Thursday, February 02, 2006

And So It Begins....

I'm launching my first foray into the blogosphere with this post. Although a long time in coming, my reasons for doing so are many, but result largely from a desire to more actively combat the attack on science that has intensified over the last five years. I have long followed the literature of creationists of all stripes (Old Earth, Young Earth and Intelligent Design alike) as well as that of science defenders, and have occasioned a response here and there: some published and many not. Recent political circumstances have prompted increased attention to correcting the volumes of misinformation masquerading as science that are constantly trotted out in public view. As a result, my letter writing has picked up considerably - establishing Northstate Science will be an extension of that. In doing so, I don't remotely assume a par with the likes of Ed Brayton, Nick Matzke, Jack Krebs, PZ Meyers, Chris Mooney and a long list of others who have been at the forefront of this battle for some time. These folks form the point of an effort to bring education and reasoned thought to a broader audience ( a counter-wedge, if you will) and are clearly the Jedi Masters of the science blogosphere. At this point I can only hope to learn, follow and contribute where I can. Although not exactly sitting on the fence, I thought it was time to formally step up to the plate and start swinging the bat.

My concern here is also, at least for the moment, largely local. "Northstate" is clearly a reference to northern California, more specifically the northeastern corner of the state. My recent experiences with countering creationists, including Carl Baugh, in the local paper prompted me to consider blogging for a number of reasons. First, many of the regional papers are controlled by editors and contributors sympathetic to anti-science viewpoints, making a forum for good science education difficult to come by. In all fairness my response to Baugh's visit and promotion of him as a "scientist" in our local paper was mostly printed in full, but the editors continue to emphasize particular viewpoints. This is certainly within their purview, but I intend this blog as a partial antidote to scientific misinformation frequently espoused in the north state. Secondly, with my recent experiences came a valuable lesson: northeastern California is not the monolithic culture we are lead to believe. I recently wrote the following reflection on my experience with confronting creationism in a "red" county of northeastern California:

On appearances it would be easy to write off such places as Susanville as cultural backwaters where there is a preference for praising Jesus, watching FOX news and where scientific inquiry doesn't extend beyond the first two chapters of Genesis. But the visual distinction between red and blue overshadows a great variability of attitude and belief frequently ignored in the battle over teaching proper science. It would be a mistake for us to assume that red counties do not harbor significant dissidence with regard to Christian conservatism's battle to replace reasoned thought with dogmatic belief. On the contrary, the red states and counties are witnessing an increasing cultural struggle, where debate and dissent are more and more common. These areas are better viewed as ideologically schizophrenic, not culturally secure, despite what the media would have us believe. For professional scientists in these communities the appearance of a monolithic culture makes it easy to feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. But as I recently discovered, a lone voice can often serve as a call to arms for a significant proportion of the population.

Falling victim to media assumptions of "red county" invincibility, I had assumed my efforts at a countering opinion would be met with vociferousus opposition if not downright hostility; at best I expected indifference. Instead, what I received was lots of congratulatory praise and more than a few "Thank God someone is finally willing to take on these bastards!". When a local teacher referred to me as "the bravest man in Lassen County" (for doing nothing more than voicing an opinion) I was more than a little embarrassed - but I was also struck by the fact that I had reached an audience (and a large one) that I didn't know existed. This blog is for them: as a source of up-to-date information, a place to find countering opinion, and to let them know they have "back-up".

And so it begins. Where it will go and to what degree it will be successful, we'll just have to wait and see. This inaugural post is probably too long already (ah, blog and learn!) but I'd like to leave with one final thought. As I was writing this and recounting the multitude of bloggers, webmasters, organizations and individuals who have risen to challenge the war on science over the last several years it occurred to me: with the last election it was assumed science had its back against the wall. The creationists and intelligent design crowd are only now learning the painful truth: until recently science hadn't even stepped in the ring.

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