Friday, February 15, 2013

What does the internet think ... and does it matter?

Thanks to the science fiction author John Scalzi, I stumbled upon an intriguing website called "What Does the Internet Think?" The site uses some methodology (who knows what) it comes up with a rating of the percentage of positive and negative postings on a topic across the internet. I couldn't pass up the chance to see what sort of fun data I could get out of this. For now, I'll post the information with very little commentary, but may follow up in the future.

Let's start by considering some broad subjects:

Where does the internet find truth and meaning?

It's probably not at all surprising that the internet skews toward the science-loving end of the spectrum, at least at the broadest level. I'm kind of surprised at the level of negativity about religion, to be honest. 

I would like to be heartened by the overflow of positive regard for skepticism, but it occurs to me that whatever methodology they're using probably cannot sort out the context of positive or negative statements ... so if a post is saying that it supports science, but then puts forward a concept like intelligent design as being scientific, it would likely count as a pro-science posting, even though it's really contradicting and undermining scientific inquiry and findings. Similarly, someone who supports being skeptical of evolution or skeptical of global warming would probably count toward being positive toward skepticism, even if their approach to the facts is fundamentally dogmatic, authoritarian, and revisionary instead of supporting principles of skeptical inquiry.

Which leads us to the next question ...

Does the internet prefer evolution or creationism?

The thing I find most interesting about this is that while there's a lot of indifference about creationism, there's virtually no indifference about evolution. This runs counter to my own experience. I know several people who are religious but are fairly indifferent about whether or not evolution is the physical mechanism of creation. In other words, they're religious but believe that God started evolution. But I know very few people on either side of the debate that are indifferent about creationism. 

However, given the extremely low hits on which "Creationism" is based, probably not much should be made of comparing these graphs. The "evolution" graph itself is, I think, telling enough on its own.

To put some of these values in context, though, we should look at a few baseline moral concepts, to see how they rate on the internet:

What does the internet think about morality?

I will let the above conclusion speak for itself ... for now. It's worthy of another post at another time.

On a morality-related note, though ...

What does the internet think of religion?

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all rank positively ... but check out atheism & Buddhism! Amazingly polarized results on these religious viewpoints. Again, I'll let the results speak for themselves, although I'm sure I'll come back to this in another post sometime.

For comparison, though:

So atheists are viewed basically as negatively as their doctrine ... but both Christians and Muslims are (fairly or unfairly) viewed negatively by the internet, despite the fact that their religions themselves are viewed positively.

And, finally, a grain of salt:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

Photo from Instructables
I sent the following e-mail to the Boy Scouts of America last week, when they announced that they were reconsidering the ban on homosexuals in the organization. They have since delayed the decision until their National Annual Meeting in May. I don't expect this message to change anyone's view on the issue, of course, but it is the view of someone who profoundly respects the Boy Scouts of America and their values, and so I hope is a viewpoint that is taken into consideration during the deliberations:

Subject: Eagle Scout & father supporting inclusive scouting

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

I am writing to you today to offer my thoughts on your upcoming Feb. 6 vote regarding lifting the national ban on homosexuals serving in Scouts. As an Eagle Scout and a father, the current discriminatory practices of the Boy Scouts of America - specifically the bans on homosexuals and atheists - has been deeply troubling to me. This stance has always affected me strongly, because my father is a homosexual. My parents divorced when I was young and my father lived in a nearby town, so for much of my formative years the primary male influences in my life were the Scouting leadership. My father, a teacher with a distinguished career of educating and mentoring young people, was not allowed to take part in this extremely influential part of my life. I couldn't even invite him to come on the occasional trip.

I fully support the BSA's efforts to protect youth in their care from harm, but open homosexuals are not threats in this area. Molesters and predators are not open about their sexual preferences, they use secrecy as a means of preying on victims. An open homosexual who is leading a Scout troop would have an even stronger vested interest in making sure that nothing happens to any of the youths under his charge. And the idea that lesbian mothers are *any* threat to male youths is absolutely ludicrous on every level.

As someone with family members and close friends who are homosexuals, I have wrestled with the decision of how to proceed in relation to Scouting now that I am a father. My wife and I have discussed it frequently. Our son is in Cub Scouts, which was a very difficult choice for us. I have seriously considered returning my Eagle Scout badge in protest. We both, however, strongly believe in the core values that Scouting represents. We believe that the organization is an absolute benefit to youth.

We also feel, however, that one of the values which Scouting needs to embrace more fully is inclusiveness, which I feel is implicit in virtues of Helpfulness, Friendliness, Courteousness, Kindness, and Bravery (and, for many religions at least, Reverence). We want to be involved in leadership roles within the Scouting organization, but cannot in good conscience do this if we would be forced to enforce exclusionary policies to which we object.

The values that are offered by Scouting are critically important to the youth of our nation. Children of gay and lesbian couples, as well as gay youth themselves, deserve equal access to this organization. There may be difficulties and challenges in handling the logistics of such an inclusion in a way that is equitable to everyone, but if Scouting is to continue to thrive and to maintain its position as an organization that represents American values, it must change this policy. Otherwise, it will wither away as an archaic reflection of antiquated prejudices ... and rightly so.

I urge you to make the right decision for the future of the Boy Scouts of America ... and if you do, know that my family and I will be proud to be associated with this organization.