Monday, August 22, 2005

The creeping Talibanization of America

Suppose you woke up one morning back in 1975 and found that the New York Times was running a series on the "controversy" about whether evolution is true. But if you reflect a moment, you realize that wouldn't have been possible. In 1975 that was unimaginable, right? You are correct. It would have been unimaginable.

The "controversy"? Well, as any scientifically literate human being knows, there is no controversy. OK, scratch that. There is no _scientific_ controversy. There was none in 1975, or for that matter in 1875, and there is none today. It would have been unthinkable that the New York Times 30 years ago would run such a non-story, about such nonsense.

So what has happened? Why does the New York Times not say, in the lead to today's edition of such a preposterous series, given that some insane editor has actually insisted that this series be run, that there is no _scientific_ controversy here. Nothing to see here, folks. Go home. Just a political dumb-show put on by right-wing religious zealots. Some of the zealots are honest, who say what they believe, that the world was created 7000 years ago. And some of them are dishonest, and are cagey about whether they believe the Bible literally, hiding behind the pseudoscientific smokescreen of their "intelligent design" nonsense, while remaining non-committal whether the Designer did his designing 7000 or 14 billion years ago.

But there no testable science here--as a real news story would put in its first sentence--no scientific research, no hypotheses susceptible of proof or disproof, nothing, nada, zip--instead just a rehashing of the worst possible arguments for the existence of God, arguments which I suspect existed--among people who had more of an excuse not to know better--during the middle ages, which is where the proponents of these arguments seemingly want to live.

And, thanks to them, and to the cowardice of the press, the rest of us are increasingly likely to be living in the middle ages as well.

In a little sidebar to today's Times installment, three supposed objections to evolution, something called "irreducible complexity" (which is nothing more than the pigheaded insistence, as science explains more and more about evolution, that science still has not yet explained _enough_), the Cambrian explosion (a red-herring), and the clincher, "well, it just looks designed", are all brought up, solemnly, as if they should not be laughed out of court. Then, in the sidebar, we have scientific answers to each of these absurd arguments. That's fair and balanced journalism, right?

Yeah, right. So this is what passes for journalism these days, in America's newspaper of record. If the shape of the earth were a political issue with fundamentalists and the Republican base, we would no doubt see a NYT series entitled "Is the Earth Really Round?" with an explanation of the "controversy" for the intelligent reader. Perhaps we would have a similar sidebar, with three arguments for the earth being shaped like a floor tile being answered, patiently, by real scientists. Both sides of the question.

All the news that's fit to print.

Boy, that's really an all-purpose agitprop technique that the Right has discovered. It turns out you can slime science with the same techniques you can slime Cindy Sheehan. Just create a loud and intellectually indefensible claim, based on bigotry, superstition, fanaticism, with a good helping of pure duplicity thrown in for good measure, and you have a "controversy", which "journalists" can report both sides of. Equally.

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