Two recent posts over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division blog have me ready to break out the world’s smallest violin. Their new (well, newish, anyway – it’s popped up from time to time before) argument is that they are being discriminated against. In the first of the two articles, Rob Crowther argues that “Darwinists” are trying to “censor” academic freedom in Michigan. In the second, John West starts by suggesting that “Of Pandas and People” should be the “Banned Book of the Year,” and concludes with the outrageous and insulting claim that the “ultimate goal here is to ban ideas.”
The two posts, unsurprisingly enough, are jam packed with statements that are in gross conflict with reality. I’m not going to go into those here, although there are one or two I’m considering taking a swing at later. Instead, I’m going to focus on their root claim that objecting to what they want to do in the classroom constitutes some sort of “censorship.”
Claiming that one is being censored, oppressed, or repressed has a long and honorable tradition. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it isn’t, and either way it can be really good at attracting attention – just ask Larry Flynt about that. It works because it pushes our “fair play” buttons, and plays on the inborn objection that Americans have to being told to sit down and shut up. We’ve done a reasonable, albeit imperfect, job when it comes to convincing people that censorship is bad. The DI folks are hoping to make that work for them. They want people to be saying, “Well, maybe they’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you can silence them.”
The problem, of course, is that they’re not being censored. Nobody is telling them to stop writing or selling books. Nobody is keeping them from writing op-eds, and nobody is keeping them from running a blog. We’re not even keeping them out of the scientific literature – the problem that they have there is that we expect them to meet the same standards as the rest of us to get their material in there. We’re not telling them that they can’t teach their stuff to their kids at home or in Church. We’re not telling them that their books can’t be put in public libraries.
What we are telling them is that they can’t teach their lies in the public school science classroom. It’s as simple as that. Censorship doesn’t come into play, because there is no universal right to have your pet “theory” advanced as science in the public school classroom. In fact, there are (or at least should be) standards that determine this. The content of the science curriculum should be based on our best understanding of science. The people best equipped to determine what our best understanding of science is are scientists.
I’ll go slightly out on a limb here, and guess that I might get accused of “elitism” for daring to suggest that everybody isn’t equally equipped to determine what constitutes “good science.” Scientists, like any number of other professionals, are specialists working in fields that require specialized knowledge. That’s not something that’s particularly unusual these days – almost everyone works in a field that requires some sort of specialized knowledge, whether the knowledge involves how to work a particular machine on an assembly line, how to perform a heart transplant, or how to conduct population viability analysis on an endangered species.
At present, the vast majority of working scientists don’t think that Intelligent Design is good science (or, for that matter, science at all). The vast majority of working scientists think that the material that the Discovery Institute folks want to teach as “evidence against” evolution is at best incorrect, and at worst a deliberate attempt to lie to students in an effort to convince them that evolution isn’t real. If the DI people want their material incorporated in public school science curricula (at least without massive objection from the scientific community), they need to convince scientists first. If they’ve convinced the scientific community, but are still being kept out of the school curriculum they might have good reason to claim censorship. Right now, they’re nowhere near that point.
Actually, if anyone has cause to complain it’s the scientific community and the proponents of good science education. We are attempting to teach the material that the vast majority of scientists believe best represents our current understanding of nature. They are doing their best to make sure that we can’t do so unless their material, which has been resoundingly rejected by the scientific community, is also incorporated into the science curriculum as science.
Let’s be clear on this. The anti-evolutionists are demanding special treatment for their fringe beliefs. Refusing to include fringe beliefs about evolution in the biology curriculum is no more censorship than a refusal to teach geocentricism would be in the astronomy curriculum. Excluding nonscientific nonsense from the science curriculum isn’t censorship. It’s just good educational practice.