New Scientist flips the bird at scientists, again

We've been through this before. When New Scientist ran their misleading "Darwin was wrong" cover, we hammered at them and pointed out that they were doing us no favors — they were giving ammunition to creationists who would never read the contents, but would wave that cover at school board meetings. And they did. We chastised the editor, Roger Highfield, and we had the impression that he was penitent, but it turns out we were completely wrong.

New Scientist is now using that same cover again in their promotional material to flog magazines. Yes, that is their business, to sell magazines…but this represents a declaration that they think their market is the ignorant creationist segment of wanna-be pretend scientists. That's a real shame.

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Jerry Coyne calls for a boycott. I have to agree. If they don't want fans of real science to read their magazine, then we won't. I also won't hesitate to tell young people interested in science that they shouldn't waste their time with New Scientist — pick up Seed instead, or even Discover, if you're a bit déclassé. But sorry, NS is joining the Weekly World News as yet another rag pandering to the gullible.

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What about Scientific American?

"Boycott"

Yes. The rational community needs to become a force to be reckoned with. I wish I bought the magazine so that I could stop.

By Greg Esres (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I hate it when you know something bad is going to happen but can't do anything about it.
I cannot wait for creationist to throw this in our faces
Boycott indeed

Wow, it makes me glad I never supported them in the first place. I've always grabbed a Discover and I know I made the right choice when I clicked on the link to have "Latest Creationist Idiocy" with a picture of Teh Burns! guy on the front page.

As if science doesn't have a bad enough rap in the general public we have a science magazine that loves to cater. It sounds like it's time for it to go away.

I don't think it is right to boycott a magazine just because of the picture on the cover. I might actually go by the issue just to see what was actually in the article.

By Voldemort13 (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

What about Scientific American?

I've always liked that magazine--even before I ever heard of NewScientist. Or should I start calling it "NewAgeScientist"?

It's a shame, because I think that for the most part, the writing is decent.

Guess I won't be getting a subscription any time soon, very good to know! I hate that sensationalized BS no matter what the subject matter, but it especially does not belong in science.

What's up with NS? Tough economic times call for tough measures??

Hmmm...really, Discover is for déclassé folks? That seems a bit strong when it's probably the best science magazine for non-scientist out there.

I like the New Scientist. Sure, it's a bit tabloid-y, but it's better written and more amusing than either of its American competitors, and has lots of small articles that are perfect for reading on the Metro. They do tend towards wild headlines. Another example is quantum effects being treated as equivalent to the transporter in Star
Trek. But creationists are always going to find grist for their mill somewhere.

By Invigilator (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I've seen a steady decline in the quality of New Scientist's articles over the years. Their sensationalist attitude panders to the kind of people who like to engage in scientific debate without taking the time to understand what they're saying. Furthermore, around the areas I'm most well-read in, their journalists seem to be particularly hit or miss when it comes to communicating the actual conclusions of research. Hardly engenders much confidence in them for other areas of science.

Let NS kill itself. SciAm is orders of magnitude better.

What, is it sweeps week for magazines? Is this really necessary to be going for the 'scandal' to advertise for Science-related publications?

The problem is not one of simple neglect. Over the years there have been many earnest efforts to build a reliable facility for writing and reading mathematics online. The trouble is, no one solution has yet gained the kind of widespread adoption that would make it a standard, supported in mainstream Web servers and browsers.

Hahahaha! That's rich!

As for New Scientist: recently they removed an article from their website due to -- amazingly -- "a complaint" from a creationist.

How about "Darwin wasn't always right"?

By Shadow Caster (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

What, again, is the problem with the title? The "tree" model is a misleading metaphor. Darwin was wrong to place so much stock on such a metaphor. Darwin made mistakes. Big deal.

By tyrone slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Their sensationalist attitude panders to the kind of people who like to engage in scientific debate without taking the time to understand what they're saying.

We have here, in a nice easy to understand sentence, a perfect description of all the ID people.

By Apprentice to … (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Voldemort and Tyrone - did you read PZ's entire post where he explains quite clearly what the problem with the cover is?

By Tabby Lavalamp (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I'd boycott it supposing I had ever bothered to read that bound toilet paper to begin with.

This is kind of cool. I can be on the side of right and it's just business as usual.

Oh bugger.
Well I don't buy NS as much as I used to anyway because there does seem to be a decline in quality, but this continuing mess I suppose 'seals the deal' for me.
I'll try SciAm and Discovery, anyone know any other good widely available equivalents?
Please don't suggest Focus.

By Hauntedchippy (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

As an Englishman who dozed through science lessons at school and has spent the past 16 years playing catch up, I've always valued the New Scientist. However the quality of its science reporting has deteriorated noticeably over the past couple of years. The appalling Darwin cover was the last straw.

So yes, sadly, I won't be buying the magazine again until it pulls its fucking socks up. SciAm and Nature, I suppose.

By Shishinden (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

We can't win, no matter what we do. By calling for a boycott on New Scientist for promoting a cover which misleads the casual onlooker as to the actual content of the article, that same casual onlooker will now think we are boycotting the magazine because we don't like what the article says.

Watch. Creationists will quote-mine PZ and Coyne to spin this as atheist evolutionists trying to punish those 'brave maverick science magazines' which try to get the truth out about the demise of Darwinism. They'll say that New Scientist is being EXpelled!!!!

Dear Tabby,

Yes, I read the entire post by PZ, and I am still left with a profound sense of "so what." Saying that Darwin was wrong is not a big deal and his tree metaphor is misleading. But then I've never been overly taken with conflating personalities with science.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

SciAm and Seed are great. New Scientist can pander to gullible morons if it wants. I am not a gullible moron, and so I will not be buying it, ever.

@Tyrone: Is not a big deal? You clearly do not know the full story. Why don't you go back and actually read about how damaging the original New Scientist cover story has been, and then you come back here when you know WTF you're talking about.

I get both SciAm and AmSci. The former is written for an intelligent lay audience, while the latter is written for general scientist audience.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

This is really too bad. American science mags are not good, glossy monthly magazines with articles aimed at folks with a 6th grade education. New Scientist is well written and comes out every week.
Science blogs are great, can replace New Scientist, but no American science magazine really does the trick...

Voldemort13 (#6) took a stand,

I don't think it is right to boycott a magazine just because of the picture on the cover.

I don't think it's right to criticize something without understanding the context.

Seriously, this has been discussed several times before and there was a link to one of those times right in the start of this post!
There's a search bar on the top of the page.
Learn it. Use it. Embrace it.

By Ryan F Stello (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I sent them a letter telling them I won't be buying their magazine anymore and why. I encourage others to do the same.

For americans: subscribe@newscientist.com --- If you're from another country, you can find the appropriate address to contact them at.

A lot of you don't seem to understand that the Godbots drooling over this latest "evidence of evolution's failings" IS a problem. They know nothing about the tree metaphor. They see the cover, see "Darwin Was Wrong", and go "a-ha" and spread lies. None of them actually read the article.

THAT is why, YES, it's a problem. But unfortunately, I'm seeing Sastra's point. It's kind of a no-win. That's why it's so upsetting.

Never! As much as I love pharyngula and PZ I won't take marching orders from anyone. NS is a great science magazine. That quirky British point of view spices science in ways Scientific American, Seed, Science News, and Discover don't. I subscribe to all of them, except for Discover.

The art of headline writing and magazine cover design is one of attention grabbing, not informing. Nobody is suggesting everyone boycott Nature for some of their boners over the years, and they have had some doozies. The only gripe I have with New Scientist is their outrageous $140/year subscription price. As I've said before, where else are we going to see the latest Pugeot ads?

New Scientist has always had an eye for promotion over substance; for years it was the primary place, other than books, for Elaine Morgan's aquatic ape writings.

Next up, a cover article headlined Tyrone Slothrap's Mother Sleeps Around. Those who purchase the magazine will read about Tyrone's mom and her wonderful two week trip through the Pacific Northwest, where she stayed at some lovely bed-and-breakfasts.

Of course, Mom is probably not already in a rather sticky situation with unjust slanders on her reputation going around town. So we'd only think it a clever play on words.

Never! As much as I love pharyngula and PZ I won't take marching orders from anyone. NS is a great science magazine. That quirky British point of view spices science in ways Scientific American, Seed, Science News, and Discover don't. I subscribe to all of them, except for Discover.

The art of headline writing and magazine cover design is one of attention grabbing, not informing. Nobody is suggesting everyone boycott Nature for some of their boners over the years, and they have had some doozies. The only gripe I have with New Scientist is their outrageous $140/year subscription price. As I've said before, where else are we going to see the latest Pugeot ads?

