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Scientific American Gives Up 523

Posted by Zonk
from the fair-and-balanced dept.
IvyMike writes "The April issue Scientific American opens with a Perspectives column titled Okay, We Give Up. It opens, '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.'"
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Scientific American Gives Up

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  • alternate link (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeffy124 (453342) on Friday April 01, 2005 @11:47AM (#12110901) Homepage Journal
    Registration Required, but at least that's better than cash:

    http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/ 11281408.htm [philly.com]
  • Re:Nice. (Score:5, Informative)

    by caryw (131578) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nnamedeiwyrac]> on Friday April 01, 2005 @11:48AM (#12110915) Homepage
    Screw paying for a joke. Here's the full article now with new and improved karma whoring goodness.

    Okay, We Give Up
    From the April 2005 Issue of Scientific American.
    Who said scientists had no sense' of humor?

    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 socalled 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.

    Okay, We Give Up

    MATT COLLINS
    THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com
    COPYRIGHT 2005 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
    --
    NoVa Underground: Where Northern Virginia comes out to play [novaunderground.com]
  • Full text (Score:2, Informative)

    by sebFlyte (844277) on Friday April 01, 2005 @11:49AM (#12110933) Homepage Journal

    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 socalled 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 eitherâ"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.

    (courtesy of Mr Bob Hates You [blogspot.com].)
  • Science News (Score:5, Informative)

    by jfengel (409917) on Friday April 01, 2005 @12:49PM (#12111629) Homepage Journal
    I'd encourage you to look at Science News [sciencenews.org]. It's about $54 a year for a weekly magazine, which is twice as much as Scientific American. It's weekly, and I think around 16 pages, so you're getting only 64 pages a month, but there's a lot less advertising than SciAm.

    But more importantly, the science reporting is a lot better. They usually report from the original journal articles in peer-reviewed journals, or from scientific conferences. When a science story comes out in the news I scan it but I don't believe it until it comes out in Science News. They don't just rewrite press releases (like most newspapers) and they certainly don't take the Wired approach of presenting scientific advances as being available at Target any day now.

    Each issue contains two long-format articles that do run closer to the Scientific American model, which I think of as being more forward-looking than actual news. Sometimes they'll use them to examine one reasonably-current topic (like DNA testing) in depth, presenting an overview of the field and where the next likely advances are coming. Not blue-sky stuff, but reporting on the state of scientific research.

    But the most important thing about Science News for me is that it's a weekly look at real science conducted by scientists, written for technically-minded laymen. The articles are usually around a half-page, containing a summary of the research. It's where the real work in science gets done. Waiting for it to come out in Scientific American is often months, which is dull for the kind of everyday advances made by scientists who do work (as opposed to the people who wonder if it means we're going to have time travel).

    I read both SciAm and Science News, but the latter I read almost immediately whereas the former I scan and maybe get back to later.
  • Re:Giggles. (Score:3, Informative)

    by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Friday April 01, 2005 @01:09PM (#12111873)
    But...Biblical faith is trust. In spite of popular misconception, it does not mean "blind belief".

    Take Acts 17:31 (NASB), where the word for "faith" is translated as "proof".
    "because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished
    proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
    Or take Romans 3:3, where a reference is made to the "pistis" of God, translated "faithfulness".
    "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the
    faithfulness of God, will it?"
    There is Hebrews 11:1 to deal with:
    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
    However, if you look at the list [biblegateway.com] of pillars of the faith that follows, it's clear this does not mean faith is belief without evidence. The list includes people who had direct communication with God or who had seen miracles prior to their acts of faith. Their faith consisted of trusting something that had been proven trustworthy.

    If you're going to use the word in the context of Christianity, you can't use the definition "blind belief".

    Anyone who rejects evidence on the basis of their "faith" to the contrary is an unmitigated idiot, and they're not using a Christian definition of faith.
  • by orzetto (545509) on Friday April 01, 2005 @01:12PM (#12111904)
    As the Economist noted,

    ...The arresting thing about Scientific American's coverage, however, was not this barrage of ineffective rejoinders but the editor's notion of what was going on: "Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist," he announced....

    Quite impressive that some people still believe that buffoon Lomborg. Here is the usual website by Kåre Fog [lomborg-errors.dk], with all the errors (pretty word for "lies") of Lomborg exposed.

    This example [lomborg-errors.dk] is quite nice: in order to demonstrate that forest area is not only stable, but even increasing, in spite of all deforestation environmentalist litany along about, Lomborg has used statistics taken from a time when countries were still joining the FAO - as a result, looking at his data, all the Borneo forest appears from nothing in 1961. Never mind that FAO (Lomborg's source) published a corrected data set, that clearly shows the decline, before Lomborg's book in English edition.

