Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?

Christian workers are among the persecuted
in the war-torn Middle East.
Another Thanksgiving season is here.  But this one seems different.  World and national news of this past year has reported that thousands of people have been abused, martyred, or driven from their homes.  It seems that God has begun to act on a global scale in an unusual way.  But this is not the first time.  Recall that God touched the tongues of those building the tower of Babel, diversified their language, and caused them to disperse across the globe (Genesis 11).  

The “forced migration” from Babel is only one of many instances in which God has caused or allowed mass migrations.  Recall the exodus of at over one million Jews from Egypt as recorded in the biblical Book of Exodus.  Centuries later, God judged the decadent nation of Israel by allowing a 70-year exile of many of the Jews in the territories of Syria, Babylon (modern Iraq) and in Persia (modern Iran).  Now, the same God is working, in 2015, to move thousands of people from one continent, or even from one hemisphere, to another.

Today, when thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ, young and old, are being martyred, imprisoned, or driven from their homes because of their faith in Christ, what is God asking His people, who profess faith in Christ, to do?  I believe He calls us to become involved, beginning with prayer.  After all, the death by stoning of the first martyr named Stephen in the first century was only the first in a long continuous line of Christians being persecuted and martyred because they refused to renounce faith in Christ.

hat is God asking of me?  I find His answer in the commands recorded in the New Testament during the first century on behalf of those who suffered persecution:

Remember those in prison,
as if you were there yourself.
Remember also those being mistreated,
as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
                                         --  Hebrews 13: 3

Ouch!  This command is very clear!  Downright penetrating!  It declares that we are to IDENTIFY with the imprisonment and mistreatment of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  But why do I so often forget to remember?  And, how can I be more faithful and fervent in prayer for those under persecution?  Think along with me as I try to answer these two questions.

Why do I so often forget to pray earnestly for the many innocent children and adults who are suffering persecution for their faith?  For one reason, I have a good “forgetter.”  I can forget anything--from taking out the garbage to just being sensitive toward Abby in times she needs me.  Truth is, I tend to think of myself and my goals before others. 

There is another reason that I forget to pray for those under persecution:  I am blessed and surrounded with conveniences, but these can become distractions.  It is often hard for me to maintain focus in “prayer communication” in the midst of other forms of communication so much a part of my day--telephone, e-mail, text messages, and social media.  Nothing wrong with any of these as long as I don’t let them fragment my time line and interrupt concentration on a given task, especially prayer, reading, and reflection.

Please don’t get the idea that I’m already a saint of all saints.  I’m still working on how to be more faithful and fervent in prayer.  Here are some essentials that I’ve begun to incorporate into my prayer ministry on behalf of the persecuted as well as those in positions of power to make a difference:
1.   I try to be informed through daily TV and online news/commentary and websites of Christian ministries serving on behalf of the persecuted (see websites below)
2.   I am encouraged by weekly prayer with fellow believers, a time to share both new requests and answers to prayer.
3.   I am blessed with a brother in Christ who regularly keeps me accountable in spiritual disciplines including prayer.
4.   I try to maintain an up-to-date prayer list that includes particular needs of those under persecution.  For example, many have been praying for Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for his faith in Iran since 2012.
5.  Abby and I financially support responsible Christian ministries because we believe that where [our] treasure is, there will [our] heart be also (Matthew 6: 21).

Notice that my list includes WHAT I try to DO to maintain a disciplined prayer ministry for the persecuted Christians.  However, it doesn’t directly address the more basic issue of WHO I am in my DOING of prayer.  Does God really hear my prayers?  This concern brings us to my second question:  How can I be more faithful and fervent in prayer for those under persecution?   My short answer is this-- I must develop an intimacy with God in order to share His heart and compassion toward those for whom I should pray.  But how can I do this in the midst of my world so full of good things, and the inevitable distractions?   I’ll begin my answer with a story.

