We’ve got a couple of appalling examples of awful journalism to scowl at today. The first is this credulous piece by Gordy Slack in The Scientist. I’ve been unhappy with Slack before — he sometimes seems to want to let creationist absurdity slide — and I got yelled at by some readers for my uncharitable interpretation of his review of the Creation “Museum”. Well, I think I’ve been vindicated now.
This article tries to give credit to the Intelligent Design creationists for some discoveries or interpretations. It’s wrong from top to bottom. Here’s his list, with my brief rebuttal; Jeffrey Shallit has a more thorough dissection.
ID gets credit for saying there are big, open questions in science. Scientists say this. It is not news. Go ahead, ask us, and we’ll give you long lists of exciting research questions. They won’t be invented or falsified controversies, as the DI is fond of puking up.
The cell is more complex than Darwin imagined. Scientists say this. The complexity of the cell was not figured out by creationists of any kind — it is the outcome of hard work by cell biologists and molecular biologists. It’s also not true that Darwin had a poor understanding of cellular complexity: as I’ve said before, the mid- to late 19th century was the period when the light microscope reached its optical limits, and there was all kinds of amazing work being done into developing new staining techniques and identifying new organelles. When do you think Camillo Golgi lived?
IDists are correct to say love is not an illusion. Scientists say this. Frankly, this is the most dumb-ass argument in a whole slop-bucket of dumbassery; that cherished, complex phenomena like love have a material basis does not in any way imply that they are not “real”.
IDists are right to say that some proponents of evolution are blind followers. Scientists say this. We don’t sit around thinking, “How can I get people to obey me?” The concern about improving public understanding of science is about getting people to be skeptical and ask intelligent questions. And just how can Slack give credit for noticing dogmatism among evolution supporters when ID is all about rationalizing dogmatic beliefs in a creator?
There is nothing in this mess that Gordy Slack credits to creationists that is actually something that they have done first. And then in conclusion he asks an utterly inane rhetorical question: “Should IDers be allowed to pursue their still very eccentric and outlying theory?” Has it ever even been suggested that creationists not be allowed to do research? More often, we’re snarling at ‘em to go get some reasonable evidence. Slack’s article was just plain bad, strawmen aplenty and the gullible acceptance of ID propagandists’ appropriation of basic ideas.
Here’s another example of godawful stupid journalism, this time from the New York Times. Academics in Philadelphia have done a wonderful thing: they have organized a Year of Evolution to celebrate the Darwin year; I praised this before, and it really is an excellent, positive way to celebrate and inform about science. (I should also mention that I’ve been invited to come speak in November. This is not necessarily why it is such a good event.) This is a fantastic opportunity for people in that region to learn about the amazing progress science has made in the last century and a half.
How does the NY Times article start? “In the long-running culture war between evolution and creationism, Philadelphia is firing the latest shot.”
I’m wondering…when St Patrick’s Cathedral opens its doors on Sunday morning, will there be journalists there covering the latest assault in the war on reason? Would they even think to phrase it that way? When scientists gather, though, and try to present their work to the community … that’s fighting a war.
Now, since the NY Times is the greatest paper in America, and they have to excel in everything, when they screw up they don’t just make a little boo-boo and then correct their course and try to move back towards something reasonable — that would produce a mediocre article. No, they have to compound the error. They have to make it monumental. Who would be the worst person to consult to add ‘diversity’ to the article, to put it into the standard boring frame with two sides and nothing in between? Can you guess?
Of course you can. Ken “Wackaloon” Ham.
Please. This is insane. I can understand getting multiple sources for a story; I can see how if a doctor has just told you some important medical news, you might want to get a second opinion. But if that second opinion was delivered by an inebriated, unwashed schizophrenic the doctor obligingly dragged out of a dumpster for you, you might be unimpressed with the quality of his search for diverse, informed perspectives. This, however, is pretty much standard operating procedure at the Times.
I noticed that when the Times reported on the recent discovery of the transitional fossil between fish and amphibians (the “fishapod”), they asked a creationist for comment. As an evolutionary biologist, I was dismayed by this. Creationism is simply a discredited enterprise, and asking a creationist to comment on a new fossil is like asking a faith healer to comment on a medical advance, or an astrologer to comment on a new discovery about human behavior. I respect the newspaper’s desire to be objective and give opposing viewpoints, but don’t see the need to do that when the “opposing viewpoint” is simply a form of quackery.
Here’s her reply. It starts out well enough.
How to cover the politicization of science, intelligent design and other manifestations of what Mr. Fishkin and other readers call the war on science is a question that comes up again and again in the science department. We’re well aware that giving equal time to opposing views of an issue makes no sense when one side has no solid evidence to stand on. The old FCC idea of a fairness doctrine simply shouldn’t apply to science journalism.
Right. Philadelphia is planning a major event around the discoveries and evidence and ideas of evolutionary biology, and that certainly is newsworthy. Ken Ham has no solid evidence to stand on, so it makes no sense to call him up and asks for his opinion…but they did. As she said, this makes no sense.
So why do they bring in anti-intellectual reprobates and promote their ignorance to a kind of equivalence to scientific ideas?
Yet viewpoints that may strike scientifically literate people as absurd, dangerous or even evil have a way of making news that insists on being dealt with. In recent years creationism’s hip cousin, intelligent design, has grown to be a divisive issue at every level of society, from school boards to the White House. So it seems to me that a serious paper is obliged to investigate the phenomenon, beginning with the question ‘What is going on here?’
Wait — so now she’s claiming that bringing aboard an irrational wackaloon is the mark of a “serious paper”? Wow. I guess that makes World Net Daily one of the pinnacles of serious journalism. The NY Times must be trying to catch up with them.
If the newspaper was writing an article on the serious sociological and political issues of creationism, evolution, and education, then sure — bring in many sides, explore them, and weigh them, and try to come to a conclusion. Unfortunately, there are two observations that invalidate the editor’s defense.
One is that even in those instances where the topic warrants the inclusion of these multiple perspectives, journalists tend to just let them lie there, limp and unresolved. We have scientists and we have creationists, they disagree with one another, we can’t resolve this issue, we can’t suggest that maybe one side is the province of insanity and ignorance, we’re just reporters for the NY freaking Times. There is no investigation, only the bland, blinkered recitation of each side’s position.
The other problem is that in both the cases of the Philadelphia Darwin celebration and the discovery of Tiktaalik, the creationist side had nothing of substance to contribute, other than sullen, unfounded disagreement. Denial is not an argument. The newspaper does a disservice to work that has heft to it, that has a solid foundation of serious evidence behind it, when they take any event on the side of reason and reflexively pair it with some cretin who has nothing but a dogmatic denial of science and reason as his credentials.
It seems to me that that is not what a serious paper would do.