What Americans don’t know about the distribution of wealth in their own country

Posted on November 30th, 2016 in Capitalism,Culture,Economy,Education,Politics,Religion by Robert Miller

Originally Posted on August 17th, 2011 in Culture,Economy,Government,Politics by Robert Miller | Edit

Fig. 1 Quartile divisions of wealth accumulation: Country A is fictional, Country B is Sweden and Country C is the United States

I am reissuing this posting, all attributed to the election of Donal J. Trump. I expect his administration to be the most corrupt adminstration in history. I am sure we will see many clowns as members of his administration. Perhaps there is some sunshine that will illuminate his administration, because I expect that he will offer no rewards for the people that elected him, and if the Democrats are smart, they will make inroads into the people who elected Trump, by recognizing LABOR UNIONS, once the center point of FDR’s New Deal.

If you were hoping that Americans were well informed about the increasing disparity in wealth distribution in America, this posting will disappoint you. Perhaps you’ve heard the story already. A few nights ago on the PBS News Hour, financial correspondent Paul Solman gave a little quiz as he walked through Times Square, interviewing different people and asking them questions based on the pie chart illustrated in Fig. 1. The three pie charts are divided into quintile (5 x 20%) sectors based on the percentage of total wealth of the country by each quintile (see wealth definition below); yellow is the top 20%, blue the next 20% followed in order by red, green and orange at the bottom 20%). Three different countries are represented by the three different pie charts. The first of two different questions Solman posed was: suppose the country’s wealth was divided into the quintiles represented by the colors–in which country would you prefer to live? The majority pointed to either Country A, which is a fictitious country, with total wealth shared equally among the five different sectors, or the Country B, which is represented by Sweden. Among those interviewed, very few selected the bottom pie chart, Country C, which is in fact the wealth distribution for the United States, in which the top 20% of the wealthiest Americans own 84 percent of the total wealth. That question by itself suggests that the majority of Americans in Solman’s sample would prefer to live in a country that has a more equitable distribution of wealth, which for them, doesn’t exist. But then the more obvious question was put forward when Solman asked, which among these three countries do you live in–which one is America? The majority of those interviewed pointed to Country A or Country B and very few selected Country C. Yet when Solman presented the pie charts to nearby entry level workers, they had no difficulty identifying the United States as  Country C.                                                                                                                                                                                          

Solman’s little quiz would hardly stand the test of statistical scrutiny because his limited sample was certainly skewed, undersized and biased in many different ways. He was actually interviewing the crowd waiting to get into the Dave Letterman Show (except the entry level workers didn’t seem to be in that line). But in fact, he was merely echoing a more complete and extensive  study carried out by two academics, Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely, professors from, respectively,  the Harvard Business School and the Psychology Department at Duke University. The title of their paper “Building a Better America–One Wealth Quintile at a Time” was published on-line in Perspectives on Psychological Science.They had carried out a larger study asking similar questions, but with a nationally representative  online sample size of 5522, with 51% female (mean age 44.4), randomly selected from a panel of more than 1 million Americans and completed in 2005. Median household income in their sample was $45,000, similar to that reported in the 2006 U.S. census data; in the 2004 election; 50.6% voted for Bush and 46% for Kerry, which was close to the actual outcome. All respondents had the same working definition of wealth which was read to them at the time: “wealth, also known as net worth is defined as the total value of everything someone owns minus the debt that he or she owes. A person’s net worth includes his or her banking account savings plus the value of other things such as property, stocks, bonds, art, collections, etc., minus the value of things like loans and mortgages.” Each respondent was told about Rawl’s expression of a just society: imagine if you joined this nation, you would be randomly assigned to a place in the distribution, so that you could end up anywhere in this distribution, from the very richest to the very poorest. So that instruction makes the study a little different than the simple interview that Solman carried out. Not surprisingly people overwhelmingly selected Country A or Country B. The actual numbers from their paper are shown in the shade covered pie charts of Fig. 2 ; equal distribution got 43%, Sweden got 47% and the U.S. got 10%; the comparisons between individual countries was Sweden 51/49 over equal; Sweden 92/8 over USA and equal was favored over the USA 77/23. These differences were robust across gender lines, political affiliations and personal income. The slight preference for Sweden over the equal distribution country implied that Americans wanted at least some inequality in the distribution of wealth. So the Norton & Ariely study was based on the idea that you had to decide which country you would join, when the economic strata you would occupy was randomized and you could be at the top or anywhere in between, but the decision would not be yours. When asked in this way, Americans chose a more equitable distribution than that found in the United States today.                                                                                                                                                                   

