Politics Archive

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 4, Patriotism / Holidays

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today, I'm going to look at patriotism & holidays. I know they're not exactly related, but they both stir up similar emotional reactions.


Symbols of American and Texan Heritage- We call upon governmental entities to protect all symbols of our American and Texan heritage. We oppose governmental action to remove the public display of the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols. We support the Pledge Protection Act. We urge that the national motto "In God We Trust" and National Anthem be protected from legislative and judicial attack. Penalties should be established for any form of desecration of the American or Texas Flag...

Well, I've already criticized their injection of religion into politics earlier in this series, and this plank contains yet more examples. There's also another example of their wanting to do away with checks and balances, by proposing the Pledge Protection Act that would deprive all courts jurisdiction over constitutional challenges to the pledge - a law that would itself be unconstitutional and liable to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Worse than those is their disregard for the First Amendment, wanting to take away people's freedom of expression by making it illegal to desecrate flags. Granted, it upsets me personally to see people desecrate the U.S. Flag, but like I've said many times before, only totalitarian regimes try to outlaw symbolic gestures against inanimate objects.

The most hypocritical part of that plank is talking about wanting to protect American symbols 'from legislative and judicial attack', when that's exactly the reason why many of those symbols have the form they do now, and Republicans would consider it an 'attack' to restore them to their original forms. For example, E pluribus unum had always been considered the de facto motto of the U.S., up until the Red Scare and McCarthyism when 'In God We Trust' was adopted (personally, I much prefer E pluribus unum and the unity it expresses). And even though the Pledge wasn't part of that particular sentence in the plank, it offers another good example of a secular symbol that was corrupted by religion, again during the Red Scare and McCarthyism. And ironically, when 'under God' was added, it broke up the original phrase of 'one Nation indivisible'. So in both examples, you have religious sentiments messing up the original messages of unity. (And as an aside, I'll just note that the Pledge was originally written by a socialist, Francis Bellamy.)


American Identity-We favor strengthening our common American identity, which includes the contribution and assimilation of diverse racial and ethnic groups. Students shall pledge allegiance to the United States and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism. Students have the right to display patriotic items on school property.

I've said this for previous years, and I'll say it again. I never realized how creepy pledges were until I walked in on my daughter's class reciting the Texas pledge (I didn't grow up here). Hearing a pledge in a context where you're not desensitized reveals it for the propaganda method it is. It's not that I dislike my country, but forced loyalty oaths are for totalitarian governments, not the land of the free.

It's also odd to see a specific statement defending students' 'right to display patriotic items on school property'. Is there some movement afoot to ban miniature American flags on school grounds?


Resolved, that holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Columbus Day, St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Good Friday, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July as a historical holiday should remain on our governmental and public school calendars.

You may think that I'm going to rail on the religious holidays mentioned above, but I actually don't mind them so much as they become more and more secularized. I mean, I have secular Jewish friends who celebrate Christmas, and most of the symbolism that goes along with these holidays is pagan, anyway. Hell, they didn't even change the name for Easter. And how many people really care about the religious aspects of Valentine's Day, St. Patty's Day, or (unmentioned) Halloween? So what the hell, let's just go all the way and make them secular national holidays.

No, my big problem here is Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus was an absolutely horrible excuse for a human being. It's not just that he was a crackpot who lucked his way into discovering a continent (practically all educated people of the time already knew the spherical nature of the Earth and the approximate diameter - Columbus underestimated the diameter by nearly a factor of 2), but the horrible way he treated the American Indians and European settlers in his newfound colony. His actions were so cruel that other Spaniards arrested him and took him back to Europe in shackles (he received a pardon from the crown - seems the 'Good Old Boy' network was just as strong in the 1500s). I see absolutely no reason to have a holiday honoring this wretched person. (related entry - Happy Exploration Day 2015)

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So, this was a rather short entry in this series, but I still think it's important to call out some of the authoritarian streaks in the platform, what with mandatory loyalty oaths for school age children and outlawing symbolic acts against inanimate objects, and how those planks run counter to our nation's ideal of Freedom of Speech guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Continue to Part 5, Environment / Climate Change

 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 3, Politics & Government

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. The title of this entry, Politics & Government, might seem awfully broad, since, after all, a political party platform is all about politics & government. These planks are mostly about the mechanics of politics & government itself.


