Saturday, October 4, 2008

Discovery Institute Goes Orwellian on Banned Books Week

In their usual Orwellian way, Casey Luskin and the DI are going all Orwellian on Banned Books week, and claiming that librarian decisions to not carry ID pseudoscience on their shelves amounts to the same thing. The chosen example was the case of two librarians cited in a Rutgers Journal of Law review by New York Law School professor Stephen A. Newman:

"Consider the experience of two librarians who received copies of two intelligent design books, Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe and Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, as donations to their high school collections. When the librarians refused to put the books on the school library shelves, they were accused of censorship. In fact, exercising their professional judgment, they concluded that these books had 'little or no value to our students and come from those with ulterior motives."

Seems reasonable enough. Obviously librarians aren't required to shelve every book that comes their way. A book pushing a pseudoscientific fraud like ID is more likely to confuse students than it is to aid their education, so its exclusion from the school shelves should hardly be controversial. Casey Luskin and crew of course, play their own Orwellian semantic games while simultaneously accusing Newman of engaging in his own newspeak:

"Professional Judgment": In Newman's Newspeak, he praises these librarians for exercising their "professional judgment" by banning these books. But for those of us who aren't interested in Newspeak, why should we consider their “professional judgment” anything less than dogmatically censoring viewpoints they don't like? It seems that some Darwinist librarians and academics really aren't about open access to information; they're about using their power to indoctrinate students by censoring ideas they disagree with."

This is a childishly simplistic view, and an easy one to disprove. Simply ask the librarians to point out some books on their shelves whose viewpoints they don't like, or disagree with. They would no doubt have little difficulty showing us numerous examples. Literature, after all, has plenty to offend and disagree with, and it would be nearly logically impossible to be a librarian and have no books which espouse disagreeable (to you) views. The DI's argument is stale, obviously false, and downright dishonest.

The problem here has nothing to do with personal disagreement. It has to do with what is honest scholarship and what is a scam. One doesn't need to have personal disagreement with the contents of Behe's and Johnson's books to find reason to exclude them. The Wedge Document explains the scam, a judge in Dover ruled it was so, and the scientific establishment has been saying so since long before that. Any librarian who is interested in assisting her students in the learning process is not going to expose them to a pseudoscientific scam like ID any more than they should expose them to books promoting faith healing, Velikovsky astronomy, or alchemy. It is good pedagogy to let students get a basic understanding of a subject before expecting them to be able to recognize a scam for what it is. Scams work best on the ignorant, which is a big reason the IDers are so much more interested in high school textbooks and libraries than in peer reviewed scientific journals in the first place.

"Access to ideas": Newman tries to hide his censorious approach by paying lip service to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the 1982 case Board of Education v. Pico. He states, "Students must have access to ideas, to prepare 'for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members.'” (quoting Pico, pg. 868). In Newman's newspeak, I suppose that giving students "access to ideas" means that books that express scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism should be banned from school libraries.

No Casey, any books with scientific arguments in biology are welcome. You don't have any. Neither Behe's, nor Dembski's, nor Johnson's books have scientific merit. They were universally panned in the scientific and mathematical communities, and have a paltry record of references from other writers. That means they spawned basically no new research, which would be astonishing for a new scientific idea (check out evo-devo references) proposed nearly 20 years ago.

"Undermining the teaching of evolution": Continuing his Orwellian approach, Newman asserts, "Undermining the teaching of evolution deprives [students] of access to the best ideas in science." But no one in the ID movement is advocating that any less evolution be taught than currently is taught. And placing these pro-ID books in the library certainly won't prevent evolution from being taught in the classroom.

No, it will just confuse the children with arguments that, while unscientific, are sufficiently complicated and impressive-looking to dupe your average pubescent teen who's thinking about his potential prom date the entire time. It is Luskin who is being Orwellian here, pretending that undermining an idea requires suppressing it. Drowning it out by placing it among irrelevant alternatives is also an effect technique, and they know it.

