Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

(R) You say you read the article first time around, and I take you at your word.
(MB) That's generally a reasonable course of action.

(R) However, I've got to say, I find it *extremely* curious that on that first read you failed to note and mention the "blatant lie" that 40 percent of scientists believe in a personal God who answer prayers. Most strange. It was absolutely the first thing I noticed when I reviewed the website you referenced and was one of the reasons I assumed you hadn't read the article. Perhaps you'd care to explain this discrepancy?
(MB) You just answered it yourself. Since I didn't think this was going to evolve into a big deal, I simply pointed you towards a couple of articles that were already available on other sites. Once you decided to challenge me on it, I went into more precise details about my objections -- to include the point you just mentioned. After all, how would I know that the statistics given in the article were unattributed unless I had actually read the entire article?

(R) You continue to insist this article was filler. That strikes me as a tactic of desperation.
(MB) Why? Just because what I said is true and doesn't uphold that article as being "hard" news -- or even *accurate* news?

(R) I subscribe to Newsweek, so I went out and dug through the recycling bin and pulled out the issues for June, July, and August (the three month period around the issue in question.) I couldn't find the issues for 7 June or 3-10 August and didn't feel like making a trip to the library to find out what they were, but here's the cover story and lead article of the rest: God vs. Gangs, (7 June, missing), How Memory Works, The NeXt Files (about X-Files movie), The New China, Katie's Story (about Katie Couric), War is Hell (about "Saving Private Ryan"), Science Finds God, No Escape (about prisons), (3 & 10 August, missing), Gay for Life (about gay heredity), Under Oath (guess who!), Can He Still Lead (ditto).     So, which of these are filler?
(MB) My point was not that *all* of Newsweek is filler. That is most certainly not the case. My point was that the article in question *is* filler -- especially considering that that particular issue had an almost complete absence of hard news at all (it was just a slow week). If it hadn't been the cover story for that issue, it's highly doubtful that we'd even be discussing it.

(R) I'll admit, after 17 August, things not unexpectedly picked up, but the rest of the time the subjects ranged from moral issues to scientific discoveries to human interest to film critiques.
(MB) Gee, imagine finding a variety of articles in a news magazine...

(R) Yes, Newsweek staffers research and write articles weeks and sometimes months in advance and publish them when the opportunity arises, and yes, Newsweek, Inc. is trying to make money (what a revelation!), but to call the lead article and cover story of a major news magazine "filler" just because you don't happen to agree with it is ludicrous.
(MB) What would *you* call an article that was written "weeks and sometimes months in advance" and only published "when the opportunity arises" when the primary purpose of the magazine in question is to publish the hard news of the past week? I don't call an article "filler" because of whether or not I agree with it. I would also, for example, consider the article on the X-Files movie to be filler in a magazine ostensibly devoted to hard news, even though I still like the X-Files.

(R) Now, as far as the "blatant lie" goes, two things. First, you condemn Newsweek because the study they referenced for their figures was "unattributed." Such statements in news articles normally aren't footnoted,...
(MB) That's not correct. It is a journalistic standard to report the source of any poll or statistic used to support a point unless the statistic is widely known and unquestioned. Usually, the attribution is parenthetical and not a footnote.

(R) ...but still, this is a valid complaint.
(MB) Of course. Since that statistic was so at odds with all other available information on the subject, it is only proper to ask its source.

(R) I have sent an email to Newsweek asking them for the source of this figure. I'll send you a courtesy copy of the email and will send you its results when and if they respond.
(MB) I'll await the results of your inquiry.

(R) I'm confident the source will be shown to be legitimate.
(MB) Naturally, since you are already predisposed to agree with the conclusion that was reported.

(R) Secondly, your charge that the statement is a blatant lie is also based on a questionable source – a webpage which references someone else's account of a letter in a journal describing a poll . Until you've seen the poll yourself, you shouldn't consider accounts of it as gospel truth. Any one of the individuals in the chain could have changed the data, either inadvertently or otherwise.
(MB) Funny how you're so quick to defend a completely unattributed poll of a completely undefined population and so quick to criticize another poll of a clearly defined group that could easily be verified.

(R) Furthermore, I strongly question the value of a poll of the National Academy of Science as a valid sample of the views of all scientists.
(MB) Why? Why wouldn't a poll of the members of a prestigious institution be a valid sample of the "rank and file" who elected those members to that position?

(R) There are probably 500,000 scientists in the U.S. The Academy is a select group whose new members are elected by the existing membership. I'd be surprised to learn it had even 10 percent of American scientists on its rolls.
(MB) There are approximately 2200 members of the National Academy of Science. Standard polls sample about 1000 people from a total population of over 100 million widely-varying adults and produce results that are considered accurate to within 3-5%. Why wouldn't a poll of twice as many people drawn from a much smaller population of individuals who share a common profession provide a result that was even more accurate?

(R) Also, you have to take into account the following, as reported in 'Science Finds God,' "….Today the scientific community so scorns faith.....that there is a reluctance to reveal yourself as a believer, the opprobrium is so severe." In light of this, how likely do you think the Academy is to elect anyone who is up front about believing in God.
(MB) I'd say that it makes no difference whatsoever. There is no religious litmus test for election to the Academy. Religious beliefs have absolutely no impact on the mission of the Academy, so why should they be any concern for the electorate when voting for members?     Also, it is not faith that is scorned in the scientific community. What is scorned is the nonsensical notion that blind faith in the supernatural is the equal of reason and the scientific method of inquiry.

(R) And, how likely do you think its members are to be completely open on the subject in a poll?
(MB) I'd say that the likelihood is near 100%. Remember that the polled members know that religious beliefs are not an issue when it comes to their mission. Why, then, would they hesitate to answer honestly when asked about them -- especially when the poll is anonymous? Consider, also, that the huge difference between the results of the poll of Academy members and the number posited in the Newsweek article must be the result of something more than any amount of "fudging" on the part of the Academy members.

(R) Even if the poll you unquestionably accept is legitimate, how valid is it?
(MB) I think I've already answered that question.

(R) It would seem to me that the Academy membership is stacked against belief in God – and this should eliminate it as sample base.
(MB) How do you know that the membership of the Academy is stacked against belief in God?

(R) You asked me last time why I'm not still gushing over the article. I am. I think it was an excellent, even- handed treatment of the subject which was well researched and presented in an unbiased manner.
(MB) "Even-handed"? Oh, please. Even the very title of the article should point out the opinion being bolstered by the article text.

(R) Its purpose was not to "prove" God exists, but instead, to describe the emerging phenomena that many scientists are coming to believe it is perfectly rational to believe in God. Only someone who hadn't read the article would think otherwise.
(MB) Only anybody who is completely unfamiliar with history would make such a statement. Religious belief among scientists is in rapid decline. Barely a century ago (when the term "scientist" first entered general use), almost all scientists were also believers in God. Today, the large majority are non-believers and the majority continues to grow. Therefore, how could this article be reporting any "emerging phenomena" of belief?

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