Sleuths with style

The complete Thin Man series has just been released on DVD. These stylish murder mysteries starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as the detective couple Nick and Nora Charles. (And Asta as their wire-haired terrier). Their on-screen chemistry and perfect comic timing made the series one of the best to come out of the ’30s and ’40s. Lloyd Schwartz reviews the series for NPR’s Fresh Air.

William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta

Geeks are an endangered species

The New York Times has a story about how new graduates in tech careers must have a broad range of skills in order to survive in today’s job market. As companies move pure technical jobs offshore, the jobs that remain require more management or people skills. One-dimensional geeks need not apply.

“If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable,” said Thomas W. Malone, [a professor at MIT]. “But if you can combine business or scientific knowledge with technical savvy, there are a lot of opportunities. And it’s a lot harder to move that kind of work offshore.”

Unsurprisingly, given the very obvious off-shoring trend, fewer students are entering computer science these days. Enrollment this year is down by 39% compared to the fall of 2000. And even fewer computer science graduates are actually taking programming jobs.

To help reverse three years of steep decline in the major at M.I.T., professors there met with freshmen last fall to extol the virtues of computer science. “The idea was to give them a sense of what you can do with a computer science degree,” [Prof. John Guttag] recalled. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to turn into Dilbert.”

Actually kids, if you’re in computer science at M.I.T., it’s probably already too late. You might as well give up any hopes of procreating.

Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive

The Times continues its series on evolution and creationism: Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive. The Discovery Institute is responsible for publicizing “Intelligent Design” as a way of introducing creationism in schools.

The institute has provided an institutional home for the dissident thinkers, pumping $3.6 million in fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 per year to 50 researchers since the science center’s founding in 1996. […]

These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” in favor of a “broadly theistic understanding of nature.”

“Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,” the document says. Among its promises are seminars “to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence that support the faith, as well as to ‘popularize’ our ideas in the broader culture.”

Another controversy in the classroom

Overlooked among the other important news this week was a story in The Onion about the yet another controversy on the Kansas board of education:

Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Not Fair nor Balanced

A survey of the news media has confirmed the thunderingly obvious: that the “Fair and Balanced” reporting of Fox News is neither.

Fox’s political orientation is clearly to the right of the rest of the media. Research has found, for example, that Fox News is much more likely than other news shows to cite conservative think tanks and less likely to cite liberal ones.

Maybe we can’t all get along

Jacob Weisberg at Slate takes a hard line on the recent battles over Intelligent Design in: Evolution vs. Religion – Quit pretending they’re compatible. It’s especially relevant given President Bush’s recent remarks about the alleged “debate” over evolution.

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones.

If Bush had said schools should give equal time to the view that the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, he’d have been laughed out of his office. The difference with evolution is that a large majority of Americans reject [evolution]. According to the most recent Gallup poll on the subject (2004), 45 percent of Americans believe God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago, while another 38 percent believe that God directed the process of evolution. Only 13 percent accept the prevailing scientific view of evolution as an unguided, random process.

I don’t know about you, but I find those statistics pretty depressing. Americans still don’t believe in evolution, the guiding principle of modern biology, after 140 years of unambiguous confirmations. So how can we hope to have reasonable discussions of more subtle issues – like global warming or stem cell research?

Weisberg takes issue with the response of some scientists, such as Steven J. Gould, that science and religion address different questions, and can peacefully co-exist. The group Kansas Citizens for Science, which opposes the teaching of ID, has said: “Science denies neither God nor creation. Science merely looks for natural evidence of how the universe got to its current state.”

Hogwash, replies Weisberg. Religious groups worry that teaching evolution in schools will erode religious belief – because it does. In most western countries, acceptance of the scientific principles evolution correlates negatively with religious belief.

The acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence.

The Catholic church seems to recognize this, given the current debate within the Vatican about whether the theory of evolution is compatible with the Christian faith. While Pope John Paul accepted evolution as the mechanism of a divine creator, the influential Cardinal Schonborn has opposed that view.

If others follow this reasoning, then religious groups will only try harder to oppose any ideas that they find threatening. And this discussion, like so many others in American politics, will devolve into partisanship and polarization, with no chance of a reasonable dialogue.