A Steaming Pile by Any Other Name . . . .
All you marketing types certainly understand the importance of packaging. Seems the undiscerning shopper willÂ often fork over his or her hard-earned money forÂ any steaming pile ofÂ crap if it’s wrapped in aÂ colorful wrapper orÂ sealed in a fancy box.
Well, our old friends, the creationists (particularly the Discovery Institute), apparently keepÂ a team ofÂ marketing gurus on the payroll these days; the idea beingÂ that packagingÂ will help sell their particular steaming pile as science.
AÂ Brief History
In the pre-Marketing Department days of creationism, theÂ product was bare. It was fully exposed. It was unwrapped, and easily seen as the steaming pile it is.
But soon,Â creationists and the ignorantiÂ began branding the product they wantedÂ placed onÂ the Science shelf next to Evolution and Abiogenesis as “Creation Science”. And lo, the undiscerning shopper was impressed. The packaging was rudimentary yetÂ engaging, even if the product itself still steamedÂ mightily and attracted big, green-headed flies.
Fortunately,Â a group ofÂ consumer advocatesÂ that we’ll callÂ real scientists unwrapped the product in court,Â exposing Creation Science as no science at all, and thingsÂ were good again for the consumer. The undiscerning shopper was safe.
However, after regrouping, and afterÂ an intense marketing brainstorm, the creationistsÂ struck again. This time they marketed their supposed science product as “Intelligent Design”. And the undiscerning shopper was blown away. The packaging was mesmerizing.Â It had the word “intelligent” right in the name, so it just had to be good, even though the product still fiercely steamed and the “intelligence” was difficult to scrape off your shoes.
But again, the consumer advocates, the real scientists,Â stepped in andÂ showed in court that Intelligent Design was not very intelligent, and that it absolutely did not belong on the same shelf as any real science.
Again, the world seemed safe for the consumer.
Unfortunately, the creationist marketeersÂ were undaunted, and they soonÂ decided toÂ implement a new strategy. They felt a celebrity spokespersonÂ with some slick new rhetoric might be able toÂ distractÂ shoppers from all the pesky factsÂ and evidence that make things like evolutionary biology real science. And fortunately for them, Ben SteinÂ was available and willing to take the job.
Yes, Ben SteinÂ would get word to the consumersÂ via a hastily produced theatrical infomercial.Â
The bad news is, Ben Stein isÂ a C-list celebrity at best, and his slick new rhetoric had everyone asking, “Ben, are you bloody stupid or something?”.
You see, in the infomercial, the sales pitchÂ was all dressed up as aÂ plea for “academic freedom”; the premise being that mainstream science is stonewalling any dissenting opinions about the origins of life and the development of species. According to Stein-ists, established science is simplyÂ not allowing fresh voices to be heard.
Well, perhaps even the undiscerning shopper, with his or her limited knowledge of how science works,Â knows that science is not a democracy. We can’t change the law of gravitation because there are those whoÂ espouse the existence ofÂ underground earth gods with suckers instead of objects with mass bending space as the cause ofÂ gravity. It would be a very bad idea to stop using medicines when we are ill because some people favor bad spirits inside the body instead of germ theory as an explanation for why weÂ get sick. And we should not stop using the brakes on our cars because some people believe the hand of god can stop us from slamming into the side of a mountain. Science doesn’t care who favors what. It is not affected in theÂ least by popular explanations for things. It onlyÂ concerns itself withÂ what the evidence suggests.
The bad news is, not everyone can grasp this simple notion.
Same Old Stuff
Many undiscerning shoppersÂ are stillÂ endorsingÂ Ben Stein’s fabricated and defunkedÂ marketing smoke screen. Even with the colossal failure of his infomercial, there are those perpetuating the “war for academic freedom”.
Our old friends at the Discovery Institute areÂ calling for an Academic Freedom Day. They are asking students everywhere to to use Charles Darwin’s birthday (Feb. 12) to speak out against censorship and stand up for free speech by defending the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution.
