Richard Gallagher is one of those guys I’m not ever going to like much. He’s the editor of The Scientist, yet he wrote an editorial encouraging us to embrace Intelligent Design in the classroom, in the perverse hope that by giving ID that much attention, students will naturally disregard it. That was crazy stupid enough, but where he lost my respect completely was in a published rebuttal to my criticisms where he maliciously distorted my point from one advocating the teaching of science as a process based on evidence (which is why ID fails in the classroom) to a false claim that I want to shield kids from critical thinking. Lies and misrepresentation to get ID into the classroom? The Discovery Institute loved it and republished his article.
Now he has published another editorial, one in which he finally realizes the danger of letting pseudoscience into the classroom, and finally he gets it right…but I’m going to be much less charitable than Tara. What finally motivates him to speak out for good science teaching based on reason and evidence is a perceived threat from “New Agers” and the “spiritual Left” with their wacky “mother earth sensibility.”
Now it’s time to apply our collective energy to counter the rise in mysticism and fall of skeptical inquiry. The first step: Find out how many in your circle of acquaintances, including your students, are already operating in this mindset. As a second step you could do worse than to proffer copies of Silver’s book. Once the core weakness of the spiritual-left mindset is exposed, a more rational viewpoint might ensue.
This affects us all: We need to be zealots in hunting out this contagious and pernicious viewpoint, labeling it as such, and addressing it wherever and whenever it is encountered.
Where is this zealotry when it’s the Discovery Institute peddling their pernicious and well-funded viewpoint, Mr Gallagher? It is quite correct that woo-woo nonsense from the right or the left has no place in the classroom, but Gallagher is selective in his choice of targets, and has revealed himself to be a hypocritical ideologue. He even claims that “The threat to science from … the spiritual left may already have overtaken the threat from the religious right,” which is simply absurd. We don’t have a problem with teachers across the country pushing homeopathy on their students, nor do they hesitate to teach anatomy for fear of angry citizens descending on the school board and PTA and complaining that it violates the revealed truth of chiropractic…but we do have teachers across the country cowed and afraid to mention the “E” word because of the pervasive anti-scientific creationist nonsense Gallagher has defended.
For an example of the kind of vilely comic absurdity that gets lots of media air time, that is spread far and wide in books and print, and that is unquestioned by the airheads that are the public face of journalism, take a look at this interview with Ann Coulter on CBN (that link is to the main page; the interview link may vanish). She spouts a non-stop stream of astounding lies. Just to pluck out a few, she claims that in the Cambrian, “all of the animal phyla appeared in the blink of an eye” and that we “can’t mention the Cambrian explosion in the classroom.” It’s a performance that is shocking in the boldness of her dishonesty, an outright attack on good science that is built entirely on a framework of unmistakably false misrepresentations of the evidence. Tens of millions of years is an awfully slow blink, and if teachers can’t mention the Cambrian, it’s because discussing an event that occurred half a billion years ago rouses the ire of creationists, not scientists.
I’m all for criticizing the advocates of bogus ‘alternative’ medicines and ‘spiritual’ bunkum, and I don’t mind applying the pressure there…but I think it’s the churches and popular media that are the greater promulgators of airy-fairy BS, not the schools, and it’s the danger to public school education that is the greater threat. When there’s an herbal medicine think-tank with a multi-million dollar budget lobbying to get their crank medicines placed in the high school biology curriculum, then it’ll be time to fulminate against the New Age corruption of science education. It’s just not happening.
What I’d like to see now is an editorial from Richard Gallagher making the same uncompromising criticisms of the Discovery Institute and Ann Coulter that he so bravely issued against the unnamed, nebulous threat of the ‘spiritual Left.’ I don’t expect to ever see it; he’s just a shill for the Right whose interest is not in advancing science, but in playing ideological games.
(Thanks to the Power Liberal for the pointer to the Onion headlines!)