The Weekly World News? Do they even *exist* anymore?

(I'm also pretty sure they'd object to being lumped in with the New Scientist, given that they DO make it clear they're a parody intended to entertain.)

Anyhow, that being said, I'll continue to read the New Scientist myself (at the library, as usual). I honestly doubt that these boycotts are anything more than feel-good measures or that they have a real impact (much more so when you, such as me, didn't buy the magazine yourself to start with). And also, while I think it's right to chastise them for the cover (and especially its continued use now!), it does seem a little over the top to boycott them over that, anyway, in addition to being useless.

YMMV, of course. :)

A boycott? Over a headline?

Criticize them harshly, yes. Point out their folly, for sure. But do you really want to pressure them economically so that they’ll shut up and publish only the things you agree with?

How different is that from what the Oklahoma state legislature is doing over Dawkins’ speech?

Guys, I think we should *ALL take our time and write New Scientist to tell them we aim to boycott them because of their disappointing behaviour. Even if you don't read the magazine (like me) you can make it look like you were interested, but now you won't consider subscribing anymore.

We need to take action. It is acts like these that hurt science in America by giving the creationists something to flail around at the school board meetings. New Scientist must be punished, and harshly.

I think you guys are over-reacting, big time. Sure it's sensationalist and misleading, but it's obviously not pro-creationist.

Simmer down!

The "tree" model is a misleading metaphor.

No, it's not.

Darwin was wrong to place so much stock on such a metaphor.

No, he wasn't.

Horizontal gene transfer merely provides another mechanism (beside mutation) for introducing heritable variation into populations. Once new DNA is introduced, regular old natural selection takes over. Just because Darwin had no concept of DNA does not mean that his overall theory was "wrong," and nor does it reduce the veracity of the branching-tree metaphor applied at the proper level of the evolution of populations and species. Vertical gene transmisison is still by far the more important mechanism in all groups, including bacteria.

By Sven DiMIlo (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

My sub to New Scientist doesn't run out for almost two years, and I do enjoy getting a science weekly. But (a bit of an addict) I also take five sci-tech monthlies, and they are a lot better. NS seems to throw absolutely anything to the wall to see if it sticks, even woo and sensationalism, and it's getting worse. Maybe I should go back to Science News.

Jim Royal @ 38:

A boycott? Over a headline?

Criticize them harshly, yes. Point out their folly, for sure. But do you really want to pressure them economically so that they’ll shut up and publish only the things you agree with?

How different is that from what the Oklahoma state legislature is doing over Dawkins’ speech?

There's a difference between dollar voting and the state trying to suppress protected speech. There's also a difference between demanding that they "publish only the things you agree with" and demanding that they exercise some responsibility.
As for me, I'll continue never having purchased a copy of New Scientist. That'll show 'em!

By Treppenwitz (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I already changed NS for Seed, but I should have written to them to let them know why I didn't renew.

In addition to boycotting the magazine, I suggest that scientists boycott giving interviews to the magazine's writers. While the writers will just lift a quote from somewhere else, they might pass the message along to the editor. If New Scientist can't get direct interviews with scientists, they might change their editorial policy.

By Peter Backus (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

@zaardvark #26:
My bad - My Saturday morning sensitivity may have been set a bit high and it didn't occur to me that it was just a friendly rivalry swipe at the Discover Bloggers...Doh!

perhaps Trent, Bert, and Jim have not had the doubtful pleasure of seeing anything that displays any lack of perfection in science get turned into arguments that everything in science is wrong.

For example, a study by some folks at Duke on the role of solar input on climate models said that the amount of input needed to be increased by 5 - 10%. This turned into - "It's the SUN!!!. AGW is a hoax!!!!" Same with any change in palentology, geology, or other fields with emotional content. Oddly, quantum mechanics does not inspire such strong responses...

In any case, SciAm is a bit too high for mass appeal; I'd think Discover would be better.

Trent Eady #40 wrote:

Sure it's sensationalist and misleading, but it's obviously not pro-creationist.

True; it's not pro-creationist. But not true that it's not obviously pro-creationist. When it comes to defending the theory of evolution as a legitimate scientific theory, we're often dealing with a section of the public which reads nothing but the headlines. Thus, you can see that very cover reprinted on creationism sites across the web. They know when they scored a coup.

At best, being misleading is kinda stupid, considering the whole situation.

To Holydust,

And how damaging was the cover? Seriously. Did research stop because of the cover? Did people stop doing science because of the cover? Were funds cut because of the cover? What damage?

To Sven,

The "tree" metaphor is misleading and Darwin was wrong to put so much stock in it. It is a metaphor. All metaphors obscure and highlight to various degrees (note the entailments of that particular metaphor). That, of course, does not mean that natural selection is wrong, nor does it mean evolution is invalid. It merely means that we have outgrown the constraints of that particular metaphor (pun intended). Such arboreal metaphors are old, and here Darwin was not terribly original.

But then, as I said before, I am not overly concerned with conflating science with personalities, that seems rather tabloid-like to me.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

But horizontal gene transfer doesn't invalidate the tree model. Trees normally have some horizontal flow in places, don't they? I have seen some intersecting branches, and many intersecting roots.

Didn't we just see Darwin's drawing the other day? The little doodle that looked sort of like a tree, except for the spiral going down, and the horizontals and all?

This "tree" business sounds a lot like the people who say "Darwin's Theory of Evolution", and think we worship Darwin, that a theory is a guess, and that Darwin invented the idea of evolution. It's a straw man.

So yes, New Scientist was wrong. Darwin wasn't, in that area. And if he was wrong in one area, it doesn't matter. We can check his work, and we know he made some other mistakes. God help us if the creationists ever figure that out.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Is New Scientist some kind of elaborate Poe? Because, to judge a book completely by its cover, the free gift, "Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?" seems a more than a little absurd.

By Scooty Puff, Jr. (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I hope it was worth it to them. I'm not renewing my subscription.

George @ 43: Sensationalism, yes. Woo, no.

By Invigilator (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I hardly ever read NS, most of my familiarity with the rag comes from a lot of scientists complaining about them routinely resorting to sensationalism over accurate reporting. Seeing this latest debacle only further justified my general predilection.

Wow. Nope - I think I'd sooner subscribe to both Seed and Discover.

"And how damaging was the cover? Seriously. Did research stop because of the cover? Did people stop doing science because of the cover? Were funds cut because of the cover? What damage?"

Your view of what constitutes "damage" is overly reductionist. Giving creationists fodder for their anti-science PR activities, which this has clearly done, is damaging. Lowering the standards of science journalism even further is damaging.

How about a constructive, friendly suggestion to the magazine:
Change the name to "No Scientist"?
No? So how about "W00 Scientist"?
No? So how about "Noah 'Scientist'"?

They might get the drift...

Maybe they hope to get a bunch of creationists to subscribe with the ad . . .

By Invigilator (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Yes, I read the entire post by PZ, and I am still left with a profound sense of "so what." Saying that Darwin was wrong is not a big deal and his tree metaphor is misleading.

No it is NOT misleading, it is almost totally correct. Darwin was right, even about the tree of life, and he was certainly right about evolution, which is the topic most people who saw the headline would assume was in question.

Since the original cover was published, numerous instances have been cited of creationists waving it around triumphantly as evidence that "Even the scientists themselves don't believe in evolution." Highfield even anticipated that this would happen in his original editorial, and gloatingly relished the prospect, because it would stir up controversy.

Even if we stick to the narrow topic of whether the branching tree of life is a good metaphor, the ONLY serious exceptions are among procaryotes. As far as the animals and plants that Darwin himself was writing about, the tree metaphor is supported by almost all contemporary information. So, New Scientist's "Darwin was Wrong" is saying no more than "Darwin didn't know about procaryotes". Darwin didn't know about DNA. Darwin didn't know about Hox genes. Darwin didn't know about ribosomes, messenger RNA, the Krebs Cycle, etc etc etc. That does not mean that Darwin was WRONG. Darwin was right about the things he was writing about. You might as well head any article about Quantum Theory, "Newton was Wrong".

In any case, the complaint is no longer just about the "Darwin was Wrong" cover itself, lamentable as that was. The complaint now is that the Editor, Roger Highfield, having seemed contrite and regretful about the original cover, has now compounded the offence massively by issuing a new full page advertisement for the magazine, consisting entirely of that cover. This shows that he has no shame, no taste, no regard for scientific truth, no regard for anything except circulation figures. Roger Highfield has forfeited the right to be respected by scientists. Roger Highfield is no more than a media whore.