The next part of the survey will surprise no one. The general strategy is displayed in Fig. 3. The upper horizontal bar graph shows the actual distribution of wealth in America. Notice that on this scale, the fourth and fifth bottom quintiles (purple and light blue) are so small that they cannot be represented adequately using the graph scale.  If you find this shocking, then you should read Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent book Nickel and Dimed: About (Not) Getting by in America to see how problematic it is for people who do not have sufficient stability in income to keep afloat in America. We do not pay enough for entry level positions, such as maids, janitors, waitresses and WallMart employees. Today, one in six Americans gets food stamps. But, back to the graph.

The middle bar shows the estimated wealth distribution in America, projected by averaging the results of all those surveyed, as they attempted to gauge the wealth distribution of America.  For this bar, each person had to estimate the relative wealth distribution for each of the quintiles. It is apparent that the group way underestimated the amount of wealth owned by top quintile  You will also notice that on this bar, all quintiles have representation, meaning that the average American doesn’t know that the lower 40 percent of Americans do not have enough wealth to have representation on the scale of the bar graph. The relative wealth of the lower 40 percent of Americans is invisible graphically as well as invisible to most Americans. The very bottom bar, shows what those polled would like to see in a “perfect America.” In that non-existent state “perfect America” looks very balanced, with a progressively smaller percentage of wealth assigned to lower quintiles of the wealth scale, but every quintile as a more robust presence. So, here too Americans want to see the “wealthy” better off, but compared to the society we currently have (top bar), they would like to see a far healthier America, with wealth distribution more equitable.

There were other small differences in the outcome Of Norton and Ariely’s study, depending on whether they looked at the results by groups, based on salary differences, gender, Republican vs Democrat, but these differences were small compared to average, indicating that most Americans had similar views when making these kinds of judgements. My conclusion from this  study is that American citizens don’t know how skewed the wealth curve distribution is in their own country, but if they could design a different country, they would generate a more equitable society. So, in terms of wealth distribution, social policies, including health care and social security, the formation of unions and the value of public education, Americans consistently support a view that is to the left of the current President or most members of Congress. The reason why this view does not dominate our political and social philosophy is because our political system is not based on an equitable distribution of representation (imagine how utterly skewed it is that California and Wyoming get the same number of Senators) and the financial costs of running an election are so great that every candidate at the national level needs support from a sugar daddy who is generally from from big business and is always far to the right of where most people are with respect to social policy and income equity. And, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling of three years ago, corporations can throw unlimited funds to sway our political system so that it subserves the interests of corporations–the bigger the better. Whether these problems can be politically solved or not, whether America can reach for a sense of economic justice remains to be seen, but so far the polarization in America, which is now being accelerated by paranoia and demagoguery, has yet to reveal any hint that we can avoid a train wreck in our future. The best we can do is keep plugging away, keep arguing as rationally as we can and hope that the quality of our drinking water improves so that a rational society can re-emerge some time in the near future. American business has failed the country. Perhaps we could rationalize their huge paychecks, if in return they met their responsibilities and provided good paying jobs for all Americans. But in fact the evidence is clear–the interests of big business is to remove more wealth from the middle and lower income classes and make additional profits for themselves. This cannot continue. Many have argued that the wealth distribution in America  was not created by the wealthy, but was in fact a transfer of wealth from the Middle Class and the poor through their failure to keep wages growing with prosperity.

