Presenting Science

Today I stumbled across a somewhat recent post by Luskin of the infamous Discovery Institute. Luskin observes some comments made by Eugenie Scott, in regard to how scientists should portray their results, so as not to be pounced upon by the creationists. He accuses Scott of instructing scientists to “spin it [changes in science] positively and never acknowledge they were wrong”. Worse, he concludes with:

When scientists in a field are instructed to avoid publicly admiting when they’re wrong, and are advised that improving the public’s perception of science is not best served by doing better science, then you know that field is steeped in intolerance towards dissent, and political pressure to give assent to orthodoxy. These are not the signs of a healthy science.

Which, while technically an accurate statement, is very misleading in this context. When we look at what Scott actually said, she’s effectively counseling scientists to be careful about their phrasing. Importantly, those working in evolution should avoid hyperbole about their discoveries. She wants scientists to be aware of the following problem:

So people get confused when scientists discover things and change ideas?

Yes, all the time. This is one of the real confusions about evolution. Creationists have done a splendid job of convincing the public that evolution is weak science because scientists are always changing their minds about things.

So, Luskin (and other creationists) are actually responsible for Eugenie’s reaction! They’ve been pouncing all over science, politicizing evolution with a “Teach the controversy” campaign and continuous whining about “being blacklisted from the journals”. They’ve been rejected from journals because they have no falsifiable claims, nor associated experiments; they then tried to push the creationism into schools, but were thrown out in the Scope’s Monkey Trial and again in Dover, Pennsylvania; and now they’ve jumped on an “equal-time in science classrooms” even though the comparison is akin to astrology vs astronomy.

Chemistry vs Alchemy, Phrenology vs Psychology, Astrology vs Astronomy, Creation vs Evolution, Let the kids decide!

This has really gone on for long enough that Eugenie feels she must remind scientists that:

What’s the current state of the effort to keep schools teaching evolution?

Sometimes it feels like the Red Queen around here, where we’re running as hard as we can to stay in the same place. The thing is, creationism evolves. And for every victory we have, there’s pressure on the creationists to change their approach. We constantly have to shift our response. Ultimately the solution to this problem is not going to come from pouring more science on it.

What should scientists and people who care about science do?

I’m calling on scientists to be citizens. American education is decentralized. Which means it’s politicized. To make a change … you have to be a citizen who pays attention to local elections and votes [for] the right people. You can’t just sit back and expect that the magnificence of science will reveal itself and everybody will … accept the science.

Though Luskin takes warps these comments to imply that science itself isn’t healthy, he should be reminded that the whole political situation is the fault of the creationists! They’ve got a strategic attack with the Wedge Document that’s mostly taken the scientific community by surprise. Then, when scientists make outrageous claims (like when New Scientist had a cover proclaiming Darwin was Wrong) the creationists blow it all out of proportion. That’s why Eugenie is recommending that scientists not try for these kinds of claims; it’s inaccurate and the distortion is too easily inflated by creationist cohorts.

So, Luskin, like all creationists before him, has once again reversed cause and effect and confused his premise and conclusion. It’s not that science is dogmatic because Scott has to encourage carefully worded discoveries; It’s that the political climate surrounding evolution has become so highly charged that it can no longer tolerate the hyperbole that scientists naturally inject into their claims to sell their importance to other scientists. And the entire problem was manufactured by the creationists! And Luskin continues to flame the distortion in his post that prompted this whole rant.

Oh, and one more thing: Any time that a creationist claims the Earth was created in 6,000 years, point them over to Yes, Millions of Years! and then ask who’s rejecting what evidence!