Bryan Caplan  

Punk Rock Star Finishes His Thesis - And It's Good, Too!

Health Care in California: Sic... Tolstoy and the Great Man Theo...

My musical discovery of the last two years is the punk rock band Bad Religion. Thirteen CDs, all full of great songs - try Supersonic, Suffer, and the music videos for Los Angeles is Burning and Atomic Garden. More amazing than the music, however, is the fact that the lead singer, Greg Graffin, just finished his dissertation at Cornell.

A rule of thumb is that Ph.D. candidates who work full-time rarely finish. Graffin tours the world, but still managed to complete a thought-provoking dissertation on how biologists reconcile evolutionary theory and their broader worldview. A few striking results:

  • 84% of biologists surveyed say they are "not religious." 79% say they do not believe in God.

  • 4% of biologists say they believe in God "regardless of the evidence"; 15% say they keep methodology and belief separate.

  • A issue with a very low degree of consensus: Does evolution lead to progress? 53% say there is.

  • 54% agree that "I keep my beliefs about morality and ethics separate from my practice and teaching of evolution."

    What does this have to do with economics? Graffin has documented yet another interesting set of systematic belief differences between laymen and experts. (Well, technically he only has data on the experts, but we know roughly what laymen would say). When economists and the public systematically disagree, a lot of people are eager to impugn the economists' objectivity. How would the same people react to Graffin's results?

    But actually, given Graffin's apparently strident leftism, I'm a lot more curious about how he'd react to my results.

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    The author at Liberteaser in a related article titled Evolution, Sanchez, and (Bad) Religion writes:
      A few days ago Julian wrote that evolution doesn't in any strict, logical sense exclude the possiblity of religious guidance... but it does make it otiose... I tend to agree with Julian's reasoning, so I was surprised to see that [Tracked on August 12, 2005 10:49 AM]
    COMMENTS (10 to date)

    This appears to be a sample of members of just one type of organization (National Academies of Science).

    In any case, I suspect the views of astronomers may be more relevant.

    Mcwop writes:

    Wow! Bryan likes Bad Religion. As an old punker myself, I am impressed.

    Timothy writes:

    You might also want to check out Minor Threat. I believe that was Graffin's band before Bad Religion. He also put out a solo album called "American Lesion" that's pretty great.

    Josh writes:

    If you have not already, please pick up a copy of 80-85. That is by far the best BR CD out there.

    mcwop writes:

    Timothy, Brian Baker (Bad Rel guitarist) is the former Minor Threat (fantastic band) member, rather than Graffin. And Greg Hetson (another Bad Rel Guitarist) played with the Circle Jerks, which is another punk great that pre-dates BR.

    Timothy writes:

    mcwop: Thanks for the punk rock heads up, Circle Jerks is also a great band. Although punk isn't really my favorite genre, there's some great stuff out there.

    captain mike writes:

    I have never taken the time to really pick apart Graffin's stance on any issues, but his strident leftism is definitely apparent. The only thing that has puzzled me is his constant refutation in his lyrics and essays of "group mentality." I wonder how this relates to his feelings on collectivism.

    I guess there is a difference between individuality and individualism. I tend to find that punkers preach that one should not conform to others, and maintain your individuality, but they also fall on the collectivist side of the political spectrum.

    Hi--I wrote two posts about your paper at Kitchen Table Math. If you have time to fact-check, I'll make any changes you advise.

    Terrifically interesting material......

    TFox writes:

    Some years ago I ran across a study of the theological beliefs of scientists, published in Nature. Particularly interesting was that an essentially identical survey had been done about a hundred years earlier, allowing comparisons of changes in beliefs over the past century. The scientific discipline _least_ likely to express a belief in God was biology. The discipline _most_ likely to believe was physics. The numbers had fallen, over the years, but not by very much. Interesting data. (Nature 394: 313 1998)

    Mr. Econotarian writes:

    Minor Threat rocked!

    -ex punk, amateur economist

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