Posts tagged ‘science’

March 26, 2011

Litmus test

The good old Litmus test of the non-political kind, pic:

Scientist among you know litmus tests as simple and easy tests to indicate the pH, i.e. a test lets let you test a liquid and decide whether it is acidic or basic/alkaline.  Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions, blue under alkaline ones and purple if the solution is neutral (pH 7).

Where am I going with this, this is not a Science 101 blog.  Right, so lets turn to the figurative usage of the term litmus test in politics.  There a litmus test is a question asked of a candidate that shows his or her opinion on a certain – often controversial – topic.  Depending on the answer to such a Litmus test question the voters/those who approve the nomination of the  candidate might choose to support the candidate or to withhold that support.

Litmus tests are frequently used in American politics – be it expressedly stated or not.  Candidates for any type of higher office face them and especially judges.

Here are some examples: for many conservatives abortion is a litmus test, if a candidate for office is pro-choice he/she failed the litmus test and will not be supported by the majority.

Gun control is another such litmus test for conservatives.  If a candidate is for gun control chances are slim he’ll/she’ll be a conservative politician.

In summary, a (political) litmus test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, believe, opinion, etc.) is decisive

March 4, 2011


I am going to go against my own rule here and talk about religion.  Wait, you might say “Why religion when the headline says ‘evolution'”.

Interesting and fun map showing the prevailing attitude towards evolution, pic:

And herein lies the crux.  In most other countries – at least Western countries – talking evolution would be talking science.  Not here.  Evolution is religion, or the absence thereof.  Any conversation about evolution is a conversation about religion.  Like it or not.  I don’t – but that doesn’t change a thing.

Let’s start with the language.  People here “believe” in evolution – or not.  That isn’t a scientific statement, that is a religious statement.  Even the questions in polls often promote that interpretation as they ask people about their beliefs – creationism, theistic evolution (evolution with God running the show), or naturalistic evolution (Darwinian evolution, no God). That is not a scientific question but a religious one.  Nobody would think of asking people whether they believe in DNA or the speed of light.

More sobering even are the numbers that you get in these polls.  Depending on who asks what question of whom and when the numbers come out slightly differently but the fact remains: 60 -70% of the population in this country does not “believe” in “naturalistic evolution”, another bunch doesn’t want to answer the question or doesn’t know what to answer which leaves around 15% of the population “believing” in evolution.   Just for comparison: those numbers are well into the 70s and 80s in many other Western countries.

So, when in the US, never assume that a) you are discussing science when you talk about evolution and b) that people will even agree on the basics – that evolution even exists.