Sr. Pastor Dan Wingate participates in community prayer vigil.
Abby and I are blessed to be a part of a community in which local churches are committed to praying for those suffering persecution.  The pastors of approximately a dozen churches in Wooster, including our church, West Hill Baptist Church, have worked together, in 2015, to plan and lead two community prayer vigils.  The first prayer vigil was held on August 2.  The second one was held on November 22 and was attended by approximately 300 in spite of the near-freezing temperatures and wind.
As we left our warm car and walked with together to the shelter of a nearby pavilion, I felt unprepared for joining in corporate prayer--especially to pray for brothers and sisters under such great duress while mourning the death of family members or friends at the hands of ISIS; others having been displaced from their homes; and, still others fearing for their lives in the Middle East and Africa where Islamic extremist threats are most common.

Since Sunday’s prayer vigil, I’ve been reflecting on what God would have me do to be a more effective prayer warrior on behalf of the suffering.  This effort is “a work in progress” and I will share it briefly so that perhaps readers can add helpful insights from your wrestling with the same challenges.  Although I know there are no “easy formulas,” I am using the acronym P-R-A-Y in my effort to be more disciplined and fervent in prayer:

First, I must decide by an act of my will to give P--Priority to prayer.  I must submit my will to the commands of Scripture (e.g. Ephesians 6: 18 and context), the example of Jesus, and the power of His Spirit.  I begin by setting aside a good PLACE and TIME as Jesus did by habit according to Mark 1: 35.

Second, my time with God must be centered on R—Reading and meditating on His Word.  I must remember that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” and intended for me (2 Timothy 3: 16-17) and as I read and meditate (Joshua 1: 8) on them, my mind and spirit are engaged so that I can “speak back” to my Heavenly Father in prayer in line with His will.  The man and woman of faith must have this communion with God regularly, and desire to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Third, when we read and meditate on God’s Word in which He reveals Himself personally to us, A—Adoration and confession should be our response.  I need to get better at discovering the character and heart of God in Scripture.  He reveals Himself most obviously in the many names He uses—e.g. Jehovah, Elohim, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Good Shepherd….and dozens more.  How rich our communion can be as we reflect on the “Great I Am” Whose breath arouses our spirit and speaks into our mind and soul.  And, my response is adoration, but also confession of sin as I recognize the blessedness of being poor in my spirit (Matthew 5: 3) in the face of God’s holiness.

Finally, as my prioritized time/place in prayer allows for my reading/meditation in the Word and my response of adoration/confession, my mind and spirit will Y—Yield in submission to God. Now, my supplication and intercession on behalf of others can be expressed in the prayer of faith (Hebrews 11: 6; Romans 8: 26-27 and context).  Jesus taught us what it means to “yield.” He said, …if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9: 23).

The “Yielding” part when we P-R-A-Y may be the hardest, perhaps because it depends so much on the prior three parts—priority, reading/meditation, and adoration of God.  But as much as I must depend on God’s Spirit for all parts of P-R-A-Y, I am encouraged to realize how very much my Helper wants to produce in me the fruit of yielding—of “denying self.”  Paul teaches that the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5: 22-23).  Perhaps we can say that yielding or denying self, especially self-control, is both a fruit of the Spirit and the kind of obedience that provides more fruit (John 15: 5), including love, joy, and peace.

I feel like a first grader in the “classroom of yielding” or of denying self.  My flesh cries, “how morbid; how boring! Why not do this instead?  It’s much more fun and fulfilling.” Therefore, as a result of the teaching of our pastor, Dan Wingate, I am now considering how fasting, the commitment to denying myself for a time those things I most enjoy in order to P-R-A-Y with greater mental and spiritual focus for needs like the persecuted church of God.  This fasting is not of the kind Jesus chose as recorded in Luke 4, although there is a time and place for that, too.  See for examples, Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9. 

If the Bible records instances in which individuals enter periods of extended praying and fasting as noted above, there are also instances where short prayers, sometimes called “arrow prayers” (e.g. Nehemiah 2: 1-5) are offered to God.  Likewise, I believe fasting can be practiced for days with very limited water and food.  But, fasting, like the practice of “arrow prayers”, can be incorporated into a disciplined lifestyle of private denial of things we normally partake of including certain food, beverages, entertainment, or activities.  In such fasting, we would determine under the direction of God’s Spirit to surrender something for a time as a “sacrifice.” The nature of biblical fasting is not to enter into an extreme ascetic denial without a God-honoring goal.  Rather, such fasting can be part of reinforcing the “denial of self” so that we can each more effectively complete Jesus’ command: denying himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9: 23).  