Most people seem to be interpreting the boycott suggestion as a boycott of New Scientist by customers, refusing to buy it. I think more effective would be a boycott by scientists publicly pledging to refuse to write for New Scientist, as long as Roger Highfield remains editor, or until he writes an editorial publicly disowning the original cover and apologising for his lapse of judgment in printing it and then subsequently having the gall to use it in an advertisement.

Hey Scooty Puff! Didnt recognize you at once. How's it been since the Baylout, man? Getting a teeny bit lonely in your floating command center already, yeah?
Glad you're not entirely abandoned on your own self.

Tyler DiPietro,

Creationists will do what they will do. What damage was done? Real damage. I apologize for being concerned with real damages and not imagined damages. If that makes me reductionist, so be it. Otherwise, be careful with your hyperbole. "Lowering the standards" seems an equally useless canard. I thought the original article interesting enough. Did you read the article?

Others have pointed out the Darwin's arboreal metaphor is problematic (as are all such metaphors)(see, for example, T. Ingold on Darwin; see G. Lakoff on metaphor in general). Again, this whole thread is a giant "so what?"

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Ha! DickDawk agrees with me!

Excuse me while I click back over to the name-dropping thread...

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Don't get hung up over a cover. New Scientist is a decent popular science magazine. I read it regularly, and will continue to do so. It tends to provide balanced coverage, albeit with often somewhat melodramatic titles. Personally I would rate it way ahead, in terms of general approach, of Scientific American etc.

Read the content, not just the cover. What it said inside was broadly correct. Any creationist who used the cover to suggest that New Scientist was arguing against evolution was clearly missing the point, and very wrong, and could easily be shown to be so.

But come on people, Darwin was wrong about somethings. He was a nineteenth century naturalist, who got some things wright, and some not. Frankly it would be a bloody miracle if he hadn't got some of it wrong. Any one who things he was right about everything is clearly more intertested in some kind of Darwin personality cult than in real science.

As for a boycott - grow up you plonkers. I am sure your few quid/dollars will make no meaningful difference anyway. Indeed maybe New Scientist can use it as part of it's advertising - showing that it's not a stuffy science mag, but so 'edgy' in it's reporting that some fanatics and lobby groups have tried to silence them. That would be an entertaiing own-goal.

Richard Dawkins #60 wrote:

I think more effective would be a boycott by scientists publicly pledging to refuse to write for New Scientist, as long as Roger Highfield remains editor, or until he writes an editorial publicly disowning the original cover and apologising for his lapse of judgment in printing it and then subsequently having the gall to use it in an advertisement.

Might I suggest a glossy New Scientist cover stating "Highfield Was Wrong". That way, he manages to combine both an apology and he remains a media whore.

I think this a good way to catch people's attention. Someone could even read the article and learn something new.

So what if this gives more ammunition to creationist, they already have plenty of material to twist. I think if they amplify this issue things are going even better. Couple of more will read and comprehend the article and understand what the creationists are trying to pull.

It should be really clear why this cover is pernicious. In addition to all the reasons cited, there is also the matter that lay people still confuse the term "theory of evolution" with "just a theory", in the common sense use of the word "theory".
So people walking by a newsstand and seeing that cover will have this idea reinforced - that there is an actual controversy among scientists as to the validity of evolution.
And I'm not even talking about people who actively disbelieve evolution because of their religious inclinations - I'm talking about the ones who are simply misinformed.

So, yes, this cover does a disservice to the public understanding of evolution. And that is important, no?

By Mariana Cirne (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Oh. Sorry, Scooty Puff, at first I didn't register the 'Jr.' part of your new moniker. So Proud Ex-Marine Dad actually did get hooked up with Inuit Mummy then, in spite of his booming denials and scorn.
You are to be congratulated, Sir. *Happy Monkey Day*

If anyone needed more reason to boycott NS, check out
the following comment apparently left on Larry Moran's blog by Graham Lawton of NS:

My day to day experience does not reflect this supposed toxic animosity between scientists and science journalists. In my experience scientists are just as happy/eager to talk to journalists as they have ever been and they are generally happy with the outcome. I can't recall the last time a scientist refused an interview (yes, even in the wake of the Darwin issue - which was one of our biggest selling of recent years, btw - discuss)

(emphasis mine). They're proud of this crap, because it sold them some extra issues.

By Screechy Monkey (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

"Creationists will do what they will do. What damage was done? Real damage. I apologize for being concerned with real damages and not imagined damages."

This notion that only direct and immediate consequences for scientific funding and research, implied by the comment of your's I was responding to, is absurd. We're not imagining that creationists are exploiting the nominal reputation of NS as a serious scientific publication to further their agenda and continue to mislead the public. Yes, creationists will do what they do, but it is incumbent upon supporters of science to avoid giving such miscreants ammunition.

"I thought the original article interesting enough. Did you read the article?"

Yes, I have read the article, and closely followed the subsequent fallout. I found and continue to find the resounding criticism of NS's hyperbole more compelling than your endorsement.

"Others have pointed out the Darwin's arboreal metaphor is problematic (as are all such metaphors)(see, for example, T. Ingold on Darwin; see G. Lakoff on metaphor in general). Again, this whole thread is a giant "so what?""

Except that the article's headline was not "Darwin's metaphor was somewhat incomplete" or "Darwin's metaphor has similar problems to all other metaphors" or "Darwin's metaphorical description of life is somewhat problematic given that there exist minor mechanisms that don't quite fit with its overall gist." It was a sensationalistic and grandiose claim not justified by the articles content.

Probably not worth giving NoScience more attention by boycotting and fingerpointing.

The truly key reason for henceforth not renewing one's subscription and ignoring NoScience's existence is that the paper it's printed on is simply not as soft nor as suitably priced as, say, Charmin, or Cottonelle.

Let's redirect our attention and dollars on those science publications that don't pander to idiots.

By finchette (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I hate to say it, but to paraphrase a sentiment originally about democracy, science deserves the spokesmen it gets. As long as the community at large countenances these sorts of touchy-feely, maybe-kinda-sorta appeals to irrational doubt, you're going to get crap like this cover. I'm certainly not knocking doubt or questioning or inquiry by any means, but you do NOT serve anyone when you -- even if "you" are a perfectly rational, science-minded person -- give the opposition an inch in this case.

There's doubt, and then there's irrational doubt. If you're hosting a conference on, say, respiratory health, do you give the crazed shut-in who submits a paper about how we actually breathe jello the keynote spot? No. He can cry intellectual censorship and "teach the controversy!" all he likes, but...no.

[And I say 'keynote spot' for a reason...because creationists can spout off about their beliefs all they like, all day long, whatever....in church. What they want is to be given a soapbox in a more mainstream environment (schools).]

I used to love NS back in the seventies, when I was a young man learning physics and astrophysics. I thought it was a real attempt at a crossover science mag that both scientists and interested laymen could appreciate.

Something went wrong in the nineties. That's when I gave up on NS. It became a bit tawdry, a bit too fond of going for the "gee-wow-who'd'a-thunk-it?" bullshit. Occasionally I could barely distinguish some of the articles from things I might read in the Fortean Times.

It seems the situation has not improved since the nineties.

By Jak Rawlinson (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

To Tyle DiPietro,

What damage was done? Real damage. I would love an answer to that question.

To Richard Dawkins,

I really hope you are not the real Richard Dawkins. Beginning a post with a categorical claim such as, "No it is NOT misleading" then following that with a hedge, "it is almost totally correct." And then following that up later by saying, "Even if we stick to the narrow topic of whether the branching tree of life is a good metaphor, the ONLY serious exceptions are among procaryotes.” This is not straight thinking, but crooked, like some branches.

On a personal note, I need to apologize to George Lakoff. I had read his work on the power of conceptual metaphors, but I had always thought speakers were aware of the power of these metaphors. I was wrong. Conceptual metaphors appear so obvious and so natural that they are often very hard to reflect critically upon.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I think it's well know among skeptic circles that NS is a sub par popular science publication, and it doesn't seem to bother them. I let my subscription lapse years ago.

By articulett (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

To Tyler DiPietro,

I apologize for mis-spelling your name.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Tyrone, you are pissing me off. Do you have a point to make? Maybe about why and how you think that a branching tree is a misleading metaphor for the evolution of life? Please make it and shove your condescension. (Plus Gravity's Rainbow is my all-time favorite and your use of that nym grates.)

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

While on the whole I agree with those who call for New Scientist to pull its socks up, I find the idea that we should somehow try and avoid giving anti-science lunatics material a little silly.

Why?

Because we can't win in that arms race. If we say something which can be construed as denying any aspect of science they don't like, they'll use it regardless; context is irrelevant to them if they can extract a sound bite. If we're going to vet what we say for incendiary implications then we'll quickly end up not saying anything.