RFM

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What might have been

Posted on September 15th, 2016 in American Hegemony,Books,Capitalism,Climage Change,Economy,Education,War by Robert Miller
Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

Fig 1  Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

This is the story of what might have been, had FDR stayed alive to finish his fourth term as the President of the United States, he died just as his fourth term was beginning on April 12, 1945. This story begins in the more modern days of Global Climate Change and “Black Lives Matter.” Had FDR been around to finish his fourth term, things might have gone very differently: we might have avoided the Cold War. Let me say at the outset that I regard the Cold War as the most senseless, the most costly, the most wasteful thing that was ever perpetrated on the human soul. In addition to its cost [we are spending more than a trillion dollars every year] part of which is to support our nuclear capability. Now, Obama has recently announced that we will spend a trillion dollars to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal; creating in the process much smaller ‘bombs,’ the use for which has not yet been specified. Where is the logic in this? We should be putting all of our energy into getting rid of the Nukes, so at least some us can get some sleep. So far this news has not been contested by the American public, who will have to pay for this enhancement, while our roads and bridges continue to erode. We will miss the opportunity to invest in education and training to help advance our students and prepare them for better lives. We are still living with the dangerous aftermath of the nuclear arms race and no one knows if or when we will successfully mitigate the danger that these threats pose. World-wide I count the total number of lethal warheads at 15,493; the United States (7100), Russian Federation (formerly the Soviet Union, 7300), France (300), India (110), Great Britain (210), China (210), Israel (80), Pakistan (120), North Korea (8); [See Fig 2]

The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

Fig 2. The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

all of these nations have placed our civilization in a perilous future, one that has no guarantee that we will emerge from this nightmare with our bodies intact rather than be instantly  vaporized.   Should a single one of these be fired accidently or not, the whole array of these missiles might go off in some horrified, modified synchrony and in doing so eliminate all human life on this planet; perhaps we will go back to a state where only bacteria will survive and we will restart the life’s cycle all over again. Conceivably we might already have done this and we are currently enjoying life the second time around like Bill Murray’s rendition of Groundhog day.

The reader might ask, quite sensibly, why the author of this posting would wander back and revive interest in a President that has been dead for more than seventy years. But that is when the Cold War started and we have a special responsibility, because most of the blame for starting the Cold War falls on our shoulders:  we have to face the fact that We Started The Cold War.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

These are the words Churchill used when the Battle of Britain was safely concluded in November 1942 at which time Pearl Harbor had already taken place, so the Americans were in the war, alongside Great Britain. Although it didn’t seem so at the time, it proved to be prophetic projection to the end of WW II; even though there would be many more years of bloodshed and the final blow of WW II would not be struck by the British, or the French, or the Americans, but it would be the Russians, who, against all odds defeated the vaunted sixth German army at the battle of Stalingrad; from that moment on it would be the Red Army, including the tank battle of Kursk that further destroyed the German army’s capacity to make war, and allowed the Russians to march right into Berlin, though they would pay an enormous price along the way: the final tally was 27 million Russians dead [mostly civilians, I recently heard a professor of Russian history proclaim that the death toll for the Russians in WW II could be as high as 40 million]. I mention this because far to few Americans are aware of the fact that Russia won WW II. Hitler send upwards of 200 divisions into the war against the Russians, but the most the allies faced was 10-15 divisions in the wars in Africa and Sicily; event in Sicily was a bloodbath for the Americans and British.

What I really want to talk about

I will come back to WW II later, but first I want to paint the full panoply of the collective threats we face today.

It seems to me and to many others I know, that the world is on fire, not just because of our many failures related to war on “terror,” and there are many of these, but also plaguing us is the incomplete recovery from the Great Recession, that has introduced all of us to the deficiencies of globalization, which concentrates too much wealth into the hands of those that don’t need it and don’t spend it appropriately. The most recent data, released very recently suggests that improvements in median income rose 5.2 % in 2015, but we will need to see a steady progress of these years, before we get too excited.

This is one reason that Donald J. Trump has has staked out a claim to be the President of of the United States. With all the uncertainties in this race, and the fact that the polls seem to be narrowing, he just might win the election, even though right now he has a special talent for inducing people not to like him at all.

Crossing the Moat into Dover redux

Posted on January 1st, 2016 in Culture,Education,Politics,Religion,Science by Robert Miller
RFMiller

Robert F. Miller

This is the tenth anniversary of the Dover school board decision in which “intelligent design” had its day in court and came up short. In celebration of this anniversary, I am reissuing “Crossing the Moat into Dover this time as a redux version.” This trial was all about converting creationism to intelligent design. The reason you have not heard much about either lately can be traced to the outcome of the Dover school board decision.

