, the better analogy is that “Templeton money attracts Ecklund and her ilk like dung attracts scarabaeids.”

    But that’s unfair both to the scarabaeids and the dung since both are providing ecological services.

  11. John Harshman
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    How did this get through peer review?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Pay the reviewers’ expenses in Templeton Dollars. Simples!

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      This was peer-reviewed?

      Well, I guess there are peers, and then there are “peers…”

  12. Posted November 18, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    So a very unscientific paper was written in service of the claim that someone has misrepresented science. Irony meter busted.

  13. Dominic
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Long post.

    Poor RD – there are plenty of knives out to stab him. He certainly raises the ire of many educated people – I have had enough arguments with friends over him.

    This is the usual NOMA crowd wanting to peddle their nonsense. Everying is up for grabs as far as I am concerned regarding science – there is nowhere it cannot shed some light, if only we let it.

  14. eric
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Johnson et al. interviewed 609 biologists and physicists, 137 of them in the UK. Of these, 48 mentioned Richard Dawkins, 35 without prompting and another 13 when asked about “influences on their perception of the science-faith interface.” (23 scientists outside the UK also mentioned him but “had relatively little to say about him”, so the conclusions are limited to UK scientists).

    What shoddy research. If you really wanted to draw a conclusion from this, it should be that less than 10% of scientists questioned about “influences on…” brought up Dawkins. That means he’s not that influential on scientists, in this area, end of story. Analyzing only the group that brings him up is going to lead to self-selection bias problems; you really have no idea at that point whether you’re getting a representative opinion about how people think about Dawkins.

    On top of that, its just absurd and IMO practically fraudulent to throw out the 23 people who had little to say about him and then make a claim about how scientists think of Dawkins. That can’t even really be called systemic bias, because the researchers did it intentionally; its just really horrible study design. A much more accurate set of points to make would be (a) UK scientists mentioned Dawkins more frequently (about a third of the time, vs. 5% of the time for non-UK scientists), and (b) UK scientists tended to say more about him than the non-UK scientists who mentioned him. Those would be far more honest findings.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      “What shoddy research.”

      I think this (the study) is an example of what certain people call “framing.” Couldn’t agree more that it is shoddy research but it is a damn fine example of framing. But it wasn’t framed for “us.”

      • eric
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps I should’ve said “shoddy data analysis.” As with earlier examples of Ecklund’s research highlighted by Jerry, the raw data appears to be okay. I don’t, for example, see any initial reason to dispute that number of interviews or number of mentions. It’s just that the conclusions drawn by the surveyors seem not to really follow naturally from the data.

        • darrelle
          Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          I wasn’t disagreeing with you in any way. I thought you were spot on. The study just immediately reminded me of the “framing” fiasco started by Chris Mooney years ago.

          I think this “study” is actually a propaganda piece that has been elaborately framed as a scientific study. It is exactly the kind of framing that many people, Jerry being one, have warned was likely the primary goal of the Templeton Foundation.

          • Sastra
            Posted November 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

            I think you are right.

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      And to not even mention these points in their article! No caveats. No alternative hypotheses. To not even have a paragraph discussing the existence of self-selection bias is inexcusable. How did this get through peer-review?

      • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        + a large number

        An embarrassment. Both for the authors and (even more so) the journal.

        Holy crap! And I do mean crap.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Well it fits, I believe, under the rubric of social sciences. Peer review is likely the intellectual equivalent of fact-checking at Fox. Or, to borrow a phrase from a Violent Femmes album cover, The Blind Leading the Naked.

      • steve
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:56 am | Permalink

        How did the authors get through grade school. In Ontario from about grade 3 onward, students are taught about how to sample populations properly. Most (I hope) grade 7 or 8’s would see the bias in this sample and conclude it is unrepresentative of the population the authors are claiming it represents.

        There is no excuse for a researcher at this level; I therefore conclude ……… purposeful hack job, or a demoting offence.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          What is “grade 3” in years of age (approx). Not having had children, I’ve never needed to learn this decades terminology-du-jour.
          It would sort-of suggest someone 3 years into the education system, but 7 seems a bit optimistic for explicit sampling theory.