To the extent that I follow “P-R-A” to Y—Yield, I have experienced a sweet communion with God.  Some of you will have to share your experience with fasting because, as I said, I have not consciously applied fasting with the purposes I have outlined above.  I am aiming to try this in the days ahead, being careful not to violate Jesus’ other teaching in Matthew 6: 17-18 of not making a public show of it.

Yes, another Thanksgiving season is here.  But, this one seems different.  The world has changed much in the past year, and much for the worse it seems.  On this Thanksgiving, God may be calling His blood-bought children to dig deeper than "thankfulness" as a driving force for fervent prayer.  I believe God is calling us to P-R-A-Y as I have described with a focus including thanksgiving for what God has done; but then, moving beyond thanksgiving to adoration of God for Who He is.  Prayers of adoration to Almighty God invite His Spirit to lead us willingly to Yield in submission, to deny self, and take up our cross, willing to follow as an obedient disciple of Christ.  Many of our brothers and sisters are already facing life-threatening spiritual warfare, and it seems to be headed our way.  I hope my thoughts on prayer will make us better-prepared disciples.

Links to Responsible Ministries on Behalf of the Persecuted:
Samaritan’s Purse:
Voice of the Martyrs:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Campus Chaos: A Call for “Higher Education”

Some analysts are not surprised about the chaos on the campuses of University of Missouri, Yale University.  Consider the values being taught on campus and the nature of their millennial students, those born between 1980 and the early 2000’s.  But Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims claims that parents of millennials are also part of the problem.  She supports this claim in her book, How to Raise an Adult.  The subtitle expands on her thesis-- Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

I haven't read Lythcot-Haims’ book.  However, a review of the book by Paul Bonicelli in The Federalist, entitled The College Kids Are Not All Right, presents Lythcot-Haims’ thesis and adds an important context beyond simply implicating parents. Bonicelli attributes the problems of the millennial generation to the deterioration of the framework of moral and ethical teaching in the home and the lack of reinforcement of lessons of the home by the child’s elementary and secondary school, church, and community.

As readers of Oikonomia will realize, I have been emphasizing the important role of the “traditional family,” church, school, and community in the rearing of young men and women with godly character.  See “Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority and additional links below.   Knowing my thesis, you might say that I am guilty of highlighting a book with which I agree.  And you are right; but, allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from Paul Bonicelli’s book review that, in my judgment, make it valuable in its own right.

First, Bonicelli highlights Lythcot-Haims’ indictment of the parents of today’s college students, noting that she… does a good job of reviewing the problems of millennials at the university and beyond. We all know how so many kids come to college and into the workplace needing their hands held, being sensitive to criticism, and being unable to simply function as mature and independent adults. But she does more than offer a litany of problems. She examines the roots of the problem—namely, pressure from parents and brand-plumping elite universities—and tells parents forthrightly they are hurting their own kids. Finally, she offers suggestions for how everyone can fix themselves.

Bonicelli later adds:  The book is replete with often heart-rending examples of unhappy, depressed, unnecessarily medicated kids and young adults whose entire lives have been micromanaged and dominated by parents oblivious to what their kids want or need.

But what impressed me about Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult was his criticism of the book’s lack of emphasis on the need for parents and our schools to raise good human beings.  Bonicelli attributes this void to the state of education at the elementary and secondary levels and the lack of moral training in our culture...  He makes his point by asking us baby boomers and Generation X readers to get in the time machine and go back to yesteryear when kids learned at home, in school, and at church or synagogue that the highest aim was a life well-lived.  Everywhere children turned they were encouraged to be upright, kind, self-reliant, giving, and hardworking. They were taught to abjure evil, sloth, immorality, selfishness, and idleness.  They got these lessons from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  They heard sermons and homilies and got life instructions from whatever their religious institution taught as the moral law.