By Thomas Winwood (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

What damage was done? Real damage. I apologize for being concerned with real damages and not imagined damages.

oh FFS, clearly you are incapable of doing a little thinking and research, and realizing how many resources (time, money, personnel) is being used up in trying to keep creationism at bay, and that everything that gives creationists such easy tools is having a negative effect. just consider all those atheist and science organizations: if there weren't any creationist textbooks/legislation/false claims etc. to fight, all that energy could be used to improve already existing science standards in American schools (and increasingly in other countries too, since America is very adept at exporting itself), rather than fighting viciously just to preserve the inadequate status quo.

Unpopular as it is in this thread, I'm also going to play devil's advocate (although I should note that I don't buy NS and don't plan to start).I don't like sensational headlines in general, creationists have been waving this cover around as if it supported their arguments. But the most substantial negative effect I can imagine it having is being used to persuade school boards to adopt disingenuous "teach the controversy" policies. And in that context, any advocate for real science education could easily show this cover for what it is - a cheap sales tactic - by pointing to the content of the article itself. I agree that in the absence of advocates for real science at the local level this might not happen, but if we lack such local advocates in any community we have a greater problem than just this little cover.There's also at least one possible positive effect. Imagine a christian who knows fairly little about science, and knows there's a debate about this evolution thing but doesn't really know who to believe. They hear about a creationist waving around this "Darwin Was Wrong" story about the controversy and actually read the article hoping it will explain the content of the debate. The sensational cover would then actually undermine the IDiots who went around giving NS free press. Now, I doubt this happened much, but if even a few stragglers came over to the side of evolution, that would be some small benefit.

"What damage was done? Real damage. I would love an answer to that question."

And it's already been given, you choose to ignore the answer and respond with the same question begging nonsense over and over again.

That your responses (to Richard Dawkins especially) are utterly lacking in substance is increasingly obvious. I may simply terminate my participation in this conversation.

@Tyrone:
Here's an example of part of the problem with New Scientist's cover...

New Scientist ignores its own story.

Texas school board votes to drop evolution ‘weaknesses’ from curriculum

It makes two main points:
1) Cdesign Proponentsists at the Texas Sate Board of Education have been citing the cover as "proof" that evolution itself is being seriously debated by scientists. Yes, the article says otherwise, but that is not what creationist politicians are showing the public and each other.

2) When New Scientists did an article about the Texas SBoE they apparently left out the detail about how their own cover was being used by creationists.

here is a quote from the original article..

Barbara Cargill, a Republican who supported the weaknesses requirement, said there have been “significant challenges” to the theory of evolution and she cited a recent news article in which a European scientist disputed Darwin’s “tree of life” showing common ancestors for all living things.

New Scientist could have come up with a cover that didn't "give ammo" to the creationists. They even publicly admitted that they knew that they were giving creationists ammo in the attempts to censor evolution, but went ahead with it anyhow.
Then they try and hide the damage that is being done in school board meetings.

PZ is usually correct and he is correct in stating that New Scientist is flipping the bird at scientists. Darwin isn't a deity but his work marked an important milestone in the search for truth. The New Scientist could have a cover reading "God Was Wrong" with an article inside detailing some of the many failings of the christian's mythology, that would be flipping the bird at the christian. Darwin got some things wrong but he also didn't claim that he had everything right and in fact claimed that some of his ideas were speculative. The christians, however, claim that their myth is correct and perfect so, showing their failings is far more appropriate. The New Scientist magazine is indeed flipping the bird at scientists and I won't provide funds to support that position.

I actually had a copy in my hand of this month's issue and then put it back on the shelf.. Partly because Im annoyed about this whole business, but also because it was frankly rubbish. Thin (It has got much thinner I's sure), limited in interest and sensationaist throughout.

On the subject of a science boycott, looking at the thing it sometimes seems like noone but Ventner contributes to it anyway and he would turn up at the opening of a paper bag if it was going to get publicity.

By Shaun Fletcher (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

What do you mean "no damage done", of course there is damage done. There is damage done right here on this blog. If the christians hadn't declared war on science, PZ could be writing about science instead of spending time ensuring that we are aware of the current tactics of the liars for the jesus. We could be discussing science instead of debunking christian "Truth".

"No damage done", that's what christians use as a defense for their lies. It isn't true when they say it either.

I really hope you are not the real Richard Dawkins. Beginning a post with a categorical claim such as, "No it is NOT misleading" then following that with a hedge, "it is almost totally correct." And then following that up later by saying, "Even if we stick to the narrow topic of whether the branching tree of life is a good metaphor, the ONLY serious exceptions are among procaryotes.” This is not straight thinking, but crooked, like some branches.

I'm talking about real examples, among eucaryotes, of genuine horizontal transfer of genes, not within species and not between closely related species (as in some hybrid plants) but real horizontal transfers that would make one accept that the tree of life is not branching but anastomosing. What examples do you have in mind? Maybe in the future some anastomoses will be discovered, but so far there are virtually none. Maybe some in Bdelloid Rotifers, which are a very strange group anyway, but that's about it. I repeat:-

1. Darwin was essentially right that the tree is branching in eucaryotes. Therefore the article ITSELF (never mind the cover headline) was wrong.

2. New Scientist knew perfectly well that their cover would be widely misinterpreted to mean that Darwin was wrong about EVOLUTION ITSELF.

3. Having been taken to task for the original cover, the Editor of New Scientist has undermined his own pretensions to penitence by now issuing an advertisement designed to boost circulation, which reprints the original cover.

And if, by the 'real' Richard Dawkins, you mean the author of The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Ancestor's Tale and other such books, yes, that is who I am. Who are you? Tyrone Slothrop is not a name that I recognize. If you have some kind of credentials, please state them.

Richard Dawkins

No, I'm Richard Dawkins!

Who are you? Tyrone Slothrop is not a name that I recognize. If you have some kind of credentials, please state them.

Bad form, Professor. You shouldn't beat people over the head with your credentials, as impressive as they are. He was making a logical argument; he wasn't say "Trust me, I'm right", so authority isn't relevant here. His logical argument happens to be invalid, and very silly, but that's besides the point.

A good brace of posts there, though, Prof.

No, I'm Richard Dawkins, and so's my wife!

Aye, that's our Richard alright! I recognise that style of comeback anywhere!

My opinion - If New Scientist wanted to stoke controversy, why not print a front cover saying 'Intelligent Design Is Bullshit"? They'd get attention from that alright.

By Am I Evil? (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

For those who argue that this cover/ad is easily refuted - what gives you the idea that there will be a chance to refute this in a meaningful way? Are the readers going to read the article with care and, using existing knowledge realize it is a bunch of pig doots?

Not likely. What is much more likely is just what happened in Tex-Ass. The cover is all the proof that creotards need to wave around and folks who are to lazy or lack background or are just plain as sharp as a hammer will figure "Gosh - it says so right on the cover of a magazine with 'Science' in the title. Teach the controversy!" And the camel has his nose in the tent.

Aye, that's our Richard alright! I recognise that style of comeback anywhere!

Yes. There's an appropriate remark by John Bernoulli. Newton solved in a single evening the brachistochrone problem, which the rest of Europe's finest mathematicians were struggling with. Newton published his solution anonymously, and when Bernoulli saw it, he remarked, "I recognize the lion by his claw."

Erasmus -
Tryone started it. It's O.K. to finish the credential fight if someone else starts it.

Richard: if viral insertions count, then the LINE and SINE elements and the role of modified copies thereof in the adaptive immune system, and syncytin, presumably count.

I'm not aware of any other examples, though, but viruses are so numerous there must be a few. It's hardly a dominant effect (but boyoboy did syncytin ever have major consequences from our parochial point of view).

his tree metaphor is misleading

It's a metaphor, for crying out loud! How is comparing the big-picture structure of evolution to a branching tree misleading? Life started as one stem, then divided all over the place. It's a metaphor! How else would you describe evolution to your great-great-grandma sitting on her front porch in lovely Devonshire? As a rotting fungus?

And how are a few freaky little things swapping genes invalidating to a tree metaphor? They are in the trunk of the tree, so to speak. Have you climbed a tree? Tapped a tree for sap? Some trees are very strange. Gadfrey.

And just where and how much did Darwin lean on the tree metaphor? Can someone find out? All I've got is the little doodle that we saw last week, and that hardly looks like a tree at all.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Occasionally I could barely distinguish some of the articles from things I might read in the Fortean Times.

I was interviewed for an article in the Fortean Times and was surprised at how well done and balanced -- science-wise -- the article was. Go figure.