The biological scientists in America have always felt a little uneasy about the surrounding culture in which he or she lives and in the past two decades or so, this sense of being ill-at-ease with the outside culture of America has only become more intense. The rising crescendo of Christian Fundamentalism has a had lot to do with it. One has only to drive a few miles outside of the metropolitan area in which I live to see an abundance of anti-abortion billboards and other religious symbolism, speaking to a different culture, but an ever present reminder that the cultural wars are alive and well in Minnesota.
A large sector of the research biologists in this country work in universities and feel comfortably isolated from the outside world, by the friendly surrounds provided by students and colleagues who share a common set of interests and commitments, though not necessarily a common political and social identity. But, it’s good enough for government work. Most research university campuses have a decidedly blue color to their political slant, if for no other reason than their support is very dependent on the Federal government. For the students, the coloration is often not quite so clear, though it seems to be shifting towards the blue end of the visible spectrum. Expanding knowledge is a serious commitment for the research university and has been hugely beneficial to American industry, public health and social progress. But the university environment is in many ways an odd place, something like an ancient castle, surrounded by a virtual moat to protect those within, well separated from those that are hostile to its purpose and mission. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t feel a little like the Irish monks must have felt in the medieval monasteries when they were the sole scribes of knowledge and scholarship, isolated from a more hostile and ignorant world, with their monasteries often perched on islands for their protection and life-long sanctuary. While it is not always apparent, the attitude inside the castle of today is that of a serious learning environment on a crash program and a deep thirst for new knowledge, with the campus insulated by the virtual moat which protects the interior from the most culturally destructive forces in the country.

The crazies in America, on the outside of the moat looking in, include the religious fundamentalists, the born-again Christians, the right wing fringe groups, the skinheads, survivalists, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists to name just a few. Individuals from any of these groups may cross the moat and enter the castle, but thus far, the larger movements supported by these groups have not penetrated with sufficient force to change the mission, not nearly as much as they would like. But the university inside is not self-sufficient. Our research can only proceed with Federal support and already, in the case of stem cells or particle physics, these outside forces have helped to diminish the image of America as home to the greatest centers for science in the history of Homo sapiens. That image is fading rapidly, perhaps even gone for those living outside of America.