When they went to school, these lessons were reinforced through the curriculum and the standard of behavior required of them. Kids, understood implicitly as moral beings, had adults to rely upon to help them navigate life’s ups and downs as they matured.  For those rare kids who were spared much adversity in their young lives, there were lessons and examples aplenty in the things they read as a matter of course at school. No parents are perfect, but social pressure and the way things were constantly taught and reinforced living well.

Take one example: If one wants to know how human beings are supposed to face trials and overcome, how to be generous and giving toward others in need, great literature like the Bible, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aesop’s fables offer excellent instruction with timeless examples for all ages and stations. For some kids in the past, that included Cicero and Aurelias, and Augustine and Aquinas.

For those of us tempted to dismiss Bonicelli’s point by pointing out that we cannot return to how things were before modernism and postmodernism emerged, he is quick to offer a counterargument: 

Pointing out that times have changed and that we can’t go back to yesteryear doesn’t impress me.  Right reason and experience tell us the truth about how to raise children into adults.   No amount of postmodern sophistry and relativism can overcome reality.   Our efforts should be put into fixing the problem the right way—one kid, one family, and one school at a time.

Having composed this snapshot of a great book review and a worthwhile book, I am more motivated to be a part of the solution.  Instead of bemoaning social unrest in our cities and on our campuses, and debating the causes, let’s be part of the solution to the problem by reaching out and mentoring—“one kid, one family, and one school at a time.”  As we do, let us remember to emphasize godly character more than “success,” and encouraging good stewardship of opportunities to serve others rather than simply encouraging pursuit of material wealth for personal gain. 

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2: 2

Further Reading:
Paul Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult:  See “The College Kids Are Not All Right
Related Oikonomia articles:
Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility – Christian responsibility in three spheres (family, church, and government)
Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!” – How character was developed in Jackie Robinson and Ben Carson through strong families.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority

Students at U. of Missouri caused their president to resign.
Yesterday, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned in response to increasing pressure from students over racial tensions on campus.   Racial injustice continues to be a problem in America.  Authority figures in America are not without blame whether they are university administrators, civic leaders, or local police.  However, what is most disconcerting to me is the manner in which objecting parties approach the injustice or perceived injustice.  Different opinions or philosophies are no excuse for the absence of mutual respect between authorities and their subjects.

Authority figures are responsible to govern and enforce laws or protocols on the basis of their own integrity and respect for their constituents.   Likewise, subjects of authority are obligated to show respect through polite behavior and a respectful appeal for change in cases where reformation is needed.  Otherwise, the structure that upholds our communities and our nation will be weakened and destroyed.  

The riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland this past summer clearly reveal what happens when the relationship between authorities and their subjects comes unraveled.   Therefore, we must ask, “How does a person learn the proper exercise of authority?” and, “How does a person learn to respect authority?”  According to the Word of God our “Ultimate Authority”, the respect that fuels healthy relationships between authority and subjects must be learned and incorporated into ones character beginning at a young age.

In Genesis, the “Book of Beginnings”, we read how God created humans, male and female (Genesis 1: 17) and ordained that a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2: 24).  This separation from the parent generation and the union of man and wife provides the foundation for distinct families in which children can be nurtured and taught to become responsible adults.  Ephesians 6 explains the fundamental commands that provide for a healthy and loving respect for authority by children (upper case lettering distinguish parts quoted from the Old Testament (Torah)): 

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.   – Ephesians 6: 1-3

Likewise, the Scriptures teach the importance of parents exercising loving authority over children:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord – Ephesians 6: 4

How many of the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri; or, the protestors on the University of Missouri campus had the privilege of being nurtured in a loving home with two parents in which respect for authority was taught?  How many were taught not only to exercise reverent respect for mom and dad, but also reverent respect for the men and women teachers in their school classrooms; or authorities dressed in the uniform of law enforcement in the community?  How many were taught American history and how our nation was founded on the basis of Christian virtues and a proper understanding of the depravity of man, how power corrupts, and hence, the need for checks and balances in government?