Pursuant to Article 1 Section 1 of the Texas Constitution, the federal government has impaired our right of local self-government. Therefore, Federally mandated legislation, which infringes upon the 10th Amendment rights of Texas, should be ignored, opposed, refused, and nullified.

They had similar language in the last platform, and it's simply illegal barring a Constitutional amendment. As I've written previously, the Supremacy Clause makes it clear that federal laws are "the supreme law of the land", and states don't get to ignore them when they don't like them. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld this position (more info - Wikipedia).

And as I've also already written, there is a system in place to challenge laws that you think are unconstitutional - the Supreme Court. States don't get to willy-nilly ignore laws they don't like.


Term Limits: We support term limits for Federal Judicial and Congressional offices and statewide offices to three terms, or twelve years maximum for any single office.

As I've written before, people with experience at a job do better than inexperienced people, and legislating is no different. Here's a good article from the Washington Post, The folly of term limits, that echoes many of my thoughts on the matter. He used California's existing term limits as an example, noting "Virtually everyone I interviewed for that piece named term limits as a contributor to California's fiscal crisis." The people in office simply hadn't had enough time to learn how to effectively deal with statewide budgets, and by the time they finally did get that experience, they only had a few years before they were forced out of office because of their term limits.

We already have a process, voting, to get rid of the elected officials we don't think are doing a good job. There are several issues giving incumbents too much of an advantage that should be addressed, but a measure that guarantees inexperienced legislators isn't the solution.


Elimination of Executive Orders- We oppose the unconstitutional use of executive orders. All orders lacking Congressional approval become null and void after four months.

Do they understand what executive orders actually are or how they work? The president is the head of the executive branch of government. In effect, he's the boss. And as the boss, he issues directions, or orders, to his subordinates on what he expects them to do. So, when the head of the Executive branch issues Orders, they get called Executive Orders. Why should the president have to seek Congressional approval for each and every one of these executive orders? Doesn't that seem like way too much micromanagement from Congress, and an attempt to give Congress too much power in our nation's checks and balances system? Granted, presidents could screw up and issue unconstitutional executive orders, but that's what the Supreme Court is for. It just seems odd to actually want for Congress to interfere so heavily in a separate branch of government.


Census- We support an actual count of United States citizens only, and oppose Census Bureau estimates and the collection of all other data.

Because more data to help make more informed decisions is bad? This really seems like the anti-intellectualism that's become a stereotype of the Republican Party, or possibly the conspiracy theory paranoia that's become another of their stereotypes.


Preservation of Republican Form of Government- We support our republican form of government as set forth in the Texas Bill of Rights. We oppose initiative and referendum. We oppose socialism in any form. We support the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress in enacting legislation that prohibits any judicial jurisdiction from allowing any substitute or parallel system of law, specifically foreign law (including Sharia Law), which is not in accordance with the United States or Texas Constitutions.

This one's just all over the place. They start off talking about a 'Republican Form of Government', which is fair enough. If you don't like straight democracy, then you wouldn't like initiatives or referendums. Personally, I tend to prefer a republic myself, since the knowledge and skills for governing are a specialty that not everyone is qualified for, as I pointed out above in reference to term limits. Or, just look at the Brexit disaster in the UK.

But then it throws an economic system into the discussion, socialism, that's not at odds at all with a democratic republic. And they say the oppose it 'in any form', which seems pretty extreme. I mean, fire departments are a form of socialism, since they used to be private in their early days and don't strictly have to be public services. Are the Republicans saying they're against public fire departments? I don't think most of them are, but that illustrates that they don't actually understand what the term, socialism, means.