For any single researcher, there was a shared attitude that, as long as these outside groups didn’t interfere with things, like the funding of science and the function of the university, they could get as large and as obstreperous as they wanted: under the most drastic of conditions, most university professors foresaw that the virtual moat would continue to serve its ancient function and people inside could continue to do science. As long as funding for research was maintained, the country could go into a state of political apoplexy and scientists would still sleep well in Mudville that night. As bad as things might get, scientists could go to bed each night knowing that the Federal government needed them just as much as they needed funding from the government to keep their research enterprise afloat–inter-dependency–that was the original contract. This relationship of inter-dependency began at the close of WW II and the contract was more favorably redrawn after Sputnik I in 1957. But, in the 1990s some uncertainties began to creep into the formula. And, in the first year of the new millennium, the crazies won the presidential election and the Presidency of GW Bush began its vicious attack on science at nearly every level, including funding. In the 1990s the inter-dependency between scientists and the Federal government began to change in fundamental ways. In 1993, Congress canceled the supercollider in Texas and put thousands of physicists out of work, drastically reducing particle physics in the United States as a viable discipline. But the more insidious and less direct impact on science was the changing way that Americans made money. As the corporate profits in America evolved from manufacturing to the financial service sector, the need for research and research universities seemed less apparent than it did when manufacturing was the more dominant form of capitalism in America: manufacturing companies recognized the value and need for scientific research, since it would ultimately impact on the quality of their products or help them generate new ones. The same argument applied to health research. One can appreciate the vast materials science research that went into the Appolo Program for a trip to the moon, which resulted in many new manufacturing techniques and better knowledge of materials science such as ceramics. But the only research in the 1990s needed for the financial sector was market research–science was unnecessary, except that it might enhance the image of a country to invest in over that of another, or one currency to manipulate over another. International financiers no longer thought about national borders, but instead focused on corporate profits as internationalists: they insisted that corporate profits had to rise, just to keep up with Microsoft. These new internationalists seemed better at tearing companies apart than helping to make new ones, all under the false rubric of “increased efficiency.” The shift in the major income stream for America in the 1990s left government advocates for research beginning to ask if government should be supporting research to the same level that seemed necessary in the past. Furthermore, the stimulus for initiating the “Golden Era” of the American research university was the Cold War competition with the Russians and the race to the moon in the 1960s. Biological research prospered in this period because Congress was more interested in funding medical research, since that’s what helped get them re-elected (“we are working on a cure for cancer”). But, with the Cold War over, combined with the reduced dependence on manufacturing, many in government, mostly Republicans, began to wonder if the government needed to support research anymore? Do you need to support university research when our economy is increasingly based more on financial markets that have less to do with ideas and new inventions and more to do with the advantages of capital in a market that seemed to have unlimited growth potential, with the new emerging markets in Asia and Russia? Graduates from our elite universities went into the financial sector, committed to acquiring wealth early in their lives and far less committed to the concept of income distribution. They quickly learned the art of tearing things up to create personal wealth. As mentioned above, the first sign of this new emerging attitude was cancellation of the supercollider project in Texas in the early 1990s, an event which immediately threw thousands of physicists out of work and terminated America’s dominance in particle physics.
The past eight years under GWB produced a new low in the national climate for research. Before Clinton left office, he agreed with congress to double the NIH budget (1998-2003), and when Bush came in as President in 2001, he agreed to allow that process to go forward. So in 2003, as the NIH budget reached an all time high, Bush himself praised the doubling process and thanked his predecessor and Congress during his state of the union address. For a while it looked as though good research funding opportunities had returned and as a result, most universities hired new faculty, believing that the NIH doubling would be a new permanent part of the research climate. But, it didn’t work out that way. As soon as the doubling of the budget was completed, Bush began to apply draconian budget reductions to NIH, giving them an increase of ~1% each year, when NIH normally gets about 6.5% each year to help compensate for a higher rate of inflation in the industry of scientific research. In the last year of Bush’s 1% budgets, the NIH budget was less than what it would have been if it had not gone through the doubling period, but instead maintained on the traditional annual budget increase of 6.5% a year. The result of this process each year was to fund fewer and fewer grants. So, on a budget promise that had encouraged universities to expand their research faculty, universities found themselves worse-off than ever and new faculty found it difficult if not impossible to get their research funded. Scientists found themselves writing grants, not scientific research papers, and a smaller and smaller pool of money was available to support scientific research and training. The promise of Obama to restore funding for research to the highest levels in our history (as a % of the GDP), has brought a new sense of hope that research will resume, though a permanent scar and a sense of friction remains as to whether scientists can really trust the Federal Government as they once did, before the era of science politicization and before the crazies ran the country. The government under Bush found ways to suppress scientific research and ushered in a new relationship that was profoundly different than that which scientists had enjoyed since the end of WW II. Under Bush, scientists were attacked from many different directions and in many different ways: for the physicist it was a loss of the “hole in Texas,” which took place before the presidency of GWB, but an action which anticipated the arrival of the Gingrich Republicans. For the biologists the threat was creationism and its new moniker “Intelligent Design.” It was Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, who launched the first volley against biological sciences by suggesting that creationism should be taught alongside science in the public schools: that was a thinly veiled attack on biologists and the teaching of biology curriculum. Reagan’s suggestion was a trial balloon to see how well it resonated with his plans for a run at the U.S. Presidency. He found that creationism could be a wedge issue, especially among the fundamentalists and born again Christians, whose numbers seemed to be on the rise. The promotion of creationism in the class room was going to serve as one of the initial thrusts for the Republican party to re-organize itself around wedge issues, some of which would appeal to Southern voters. As Reaganism was ushered in, he brought with him an innate hostility towards the research university that he carried over from his interactions with the California system, where he cut budgets, froze salaries and set that state on a new trajectory of diminished support for education, including increased tuition costs and ambivalence about having prestigious universities in the first place. Until Reagan, tuition in California colleges and universities was free. One of Reagan’s additional wedge issues was AIDS: he never mentioned AIDS until his friend Rock Hudson acquired the disease, late during his second term. Reagan’s advisers encouraged him to treat AIDS as God’s punishment for homosexual promiscuity. GWB modeled his presidency after that of Reagan and established a new trend of anti-science policies, that included his hostility towards the concept of global climate change and the World Health Organization. Bush not only cut the budget of NIH, by slowing its rate of growth, but he instilled an anti-science mentality in the government that suppressed publications on global climate change and even forced some government scientists to change the title on their papers to avoid making too big a splash in favor of global warming. He also forced the Surgeon General to put his (Bush’s) name several times on each page, of his reports, so that the country would know who to thank for the information, as long as the reports dealt with material acceptable to the White House. While Reagan wouldn’t allow the Surgeon General to talk about AIDS until late in his second term, Bush didn’t allow the Surgeon General to talk about excessive sugar in the American diet for fear of alienating the American food industry. Under Reagan and Bush, the Surgeon General became the Surgeon Private.