Surely, we live in a sin-corrupted world, and this corruption has infected all authorities—parents, teachers, church and civic leaders, and law enforcement officials.  Many of our young people have been mistreated at one or more levels of authority in the home or in the community.  Many have never been respectfully challenged to objectively consider how their own narrow experiences may inaccurately “color” their view of the world around them.  As a result, many have grown up to despise authority at all levels, and have joined the voices of those who reject God and His plan for biblical marriage, family, church, community, and America.  Biblical teaching which was fundamental to the founding and sustaining of America for nearly two and one-half centuries is being eliminated from our homes, schools, churches, and communities. 

Sons and daughters of dysfunctional families, schools, churches, and communities are encouraged to see themselves as victims by selfish or well meaning politicians who offer false hope of relief through empty promises from big government.  Paul Krugman, leading liberal economist and columnist of the New York Times, lamented yesterday, there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t really understand why.  He seems confused about the possible causes of increased drug abuse and suicides in the face of recent government offerings that include universal health care, higher minimum wages, and aid to education.  Could it be that these achievements, instead of delivering a better quality of life, are simply reminders that outside of God’s plan for family and government, we can only expect an increasing population of “victims” existing in a culture of dependency and despair?

Welcome back to the University of Missouri campus, where student groups and boycotting football players have just caused the resignation of the president of the university.  Surely, there are more civil and respectful means of advancing racial reconciliation than this.  I can only speak from my own personal journey toward learning to respect authority and later, to exercise authority in a godly manner.

My childhood was largely free of verbal and physical abuse.  I feel great sorrow toward anyone, including one of my dearest friends, who has been abused by someone in authority.  My parents disciplined me lovingly and with “loving force” at times when necessary.  However, when I began elementary school in first grade, I quickly learned that my social interaction skills were in need of major adjustments.

Mrs. Nile Johnson
Enter Mrs. Olive Johnson, my first grade teacher.  She was a mature, godly woman who seemed very old and stern to me at the time.  I do not remember the exact nature of my infractions of her rules, but I do remember “feeling” her consistent and loving discipline whenever I stepped over the line.  In one instance, while I was being kept in detention for one offence, I was unwise enough to commit another and received a double dose of discipline.   I very much needed Mrs. Johnson’s expenditure of time and energy, sometimes physically applied to my bottom, to bring discipline, respect, and order to my wild, farm boy nature.

Mrs. Johnson was more than simply my first grade teacher.  She worshiped and served at Dundee Methodist Church where my family and I attended.  In summer, she and her husband, Nile, would invite members of our church to gather on their lovely farm for a church picnic.  And, when I graduated from her class, she continued to remember my special day each year for several decades by mailing a birthday card and a poem which she had written.  I understand that Mrs. Johnson practiced this loving ministry to many if not all of her former students until she was unable to continue.   She also gave me a book filled with short stories; and, she lovingly marked her approval in pencil those stories that best taught good character qualities.   Thank you, Mrs. Johnson, for teaching me reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But also, thank you for your example as an authority dressed in love, consistency, firmness, and fairness.

Mrs. Lloyd Gardner
Thankfully, God knew this farm boy well enough to know that one year would not be enough to straighten me out.   My second and third grade teacher was Mrs. Kathryn Gardner, a much younger lady, but no less committed to an orderly classroom and playground.  Whereas, Mrs. Johnson had to break me from some of my wild behavior, Mrs. Gardner’s approach was best suited for helping me develop my attitudes and character.  She set a high standard of achievement for me and was not reserved about putting me on the spot in front of the class when she perceived that I was being careless or lazy with my work. 

Like my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gardener’s life was also visible to me beyond the classroom and playground.  She and her husband, Lloyd, the Dundee postmaster, were friends of our family.  On Sunday mornings, my teacher demonstrated herself to be an accomplished organist as well as a good Sunday school teacher.  As I grew older, I attended Lloyd’s Sunday School class.  He was among those who first sparked my interest in the subject of politics.  Lloyd’s training and experiences as an officer in the armed services and his godly character provided a good example of what it is to be a gentleman.  Meanwhile, in Kathryn I saw a godly woman whose adornment was not merely external, but which included the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3: 3-4).  As an adolescent, I regularly remember the admiring and respectful smiles she gave me as if speaking confidence and approval into my life.