    As a side note: I have not seen that many articles by Lomborg in the scientific literature. In fact, according to his own website [lomborg.com], he's published one peer-reviewed article only once, and not about environment (and I did not personally check whether it exists really, it would not be the first time the guy lies). A scientist who tries to dodge peer review by printing books instead of submitting articles is most likely just a charlatan and a snake-oil salesman. The Skeptical Environmentalist can quietly join cold fusion in the drawer of junk science.

  • Go tell the Kansians (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pac (9516) <paulo...candido@@@gmail...com> on Friday April 01, 2005 @01:19PM (#12111979)
    I think you are not a Creationist then. That almost requires the literal interpretation of a particular holy text (that's your Biblical Creationism").

    Most creationists I meet would not consider you one of them. Actually they would probably consider your view worst than the "communist atheistic evolutionism", because you have a chance of being heard by their "herd".
  • by Adam9 (93947) on Friday April 01, 2005 @01:24PM (#12112044) Journal
    Not anymore! [foxblocker.com]
  • Re:Science News (Score:5, Informative)

    by tepp (131345) on Friday April 01, 2005 @01:47PM (#12112304)
    Another good science based magazine is New Scientist http://http//www.newscientist.com/home.ns [http].

    It's a weekly magazine, with about 72 pages in each issue. It costs 51$ for a US subscription, they also deliver in the UK and Canada.

    I get New Scientist and Scientific American. But I prefer New Scientist and will probably not be renewing my Scientific American subscription. The reason is Scientific American will devote an entire monthly issue to a single "theme". If you don't like that theme - for example, if your just not interested in Geology and the theme is on that subject, then there is nothing to read in that issue of Scientific American that is interesting.

    New Scientist on the other hand, is a random sampling of "what's new" in science. For example, I'm holding the March 26th issue in my hands, and there are articles on Robotics, Liquid Intelligence, Drugs and Schizophrenia, US flu vaccines, and Zombie PCs. And other stories. There are advertisments, but not as much as in Scientific American. There's also a "hot jobs" section for employers to advertise in. I especially like the last page, which is called The Last Word, in which readers submit science oriented questions and they get answered by experts.

    It's perfect bathroom reading, as the articles are short, interesting, and vary.

  • by David Rolfe (38) on Friday April 01, 2005 @02:24PM (#12112811) Homepage Journal
    I also subscribe to Science News ... which incedentally sometimes beats Slashdot to the punch on some science stories. I know it's weird that a print mag would have a story sooner than the web, but it happens.

    Further, I think the writing is great. To parrot the parent a little. It's more accessible (i.e., they define terms, provide simple explication). You don't have to be as geeky as this crowd to still get the full effect of each piece, so your kids might get something out of it too. I'm no materials engineer, but found the long-form article on advances in cement interesting and informative (for example: translucent cement?!).

    I don't want to get in a price argument (I don't love it because it's cheap), so I'm going with value. I'd say for the value it wins out over Nature, or SciAm, maybe even Smithsonian. If you don't have the ~$300 a year it would take you to subscribe to all four (just about anyone can get the 'pro' rate for Nature at $130/yr) and could only get just one, I would encourage Science News. If nothing else, it's a good overview of the weeks interesting stuff, and since they cite the other journals you can head off to the library if you need more info than they provide.
  • by noahm (4459) on Friday April 01, 2005 @02:33PM (#12112913) Homepage Journal
    Damn, that's a good read. Regardless if you think Nuclear Winter is huey - it's takes the wind out of some of the more recent whishfull thinking that's passing itself as hard science.

    You really ought to read David Brin's thoughts [blogspot.com] on Crichton's lecture. Or, if one novelist berating another isn't good enough for you, go read up on what Jared Diamond has to say [salon.com] about him.

    Personally, I don't have a whole lot of respect for Crichton's "science", and would give more credibility to anything I read in SciAm than anything he ever said.

    noah

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Informative)

    by bloosqr (33593) on Friday April 01, 2005 @03:35PM (#12113583) Homepage
    This is the kind of political bullshit that finally drove me to drop the subscription after 6 or 7 years of it, and it's a shame. Nobody "slashed" the NSF budget, they just didn't increase it as much as you wanted. There is a major difference, and the way that you say it makes a large difference on the perception.