Once the budget cuts (cut by reducing the increase below the cost of inflation) were put in place under GWB, the future for scientific research in America began to look increasingly dim: in many ways, research science began to look as if it were headed for contract teaching and research. Despite these early, shocking trends, scientists refused to criticize the government for fear of making their funding prospects even worse. In the middle of the Bush administration, I once gave a keynote lecture to a group of scientists at a scientific meeting, on how and why they needed to become science activists and speak out against the Bush policies. That lecture was met by an eerie silence, except for one former communist attendee in the audience who seemed to resonate with it rather well—-a woman I might add. In the midst of daunting pessimism about the future, a funny thing happened, beginning in 2005. In that year, a famous trial took place in Harrisburg, PA over a case that began with the school board in Dover, PA; it was the first trial that tested the validity of Intelligent Design (ID) as a valid refutation of evolution and as something that should be taught in science classes alongside traditional biological views of evolution. This was an important trial, because the Supreme Court, in a decision in 1987 (Edwards v Auillard) had already ruled that Creationism was not a science–it was a form of religion and had no place in the science curriculum–putting it there was a violation of the constitution, which provided separation between church and state.

So, if the school board in Dover could prove that ID was something different, scientifically meritorious, and could be classified as a science, then it could legitimately be taught alongside evolution in the classroom and this case had the potential of sweeping the nation into further degradation of the science curriculum in public schools. It would be one more giant step towards establishing America as a Christian Nation. The facts behind this case are that the Dover school board itself didn’t want what they eventually got: when the discussions on this issue first surfaced in 2004, it was labeled as Creationism and everyone thought it would eventually get solved like all other cases, with a dash of embarrassment handed out, once the board came face to face with the 1987 Supreme Court ruling, of which they obviously had no knowledge when their deliberations first began. So, one expected that a few red faces would be handed out when the Supreme Court decision was made available to them and that would be the end of it. But then things changed. The More Law Center, a Christian Issues Legal group, heard about the case. They had been looking for a legal test case for Intelligent Design for several years and convinced the board to change their rhetoric to include ID and use the book “Of Pandas and People” to assert the validity of ID. Thus, the Dover board changed their promotion from Creationism to Intelligent Design and overnight Dover turned into an international show, with media attention from all over the world, as it focused on a single issue: did the book “Of Pandas and People” establish ID as a science so that its inclusion in the scientific curriculum could be justified? The transformation from Creationism to ID changed the trial into one of great national significance. Even George Bush weighed in by favoring the ID side of the debate. The situation in Dover turned into one of the most celebrated trials of the Bush era and represented a showdown between the IDers and those who favored the traditional mode of teaching biological sciences with evolution and the process of natural selection as the central mechanism for all biological change: the trial became known as “Scopes II.” In a way this was also a referendum on the Bush Presidency, in the sense that his Presidency had served as an enabler for Christians to think more boldly about challenging legal restrictions on the insertion of Christian beliefs into the social and government fabric of the country. Dover would be also be battle ground for Bush’s war on science. The Dover case began under obscure circumstances, when the school board passed a ruling that teachers in biology classes had to read a paragraph expressing the view that evolution was a theory, not a fact and that there were a number of holes in the theory of evolution. The students were invited to read an alternative point of view expressed in the book “Of Pandas and People [1]” which was made available in the library. But, the three members of the board who voted against the proposal resigned from the board and the science teachers in Dover refused to read the paragraph to their class. Several parents organized an effort to sue the Board of Education and this case became known as Kitzmiller vs Dover. Both the ACLU, AAAS, National Association of Biology Teachers [2] and the National Center for Science Education joined the law suit for the plaintiffs. The More Law Center [3], the Christian legal firm, handled the trial for the Dover school board, as they were instrumental in shifting the emphasis from Creationism to Intelligent Design. What was different and unique about this trial, was the quality of the arguments favoring evolution and disproving the case for