Then there's paranoia over Sharia Law. I mean, sure, just about everybody is opposed to Sharia Law being implemented in the U.S., Democrat and Republican alike, but we're also opposed to kicking puppies or stealing candy from babies. It's just not something that deserves mention in a serious public policy document since it's so far outside the realm of possibility.


Judicial Restraint- We support adopting the Constitutional Restoration Act and the principle of judicial restraint, which requires judges to interpret and apply, rather than make the law. We support judges who strictly interpret the law based on its original intent. We oppose judges who assume legislative powers.

This is one of those weird rallying cries of conservatives - that somehow judges are making the law. The buzzword used to be judicial activism, but I guess now it's evolved into it's counterpart, judicial restraint. But nearly all the cases I've seen cited as examples of judicial activism are simply judges doing their jobs as they should (more info - The Economist - Those "activist" judges).


Remedies to Activist Judiciary- We call on Congress and the President to restrain activist judges. Congress should adopt the Judicial Conduct Act of 2005, and remove judges who abuse their authority. Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights. We support the repeal of all Federal statutes regarding lifetime judiciary appointments, and call for periodic reconfirmation of all Federal judges, including Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justices.

Ahh... Now we see why the Republicans are so against an 'Activist Judiciary'. It's because the Supreme Court justices made decisions that they didn't like. But that's the nature of the checks and balances of the U.S. government. How else are we supposed to reign in Congress or the states when they pass unconstitutional legislation?

Just for example, what if in the upcoming election, the Democrats take control of the House, Senate, and Presidency, and subsequently pass some very strict gun control laws. Would the Republicans be against someone taking that issue to the Supreme Court, even though it would be a case involving the Bill of Rights? Of course not, because that's the very function of the Supreme Court.

It's just absurd to try to carve out certain issues that are outside the jurisdiction of the highest court in the land.

It's also problematic to want periodic reconfirmation of all Federal judges. The judiciary is supposed to be independent from all the politics of the legislature, and pass judgment based solely on the law. That's the whole point of lifetime appointments, so that judges don't answer to the legislature. And there is a system in place to deal with judges who make egregiously bad decisions or overstep their bounds - they can be impeached. If judges were to face periodic reconfirmation hearings, they would lose their independence, and the judiciary would become even more politicized.

And as an aside, given Republican obstructionism in the Senate and how few federal judges they've confirmed under the Obama administration, just imagine how bad reconfirmation hearings would be in practice. More info: Washington Post - Waiting for next president, confirmations of federal trial judges stall


I'm going to deal with these next two together.

...assurance that each polling place has a distinctly marked, where possible, separate locations for Republican and Democrat primary voting.
Closed Primary- We support protecting the integrity of the Republican primary election by requiring a closed primary system in Texas.

I have mixed feelings about primary elections. In one sense, I find them objectionable. Political parties aren't official government entities. They're private organizations, basically clubs. They can choose which candidates to endorse in the same way that other clubs and private organizations can choose which candidates they want to endorse. But other organizations don't get the state to pay for an election to decide this for them. Why are my tax dollars going to support the process for these clubs that I don't belong to?

On the other hand, the reality is that political parties do have huge influence over politics, and one of the candidates that either the Republicans or Democrats endorse is more than likely going to end up winning whatever office they're running for, with near certainty for the presidency. So, having an open election is certainly better than the old days of party bosses picking the candidates in smoke filled back rooms.

The other issue is that political parties don't have to use the results from the state primary elections. They can hold a caucus and use those results, instead. The big difference, though, is that primaries are funded by the state (and my tax dollars), while caucuses are funded by the political parties' own funds.

So, I think open primaries are a reasonable compromise. It allows for an open democratic process to pick endorsements. And by leaving it an open primary, it allows independents, whose tax dollars are helping to support the primary election, to have a voice in this early stage of the process, rather than being completely at the whims of the major parties. And if the parties don't like the open primary system, they're free to fund their own caucuses to decide who they want to endorse.