  15. John Harshman
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious. I have never heard of this journal, but that’s no surprise; there are so many. I’ve also never heard of this publisher, SAGE, and when I looked up their journals in my field, I’d never heard of any of them either.

    Are they possibly one of the burgeoning set of bogus online journal publishers, who make a living off of pub charges?

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I think I’ve heard of them, and the site http://pus.sagepub.com/ claims that they’ve been around since 1992, so it is plausible.

      Still, it doesn’t seem to be a very high quality journal, if that sort of stuff got through.

      • John Harshman
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Impact factor only 1 point something, if you find that a useful metric.

        • loren.russell
          Posted November 18, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          “pus…” — quite appropriate!

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      SAGE is legitimate, but with a heavy social science bent. Naturally, a lot of what they publish then falls well below the typical bar that is set for rigorous research in the natural sciences.

      • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        Yes; but per your comment above: They did some inexcusable things.

      • Filippo
        Posted November 18, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like another target for Alan Sokal.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          [Voice from offstage] “Not another target!”

  16. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Where are the sensible sociologists of science when you need them? (Alas, I only know of one still alive: Stephen Cole.)

  17. Nell Whiteside
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Did Ecklund et al. give the names of the scientists whom they quoted in the publication? I shouldn’t imagine that their contributions to science and its understanding are of any significance when compared with that of Richard Dawkins. He opened up a whole new world to me and many, many others. His books have been very successful – perhaps said scientists are simply jealous?

    Long may he continue his enlightening work.

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      No names are quoted in the paper, which I think is normal in this kind of survey. Anonymity bestows the ability to speak freely (though it shouldn’t on this site!)

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      My immediate reaction was that those comments read like first-year undergraduates who had been asked a leading question, not practising scientists who had actually thought about their discipline a bit. Tendentious and valueless.

  18. colnago80
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I believe I have posted this before here and elsewhere but it is very much apropos to the topic so worth repeating. Dawkins position on the existence of god was spelled out in one of his books (possibly The God Delusion)). It is his considered opinion that the existence of god is a scientific proposition. Thus far, he has seen no scientific evidence of that existence. Therefore, he has tentatively concluded that there is a high probability that god does not exist, subject of course to the possibility of new information to the contrary (all scientific propositions are tentative and subject to possible refinement, revision, or falsification)

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      That seems a good summary.

      <sarcasm.Wow. Such misrepresentation of the God hyothesis! Tut, tut. What is his standard deviation? Whataboutthe p value??</sarcasm].

  19. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    What we really want to know is how Dawkins likes his steak?

    The traditional British way is to cook the shit out of it and serve it with vegetables stewed into a mushy pulp.

    (I’m a Brit who still shivers at the memory of school meals).

    • busterggi
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes but you don’t get your pudding if you don’t eat your meat.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      All one needs to remedy that is cornbread.

    • steve
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      But then he would be Donald Trump according to Puff Ho. as per Prof. Coyne’s recent post.

  20. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    To your point #1 Jerry: Of course! If someone agrees with Richard, why would they ever bring up his name in the context?

    The paper is practicing a protocol-level confirmation bias. Good grief, do they vet these at all? What an embarrassment!

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      And why would they agree to participate?

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    When critics carp about Dawkins, they talk about their feelings, never facts. And most of them don’t seem to be familiar with his work itself, only with the caricature of his reputation promoted in certain circles.

    Aside from some ill-advised tweets, I haven’t seen anything by him that warrants this reputation for arrogance and highhanded style. Sure, the man speaks some hard truths about topics that make many people uncomfortable. But in his formal written works, and in all the videos I’ve seen of him giving lectures and speeches and interviews, he’s expressed empathy for those of sincere religious faith, and conducted himself as a well-mannered gentleman.

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Yep, if you are atheist or have anything whatsoever negative or critical to say about religion, you will be branded “strident” or “aggressive”.

