Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Teaching Reporting the Controversy

The Discovery Institute started a petition skeptical of Darwinian evolution in 2001. Since then, according to an article by Kenneth Chang in today's NY Times, the petition has been signed by 514 scientists and engineers, although "only a quarter of the signers are biologists, whose field is most directly concerned with evolution."

Why, exactly, is this significant? It's hardly breaking news that the Discovery Institute's intelligent design position is unpopular among scientists generally, and even more so among biologists. Which the Times piece confirms. Also reported: many of the signers "are evangelical Christians, whose doubts about evolution grew out of their religious beliefs." Unless you've been detained at Guantanamo living in a cave recently you already knew this.
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It's not at all clear what real news is being reported in this article. And why do I care? While the Discovery Institute has been thus far largely unsuccessful in carrying out its "teach the controversy" attack on evolution, it has been indisputably successful on a parallel front: "report the controversy."

As the saying goes, "there's no publicity that's bad publicity." When the Discovery Institute, or other advocates of creationism or intelligent design, enters the public forum and inflicts its thinly veiled religious agenda upon public school systems in Kansas or Ohio or Pennsylvania the media, along with serious scientists and concerned citizens, has a responsibility to shine a light on the situation. But I wonder if at other times, now being one of them, whether it might not be prudent to allow the Discovery Institute and others, already reeling from recent setbacks in Ohio and Pennsylvania, to languish on the sidelines of the public debate.


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