More info: Washington Post - Everything you need to know about how the presidential primary works

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So, these planks are a mix of bad ideas, attempts to wreck the checks and balances of government, conspiracy driven worries, and flat out unconstitutional ideas. And like I wrote in the introduction to this series, these planks were all voted on individually and approved by the majority of the state delegates. I know most of us have become jaded to bad politics, but it really should be mind-boggling that the most powerful political party in the state of Texas could hold such bad positions.

Continue to Part 4, Patriotism / Holidays

 

Friday, September 16, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 2, Religion

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry will focus on planks having to do with religion. Actually, because of how infused the entire platform is with religion, this entry will only focus on some of the planks having to do with religion. Others made more sense to discuss in other sections of this series.

The very first statement of this platform got off to a bad start right from the get go:

Affirming our belief in God...

Government and politics should have nothing to do with religion, other than affirming the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. Government is a secular institution, and there's no need at all to bring religion into it. In fact, when government represents a multicultural society with a mix of religious beliefs, it's positively better to leave religion out of politics. But here, in the very opening phrase, Texas Republicans are mixing religion and politics. In fact, just doing a quick word search, they mention 'God' 14 times, 'Judeo-Christian' 4 times, and 'Bible' twice. That's an awful lot of religious language for an institution that shouldn't be based on religion.


Judeo-Christian Nation- As America is a nation under God, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship as they choose.

America was NOT founded on Judeo-Christian principles, or at least nothing specifically Judeo-Christian that's unique from other cultures. If anything, the unique principles of the USA were Enlightenment values. You only need look as far as our nation's founding document, the Constitution, which makes no religious references, other than the convention of using 'Year of our Lord' for the date, and explicitly prohibiting religious tests for public office, plus the separation of church and state once you get to the amendments. (And if using 'Year of our Lord' or 'A.D.' somehow indicates support of Christianity, then I suppose the names of the days of the week indicate support of Norse gods.)

I know some people are fond of pointing to the Declaration of Independence (even though it's not the founding document of our nation) and the passage about men being "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", but are they really that ignorant of history? I mean, the Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson for crying out loud - the same man who made his own Bible by eliminating all the miracles of Jesus and other supernatural elements because he didn't believe them. He was a deist, not a Christian. And 'their Creator' is a typical deistic phrase, not a Christian one.

More generally, basic prohibitions against theft and murder and other types of crime are present in just about all societies. And codifying them into law goes back at least to the Code of Hammurabi (who wasn't Jewish, and certainly wasn't Christian given that he was alive roughly 1700 years BC). There's nothing in the Bible about structuring a government with bicameral legislatures. In fact, a democratic republic is more Greco-Roman in heritage. That First Amendment that we hold in such high regard (and rightly so) is actually counter to the First Commandment - we've actually guaranteed in the founding document of our nation that people can, in fact, have other gods before Yahweh.

And you don't just have to take my word for it. Go read the Treaty of Tripoli. This was a treaty written and ratified in 1796-1797, less than a decade after the founding of the USA (as determined by the ratification of the Constitution), under the presidency of John Adams. Everyone involved could rightly be called a member of the Founding Fathers. And the treaty was passed unanimously by the Senate. Not only that, they made it a point to take a roll to record the votes of everyone present. They wanted history to remember them approving this treaty. Article 11 states, and I'll emphasize it to make sure it doesn't get missed, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...". That's a pretty clear statement from the Founders themselves that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

(I've covered this idea of America as a Christian nation several times before if you're interested in more detail. Probably the three most relevant previous entries are Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part IV - Faith in Society, and A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle.)

Safeguarding Religious Liberties- We affirm that the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the 1st Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. Tax deductions for charitable contributions are not government subsidies and give no authority for government oversight. Americans should be free to express their religious beliefs, including prayer in public places. We urge the legislature to increase the ability of faith based institutions and other organizations to assist the needy and to reduce regulation of such organizations. We also support vigorously protecting the rights of commercial establishments to refuse to provide any service or product that would infringe upon freedom of conscience of religious expression of the commercial establishments as stated in the 1st Amendment.