    Maybe you should stop watching fox news and actually look at the facts facts [ncseonline.org] I am including the national council report on the current omibus NSF bill. If you take a look at it from Fiscal year 2004 the budget was cut a total of 100 million dollars or - 1.9 \%. No it did not increase less rapidly but it was actually decreased. Here is a report [wm.edu] on the actual final budget that was passed. The cut was 2% from FY2004. Here is the actual NSF page [nsf.gov] on the matter :


    I quote:



    "The National Science Foundation (NSF), suffering its first budget cut in years, will operate at 1.9% below FY 04 spending levels. The Foundation is funded at $5.47 billion, $105 million below last year and $232 million below the FY 05 request.



    The budget cut affects the two major NSF accounts: Research & Related Activities (R&RA) and Education and Human Resources (EHR). The R&RA Account, which funds NSF's core research directorates and programs, falls to $4,220.56, $30.8 million (0.7%) below FY 04 funding levels and $200.95 million below the FY 05 request level. Funding decisions by directorate and program will be left to the discretion of NSF, pending Congressional approval. The EHR Account drops $97.56 million, or 10.4%, below FY 04 spending levels to $841.4 million."

  • Re:Giggles. (Score:3, Informative)

    by DG (989) on Friday April 01, 2005 @05:09PM (#12114622) Homepage Journal
    Problem: noticable adaptations are believed to occur over MANY generations and it would be rare for an average person to observe this during their lifetime. Also, correlation does not prove causality.


    Ah, but this has been accounted for.

    As you state, part of the problem with convincing people that evolution works is that it takes literal generations to effect change in a species. Given that most of the animals and plants we deal with on a regular basis have lifespans that are signifigant fractions of the human lifespan, changes occur too slowly to be noticed.

    But if you study animals whose lifespans are very short (like fruit flies) it becomes possible to observe generations on a much more compressed timescale, and actual physical evolution becomes something you can test and (heh) reproduce in a lab.

    And then you get casuality - you can artificially generate conditions that should cause evolutionary change, cycle through a few dozen generations of these short-lived creatures, and observe it happen.

    Given that the underlying mechanism behind the process (sex, DNA, inherited traits that may or may not confer a survival/reproductive advantage) is the same from plankton up to you and I, it's easy to show that the process must really be universal.

    As far as I am aware, there is no single part of the evolutionary process that has not been independantly confirmed under artificial conditions in the lab. There is considerable debate over the nature and exact path of the historical progression from species to species, but all of the _process_ has been proven out.

    That passes your "Science demands that the results need to be reproducible" test.

    to date, no one has been able to create life from loose material. The starting point had to evolve from something, right?


    Well, a number of basic building blocks of life *have* been "assembled from loose material". That, admittedly, is not the same thing as life, and I agree that this is a process yet to be understood. We don't know everything yet.

    What we do know is that the raw materials of life were present on the primordial Earth, and that these raw materials had an enormous amount of time (and plenty of external sources of energy) such that random combinations of chemical processes *could* have given birth (heh) to a form of life. Once that happens - like starting a stubborn lawnmower - Vroom! Off it goes on its own.

    Now I suppose that, given the lack of evidence (for or against) that position, one could label it an article of faith that that's what happened. That phrase "article of faith" is heavily overloaded with meaning... ...but the sentiment at its core is not far from the truth.

    Where this differs, and very strongly, from religeous "faith" is that my belief that primitive life effectively spontaniously generated on the primeval Earth is based on my understanding of chemical processes, what the Earth was likely to have been like at the time, and by the fact that random chance hat a lot, and I do mean a LOT of time in which to stumble across the correct process. The million monkeys on typewriters had a couple of billion years in which to generate Shakespere (and even then, they didn't need to generate full-fledged Shakespere, they needed to generate something simple that could start the evolutionary process running)

    This, to my mind, is a far more likely process than to conjure up an invisible, supernatural, unverifiable boogeyman who wishes life into existence. Especially when one considers that of all the mechanisms and procesess and occurences that happen in the world all around us, not a single ONE of them has ever been shown to have a supernatural cause.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but "our" side has the monopoly on proven theories, and has rational and reasonable explinations for those remaining items not yet proven.

    DG

  • Re:Giggles. (Score:3, Informative)

    by DShard (159067) on Friday April 01, 2005 @05:43PM (#12115072)
    Evolution through natural selection is both falsifiable and testable. Experiments that demonstrate it's principles are boundless and are cross displine. You can test it with a petri-dish, a greenhouse or a spreadsheet.

    Both perspectives are not on equal footing. No amount of hand waving, appeals to fairness or brain washing is going to change the fact that creationism is a myth. Ignore it all you want but the facts that brought evolution into the same scientific esteem as general relativity.

    If you understand the scientific method you would not believe in evolution, you would understand the hyposthesis and be critical of the data. You would also instantly knock creationism right out of contention.

One small step for man, one giant stumble for mankind.

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