Friday, March 03, 2006

Is the New York Times protecting a stereotype?

From Rob Crowther.

Did the New York Times suppress the results of its own investigation into Darwin's scientific critics in order to promote a stereotype?

New questions are being raised about the accuracy of the New York Times' article on scientific critics of neo-Darwinism last week, spurred by an amazing admission by Times' reporter Ken Chang that only a small minority of the scientists he interviewed actually fit his story's stereotyped description of Darwin's critics. While Chang's story conveys the clear impression that scientists who support Discovery's Dissent from Darwin statement are motivated by religion rather than science, Chang has now admitted in an interview that 75% or more of the scientists he interviewed did not fit this description. In other words, Chang and his editors selectively reported the results of their own investigation to convey the exact opposite of what they found. It turns out I was right to warn before the article's publication that when it comes to the evolution issue, the Times' motto should be "all the news that fits"!

Click here to ontinue reading "Did the New York Times suppress the results of its own investigation into Darwin's scientific critics in order to promote a stereotype?" 

The full article is online at Evolution News & Views at


Robert L. Crowther

Director of Communications

Center for Science & Culture

(206) 292-0401 x107

Read Evolution News & Views, our blog on media coverage of the debate over evolution at

Intelligent Design: The Future, a daily blog about the science behind intelligent design at:


Jason Pratt said...

sooooo... the NYT has managed to hack off everyone then. Glad I'm not a newspaper editor... {g}

Lippard said...

The DI's statement is one that virtually any supporter of evolution can agree with the words of, but would refrain from signing on to only because of the DI's misuse of the statement.

It wouldn't surprise me if a large percentage of the signers who didn't sign for religious reasons also didn't realize that it was being used to promote "intelligent design," which is mentioned nowhere in the statement.

Jason Pratt said...

So, how did they go about signing it in the first place, I wonder? Did DI pretend to be someone else and ask them to sign?

The notion that, at this date, the DI (as the DI) could just contact biologists asking them to sign a 'Dissent against Darwin' statement without the large majority of those biologists knowing who the DI are (even if only a hearsay notion of who they are and what they're doing), seems about as likely as a professional theologian or textual historian (or even an interested non-professional like myself) signing a statement of dissent passed around by the Jesus Seminar today without a clue of who they are and what they've been doing.

Lippard said...


The Discovery Institute has become a lot better known as an advocate of ID since the Dover case than they were before. They've been collecting signatures on this "Dissent" since 2001--it took them five years to get just over 514 names. Bill Gates, an atheist, actually gave DI $1 million for its Cascadia Project transportation program in 2000, and another $9.35 million in subsequent years, so DI is not just about ID.

Also check out the Panda's Thumb on this issue:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Let me get this straight. These guys are trying to convince us that it is just an unfair stereotype that the different species of creationists (ID included) are guided by religious motivations?

Bridge. Brooklyn. 10k$ cash. Now.

The hypothesis, once it is out there, is testable independently of such etiology, but to question the etiology of the majority of creationsits' beliefs is to instantiate PT Barnum's dictum. Imagine someone saying the same thing about the firmament-based astronomy and astrophysics.

More kookery from the creationist spin machine.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating page on the different ways creationists respond to evolutionary theory:

Anonymous said...

Have to try again.


Jason Pratt said...

Thanks, Jim. Good info.

BDK: obviously, not all 'dissenters from Darwin' are motivated by a belief in theistic religion. The neo-Darwinian synthesis currently serving as the nominal paradigm was formulated by a group of scientists who (so far as I recall) were universally non-theistic, and if anything were largely anti-religious. The synthesis involved recognizing problems in Darwinist biological evolutionary theory, and attempting to provide better solutions; which meant, among other things, criticising against Darwin directly on some points (such as environmental induction of relevant characteristics).

Technically, then, one could say that _every_ proponent of NDT (and variations) is a dissenter from Darwin. This is hardly due to pro-religious bias, to say the least.

When (Jewish) biophysicist Lee Spetner wrote (the lamentably over-titled) _Not By Chance!_ back in the 90s, his criticism of NDT was constructed entirely from reports in professional periodicals leavened with well-regarded popular journals (I'm thinking _Science_ can hardly be accused of having pro-religious leanings for the stories it reports). Those 120ish articles were written by people who were dissenting _to some degree_ from the nominal understanding. That hardly means they were all motivated by bias toward religion (though I suppose one could level that at Spetner himself).

I think the 'stereotype' being complained against here, is the notion that only people who are motivated by religious belief are criticising Darwin (and/or the current synthesis). Strictly speaking, that isn't true--NDT itself is the largest example. One could reply in turn that mere dissent in the field doesn't imply the basis theory is worthless--again, proponents of NDT being the largest example.

Or, if perhaps one supposes (as I have personally met people who do) that dissent among theologians (for instance me vs. ... well, just about everyone on something, it sometimes seems {g}) means our basis understanding is worthless, then it would be just as fair to turn that around and suppose dissent among the ranks in neo-Darwinistic biology means NDT is worthless--rather than, in either case, allowing that it might only be the normal process of working out various misunderstandings.

On the other hand, I have no problem allowing that any given person has a right (in following the best light they can see) to wonder if dissent among the ranks can be traced to the faultiness of the otherwise agreed-upon paradigm among the ranks; and to test that hypothesis by putting together the various dissents to see if there is enough tally of respectable criticism (_especially_ among the ranks) to undermine the foundations altogether. That right holds true for people testing secular theories and paradigms (regardless of beliefs of the testers), as much as it does for people testing religious theories and paradigms (regardless of beliefs of the testers), even if the thrust of the testing is to check _against_ the nominal claim. (By testing here, I am not restricting to inferences from observed results of experimentation; though that would also be included, of course, where applicable.)

One more point. The tacit implication of critics being _motivated by_ an opposing belief, is that their opposition may rightly be regarded as suspect (where not pre-emptively dismissed, though that certainly happens often enough--and the principle of why either such judgment is made is worth examining in regard to theories of human epistemology... but that isn't my point right now.)

The claim that creationists are _motivated by_ their belief in criticising their opposition, is consequently a claim against the creationists at some level. One counter-charge would be that creationists are being thereby unfairly stereotyped.

That may be true or false. But if the charge instead was that atheistic defenders of NDT (or any other biological paradigm which excludes intentional development as a possible factor) are motivated by their own beliefs--would you contend that this should be counted against them (including against you yourself)? If you thought not, for various reasons, then would you not consider an insistence by the opposition to apply that charge against you to be unfair?

There is a great difference between recognizing the tautology that theistic proponents of an alternate biological theory are theistic; and attributing their contention _to_ their theism. Even in cases where the latter is true (and there may be such cases), the claim should be handled carefully, because it involves a fundamental disrespect of the persons _as_ persons. But a theist who _is_ trying not to let his theism salt the scale of his analysis, would rightly regard an attempt at painting him otherwise as being unfair application of stereotype.

Which I fully expect such an atheist would also do, for exactly the same (correct) reason, in an opposite situation.


Anonymous said...

Being a scientist I want to say that science itself says nothing of origins. Data from experimentation draws no conclusion. The conclusions are drawn by humans who have certain chosen worldviews, presuppositions, axioms, etc. That, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter. Anyone who claims that science proves evolution or creation or any other hypothesis on origins has greatly indulged in their delusions. That is one reason why I not only disagree vehemently with evolution but also with intelligent design.