Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

Here it is folks!

  1. Although I first lived in New York City when I immigrated to the US, I didn’t follow American sports until I moved to to Philadelphia. The former 76ers star Allen Iverson has always been one of my favorites, and so I’m happy he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. With that lengthy intro, check out the YouTube video above of his best crossovers, and read the associated Deadspin article.
  2. Galileo’s reputation is highly overrated.
  3. On diversity in science.
  4. Jacobs on how we all discriminate against the ‘outgroup.’
  5. Kevin Drum on the dangers of publication bias.
  6. Interesting take on women in science.

Religious freedom, ctd.

Three comments on my last post that I’d like to highlight. Agellius notes that faith has special protections because God is a higher power than government:

I would agree with you if we were only talking about the aspect of religious belief that produces the same type of joy that one experiences from math or music. That is, if we were only talking about the aesthetic or emotional aspects of religion. But aesthetics and emotion are not the essence of religious belief.

Religious belief has special protections because at the time of the Founding, the vast majority of people believed that God was a higher authority than government. This is an idea that was ingrained in European culture from time immemorial, and explains why the Founding Fathers appealed to God in the Declaration of Independence, saying that “all men are endowed by their Creator” — not by their government — “with certain inalienable rights”. This being the case, religious people will go to jail or die rather than violate God’s commandments. For a Christian, to violate a commandment for the sake of avoiding legal sanctions is a sin. It can’t be done.

Religious freedom was designed to avoid putting people in situations in which they are forced to choose between obeying the law or obeying God (exemplified by the ancient Roman Emperors forcing Christians to burn incense on a pagan altar or die). Taking away the right of religious freedom, the right to have our conscience formed by religion, and to hold religion as more sacred and inviolable than the law, can only increase instances in which people are forced to make that choice.

The reason people are losing their appreciation for the inviolability of religious freedom, is that they no longer consider God to be a higher authority than government.

Victor expands, arguing that there is much more to religion than just belief:

1) The difficulty in your argument is that it looks at religion as belief. It definitely is a belief for many people, maybe still the majority of Westerners, or maybe for the people to whom you are referring. But more and more people see it as a way of life similar to how Buddhism is a way of life. Jesus’s first followers were not called Christians but people of the Way. This doesn’t refute anything you say, but I’m just adding another dimension. Violating someone’s way of life might have different implications than violating a belief (whatever that means).

2) Ms. Lamb is definitely saying that, in her taste, mathematics is pretty amazing. But I think she is saying something even deeper beyond tastes. She is saying, like history, like science, like art, mathematics has actual utility in life outside of working hours. This is a huge statement. If math brought a person no joy AND it had no utility in life, then it may be right to argue it is a waste. But apart from subjective joy, it has usefulness in life outside of a job that may not use it (and I bet there are ways to use in that seemingly unrelated job). This is a strong point.

3) I couldn’t understand some of your points in this just because they were vague.

A – What does “faith is treated differently” mean? It’s treated differently than what in what way in what circumstances?

B – Religious Christians want Christianity to be a special type of belief, unlike any other what? I can’t tell if you’re referring to other religions or to beliefs that cars should drive on the right side of the road.

C – What did you mean that if religious belief is special it should be treated differently? Can you give an example. I can’t tell if you’re talking about allowing people to opt out of things or what you mean.

Finally, walstamp explains why faith, and especially Christian faith, is unique:

Faith, and especially Christianity, doesn’t fit into our existing norms. It is treated differently. This disparity is partly because many liberals–disproportionately represented in science and the media–have an anti-faith bias.” You are right about Christianity not fitting into our existing norms. At its fullest and deepest it is far beyond any mental understanding and speaks to Christians at the center of our being. Christians are something in Christ that people who are not Christian are not. On the other hand, Christians should not expect special treatment based on their claim to be children of God. Something that obviously cannot be scientifically or materially identified. Joy is a sign of Christian belief but not a determinant. Thanks for bringing up the subject.

I’ll try to respond to these soon. But for now, the weekend reading list is coming up.

Loving math and secularizing religious freedom


While criticizing Andrew Hacker’s book on math education, Evelyn Lamb wrote:

I am a mathematician, thinking about math brings me great joy, and I want more people to have joyful experiences with mathematics. Of course I think many of Hacker’s conclusions are incorrect. Most troubling to me is the idea that mathematics is important only insofar as we use it in our careers, and therefore anyone whose job path doesn’t involve math shouldn’t have to take math classes beyond basic numeracy. Education isn’t valuable simply because we use it in our jobs. Literature, music, and art enrich our lives and nourish our spirits. History and political science can make us more informed citizens. Science can help us understand why research is rarely conclusive. I reject Hacker’s idea that mathematics doesn’t help us understand other areas of life and enhance our experience of the world. In her recent Slate piece on Hacker’s book, Dana Goldstein described how her husband sees concepts such as derivatives as connecting the concrete to the abstract, of helping us understand the world. He’s right.

I loved the honesty in this paragraph. Sure Lamb used evidence and reason to rebut Hacker. But her argument ultimately depends on aesthetics and beauty. Math brings her joy, and she wants to share it with everyone. I–and most of my scientist friends–can identify with Lamb’s feelings. At times we’ve all felt joyous about science.

I bet we’d still identify with Lamb even if she were writing about music or photography or French literature. We may not share her enthusiasm. But we get that taste is subjective, that people find all sorts of things interesting, and they often want to share that love with others. To each his own, right?

This sort of live-and-let-live attitude would disappear if Lamb had written: ‘I am a Christian, thinking about Jesus brings me great joy, and I want more people to have joyful experiences with Christ.’ Faith, and especially Christianity, doesn’t fit into our existing norms. It is treated differently. This disparity is partly because many liberals–disproportionately represented in science and the media–have an anti-faith bias.