I thank God for providing many good teachers throughout the years of my formal education, some of whom deserve similar recognition here in Oikonomia.  However, Olive Johnson and Kathryn Gardner provided a critical part of my education at the beginning there in Dundee School.  It was through them that God taught me a very important lesson about honor and respect for authority.  This lesson is perhaps best articulated by Doctor Luke in his Gospel, Luke 6: 39-40  

A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he?
Will they not both fall into a pit?   
A pupil is not above his teacher;
but everyone, after he has been fully trained,
will be like his teacher.

This Scripture teaches a principle may be lost on campus these days; namely, the principle I will call the “stewardship of education.”  The teacher/professor and administrator must understand the importance of exercising authority in a loving, purposeful, consistent manner to everyone on campus.  In turn, the students (disciples) must exercise the discipline of showing honor and respect toward those in authority.  Both teacher and student ought to recognize that they are under the authority of God.  This notion is firmly based in Judeo-Christian Scripture, and to the extent that it is applied in the lives of today’s teachers and students as it was at Dundee School, America’s schools and colleges can expect a brighter future.  May God inspire and give courage particularly to Christian educators who are now the minority voice on campuses like the University of Missouri.

Dundee School Revisited:  

Mrs. (Gardner) Weber delights in a former student.
In October, Abby and I were blessed with the opportunity to attend the 100th anniversary of Dundee School.  In addition to getting reacquainted with some of my former schoolmates, we were able to sit and talk with Kathryn (Gardner) Weber, who, like Dundee School,  is also 100 years of age.  At this reunion, sixty years after I sat in her classroom, I sat again and learned from this teacher.  I learned that one can be an honored, 100-year-old teacher who has taught for 35 years, and yet masterfully deflect attention away from herself to a stream of former students in whom she took great delight.  I am privileged to have been one of those in whom she expressed delight.  When Abby asked to take our picture together, Kathryn said, “You take the picture.  I just want to look at my student.”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Conscience of Science: Part 1 Ethics & Accountability

In September, I received disappointing news concerning Volkswagen, the manufacturer of the first car I ever owned.  The carmaker admitted that nearly one-half million cars in the U.S. from model years 2009 to 2015 were equipped with software that skewed exhaust emissions toward more favorable test results.  Volkswagen later acknowledged that the same software was on 11 million cars worldwide.

I still remember the blessing it was
to have this 1963 VW "beetle."
Since the days when I drove my 1963 VW beetle to work at Belden Brick Company in Sugarcreek, OH; and, to Malone College, in Canton, OH, automobiles have been transformed through advances in science and technology into amazing driving machines.  Advances in fuel efficiency and emissions control are just two examples of the steady improvements in automobiles.   But, while progress of science seems limitless, the Volkswagen incident suggests that “progress” is hampered without good ethics to govern the development and use of technology.

During the past century, science has emerged as the principal determiner of what is true about the natural world, about human life and behavior, and even about what is “real” and what is not.  Phrases like, “according to science” or “according to scientific findings” have been routinely used for decades to introduce authoritative claims of truth about nearly every subject being debated.  But interestingly, this year as allegations were emerging against Volkswagen for unethical use of technology for economic gain, events were occurring that raised doubts about the ethics and integrity of science itself.

Writing in the New York Times in May, Benedict Carey outlined a flurry of retractions of articles from scientific journals, including one by the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal, Science.  After two graduate students “raised questions” about a published Science report on how political canvassing affects public opinion of same-sex marriage, editors
pulled the article; but, not before what Carey called “a frenzy of second-guessing, accusations and commentary from all corners of the Internet: “Retraction” as serial drama, rather than footnote.” 

The blog
Retraction Watch was first to report that the Science article had been challenged.   Blog editor Dr. Ivan Oransky noted that “new technology and a push for transparency from younger scientists have…[produced]..more tips (questionable articles) than we can handle.” 