Why should they determine what to put on the cover on the basis of what creationists might do with it? Isn't such a demand a form of censorship?

"Why should they determine what to put on the cover on the basis of what creationists might do with it? Isn't such a demand a form of censorship?"

Not so much a "demand for censorship" as an insistence upon standards IMO. Calculated sensationalism in science should be discouraged across the board. Calculated sensationalism that aids anti-science agendas, even according to the predictions of those peddling such, should be discouraged even more strongly.

A question (slightly off topic, but not too far, I hope).

What advantage do the print science magazines have over spending a couple of evenings a week reading the science blogs?

I spend (too much) time doing this, following links, going where my curiosity takes me, and it's far more interesting than anything I've read in a magazine. It's my curiosity that drives me, and it hasn't taken very long to work out which are the reliable sources of scientific information on the web.

I'm lucky that my job gives me institutional access to a wide range of online scientific journals, but abstracts are freely available anyway.

So...why buy a magazine?

By Tassie Devil (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Roger Highfield is no more than a media whore.

Harsh but fair, Prof. Dawkins. Highfield has just screwed us twice in a row, and as his magazine's own editorial showed, he knew how the cover would be abused by creationists. He has effectively been giving aid and comfort to the enemy and it's now time for him to pay the price by being removed from his job.
Slight (and admittedly anal) aside: I could be wrong, but I don't think the phone number printed on the advert will work outside the UK. Hopefully that's the case and it will cost them a few potential subscriptions.

By The Chimp's Ra… (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

What advantage do the print science magazines have over spending a couple of evenings a week reading the science blogs?

None, it would seem. I don't want to reignite the old journos vs. bloggers debate but in the case of the scientifically curious people such as you, I find it hard to believe that you would be better served by NS (even if it conducted itself with greater integrity) than going directly to credentialed scientists' blogs. (Science reporting in the mainstream media is an entirely separate issue, IMO.)

By The Chimp's Ra… (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

So we should all stop buying New Scientist because some Creationists are too dumb to comprehend a headline?

No thanks. Why should we let them spoil our enjoyment reading articles from a magazine?

If everyone was as smart as some of the rest of you guys then there would be no problem because everyone would interpret the headline correctly. The headline isn't "pro-creationist", so just because some creationists interpret it that way, why should New Scientist be made be us to dumb their headlines down so even the Creationists could get them?

The fundies are the enemy, and New Scientist aren't allied to them.

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Is anyone able to tell us if the editors have changed over the last few years (or decade) at NS? It might explain a lot.

By Heraclides (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

why should New Scientist be made be us to dumb their headlines down

The issue isn't them dumbing down a headline, it's them sexing one up to attract attention.

The fundies are the enemy, and New Scientist aren't allied to them.

They don't seem to mind giving them munitions.

Alex Deam #103,

The fundies are the enemy, and New Scientist aren't allied to them.

As PZ said, they didn't make things easier for actual scientists. And now this... this second one is just antagonizing. And why did they do it? Just to be sensationalistic. So yes, I don't care for them. Almost makes me wanna subscribe again (I was until a couple years ago) and then cancel and citing this reason.

The Devil @ 100: I find New Scientist to be my preferred Metro reading: Not only are many of the articles short, they don't require too much concentration, either, and the last page and inside cover are always good for a laugh or two. There's still no internet in the Washington Metro, and laptops are a pain on mass transit anyway.

By Invigilator (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

STONE THE INFIDELS!

By Gary Freshill (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

An increase in sales justifies the cover???

Personally, I'd buy it more often if it had recipes. And so would the rest of the Pharyngulites, as long the recipes involved bacon, bourbon and lesbians. Perhaps Highfield will introduce some page 3 topless girls next. I hear they sell certain "newspapers" quite well.

Pissing off your target market is not a good move. Unless you are deliberately switching to a new market and you can keep the new buyers. This is a typical bonehead manager move.

New Scientist needs to go back to it's phase when the mantra was "science is interesting, and if you don't like it you can fuck off!" I get the magazine weekly but I'm really getting annoyed at the sensationalism on the cover.

bacon, bourbon and lesbians.

The trifecta. Can't get any better. Well, except for Redheads.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Perhaps the lesbians are to prepare the bacon and bourbon receipes, possibly in the style of Page Three Girls.

[Rustles copy of The Economist, looks for place to hide]

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

bacon, bourbon and lesbians.

If only it were brunettes instead of lesbians (maybe brunette lesbians) then we could have had some alliteration going.

The trifecta. Can't get any better. Well, except for Redheads.

Oh, that reminds me - Tim Minchin* has a song about redheads. It's absolutely hilarious, and for the first part you think it's about something else entirely. See it on YouTube here.

*I saw him play this live 'cause was at his gig the other night - is it too Kwok to mention that? I didn't meet him or anything.

By Wowbagger, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Dawkins:

I think your objection to the headline is gay. Sure, it was sensationalist. Sure, it was intended to spark debate. Sure, it will be misused by creotards. So, what?

The creotards have been doing this for years. The debate provides and opportunity to apply reason and evidence. And sensationalism draws more interest to the topic. What is wrong with this?

That's right. Some poor souls will be swayed by the creationist propaganda -- appeals to authority. Yeah, so?

Those who accept appeals to authority will not be swayed by counter appeals to authority. Further, such arguments have nothing to do with the actual validity of an idea. Why engage in pissing contests when you have reason and evidence on your side?

Suck it up, hoser, and make appeals to reason and evidence, not authority.

By M. Peterson-Day (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

is it too Kwok to mention that? I didn't meet him or anything.

As long as you don't claim to have gone to school with him, we won't complain.

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Andyo #108:

they didn't make things easier for actual scientists.

Boo-fucking-hoo. The world of ideas is a difficult place to throw-down. If you want easy, go stick your head in a toilet.

By M. Peterson-Day (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

M. Peterson-Day,

Your salutation in post #118 was 'Dawkins:' - you're obviously a fucking assclown of no small measure. How about you take your incompetence and your homophobic bullshit somewhere else, pissant?

By Wowbagger, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

#118:

The issue is, a (?)majority of people don't read much beyond headlines, but, unlike you, I don't feel we can dismiss that group so easily. Scientists are constantly saying 'there's no controversy' so creationists actively hunt out and use anything they can find that they can use to imply the opposite.

Secondly, you clearly have no idea that Prof Dawkins has refused to debate creationists any more for entirely the reason you state. I'd advise you to do a bit of research yourself before indulging in online foot-in-mouthism.

Thirdly, ther are tens of thousands of kids (perhaps more) out there who will never have a chance to excel in science because their schools feed them this rubbish as truth. That's the final, filthy, unacceptable fact that drives so many of us to fury and despair. Maybe there's a potential Einstein or Hawking in Utah, or Louisiana, or Turkey, or perhaps just someone who could do sterling work on the genome of cephalopods. They will never get that chance - so much has been locked away from them.

Most of us here care an awful lot about those kids.

By Tassie Devil (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

"I think your objection to the headline is gay"
What are you, 12?

"Suck it up, hoser"
oh lord I see a really long thread coming out of this...

By Nanu Nanu (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Anyway, any New Scientist issues really aren't that much of a big deal compared to the rest of the media. Have people not seen the MSM recently?

As one tiny example amongst a multitude of possible examples out there, here is Ben Goldacre's latest post on his Bad Science blog. In it, he describes how the media in Britain (that is the Mail, the Mirror, the Scotsman, the Independent, and yes, even the Guardian) gave one description of a recent piece of scientific research, only for their lies to be laid bare when the newspapers of other countries reported the exact opposite, which also happened to be the correct news.

So where then is the call of the boycott of British newspapers? Or where is the call to boycott the US newspapers? Or the rest of the media? Since I can guarantee you that every one of the institutions that is part of the MSM has published "science" in recent times that is demonstrably false, misleading or exaggerated, and sometimes all three. And far more people get their science from the MSM than from New Scientist. Compared to the machinations of the MSM, a headline on an issue of New Scientist doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this world.

I think we can all agree that the headline "Darwin was wrong" is hyperbole used by New Scientist in order to sell more magazines. It is exactly the same as the "Einstein was wrong" headline on an issue (the latest?) that someone linked to a picture of above. It is done because the ordinary public that have a slight interest in science (but not enough to want to be a scientist) know these names: Newton, Einstein, Darwin. They know that they were geniuses. Hell, "Einstein" is now a synonym for genius. And when they see the headline "Darwin was wrong", they all excited inside, and think, "Well this could be a good read." It feels like it's going to be some sort of scientific mystery, that puts the "magic" in science, and doesn't come across as "stuffy", which is the impression that lots of people get of science. When they see that headline, they don't go "Does this mean evolution is wrong?" as Professor Dawkins above says. They become interested in what he was wrong about, and then buy the magazine to read the article. Those that don't, probably aren't the type to be interested anyway. But those that do, quickly realize that New Scientist is claiming Darwin was wrong about the tree of life (whether they are right about that or not, I'll leave to the rest of you guys to debate, I'm merely a humble physics student), and certainly not evolution.