Now, this is dangerous, because there are a lot of undiscerning shoppers out there to whom this approach seems reasonable. TheyÂ may not be able toÂ perceive this bit of misdirection from the creationists. Free speech, no censorship, and the right to debate are important endeavors. No one will argue otherwise. ButÂ undiscerning shoppersÂ may not understand that free speech isn’t the same beast in relation to science as is it in relation toÂ our inalienableÂ rights. They may not understand thatÂ there is no evidenceÂ against evolution, only minor gaps here and there in very specific areas that in no way weaken the overall concept. Yet the packaging on this steaming pile would make it seem as though academic freedom is in jeopardy.
Now,Â of courseÂ we should strive for academic freedom. There should never, under any circumstances, be a shortage of newÂ ideas being introduced. In the humanities, in social studies, in the arts, and in other subjective areas, academic freedom is supremely valuable. New ideas and new ways of thinking are how we continue to advance.
But remember, in science,Â new ideasÂ are only as valuable as the evidence that supports them. If there is no evidence to support them,Â all ideas â€”whether new orÂ centuries old â€”Â should be discarded. And if you do not discard unsupported ideasÂ for stronger, more probable solutions, you are no longerÂ doing science. You are no longer doing science, and you are misrepresenting academic freedomÂ by claiming you’re being denied it.
Packaging superstitious thinking in a shiny academic freedom wrapper to have it recognized in a science classroom is dishonest. It distorts what academic freedom actually is. It sells the strength of the scientific method short. And itÂ re-enforces the fact that your pile of nonsense is steaming andÂ should be washed into the soil with all the other bullshit.
So, on Darwin’s birthday, take some time to explain to an undiscerning shopper what academic freedom really is. Or just sit in the corner blinking, if that’s your preference. Whatever the case, be sure not to support the Discovery Institutes’ marketing campaign.
Maybe we should say, “OK, fine. We’ll do that if you allow all the Apocrypha, as well as all the religious texts from every religion worldwide, to be placed in your Bibles. ;-)
Oooh, some material for the comic…
For Darwin Day, I plan to take my kids to the Fernbank Museum and take them through the parts that explain the beginnings of the universe and evolution. The best that I can do right now is raise my kids not to fall for steaming piles of green, festering goo.
Upon listening to a Science Friday on NPR* a few months ago I heard a guest who unabashedly denounced intelligent design and the misdirection of academic freedom in one of the most articulate ways I’ve ever heard. In his oratory he described the rigors and standards of science and the importance for theories to stand on their own merits and how intelligent design utterly fails in this respect. One of my favorite lines from the show was essentially saying that to have politicians promote and uphold theories that are incapable of standing on their own is not academic freedom, but rather academic welfare. I find this line incredible useful when debating ideas of â€œacademic freedomâ€ with creationists as it instantaneously shows the emperor to be wearing no clothes. Also those who promote â€œacademic freedomâ€ in creationism (and in certain liberal arts subjects) also tend to be against social welfare so it really backs a punch.
*totally an aside but is it just me or is NPR Science Fridayâ€™s quality really going down hill lately. I feel that I really started to get into science news and other Science podcasts (SETI and SGU) that the quality had really started to falter. I canâ€™t tell if itâ€™s because I have become more sciency and realized Science Friday is dumbing it down or if it really has gotten worse.
As I have suggested over at Phil Platt’s place, maybe we should support the teaching of ID as an absolute quid pro quo for teaching contraception and STD prevention in all Abstinence-Only classes. “Teach the Controversy!”
@Old Geezer: I would love to see that.
@skepticalhippie: I’ve not heard the NPR Science Friday show. Could it be that it’s targeted at less educated people and you’ve out grown it? i.e. It’s done it’s task, you can move onto the more “adult” shows now…
Nice! That’s very well put. I had not heard it before, but I think, since I speak and write about this subject often, I will incorporate that concept into my own rhetoric.
That’s a point we should be making anyway. Any response you get can be turned back at them verbatim with regards to creationism.
As has been observed before, those that back the Intelligent Design “controversy” only want THEIR version on THEIR truth exposed. No others need apply.
Yet they never seem to see the irony or contradiction of their appeals to “fairness” and “academic freedom.” They think that “fairness” only cuts the way THEY want it to cut. Unfortunately, the blade of “fairness” is far sharper than they realize and if they are not careful, they may accidentally slit their own throats with it. :-D
Awesome post! Favs!
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