“they didn’t belong to us at Pixar anymore”

We picked up some Toy Story toys at a garage sale this weekend, which have become the center of Brighton’s life for the time being.

John Lasseter, director of Toy Story, has a great story about how, five days after the movie came out and audiences started falling in love with it, he

realized that Woody, Buzz Lightyear, all the Toy Story characters… they didn’t belong to us at Pixar anymore,

but to the people who had made those characters a part of their own lives.

Of course, the lawyers at Pixar will tell you a very different story.

Steve Fuller, Intelligent Design, great discussion

I know… I’m going to fail out of grad school because of too many unfinished papers because of too much time wasted on internet discussions.

But I start reading about ID, and I just can’t stop. This time, it’s Steve Fuller. I first encountered Fuller about a year and a half ago because I couldn’t resist the title of his Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History of Our Times. It was rather dense and mostly over my head, but I think he essentially argued that a) Kuhn’s philosophy as set forth in Structure, b) it’s acceptance by many scientists, and c) the considerable extent to which hegemonic scientific paradigms really do exist, have had a deleterious effect on science and science studies. Reinforcing dominant paradigms, making science less democratic, that sort of thing.

After the H-NET discussion I commented on earlier, I made my way to a parallel discussion on HOPOS-L, the History of the Philosophy of Science listserv. It all revolved around Fuller’s testimony at the Dover trial, where Fuller defended the status of ID as science (even though he thinks it’s bad science) and argued for the heuristic value of religious ideology as a motivational factor for scientic discovery… i.e., religious reasons can be and have been crucial for many scientific discoveries, even if the religious content is later removed. Naturally, this tack didn’t win Fuller many friends among the philosophers, but the discussion there was at least much more substantive and (astonishingly, considering the discipline involved) more historically grounded, since there was someone taking a pro-ID stance to prevent the boilerplate dismissal of ID like on H-NET.

Even more interestingly from my perspective, Fuller hinted at the division between organismal and molecular biology as being important with regards to the ID debate. This divide is exactly what I plan to do my dissertation on, and I became interested it in the first place because of ID. It turns out Fuller actually is working with this issue in his current project; a chapter of his in-press book is on the two biologies, and he sent it to me. (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it. That makes two STS heavy-weights who think my topic is important, interesting and on the right track, Betty Smocovitis being the other.)

Anyhow, I found more very interesting discussion with Fuller and critics on literature and cultural studies professor Michael Bérubé’s blog:

Bérubé mentions Fuller briefly.
Panda’s Thumb picks up the story via Antievolution.org.
Fuller responds, provoking much discussion. Fuller posts several comments, among the 167 of them.
Bérubé posts a response, with more Fuller posts (and now one by me, comment #48) in the ensuing discussion.

Bérubé is currently writing about the Sokal Affair and seems to have a very reasonable take on it (especially for someone who publishes in Social Text seriously).

UPDATE: Now I have two more posts (##58, 65). Unfortunately, the thread has devolved somewhat; someone actually finds it “infuriating” that others assume the good faith of the people they’re having a discussion with (like me, and Fuller). Check out post #55 by “Lawrence Sober”:

“Sage is a classic example of what I’ve been railing against. He’s spouting off his conclusions without any evidentiary support. He’s repeating talking points torn right out of the Discovery Institute script.”

And it gets better from there. I especially like the call to repentance at the end.

State Science Standards vs. ACT Scores

A lot of the ID debate lately has revolved around science standards for high schools. (Despite my view of the relative vacuity of the science of ID, at least as it now exists) I’ve argued before that teaching ID in schools alongside evolution wouldn’t be terribly bad for the overall scientific competence of the nation, and that it might even be helpful for getting more people into scientific careers and keeping the US on top in science (assuming that is what we want). But what difference do the official standards really make anyway? Probably not much, compared to more tangible things like teacher quality, class size and other factors linked directly to money.

(Science booster) Paul Gross and The Fordham Foundation (a public education think tank that promotes charter schools) released a report on state science standards, grading each state, with evolution sub-scores. But, as it turns out, these grades of the state science standards don’t have much to do with actual effectiveness of science education. Mike Gene on the ID blog Telic Thoughts compared the report grades with the ACT Science sub-scores by state. Almost no correlation.

The most frustrating thing about the ID in high schools debates: what both sides presumably agree on (because both sets of people involved actually care about public school education) is that schools need more money, smaller classes, better science teachers, more equipment and textbooks, etc. But that’s not even on the agenda for discussion. Underfunded schools; that’s what should have people up in arms.