This headline is clearly meant to increase the readership of New Scientist. Now, the benefit of this goes mostly to New Scientist of course, but should we science-lovers really begrudge them this, when an increase in the number of people who get their science knowledge from New Scientist rather than the Daily Mail, is a good thing for the scientific understanding of our society, and therefore science in general? It may well be a "tabloid" scientific magazine, but compared to the MSM, it's a vast improvement. It is obvious to me that this is being marketed to potential new readers, and those don't include people who are likely to see this and go, ""Does this mean evolution is wrong?", or even "AHA! I knew evolution was wrong, I just knew it! Praise Jesus!". Trying to market, even a "tabloidy", scientific magazine to those types of people, is full of all types of fail, and would be like marketing OK magazine to Noam Chomsky.

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

I wouldn't even line the bottom of birdcages with NS; the budgies might get strange ideas...

By Laser Potato (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Suck it up, hoser, and make appeals to reason and evidence, not authority.

You called him a "hoser?" Seriously?

The issue isn't them dumbing down a headline, it's them sexing one up to attract attention.

I never said the issue was dumbing down. But for a headline to have been written about this article that creationists could understand and not be able to interpret that evolution is wrong from it, then they would need to dumb down the headline. They would need to spell it out for them. They would need to write pretty much the exact words at the end of the headline "THIS DOES NOT MEAN EVOLUTION IS WRONG".

Seriously, you guys are willing to let creationists ruin your experience of a magazine, or (in Professor Dawkins' idea) let them ruin the ordinary public's experience of science itself?

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

M. Peterson slugged his dorm-mate and said,

Dawkins:

I think

Not very deeply.
Watch out, you back bacon's a-burning! Hoser.

By Ryan F Stello (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

M Peterson-Day,

Apologies; I didn't realise you were addressing Dawkins' posts here - I thought you thought it was his blog, not PZs. Sorry I called you an 'assclown of no small measure'.

The line 'I think your objection to the headline is gay' is still a problem, though.

By Wowbagger, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

The world of ideas is a difficult place to throw-down.

yeah, we just saw how you failed at it.

An increase in sales justifies the cover???

Personally, I'd buy it more often if it had recipes. And so would the rest of the Pharyngulites, as long the recipes involved bacon, bourbon and lesbians. Perhaps Highfield will introduce some page 3 topless girls next. I hear they sell certain "newspapers" quite well.

Nice try with the reductio ad absurdum there.... except no-one's complaining about New Scientist changing the subject of their magazine, as would be done by filling it with recipes. Putting "Darwin was wrong" on the front cover hasn't changed the topic of the magazine.

I also have to disagree that this is "pissing off your target market". Are Pharyngulites really the target market of New Scientist? I thought its target market was ordinary people with a small interest in science. And I am pretty sure that the whole bacon, bourbon and lesbian fetish fest above demonstrates that we Pharyngulites aren't ordinary! ;)

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Alex Deam #126 wrote:

It is obvious to me that this is being marketed to potential new readers, and those don't include people who are likely to see this and go, ""Does this mean evolution is wrong?", or even "AHA! I knew evolution was wrong, I just knew it! Praise Jesus!".

Well, yes. The editor was completely unconcerned at the reactions of the people who are likely to say "Does this mean that evolution is wrong?" He also wasn't thinking about the people who would say "AHA! I knew evolution was wrong -- and I'm taking this magazine cover to show to my church and the school board and every place where teaching evolution comes up! Praise Jesus!" Those people simply weren't his target audience of potential customers.

So it doesn't matter to him what they're going to do. Matters some to some people on the frontlines of the debate with the creationists, though. "Oh, Jesus, here we go..."

Damn, that Unscientific American cover was posted on rd way before. Mea Cupla.

And I am pretty sure that the whole bacon, bourbon and lesbian fetish fest above demonstrates that we Pharyngulites aren't ordinary! ;)

What are you talking about? What's the most popular burger complement, besides perhaps cheese? What's the most popular drug alongside caffeine? What's the most popular type of porn? We are all big fat drunken perverts, Pharyngulites or not. If you are NOT, you are not ordinary!

Interestingly enough I have decided to read the article because of that headline. I really can't blame a magazine for wording their headlines in such a way that makes their articles sound interesting. Maybe they could have had a less misleading title but if the title got people to read the article who weren't already biologists then they archived something good. Anyways I really don't think that the NewScientists main audience is creationists.

By Voldemort13 (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

NS is the only science magazine available in local newsagents. Makes it easy to pick up a copy on the way to work with the paper.

Perhaps if the other magazines had better international distribution...

By Mrs Bastardley (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

"I think your objection to the headline is gay"

And here I was trying to figure out what was so merry about Dawkins' post.

Posted by: M. Peterson-Day | March 21, 2009 7:30 PM
Andyo #108:

they didn't make things easier for actual scientists.

Boo-fucking-hoo. The world of ideas is a difficult place to throw-down. If you want easy, go stick your head in a toilet.

I should have said unnecessarily, stupidly, and pointlessly (besides making money themselves of course) making things more difficult. But I thought that would be a given.

Having VERY recently finished re-reading the Origin, I would like to add that Darwin was not wrong even slightly about his use of the tree metaphor. This is because a: He makes it clear he considers it to be an oversimplified but useful analogy and not at all a literal description and b: he constantly refers to his ignorance in areas he is ignorant of. He is in fact extremely good at recognising and stating openly the limitations of his knowledge and the corresponding limitations of the theory he is able to expound. To say that he is wrong because something he knew nothing of and wrote nothing about exists is silly.

He was NOT wrong on this at all, his illustration is as useful and accruate now as it was the day it was written. The New Scientist cover is strictly truthful but deliberately and mischeviously misleading, and designed to get publicity and sales. They KNOW this. What would anyone else stand up and say otherwise when the people who did it admit it?

By Shaun Fletcher (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Wowbagger #117, any relationship between you and Kwok is purely coincidental. I would never think otherwise.

I give Tim Minchin two thumbs up, although I did take the Redhead to her senior prom. We've been married a long time. So you will have to excuse my preoccupation.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

The product is not information. The product is us. Our eyeballs looking at advertisements next to the articles. And that is the problem.

As for all of the discussion of damage, the popular misconceptions about evolution, as shown by how much traction the creationists have in many places, serves as the metaphorical "canary in a coal mine." It indicates an overall problem many have with scientific concepts and an inability to sort out simplistic analogies and metaphors from more complex data and the rational inferences made from that data. Global warming is a hoax, or mostly caused by natural forces. Extinctions are normal, so we should not bother with preserving habitats. The solution to pollution is dilution. And so on. If someone can not see the damage obtained from encouraging ignorance and simplistic thinking rather than combating it, then that leads us to a kind of "if you have to ask the question, you won't understand the answer" sort of situation.

And on the topic of metaphors and assumptions of what people do or fail to understand, I have already written about this before. That people can not tell the metaphors and simplified explanations from the science is the problem. The New Scientist and Highfield do more to hurt than to help.

Qrazy Qat @34

New Scientist has always had an eye for promotion over substance; for years it was the primary place, other than books, for Elaine Morgan's aquatic ape writings.

You say that like the aquatic ape idea is a bad one. Not that I necessarily agree with her, but I haven't come across anything that totally shoots her down, either. We do know from the genetic evidence that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved in a small group. Certainly there are cultural groups of humans that are completely amphibious, the Polynesians for one.

I'm just sayin' I don't think her ideas deserve outright dismissal.

To be most effective, scientists must go about this protest scientifically. If scientists simply cancel their own subscriptions, it will have little effect, as there are not enough angry scientists to make a difference. Scientists need to stop wasting their time protesting to New Scientist by canceling their own personal subscriptions. Instead, take the protest directly to the source: Publisher’s Clearing House. You must demand that Publisher’s Clearing House remove the New Scientist stamp from its stamp sheet that customers use to select their subscriptions. A joint letter from your most powerful spokesmen (Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, and Moran), should be sent at once; demanding removal of that hideous stamp. Once that is accomplished, ignorant teachers, students, and parents (those who have not been enlightened by reading the blogs), will no longer be able to just pick and stick a stamp on their contest entries. They will no longer be able to make the mistaken choice that keeps this magazine in the black. Believe me, once that stamp disappears, all of your problems with mistakes or controversial choices in science journalism will disappear too.

