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Title Length Color Rating : Is Sociology a Science

Sociological studies (e.g., Ecklundt 2010) have probed the religiousbeliefs of scientists, particularly in the United States. Theyindicate a significant difference in religiosity in scientistscompared to the general population. Surveys such as those conducted bythe Pew forum (Masci and Smith 2016) find that nearly nine in tenadults in the US say they believe in God or a universal spirit, anumber that has only slightly declined in recent decades. Amongyounger adults, the percentage of theists is about 80%. Atheism andagnosticism are widespread among academics, especially among thoseworking in elite institutions. A survey among National Academy ofSciences members (all senior academics, overwhelmingly from elitefaculties) found that the majority disbelieved in God’sexistence (72.2%), with 20.8% being agnostic, and only 7% theists(Larson and Witham 1998). Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) analyzed responsesfrom scientists (working in the social and natural sciences) from 21elite universities in the US. About 31.2% of their participantsself-identified as atheists and a further 31 % as agnostics. Theremaining number believed in a higher power (7%), sometimes believedin God (5.4%), believed in God with some doubts (15.5%), or believedin God without any doubts (9.7%). In contrast to the generalpopulation, the older scientists in this sample did not show higherreligiosity—in fact, they were more likely to say that they didnot believe in God. On the other hand, Gross and Simmons (2009)examined a more heterogeneous sample of scientists from Americancolleges, including community colleges, elite doctoral-grantinginstitutions, non-elite four-year state schools, and small liberalarts colleges. They found that the majority of university professors(full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty) had some theistic beliefs,believing either in God (34.9%), in God with some doubts (16.6%), inGod some of the time (4.3%), or in a higher power (19.2%). Belief inGod was influenced both by type of institution (lower theistic beliefin more prestigious schools) and by discipline (lower theistic beliefin the physical and biological sciences compared to the socialsciences and humanities).

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From the 1920s onward, the scientific study of religion became lessconcerned with grand unifying narratives, and focused more onparticular religious traditions and beliefs. Anthropologists, such asEdward Evans-Pritchard (1937/1965) and Bronislaw Malinowski(1925/1992) no longer relied exclusively on second-hand reports(usually of poor quality and from distorted sources), but engaged inserious fieldwork. Their ethnographies indicated that culturalevolutionism was mistaken and that religious beliefs were more diversethan was previously assumed. They argued that religious beliefs werenot the result of ignorance of naturalistic mechanisms; for instance,Evans-Pritchard noted that the Azande were well aware that housescould collapse because termites ate away at their foundations, butthey still appealed to witchcraft to explain why a particular househad collapsed. More recently, Cristine Legare et al. (2012) found thatpeople in various cultures straightforwardly combine supernatural andnatural explanations, for instance, South Africans are aware AIDS iscaused by a virus, but some also believe that the viral infection isultimately caused by a witch.

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These latter findings indicate that academics are more religiouslydiverse than has been popularly assumed and that the majority are notopposed to religion. Even so, in the US the percentage of atheists andagnostics in academia is higher than in the general population, adiscrepancy that requires an explanation. One reason might be a biasagainst theists in academia. For example, when sociologists weresurveyed whether they would hire someone if they knew the candidatewas an evangelical Christian, 39.1% said they would be less likely tohire that candidate—there were similar resultswith other religious groups, such as Mormons or Muslims (Yancey 2012). Anotherreason might be that theists internalize prevalent negative societalstereotypes, which leads them to underperform in scientific tasks andlose interest in pursuing a scientific career. Kimberly Rios et al.(2015) found that non-religious participants believe that theists,especially Christians, are less competent in and less trustful ofscience. When this stereotype was made salient, Christian participantsperformed worse in logical reasoning tasks (which were misleadinglypresented as “scientific reasoning tests”) than when thestereotype was not mentioned.

The genetics of population differences is a biological reality. The interpretation of such differences is, however, deeply shaped by politics. Ironically what is driving a racial view of human differences today is not science, nor even racial science, but the pursuit of difference that lies at the heart of antiracism, the same antiracism in the name of which critics denounce the scientific study of racial differences. That is another reason to be wary of such denunciations.

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For many, though, science is political. There has grown, in recent years, a greater scepticism about the idea that science provides an objective view of the world that is universal and valid across all societies and cultures. 'All knowledge systems', the philosopher Sandra Harding has written, 'including those of modern science are local ones'. Rather than view scientific knowledge as universal, we should look upon it as 'multicultural', with every piece of knowledge relative to the needs and aspirations of particular cultures. The claims of science reflect the local prejudices of Western cultures. It has taken over the world 'not because of the greater purported rationality of Westerners or the purported commitment of their sciences to the pursuit of disinterested truth' but 'primarily because of the military, economic and political power of European cultures'. 'Science', Harding concludes, 'is politics by other means'. And if that is the case, then science clearly must be policed for its moral and political rightness. And nowhere more so than in the debate about race, an issue that reveals particularly clearly, and barbarically, the historical prejudices of Western societies. That is why James Watson was sandbagged as much by moral outrage as by rational argument.

On November 3, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the “Fourth National Climate Assessment,” a 477-page document filled with concern about Earth’s changing climate. The study concluded that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) cause dangerous global warming. But marijuana growers know something that climate scientists apparently don’t know.

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As in many controversies about the human condition, the argument over race is a debate, not so much about the facts of human differences, as about the meaning of these facts. Nobody on either side of the debate denies that there are myriad genetic differences between human populations. The question is: what is the significance of such differences and in what context are they significant? It is only through open debate that we will be able to decide which interpretation of the facts is the most meaningful. A scientific debate that is policed to ensure that opinions do not wander beyond acceptable moral and political boundaries is no debate at all and itself loses any meaning.

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A good analogy is with the debate about Darwinism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many turned their backs on Darwin's theory of evolution because of their worries about the implications of social Darwinism. 'By paralysing the hope of reform', wrote the Creationist William Jennings Bryan, who led the prosecution of the teacher John Scopes in the famous 'monkey trial' in Tennessee in 1925, Darwinism 'discourages those who labor for the improvement of man's conditions'. Its 'only program for man is scientific breeding, a system under which a few supposedly superior intellects, self-appointed, would direct the mating and movements of the mass of mankind'. Far from undermining the claims of social Darwinism, embracing Creationism would only have helped further entrench the climate of unreason in which reactionary ideas flourish. Social Darwinism had eventually to be challenged politically, not by denying the truth of evolutionary science. The same is true today of any social arguments drawn from scientific studies of group differences.

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Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show that plants grow bigger with higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In 2011, Dr. Craig Idso, founder of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, compiled the results of more than 1,000 scientific papers reporting on CO2 enrichment experiments. He developed estimates of the mean crop growth rate in response to a 300-ppm increase in the level of atmospheric CO2. The data shows that all 92 of the world’s food crops grew larger with increased levels of carbon dioxide. The world’s seven largest food crops, corn, potato, rice, soybean, sugar beet, sugar cane, and wheat, grew between 21 and 66 percent larger in controlled experiments.

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