Just because the First Amendment doesn't literally contain the words 'separation of church and state' doesn't mean that the concept is a myth. I mean, just read the dang thing, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." So, government can neither support nor interfere with religion. That sounds an awful lot like separation to me. And it's not like the term, 'separation of church and state', is some revisionist invention of liberals. It was coined by Thomas Jefferson himself, back in 1802 in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. Here's the relevant portion of the letter.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. [emphasis mine]

Regarding the latter portions of the plank, I have to admit that I get tired of people trying to use religion as an excuse to break the law. Yes, you should have freedom to practice your religion how you see fit, unless doing so causes harm to other people. As an extreme example, you can't claim to belong to a religion that promotes theft, and that therefore you can't go to jail for stealing things. You still have to follow the law. Less extreme, you can't claim that insurance is 'gambling', so you're not going to provide it to your employees, or that taxes are immoral, so you're not going to pay them. Nor can you deny other obligations to employees or customers just because you personally don't like something about those obligations. If it's a law, you still have to follow it.


Protection for Religious Institutions- We believe religious institutions have the freedom to recognize and perform only those marriages that are consistent with their doctrine.

Okay.... And I believe I should have the freedom to recognize and say that the sky is blue. It seems odd to make a plank that's obvious to everybody and not an actual political issue.

Okay, maybe there is some concern that individuals will sue churches over this issue, but I haven't heard of any mainstream politicians pushing for legislation that would violate churches' First Amendment rights.

(more info - and I feel a little dirty just linking to them - Family Research Council - Can Pastors and Churches Be Forced to Perform Same-Sex Marriages?)


Family Values- We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values.

Most everybody supports 'family values', whether they're Christian or not. So if the Republicans are referring to an assault, I can only assume they mean against the more bigoted quarters of Christianity who oppose marriage equality and other gay rights, want to see women be second class citizens, want to take away women's right to bodily autonomy, and other similar positions. And if those are the 'Judeo-Christian' values they're referring to (which aren't shared by all religious people), then no, they don't deserve respect. Those values absolutely deserve to be assaulted by everyone with respect for their fellow human beings.


Empowering Local Entities Concerning Religious Meetings- We support the right of local entities to determine their own policies regarding religious clubs and meetings on all properties owned by the same, without interference.

If by 'local entities', they mean private companies or organizations, then sure, that's their right. I don't know of anyone, certainly not mainstream politicians, who would argue against that. But if they mean local governments, then no, local governments have to follow the First Amendment just like the federal government, and can't endorse particular religions (though they can allow religious uses of facilities as long as they open it up to all religions, and don't favor any particular religion).

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This whole issue of entangling politics with religion is one of the big problems with the current Republican party. Not only is it counter to the First Amendment, but it wouldn't be a good idea even if there was no First Amendment. Laws should have reasonable secular reasons, especially in a society where not everybody shares the same religious beliefs. And it's frustrating on top of that to see their mangling of history to try to support their views.

Continue to Part 3, Politics & Government

 

Friday, September 16, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 1, Introduction

Republican ElephantIt's election year, so the Texas Republicans have gotten together to make a new platform. I've commented on their past several platforms (2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014), so even though I'm a little late this year, I figured I'd keep the tradition going and comment on this one, as well. Besides, the election's coming up in a couple months, and even though Trump and Clinton are getting most of the headlines, state politics has a huge effect on our lives, as well, so it's important to understand where the parties stand, and especially just how bad the Republican party is in Texas.

If you want to read the entire platform for yourself, you can find it here:

Republican Party of Texas 2016 Platform

Previous platforms have had some really bizarre planks, but the previous platforms had been put together in committees and then voted on by the convention as a whole document. So, you could get some of those strange planks slipped in, because no one wanted to reject the entire platform for a few oddities. This year, however, every single plank was voted on by the delegates. There's no excuse to be made that an odd plank was snuck in. All of these planks were approved by the majority of the delegates representing the Texas Republican Party.