I think your objection to the headline is gay.
M. Peterson-Day, I think I'll let Wanda Sykes do the talking.

It's sad to see your friends fall out with each other. I've read NS for over thirty years, since I was a teenager. I don't know how many editors they've had in that time, but this one won't be there forever. In the meantime, I'll put up with the occasional wild marketing and strange articles for the weekly coverage of world and UK science news. If I stopped reading reading NS, who would I go to for that, especially the British news? All of the alternatives seem to be American and rarely cover the UK news, and a glance at Ben Goldacre's column will show how inadequate our daily newspapers are.

Much as it bothers me to disagree with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, I'm going to continue to buy the magazine. And read Dawkins' books and read PZ's blog, however much you may all hate me for it.

Nice try with the reductio ad absurdum there.... except no-one's complaining about New Scientist changing the subject of their magazine, as would be done by filling it with recipes. Putting "Darwin was wrong" on the front cover hasn't changed the topic of the magazine.

It certainly does change the topic. It is now the New Sales Strategist. Its interest in sales has eclipsed its interest in science.

You say that like the aquatic ape idea is a bad one. Not that I necessarily agree with her, but I haven't come across anything that totally shoots her down, either. We do know from the genetic evidence that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved in a small group. Certainly there are cultural groups of humans that are completely amphibious, the Polynesians for one.

I'm just sayin' I don't think her ideas deserve outright dismissal.

the AAT has been thoroughly debunked already, and I'm not sure if it ever was all that great of a theory to begin with. in any case, its proponents behave more like creationists than scientists: they quote-mine, re-use disproved evidence, are very lax about citations, and get all huffy when someone looks at their claims more closely

more info here

I've been subscribed to New Scientist for about 3-4 years now. I'm really shocked by New Scientist. I attended their 50th anniversary in downtown NYC 18 months ago, and I conversed with many people who worked at New Scientist, including Roger Highfield himself. I am currently sitting 10 feet from a pen Mr. Highfield gave me.

The 50th NS anniversary was about the progression of science and technology into the next century. I now feel the same pit in my gut that I felt when I read the article on EmDrive in 2006: a feeling of betrayal. The general public learns of science news in only a few ways, and science magazines are one of them. I have been surprised by the increase of science magazines in newsstands around the city. I've also been surprised by the degradation of articles inside New Scientist.

I don't support the idea of mass boycotting New Scientist, for the reasons laid out by Sastra above. However, I am going to end my subscription of New Scientist. I'll look into picking up some other magazines.

When WIRED magazine picks up more reliable science news for you than New Scientist, something is wrong.

I tried posting a comment--there are 65 pages of them!--and it didn't show up. They are deleting some comments, maybe mine was one of those.

I suggested they change the name of the magazine to Psuedo Science for Cdesign Propentesists. Maybe that was what did it.

http://richarddawkins.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=76325#p1835264

New Scientist needs to disclose something about why the article was challenged though, unless they are enjoying the publicity the criticism is getting them. (There I go again being negative)

Prescient or what?

By Gallstones (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Ah, but if some creationist lackwits pick up New Scientist based on such marketing and read some of it, they might actually learn something about science - because by and large (with a few notable exceptions), the science content of NS is sound. (I admit, an uncharitable part of me is imagining creationists with furrowed brows, sounding out the big words.)

The fact is that neither the cover article accompanying the overstated headline (rightly) under fire here - nor any other article I've ever read in the pages of NS - has ever given any aid and comfort to creationists. If their marketing lures in some of the people who have some vague notion that there's a controversy over the truth of evolution - and then gives them an article which addresses real controversies over the details of evolution which are raised and resolved within the framework of evolutionary biology - then New Scientist's over-hyped marketing does give those people an opportunity to learn better, which is all to the good.

All media markets controversy, and science is full of controversies both substantial and imagined. As long as New Scientist covers the substantial controversies in a substantial fashion, I think I can forgive them using the imagined controversies to sell a few more magazines. I just wish they'd do it with a little more taste and restraint, and give less obvious fodder for the willful liars to exploit in the process.

Funny to hear a bunch of yanks whining about a British magazine that has been plugging away on global warming for years.

This afternoon I visited that great American bookshop called Mardel's. They seem to have more crazy childrens books about creationism and young earth geology in one store than I ever recall in the whole of England. I suggest you guys boycott them first.

Pick on something that is truly lying evil.

It might work with sane people, G Fells. But we're talking about creationists here. They are evidence immune, fact immune, reason immune and sanity immune.

They don't care about science or evidence. They don't care about anything but forcing their imaginary friend into every facet of every person's life. They didn't read the magazine. They won't read it. They're too inbred to understand anything in it.

They bought it to show to their dumb sibling cousins. "We said there was a controversy about evolution amongst scientists! We've said that Darwin was wrong, and see what a respected science magazine says? Ha! Showed you, Darwin worshippers!"

#153--

1) Global Warming isn't the only scientific issue. It does no good to cover one branch of science properly if you fuck up another.

2) The UK does not have the problem with creationists that we do in America. See my 154 for why a magazine cover like this is toxic to the battle we're already fighting over here, what we're having to deal with, day-in, day-out.

For fuck's sake, it's already been used at a state board of education meeting as an argument against teaching evolution in schools! This is the panel deciding what the science standards will be for an entire state's students--and possibly the entire nation's, given how large the Texas textbook market is.

At that infamous meeting, nothing was said about the article within. Not one word. Just the cover shown. And people will fall for bullshit moves like that! Board members will use that as an excuse to water down already pathetic science standards.

When you're facing an onslaught like ours, then you can tell us how to respond to bullshit like this. Until then, GFY.

Ah, but if some creationist lackwits pick up New Scientist based on such marketing and read some of it, they might actually learn something about science

yeah, because their eyes wouldn't glaze over after 2 sentences of "elitist" big words and complex sentence structures and even bigger and more complex ideas. i mean, it's not like a lot of them aren't creationists because they think that if it can't be explained in simple black-or-white, universal terms, it isn't true [/sarcasm]

oops, that was one too many negatives. should be: "it's not like a lot of them are creationists..."

At that infamous meeting, nothing was said about the article within. Not one word. Just the cover shown. And people will fall for bullshit moves like that! Board members will use that as an excuse to water down already pathetic science standards.

Thats exactly why this cover was inexcusable,and it was ruthless for an editor of a science mag not think that this would happen.

I used to pick up NS at the airport before a flight,Im sure there is a SciAm or similar to read instead.

So it doesn't matter to him what they're going to do. Matters some to some people on the frontlines of the debate with the creationists, though. "Oh, Jesus, here we go..."

I wouldn't have called my quip a reductio ad absurdum, more of a slippery slope argument. The editor is more interested in increasing sales than the actual topic of his publication, or in its integrity. Where can that attitude lead? Maybe not down the toilet, but what exactly is going to stop that?

And I do indeed think that Pharynguloids are a pretty good example of their current target market. We are interested in science, and the promotion of science. Many here are professional in some field, but we all want to read more widely, beyond our specialisations, and we can appreciate a generalist science magazine. As you can see, many of us are occasional NS readers, and a few even subscribe or have done so in the past.

Alex Deam #129:
I never said the issue was dumbing down.

Well, actually, you did, but...

But for a headline to have been written about this article that creationists could understand and not be able to interpret that evolution is wrong from it, then they would need to dumb down the headline. They would need to spell it out for them. They would need to write pretty much the exact words at the end of the headline "THIS DOES NOT MEAN EVOLUTION IS WRONG".

Or they could have written "Lateral Gene Transfer: More Prevalent Than Once Thought" or "What Darwin Didn't Know: Lateral Gene Transfer" or something similar. That wouldn't have been dumbing down the headline; it would have been being exact and forthright about the subject. How can that be a bad thing?

The problem is that the person who wrote the "Darwin Was Wrong: Cutting Down the Tree of Life" headline not only knew that it would be misinterpreted, but counted on it being so. The point was to catch people's attention, specifically those who would misunderstand the subject as being about Darwin being wrong about common descent or even evolution itself. The target audience was creationists, or at least those whose minds have been exposed to enough creationist rhetoric that that would be the first thing they would think. Even those who would understand what the cover article was about would need to look closely, and probably even open it to the article. Again, this was the intent; the writer was playing off of exactly the misunderstanding that creationists are promoting, using exactly the sort of phrase creationists would use, and doing so only to get attention.