But I’m starting to think religious Christians share some of the blame. They want religious faith to be viewed as a special type of belief, unlike any other. But if faith is special, then we should expect it to be treated differently. Sometimes that special treatment will work out for religious Christians, and sometimes it won’t. You can’t insist on one without the other.

I’m starting to feel that it would be better for religious freedom if it lost its special status. If it were viewed almost like any other belief out there. If that happened, then evangelicals could talk about Jesus like Evelyn Lamb does for math: as something that brings them great joy.

Talking about careers

I was lucky to be invited to give a talk at the University of Oregon. I spoke about my transition from plasma physics to software product management. I’ve given career talks to grad students before, but I decided to take this one in a different direction. It was a bit experimental for me. I was quite happy with how it turned out. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And this time I’m serial: I will restart more frequent blogging!

Weekday reading list

Hi everyone. My new job has been busier than expected, and it’s taking me longer than I thought to figure out how to juggle increased work responsibilities, more changes in my personal life, and writing. That said, I’ve made it my resolution for March to get back to writing.

Until then, enjoy a mid-week reading list:

  1. Dan Kahan on creationists and evolutionists at science museums.
  2. How Apple’s stance on iPhone privacy could backfire.
  3. How faith helped improve a county in Florida.
  4. My friend David Bruggeman on the necessity of paper maps.
  5. Some non-fiction writing advice I should probably follow.


Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

Hello readers. Apologies on the delay since my last post. I promise to try get back to a more regular blogging cadence. But until then, here’s the weekend reading list!

  1. How scientists at Virgnia Tech helped the residents of Flint, Michigan.
  2. Alan Jacobs has an interesting reading workflow.
  3. Tenure protects nothing.
  4. My 2nd/3rd favorite team just won the Super Bowl. Here’s a really good data-driven addition to the Brady v. Manning debate.

Have a good weekend.

Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

The weekend reading list kicks off with this awesome article about Stephen Curry. My HS friends and I have been talking about Curry, and I figured I should let all of you know how amazing he is.

Random question for the basketball fans: If you had to pick one player for your team, would it be Lebron James or Steph? As much as I like Steph, I still pick Lebron.

With that, here’s the rest of the reading list:

  1. I *really* want to talk more about this now ancient Adam Laats post on ignorance in education. I’ll leave you with this choice quote until I get to it:

    Any school, any educational project, must also encourage certain forms of ignorance.

    It may seem outlandish, but it’s really so obvious it can be hard to see. What would we say if a second-grade teacher showed her students a violent movie such as Saving Private Ryan? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s incredibly violent.

    What would we say if a second-grade teacher traumatized her students by taking them on a field trip to a slaughterhouse? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s not educational, but because there are some truths we want to keep from young people.

  2. Based on Rod Dreher’s recommendation, I read Wendell Pierce’s The Wind in the Reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife is reading it now, and is also loving it. Check out this short article on how Dreher and Pierce worked together on the book.
  3. Alan Jacobs refutes arguments against religious education.
  4. A family in New Jersey created a geothermal/solar snow-melt system.

That’s all folks!

Random stuff


Sorry for the recent slow-down folks. My Federalist essay put the race/politics bug in me, and I was working on another (longer) piece on the same topic. I also had an unexpected job change, and some other personal stuff going on. But I hope to now restart my blistering 1.5 times / week posting rate.

You can consider this a mid-week reading list:

  1. This post by the inimitable Dan Kahan came out two months ago. I keep meaning to respond to it but haven’t had the time. So for now just reflect on his description of domain-specific vs. domain-independent reasoning ability:

    [Proponents of the domain independent conception of cognition assume] that that reasoning proficiencies–the capacity to recognize covariance, give proper effect to base rates, distinguish systematic relationships from chance co-occurrences, & perform like mental operations essential to making valid inferences–are more or less discrete, stand-alone “modules” within a person’s cognitive repertoire.

    If the modules are there, and are properly calibrated, a person will reliably summon them for any particular task that she happens to be doing that depends on that sort of mental operation…

    Another conception sees cognitive proficiency as intrinsically domain specific. On this view it’s not accurate to envision reasoning abilities of the sort I described as existing independently of the activities that people use them for (cf. Heatherington 2011).Accordingly, a person who performs miserably in a context-free assessment of, say, the kind of logical-reasoning proficiency measured by an abstract version of a the Wason Selection Task– one involving cards with vowels and numbers on either side — might in fact always (or nearly always!) perform that sort of mental operation correctly in all the real-world contexts that she is used to encountering that require it. In fact, people do very well at the Wason Selection Task when it is styled as something more familiar–like detecting a norm violator (Gigenrenzer & Hug 1992).

    I’m personally a DS kind of guy. To put it in the context of this blog: Since much cognitive ability is DS, I don’t think it’s possible to derive someone’s general reasoning ability from their beliefs about evolution. But you all know that already.

  2. On a related note, check out the ‘Math Myth’ via Freddie DeBoer’s Twitter feed. Loved this section:
    The second argument is the one I always hear around the mathematics department: mathematics helps you to think clearly. I have a very low opinion of this self-serving nonsense. In sports there is the concept of the specificity of skills: if you want to improve your racquetball game, don’t practice squash! I believe the same holds true for
    intellectual skills. In any case, the case for transference of mathematical skills is unsettled. Moreover, mathematics is of little use in most problems of ordinary life. For example, mathematics could be of help in computing the costs of having children; but is useless in computing the benefits!

One more thing. The editors at the Federalist again graciously agreed to publish my upcoming race and politics essay. I’ll link to it when it comes out, so look out for it.