Saturday, August 20, 2005

The NYT's Valentine to Creationists

Is there anything that the New York Times won't do in its efforts to suck up to the right wing? Today they have a long front page profile of the Creationist think tank the Discovery Institute that reads like one of the Institute's promotional brochures. The goal of the institute, in lieu of any scientific credibility, is to "teach the controversy". There is of course no controversy in legitimate scientific circles or in peer-reviewed scientific journals. However the NYT does a splendid job of helping them create this impression. In fact, the Discovery Institute itself recognizes this and links to the article on its website under the title "New York Times Credits Discovery Institute with Transforming the Debate over Evolution" Atrios suggests a more accurate alternate title for the NYT article: "Shape of the Earth -- Views Differ."

Some excerpts

    After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

    Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."


The use of the term "mainstream scientists" instead of the more accurate "legitimate scientists" helps the frame the creationists as rebels or mavericks, a characterization that is maintained throughout the piece. Some examples (italics added):

    ...the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design....they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages [with the help of the NYT among others] and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive...

    For the institute's president, Bruce K. Chapman, a Rockefeller Republican turned Reagan conservative, intelligent design appealed to his contrarian, futuristic sensibilities ... More student of politics than science geek, Mr. Chapman embraced the evolution controversy as the institute's signature issue precisely because of its unpopularity in the establishment....


The stenographer reporter just takes all this posturing at face value, ignoring the obvious fact that the real motivation for pursuing this particular issue is pure religious fanaticism, and hardly stubborn open-mindedness.

    ...intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories.


An incredible reversal of reality: the language here makes the scientists seem like dogmatic ideologues unwilling to consider new ideas. The real goal of the movement is mentioned later without comment or recognition of how radical the goal is. They want to overturn the scientific revolution itself.

    These successes follow a path laid in a 1999 Discovery manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which sought "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" in favor of a "broadly theistic understanding of nature."


The key "intellectual" figure of the so called "intelligent design" movement is a professor of mathematics (not biology) who has redecorated the creationist argument with sophistry. A debunking of his work can be found here and in more detail here. This hack has also been caught violating professional ethics in a particularly juvenile way.

There is some useful, albeit overly vague, information in the article about the funding of the institute. Apparently they got some of their money from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation among others while rebaptised as a regional transportation outfit called the Cascadia project. This front organization's mission statement claims that their goal is to "support the development of a balanced, integrated, and expanded transportation system for people and goods in central Puget Sound and the greater Cascadia region of Washington, British Columbia, and Oregon." What they are really doing with this is hard to figure out from the website, which is mostly filled with meaningless generalities. Some funders apparently didn't realize what they were getting into and later withdrew funding. According to the NYT article, "Denis Hayes, director of the Bullitt Foundation, described Discovery in an e-mail message as "the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry Falwell" and says his foundation will have nothing more to do with them.

11 Comments:

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