Cheap theatrics and gonzo journalism are not necessary for understanding, and avoiding them is not a form of dumbing down or letting creationists ruin our experiences. Does New Scientist aspire to be a respected science publication or some sort of snarky humor mag with gotcha covers? What's next, "Buy This Magazine Or We'll Shoot This Undergrad"?

All that being said, I do not support boycotts. I do support making fun of their crass marketing... sorry, editorial decisions though.

Formerly a subscriber to NS. Based on this nonsense, I have just contacted the magazine to advise them why I will not be renewing my subscription. Hopefully more paid up subscribers will also follow suit.

Hmm.. is there an issue because this boycott call comes from a website hosted by Seed (NS competitor)? I guess Coyne started it and he's not on Scienceblogs.

My subscription is up for renewal. That will not occur. I sent them an e-mail explaining why I am not renewing.

On a related note, the pulled article on "How to identify a hidden religious agenda" was "temporarily removed" under advisement from their legal staff because someone has filed a legal complaint against the article.

Sorry guys, I really like New Scientist so won't go along with the Boycott. It's about renewal time for me as well, so hopefully renewals get the free book, too!

I do, however, hope that this call to action does get them to think before slapping us all upside the face and to not repeat the mistake again.

By Steve Ulven (not verified) on 22 Mar 2009 #permalink

I'm also a NS subscriber who has been very concerned over the past couple of years at how dangerously close NS comes to pandering to the wilfully ignorant ID proponents who crawl out from under their rotten logs every time NS dares to vaguely criticise their unhinged belief-system.

Yes, the headline "Darwin Was Wrong" was a teaser, and anyone 'normal' reading the article would have got the point of the article within four paragraphs, but... they were unbelievable stupid not to stick another strap-line onto the cover so there could be no doubt. Instead, scanned images of the front page illustration (beautiful though it was) has been circulated far and wide, because the lunatics who are now jumping up and down soiling themselves with fundamentalist glee are never ever going to be reading the article. They don't care about the article because most of them are too illiterate to ever understand the item. That fact, however, will not stop them waving it around whilst screaming at the tops of their lungs "See? Even scientists know that Darwin is a fraud! It says so right HERE! Praise be to Gawwwwd!"

Rather than having the guts to recognise that these people are the Enemies of Reason, and to nail their publication's rationalist colours firmly to the mast, NS instead chooses to publish whiny letters of complaint from ID'ers without making any editorial counter-attack, and, as has been stated above, have even been so gutless as to pull an article from the website this month because someone's threatened legal action against them for stating the bleedin' obvious... sorry... I meant "Hurting their superstitious feelings". Unbelievable!

Last year following another (actually) very good article on the Creationist's inherent dishonesty and their deceitful tactics in trying to force ID into English school curricula there followed many letters from (alleged) scientists claiming their feelings were hurt because they are "committed" christians, and since you can't disprove that their vicious, vindictive sky-god doesn't exist, wouldn't the world be a better place if you stopped attacking people's "spirituallity"?

Instead of absolutely letting rip as they should have done if they had a shred of self-respect, NS went quiet on the matter for fear of being accused of promoting anti-religious sentiments. It was quite sickening.

I often get the distinct feeling that the editorial staff at New Scientist actually don't appreciate what a huge threat these lunatics are, and what a silly, rarified game they're playing from their Oxbridge Ivory Tower. The ID hoardes are literally The Tabloid Enemy At The Gate. They're heavily funded, they are masters of all forms of propaganda, spin and exploiting the fears of the uneducated by means of obscene emotional blackmail, and unless Scientists and Educators start pushing back and start pulling their heads out of the sand and publicly fighting for Reason and Scientific Truth instead of lethally ignoring this cancerous metastatizing social virus, we may well rue the day.

ID lobbyists are media-savvy, can tap into populist sentiment at will through mass media (which national newspapers are ever going to tell them to shove off?), are masters of twisting and misinterpreting facts, and Edward Bernays would have been so proud of them...

By Pete Riches (not verified) on 22 Mar 2009 #permalink

New Scientist have made a serious error in their choice of cover because it fuels the Creationsist/ID argument that there is "doubt" about evolution. I don't think telling them to retract or contradict is suitable enough. They obviously want attention so use a controversial cover, as a "pennance for their action I think they should perform a balancing controversial stunt and publish a cover that says "Science Proves God is Bullsh*t" That should be enough and then both sides can wave their opposing copies at each other.

By Martin Bentley (not verified) on 23 Mar 2009 #permalink

Just off the phone with New Scientist subscription department to get them cancel my direct debit auto renewal. It was due to renew in June. Not just a response to the Darwin was Wrong cover and use in the ads. Nature has a better news section anyway. Been thinking of stopping sub for a while. That was the straw.

Ian

For myself, six years subscriber to Scientific American.

I think getting angry angry due to a cover like this is sort of like giving up our civil liberties to the government in the wake of a terrorist incident. New Scientist clearly isn't a creationist magazine. Pointing out new developments in science that correct Darwin's models is not "creationist". Modifying scientific theories as better models and more empirical evidence emerges is just science. To get all offended when someone points out when Darwin was wrong plays into creationist hands. We don't do orthodoxy. We don't have towering, infallible heroes. They do that shit. And we shouldn't be afraid to point out when Darwin was wrong because we're worried how the creationist bozos will spin it. Responding to their spin is important, but it is ancillary to the business of science, which is collecting data and refining models of how the world works. We shouldn't worry about stuff like "PR" and "OMG what will the creationists say!?" New Scientist, for sure, was sleazy in utilizing such a headline to sell magazines, but if a creationist picks up and reads the article hoping for some confirmation of his religious delusions, happily for us he will find nothing of the sort, and maybe at the end of the day a bit of good has been done towards correcting that person's stupid views.

NS is not so high standard science paper that I'd be even worth boycotting. At least after since it started to promote schizophrenia-causing cannabis and mysterious newagean Robert Sheldrake's "vibrations" (..I'm about to burst LOL in restaurant..oups I already did.._:D)

From Larry Moran over at Sandwalk:

"New Scientists has now begun an ad campaign to attract new subscribers and guess which cover they choose? Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers are advocating a scientific (Coyne) or personal (PZ) boycott of New Scientist. I'm conflicted about that. In spite of its recent errors, New Scientist is far superior to SEED and Discover as a science magazine. If we really want to punish the worst of the popular science magazines then SEED is a much better target."

If PZ says not to read it I won't. Just kidding.

Actually NS made me angry because I purchased (blushing with shame now) an online access to save trees. Then I got a mac but now I can't access the mag online.

I remember way back there was a great science magazine called Science86, last digits were the applicable year. It was slightly more cerebral than Discover but not as esoteric as the contemporary SciAm. Guess I will go back to Sciam.

I would recommend Carl Zimmer's book Parasite Rex.

By Blixen1968@hot… (not verified) on 24 Mar 2009 #permalink

What I learned:

Richard Dawkins is poorly read and writes about metaphors as if they were real. I find that disturbing.
Tyler Dipietro seems to think that imagined damage is the same as real damage. That is his right. I disagree. I would have liked empirical examples, not general claims. I guess I prefer evidence for certain claims of damage. So be it.
Many people seem to be unwilling to think about the kinds of explanatory metaphors they use. Unwilling to think about the kinds of entailments that are evoked through such metaphoric uses. Lakoff was right.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

I remember way back there was a great science magazine called Science86, last digits were the applicable year.

That mag was indeed good. It was a publication of the AAAS and I think it lost a lot of money. I vividly remember reading about a mysterious new disease in the cover story of an issue Science81. Later they named it AIDS.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

To Zetetic,

Thank you.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

To Sven,

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

By Tyrone Slothrop (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

Richard Dawkins is poorly read and writes about metaphors as if they were real...Many people seem to be unwilling to think about the kinds of explanatory metaphors they use. Unwilling to think about the kinds of entailments that are evoked through such metaphoric uses.

Are you going to get specific and share with the rest of us the deep and misleading entailments that you find are evoked by the branching-tree metaphor, or are you just going to keep issuing vague and condescending pronouncements from your Lakoffian high-horse?

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

Sorry, man. Pynchon-love notwithstanding I still think you need to spell out what you're talking about.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 25 Mar 2009 #permalink

kamaka@143
I'm just sayin' I don't think her ideas deserve outright dismissal.

Jadehawk posted the link to my site in comment #148 already, so no need to do it again. Suffice it to say I've looked an awful lot at her ideas and they're nonsense ideas which are argued either extremely incompetently or quite dishonestly (not being a mind reader I naturally don't know which), albeit with the degree of writing ability you can expect from a professional writer of many decades experience.