      Richard has the nerve to say the truth, in public, in ways that reach millions; and they will never forgive him for it.

      • Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        You’ll be called worse, jblilie.
        On a recent MOOC on ‘Religion & Conflict’, the course Mentor Ben den Ouden, from the University of Groningen Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, labelled me ‘dishonest’.
        So I asked him to show what was dishonest in my comments. He did not reply. I complained to the team who ran the course and they claimed that it was my misunderstanding (it wasn’t).
        I asked him to apologize and retract, as he had provided no evidence. He did not in the subsequent 4 and a half weeks of the course.
        With all the hullabaloo over new atheism, you forget what a sanctimonious insulting bunch the religious can be: no moral backbone either in admitting error.

        • Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          Wow, what a ridiculous thing for de Ouden to do!

          I hope in the end it doesn’t affect your situation relative to the course.

          And: To Mr. de Ouden: Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

          • Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, one is setting the bar too high to accuse someone of being dishonest: you can show that an interlocutor is spouting untruths but that ain’t the same as lies.
            The course was saturated with moral relativism with a large dose of po-mo Aslan-like religion-has-no-effect-on-the-worldism, and I suppose in that atmosphere they lose sight of the plain meaning of words.

            • Posted November 21, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

              The fundamental scientific attitude is that truth is paramount as a value. Unfortunately, this runs into conflict with authoritarians, bigots, the desire to be ignorant (pomos), etc. (It does not follow from this that all truths are valuable, or that all truths need be uttered at all times.)

    • Filippo
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      ” . . . they talk about their feelings . . .the man speaks some hard truths about topics that make many people uncomfortable . . . .”

      “The palatability of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.”

      – RD

      • Posted November 18, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        And the repetition of a proposition is not an argument: they’ve doing it for 2,600 years (cf. the Deuteronomist historian[s]).

  22. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    It took four people to write this piece of junk? How many Templeton-funded “researchers” does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    • eric
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I assume the author list includes the major research contributors. For 600 interviews, a team of 4 people seems to me to be very reasonable.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Six. One to turn the bulb, and five to write about its numinous glow.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        The research was carried out on UK scientists. One does not screw in a lamp in the UK. They’re a bayonet fitting.
        Well most of them. There’s a lot more variation now than there used to be for domestic fittings (there always was for industrial fittings). I assume there was a good reason, but I don’t know what it was. Perhaps voltage incompatibility (screwing a 120V lamp into a 240V power supply isn’t a good idea). Which raises the question of why variation has been allowed more recently.

  23. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    On a positive note, there’s an excellent, very recent interview with Richard on the RDFSR site:

    https://richarddawkins.net/2016/11/richard-dawkins-2016-interviewed-by-robin-ince-richard-dawkins-debate/

    It’s nice to see Richard, seemingly fully recovered from his stroke.

    • davidintoronto
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Recorded in 2013, I believe. Nice interview.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      I was privileged to be present at his recent talk in the Royal Festival Hall as part of the London Literary Festival. Matt Ridley moderated a wonderful hour and a half, with RD reading from several of his books (get the new edition of The Ancestor’s Tale: it’s mind-blowing!), and answering some quite convoluted questions with aplomb and courtesy. Plus a marathon book-signing session afterwards. My son-in-law, not easily impressed by much, was knocked out. On balance, I think Richard’s OK!

  24. barn owl
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I see that comments are closed on the publicity piece from Rice University. However, Rice is my undergrad alma mater (Biology and Anthropology majors), and I’m sure I can find another venue(s) in which to express my opinions of this “scholarship.” 😉

    • Posted November 21, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Bio and anthro? You must get heck from the cultural anthropologists!

      I remember meeting some undergraduate anthropology students in one of Bunge’s philosophy of science classes. They told me at the time (1998, admittedly) that the cultural and “physical” anthropologists at McGill weren’t talking.