ID. One of the unsung heroes of this trial was Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education. You can see her summary of some of the issues on YouTube [4]. During the six week trial that ensued, Scott played a major role in selecting and coordinating the witnesses who were scientists that provided a beautiful and persuasive series of informed and often elegant discussions about the nature of science and the facts surrounding evolution. The list of prestigious scientists that came to testify represented a wave of biologists, many of whom traveled over the moat to engage and confront ID and disprove its claims. Of course, the most convincing piece of evidence during the trial was provided by showing that “Of Pandas and People” came in two versions. The first version, published some years previous to the Dover case, had the words “creationism” whereas the second edition simply replaced those words with “intelligent design” making it rather easy for the judge to conclude that ID, as presented in the book, identified itself as equivalent to “creationism” and therefore ID was nothing more than an attempt to insert a religious view into the science curriculum of the Dover school district. The scientists who testified not only excelled in presenting their views, but they discovered that the lay public were enthusiastic to hear their arguments and the judge himself was riveted to their testimony. There was a sense that the Dover decision, which declared ID to be a religious, not a scientific point of view, helped to turn a cultural corner and that perhaps the Bush attempt to Christianize the nation, and in the process to establish the Republican Party as a permanent ruling party, had utterly failed.
The elections of 2006 and 2008 have verified how much of a corner had been turned though it is not possible to say how much impact the Dover decision had in helping America make an overdue left turn. The Dover trial cannot be over-emphasized for its importance. Nova has produced an excellent docudrama of the trial and the National Center for Science Education has numerous publications on the Dover trial that can be accessed on-line. You can get to them through this site [5]. As a result of the Dover trial, but also because of other similar cases, Eugenie C. Scott received the Stephen Jay Gould prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of Evolution, in recognition of how her “sustained and exemplary efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science and its importance in biology, education, and everyday life.” She received high praise from Scientific American, which listed her [6] among the top 10 leaders who have “demonstrated outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity.” That list also includes Bill Gates and Barack Obama. Chris Mooney [7] has written a nice summary of Scott. Thanks to her, biological scientists can take greater comfort in crossing the moat to deal with prejudice and false ideas about science: such things still abound across America.

The scientists who ventured over the moat of separation that has long existed between lay people and their own laboratory environments, discovered that people are hungry for knowledge when it comes from people who know what they are talking about; the trial of Kitzmiller vs Dover pitted knowledgeable, informed scientists, who were comfortable with the fact that science doesn’t usually prove that something is right, but instead the role of science is to look for new evidence that can be used to further validate or invalidate a theory. The difference between the biologists and the IDers was plainly evident in the trial and powerfully visible for all to appreciate–the scientist is disinterested in whether his or her work confirms a theory (it’s typically more exciting to the individual scientist when it doesn’t), whereas the IDer only wants to accept the ideas that conform to their ideological beliefs, and more often than not, they have to distort the picture that is already in place in order to claim a kind of “gotcha.” That single difference is powerful–science has a binary output, but ID has only one result they can live with. That difference alone explains why we have understood the real world and the universe we reside in to an increasingly sophisticated degree of satisfaction, all achieved through the efforts of scientists working in the name of science. In contrast, we are about where we started 2000 years ago when we listen to Christians tell us about the origins of man and the birth of the universe. Go figure.

RFM

[1] Of Pandas and People: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Pandas_and_People
[2] National Association of Biology Teachers: http://en.wikipedia.org
/wiki/National_Association_of_Biology_Teachers
[3] More Law Center: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_More_Law_Center
[4] YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxpQ5xrMHVg&feature=channel
[5] this site: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trialkitzmiller-v-dover
[6] listed her: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientificamerican-10&page=4
[7] Chris Mooney : http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/05/great-scott/

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