In years past, I've tried to limit my discussion mostly to just what was new that year. But because of the nature of how this platform was passed, knowing that each plank has majority support, I've decided to include more planks than normal. And because there are so many planks, I've decided to break this up into multiple entries. This particular post is basically just an introduction, and will also act as a table of contents. I've arleady gotten far enough to know how it's going to be organized, so the table of contents already contains the full list of entries. I'll make the links active as I post the entries.


Continue to Part 2, Religion

 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Science and Engineering Indicators 2016

NSB LogoThe NSF has released their Science and Engineering Indicators report for 2016. It's a great report put out every two years documenting many aspects of Americans' relationship to science and engineering. For the past several reports (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, & 2014), I've made it a habit to examine one specific aspect - public understanding of science. In particular, I've examined the data on how many questions people can correctly answer on a short quiz of basic scientific questions, how that has changed over the years, and how the U.S. fares against other countries on those (mostly the) same questions.

For all of the tables I'm about to publish, note that I copied the data and notes from the NSF report, but I've formatted the tables to fit onto this blog. I made the graphs myself to help visualize the data, as these particular graphs weren't in the report.

First, here's the table showing how Americans fared on a question by question basis on some basic scientific facts. The table includes data from 1988 on up to the most recent poll in 2014.

sei_2016_trend.png

Those results aren't particularly encouraging. I point this out nearly every time I cover this report, but around 1 in 4 Americans don't know that the Earth orbits the Sun, and around half of Americans don't know that electrons are smaller than atoms! Those are simple, basic, scientific facts.

To help visualize that data, especially the trends on how it changes over time, here it is plotted on a graph by year.

sei_2016_trend-graph.png

Americans' knowledge has remained largely steady over the past decade and a half, though there were a few changes. Americans' knowledge on antibiotics improved the most, but has kind of plateaued since around 2006. There does appear to be a recent trend of improvement on the questions concerning the Big Bang and human evolution. Hopefully that trend is real and continues on into the future.

Next, here's the table showing how the U.S. compared to other countries.

sei_2016_comparison.png

I played around with different ways of plotting that data, but there's just so much that it's too confusing to put it all on one graph. If you're interested in seeing a graph for each individual question, you can click on the thumbnail below to embiggen* the graphs.

sei_2016_comparison-graph.png
Click to embiggen

However, I did come up with a way to do a comparison of sorts - I took an average of the percentage of people that correctly answered questions. As an example, if it was only two questions, and 100% of people answered the first question correctly, while only 50% answered the second question correctly, the average would by 75%. I did this average three ways - overall, the physical science questions, and the biological science questions. If a country didn't pose a certain question, it wasn't included in that country's average. I admit that this is a very rough way to do a comparison, but here's how each country fared.

sei_2016_comparison-graph_avg.png

The U.S. actually does rather well in this comparison. It's not number 1, but it's not too far off.

I also suspected that America's over-religiosity might be affecting those questions that contradict a literal young earth creationism interpretation of the Bible, so I redid all those averages exluding the Big Bang and evolution questions.

sei_2016_comparison-graph_avg_no_yec.png

As suspected, this did improve America's performance. This is heartening, that creationism hasn't caused huge damage to Americans' scientific understanding overall.

One lesson from this that I've pointed out before, is to keep these results in mind every time you see a poll showing people's attitudes towards anything scientific. For example, every time you see a poll showing that the majority or plurality favor teaching creationism in public schools, or a poll showing high levels of skepticism towards global warming, remember that this is the same public where a quarter of all people think the Sun orbits the Earth, and where half of all people don't realize electrons are subatomic particles. How informed can they be on scientific issues when they don't even know such simple facts?

The other major lesson is that we need to do a lot better job of teaching science. When you live in a democracy and everyone has a say in the government (at least by way of voting for representatives), you really need a well educated populace for it to work effectively. This is especially true of science in the modern age, when so many pressing issues require accurate understanding of science.

I suppose that on the plus side, as much as alarmists decry the falling quality of American education, at least in this one area, the data shows that Americans' knowledge has stayed largely the same. There's definitely room for improvement, but at least we haven't gone backwards.


*'Embiggen' is a perfectly cromulent word.

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