April 01, 2005
Okay, We Give Up
We feel so ashamed
There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers
told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics
don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of
such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We
resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations
that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican.
But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf,
so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.
In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has
been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every
issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True,
the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called
the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest
scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics
about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful
case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest
that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved
the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their
fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of
peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being
persuaded by mountains of evidence.
|Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent
Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with
creationists. Creationists believe that God designed
all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID
theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed
superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe
just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in
cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory:
it doesn't get bogged down in details.
|Good journalism values balance above all else.
We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas
equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply
because they lack scientifically credible arguments
or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake
of thinking that scientists understand their fields
better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists
do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest
groups say things that seem untrue or misleading,
our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment
or contradiction. To do otherwise would be
elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end
the practice of expressing our own views in this
space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.
Get ready for a new Scientific American. No
more discussions of how science should inform policy.
If the government commits blindly to building
an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as
promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers'
dollars and imperil national security, you won't
hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's
antipollution measures would actually
increase the dangerous particulates that people
breathe during the next two decades, that's not our
concern. No more discussions of how policies affect
science either-so what if the budget for the National
Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will
be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science,
and not just the science that scientists say is
science. And it will start on April Fools' Day.