There is also the trivial fact that there is limited class time in our biology classes, it is not nearly as much as we'd like, and therefore every tiny moment any student spends thinking about ID is a moment he lost from his scientific education. Anything added to the curriculum must, by its nature, dislodge something else to take its place.

"Under such an approach, evolution is not censored, but it's taught with both its strengths and its weaknesses. Call this "undermining" or give it whatever Newspeak labels you want: such a balanced approach is completely inimical to the indoctrination that takes place when viewpoints are censored so only one viewpoint will be heard."

Undermining will do nicely, thank you. Limiting biology class to evolution is no more indoctrination than it is to only teach that the holocaust occurred, or that there is no ether. Science does not have viewpoints. That is the realm of historians, philosophers, and novelists. Science has experiments, hypotheses, data, and theory. Viewpoints have no place there. "The earth is beautiful" is a viewpoint. "Killing is wrong" is a viewpoint. "The earth is a great deal older than 6,000 years" is not a viewpoint, it is a fact, as is "species evolve over time".

"prepare 'for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society": In Newman's Newspeak, the way to "prepare" students to participate in scientific discussions on this topic is apparently to censor scientific viewpoints that dissent from neo-Darwinism. But most folks, including most of U.S. Congress, tend to believe that preparing students to participate in public discussions about biological evolution dictates that they should learn about more than one scientific viewpoint on this topic"

Once again, Casey is guilty of pretending ID is a science. It's not, it's a pseudoscience with a socio/political agenda, and there is no reason students preparing for actual scientific discourse need bother with such things. See, the fact the DI desperately wants people to not understand is that scientific discourse is done in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not in popular books and live debates. Yet ID is absent from the top journals, with their supporters either reinterpreting other scientists' work to their benefit (and almost always in contradiction to what the authors say), or publishing contentless musings in journals of ill-repute.

In serious scientific discussion, there is no ID, and its not for lack of leaving the door open. They simply won't walk through it. It's the telltale sign of a scam. Students entering the scientific world will not miss it.

Luskin and crew have Newman's argument, which I'll close with, and it's really all that needs to be said. All the DI has is the sour grapes of every crank that loses in the marketplace of ideas and can't admit defeat.

"According to Professor Newman, the librarians rightly justified their censorship of Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box and Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial from the school library as follows: "The books did not meet the usual selection criteria, which required that books 'support the curriculum, receive favorable reviews from professional journals, and be age-appropriate.' Noting that intelligent design theory had been 'repudiated by every leading scientific organization, including the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences,' the librarians determined that teaching intelligent design 'would be tantamount to teaching about the existence of Santa Claus.'"

1 comment:

SafeLibraries said...

I am not sure but I think you are missing the point. The point is a library may have dozens of books on one point of view, no matter how scientific, and no such book on the other point of view, no matter how unscientific, and this may be a direct result of the library choosing not to accept any of the books from the unscientific point of view. That choosing process or selection is inherently biased as illustrated in such a case. Yes, the unscientific material may not be valid, but librarians making that decision instead of readers making that decision goes against the very purpose of libraries as stated by the libraries.

You also said, "The problem here has nothing to do with personal disagreement. It has to do with what is honest scholarship and what is a scam." I might agree with you, but your having a double standard is unfair.

For example, suppose it were true that no book has been banned in the USA for many decades. It's true. Now suppose someone is saying books in the USA are being banned almost daily. That's true someone is saying it, but it's false. Saying books are banned almost daily as a means to promote the idea that children should read inappropriate material is a scam. Why? Precisely because it's false since no books have been banned for many decades.

Now take that scam and spread it nationwide. Get others to spread it as well whether they know or not that it's false. Repeat it over and over again as if it were true. Do this for decades. This is what the ALA is doing with Banned Books Week that others call "National Hogwash Week."

Now you said, "The problem here has nothing to do with personal disagreement. It has to do with what is honest scholarship and what is a scam." I agree. But why do you make this argument only with respect to religious values with which you disagree while, on the other hand, you celebrate and promote the Banned Books Week "scam"?