In earlier Oikonomia articles ” (see end of this article), we have emphasized what we call “good science.”  By our definition, “good science” does not overstate its conclusions even under pressure from granting sources or groups with a political agenda.  Nor would “good science” condone publication of statistically altered data.  In short, “good science” has a conscience ((Latin, conscientia = “knowledge of right and wrong within oneself”).  “Good science” is conscientious about being objective, cautious, humble, and unbiased in a culture that can easily bring bias and elicit unethical behavior.

Brian Nosek is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and a founder of the Center for Open Science (COS) which promotes inter-laboratory sharing of data and protocols.  He reports that there is a push toward direct replication of research findings.  Nosek coordinated a volunteer effort by 270 research psychologists to reproduce 100 studies published in 3 leading psychology journals.  Their results, published in Science, revealed that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested, causing many to conclude that the field of research psychology needs a “strong correction.”  Or, we might say, research psychology needs a “reawakening” of conscience.

Looking closer at one of the psychology studies cited above, Nosek et al. flagged the article because authors
Vohs and Schooler (2008) overstated the influence of genetic determinism as opposed to free will in the tendency of a person to cheat.  The authors’ conclusion that participant exposure to a deterministic message increased cheating was in turn cited in 241 other articles, suggesting the tremendous scope and rapidity of transmission of either “good” or “bad science.”   Interestingly, a listing of 24 “articles citing this article” accompanying the online link to the Vohs and Schooler article published in Psychological Science gave no indication of the Science article in which Nosek, et al had questioned the finding of Vohs and Schooler.

The questionable credibility of social science studies has led to calls for similar scrutiny in other fields.  Our N.Y. Times columnist, Carey, quotes Stefano Bertuzzi, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, as saying,  “the effort was long overdue, given that biology has some of the same publication biases as psychology. ‘I call it cartoon biology, where there’s this pressure to publish cleaner, simpler results that don’t tell the entire story, in all its complexity,’ Dr. Bertuzzi said.”

What message should we get from this depressing litany of reports?  Rather than bemoan the deterioration of scientific enterprise, let’s consider approaches that can encourage “good science” in today’s culture of declining moral standards and lack of integrity.   Here are three considerations that may be useful in restoring and maintaining the integrity of science.

First, I am encouraged that the science community has spotlighted the trend toward publication of results lacking good support and even results based on falsification of data.  As noted above, efforts to limit the publication and spread of such scientific articles are expanding.  For example,
Kelly Rae Chi has developed an algorithm to identify papers that have received numerous negative citations.  Such papers could then be red-flagged to discourage their citation and potential “viral spread” of false conclusions into other articles.

Second, and of more fundamental importance is the need to identify the underlying causes and motivations behind the spewing of scientific papers that do not hold up to scrutiny.  Could it be that the increasingly politicized atmosphere around the science laboratory combined with the moral decline in our culture is causing increasing numbers of scientists to cave in to the temptation to cut corners and draw conclusions from scanty data?  Might other scientists succumb to shoddy experimentation in order to increase their publication rate to support tenure or promotion?   

And finally, we must recognize a more subtle temptation— to publish data and conclusions that reflect deeply held philosophical or political biases in controversial areas.  Particular examples include research that relates to the origin of human life, the role of human activities in causing climate change, and the efficacy and potential side-effects of new pharmaceutical drugs.  Controversial topics such as these offer significant threats to the “conscience of science;” and particularly, the ethical consciences of the scientists involved.

Yes, Volkswagen has offered us a new beetle that buzzes with much better technology than the beetles of the past century.  But, science and technology appear to be in great need of a moral and ethical tune-up.  We will discuss factors that contribute toward the decline of “good science” in an upcoming blog article.  Particular emphasis will be upon what many consider as unhealthy political and philosophical influences that threaten the conscience and integrity of science.

Related Articles:
Oikonomia: Halting the Demise of “Liberal” Education
Climate Change Debate Demands “Good Science

Imagination That Contradicts the Reality of Creation