  25. Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    And, Jerry: Glad you are back in proper nick again! 🙂

  26. Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I just checked Amazon and Richard’s The Ancestor’s Tale is now (finally!) available for Kindle!

    I have been watching for this and pinging Amazon regularly. Just bought it.

  27. derekw
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    In contrast, there is no person I’ve ever seen who has said, “You know, I’d accept evolution if only Dawkins stopped banging on about atheism.”
    Though the Biologos folks would suggest a similar though slightly differently worded corollary ‘people have accepted evolution when shown compatible with religion’. Now the argument then boils down to whether theistic evolution = natural Darwinian evolution.

    • Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but why haven’t I ever seen one person actually WRITE what Biologos says is the case?

  28. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Richard shines a clear light on the fabricated and harmful edifice of religion, and some wavery PhDs view him in dim light because of it. He is more of a hero to me right now than ever. And he was always pretty damn heroic.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      +1

  29. rickflick
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Ecklund’s article, I assume from the above, does not provide a full explanation of Dawkins’ point of view as a counter to drawing erroneous conclusions. A bit one-sided perhaps? I wonder how serious publications condone this shallow kind of research. Is it the reputation of Rice U. as a top rated research institution perhaps?

  30. Posted November 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “Where, oh where, is the ‘misrepresentation of science’?”

    Yes, it’s not at all clear what Ecklund means by “misrepresentation” in this context. She seems to be saying that Dawkins’ views on religion shouldn’t be taken to reflect those of scientists as a whole, just as one might say that jihadists “misrepresent” the Muslim faith as a whole or evangelicals “misrepresent” Christianity as a whole.

    Dawkins is an evangelical atheist. This isn’t a slur, just a statement of fact. Evangelicalism is a fervent conviction about something marked by an emphasis on converting outsiders to one’s position. As with many believers, many atheists are content to live by their convictions without trying to convert others to their way of thinking. In this sense it would be more accurate to say that Dawkins “misrepresents” atheism than that he misrepresents science.

  31. RossR
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I was particularly surprised to see “… I just kind of feel that …” as part of an allegedly scientific argument.

  32. Rob
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    When I left religion and finally decided to learn about evolution (still not sure if it was true or not) I was not clear where to start my search. After a brief intro from other sources , I was fortunate to begin learning from Dawkins. Wow and wow. I can not imagine the ignorance I would still be in without the thorough explanations he provided. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate his forthright statements on religion.

    And of course, I’ve also followed up with WET and FvF.

  33. bluemaas
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Anyone heard of late: How is Dr Dawkins’ physical health by now ? How is he doing ?

    Blue

  34. Posted November 18, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    If Templeton Foundation wants to effectively insult Richard Dawkins, it would behoove them to ensure that their writing is at least on a par with his, and counteracts specific issues and statements.

    Richard Dawkins is among the best expositors of science in speech and writing. He has informed a great many people, such as Rob and me, through his speech and writings. Those paying attention to what Richard Dawkins has had to say vs. those paying attention to Templeton, Ecklund, et al must be on opposite ends of the numerical spectrum.

    Mr. Dawkins is an exceptionally intelligent man (who must have known what he was getting into when he opted to fight the battle of science vs. religion). I am certain a great many of us prefer to follow him vs Templeton apologists for religion. He is perfectly capable of defending himself if he so chooses, and if there are any meaningful statements to counter (if he even deigns to respond to such trash).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 18, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      “Richard Dawkins is among the best expositors of science in speech and writing.”

      Absolutely. If I was to make a shortlist of the best half-dozen non-fiction writers (for style, clarity, and the way in which they keep the reader’s interest) Richard Dawkins would be one of the first names I thought of.

      cr

  35. Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Also it’s worth noting that many atheists straw-man Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. just to make themselves seem more “moderate” in comparison and give themselves cover when they come out as nonbelievers. Notice that very few if any of the scientists’ comments listed faithfully represented Dawkins’ views (“I’m not one of these dogmatic atheists like Dawkins who thinks science can prove there’s no god”; well, shoot, nor is Dawkins!).


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