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Thursday, March 24, 2005

The editorial from the April, 2005 issue of Scientific American is out, and since I can't find the link to it on the Scientific American website, here it is in all its glory...
Okay, We Give Up

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 scienfically 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.

- THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com

6 Comments:

I just don't trust the scientific community any more -- not since they promised us photographs of Jovian lifeforms and failed to deliver. Come to think of it, that was about this time of year, too. What gives?

By Blogger Marc in MD, at 7:47 PM  

Wow, Sci-Am has a rod up their collective you-know-what (this is a family blog after all).

1) Sure classical creationism is, uh problematical, you sorta kinda need to believe that God has planted fake evidence in the physical universe, and

2) I don't know what ID really is these days, I do know that the anthropic principle is a varient of ID that frankly should not be lumped in with creationism. The Sci-Am Editors should know better.
But considering that as far as I know neither ID or the AP can be proved/disproved they are certainly wihtin their rights refusing to admit papers concerning them.

All that being said...

3) What the heck (family blog again) does either of these things have to do with Missile Defense?

In 1900, I'm sure magazine editorials laughed at the idea of airplanes. In 1950, at the idea of rockets and computers smaller than a room. Now Sci-Am is laughing at Missle Defense...

By Anonymous Trev, at 1:42 PM  

I think Sci Am has had it with the "faith based" approach to science, which seems all the rage. And I don't think it's unfair to lump that in with the President's "faith based" approach to missile defense, i.e. keep funding extremely expensive programs that show no signs of working whatsoever, when the most likely way someone's going to nuke us is by shipping an unmarked cargo container into New York harbor.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:14 PM  

Alex,

From DefenseNet via Google News,

"Although the ballistic-missile defense program has made headlines lately for a series of failed tests from ground-based interceptors, the Navy has scored five hits out of six tries in tests and made history by hitting a short-range ballistic missile with an operational version of the SM-3."

As to Cargo Ships--We need to pitch that as Swordfish II...

Cheers,
Trev

By Anonymous Trev, at 3:55 PM  

C'mon, Trev. The tests are not real tests. They interceptors are not required to distinguish between real and dummy warheads -- as real interceptors are -- and in some cases the targets have helpfully been equipped with transponders so the missiles can spot them more easily. The tests are done in clear weather, with advance warning, etc.

It's much less likely that we'll get hit by a missile, because a missile has to be fired by an identifiable country, which we will in turn incinerate. Small groups like Al Qaeda are the real problem. Aren't they?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:16 PM  

My understanding is that has only occured with the ground based tests. I could be wrong. Japan seems to buy (literally) the SM-3. We're now jointly developing the program with them.

I disagree re: Al Qaeda. They are pretty clearly a threat--but it was because of state sponsorship (Taliban in Afghanistan) that they were the threat they were. Your logic assumes that the leader of a nuclear nation is rational--I don't think Kim Jong Il has shown any evidence of such.

Cheers,
T

By Anonymous Trev, at 5:52 PM  

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