I find this very disturbing... (genetics and alt-right)

This article from The Atlantic ruined my day yesterday.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/genetics-race-a...

For me, it points out the enormous risk that is posed by poorly informed lay science, particularly when science is used as a form of existential authority.   It illustrates to me how much work we have to do to help everyone understand science more deeply so as to avoid taking individual results to insane conclusions, guided by their own prejudice and uninformed by any meaningful ethics.  The errors become geometrically multiplied when repeated within small, relatively insular communities.

It's disturbing enough to me given the recent political trends in the U.S. to start setting up meetings with our human genetics colleagues and the people in charge of our interdisciplinary graduation requirements.  It seems we need to address all of our students' ideas and understandings of science in some important areas before we allow them to graduate.

I'm curious what the group here thinks.

I confess that the article reminded me of some of the statements and discussions here, which is why I'm asking.  The use of lay science as a form of authority is quite prevalent here, and lay or pop-science understandings of evolution, physics, and scientific practice are fairly common.  At times I have a hard time recognizing the science since it seems to be more a form of group identity lingo rather than a practice of advancing knowledge.  So for me, your perspective seems parallel.

No, I'm not accusing anyone here of being alt-right racists or unethical loons.  You are all thoughtful and caring people, so let's not go down that tribal rabbit-hole.  You pursue different ends, at least when you're not demonizing religion and the religious.  

I am inviting you to share your reflections on how the lay understanding of science described in the article goes awry in the service of a group mythology, and how that may be addressed.

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I'd guess that if you are a right wing white supremacist, everything you see or read will support your theory. It's called cognitive bias. Fifty years ago, the information available to distort was less 'scientific' although just as heavily relied on. Then genetics came to the forefront and gave more information, enabling further distortion. Remember when the hunt for the 'gay gene' dominated such group thoughts? Information is event-neutral. It's simply knowledge (call it science if you wish).

How that knowledge is interpreted is simply a reflection of the mentality of the group interpreting it. The problem lies in the attitudes of these groups - education isn't only mathematics - I'd suggest social education is sorely needed in this country.

With pseudo-science or religious apologetics it is so easy to act the part of the expert, much easier than actually obtaining a science, math, or engineering degree (or authoring a true research paper) from a real university. With "political  correctness" in control for decades, facts have become meaningless, and the hint of any impropriety kills the painful discussions that are needed.

Am I concerned about neo-nazi genetic bamboozling? Not really. I am more concerned with growing the next generation of technical experts and leaders to deal with the real problems our species is faced with.

Bob, is there an understanding, lay or other, that's so well "armored" that it can't be taken awry by people who feel their mythology needs servicing?

For instance, Georges LeMaitre provided the equations that let deductively-inclined astronomers make an ersatz religion of what had been an inductive science.

The errors become geometrically multiplied when repeated within small, relatively insular communities.

Feel free to call them "echo chambers".

It seems we need to address all of our students' ideas and understandings of science in some important areas before we allow them to graduate.

That's a damn good idea. Education should encourage critical thinking and give at least a basic understanding of science along with literacy and mathematics. I'm so sick of people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

pop-science understandings of evolution, physics, and scientific practice are fairly common

Well not everyone can hold advanced degrees in both evolutionary biology and physics. If our understandings of science are somehow incorrect, please correct us.

At times I have a hard time recognizing the science since it seems to be more a form of group identity lingo rather than a practice of advancing knowledge

Heard any creationists lately? At least we can agree our understanding of evolution and physics is superior to the ones they are spouting, surely?

how the lay understanding of science described in the article goes awry in the service of a group mythology

Again, look no further than creationists, flat earthers, etc. They are all convinced that their (usually incorrect) understand of science (usually biology and physics, sometimes even basic mathematics) proves that their world view is correct. It's quite amusing in a "carcass being eaten by maggots" kind of way. I guess (from the article) we can add alt-right racists to the list now, too. I've actually heard them say that if we evolved from monkeys, then black people evolved from different monkeys, and we evolved separately for hundreds of thousands of years. A complete and utter misunderstanding of human evolution.

Well of course all students should be more fully educated, but I don't know the best trade-offs to make. The problem imo is that 1) the educated elite can't often translate what they know to we lowly laymen and 2) in betweeners, especially reporters, authors, and politicians have difficulty with credibility, too.

I think we need some kind of credible hierarchy of translation skills from the highest scientific detail and speculation down to the lowest common denominator of humans. Religions have had functional (and dysfunctional) hierarchical authorities in place, too often with too much credibility perceived by the underlings preached and pandered to. Call that opinion demonization, if you like, but it's a problem that needs solving, before we destroy ourselves with abuse of religion of science.

I'm worried about AI "taking over" and making us obsolete. I'm worried not only because of increasingly unpredictable power of networked intelligence and agendas, but because of rogue owners. Imagine North Korea, or ISIS owning a significant portion of implemented AI... and eventually integrating with genetic technologies, alt-right or other.

Something else I'm starting to think more about might be employing AI lot more to help educate us, maybe somehow rating their credibility with evaluation from traditional edu resources and faculty. (It's already happening to a tiny extent.)

Truth falls anywhere, it is not aesthetic unlike the designed lie. 

Is this disturbing? Yes it is. 

But at least the creed of racial superiority is amenable to reason. Scientists and scientific conclusions can undermine the notion of superiority/inferiority. On the other hand the invidious discriminatioin borne of religion is protected by the doctrine of faith and the inculcation of gross distoritions of how morality is the exclusive domain of the immoral. 

Having seen the world of academia first hand during my PhD I came to the conclusion that the ONLY people capable of successfully interpreting a scientific result are the ones who actually collect and analyse the data (and even then not always).

The mainstream media in particular are notorious for misrepresenting research. They're simply not interested in any nuance. They just want their headline. Case in point is Andrew Wakefield and the vaccine disaster that we have been trying to undo for years since.

How to solve it? Very difficult. There will always be researchers who want to make a name for themselves and see the media as their platform. Sadly, they all too often regret it.

The Cogito and God, pitiful residues. Chinese do not metabolize diazepam very well, and Prozac will turn minnows into killers.

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