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Intelligent Design story evolves. Which is rather ironic

“Let’s test Darwin, teacher says” – says the BBC, echoing the various newspapers. Nick Cowan of Blue Coats school has been urging the Education Secretary to allow Truth In Science packs – which push Intelligent Design (ID) – to be used in schools. The story talks about Cowan’s credentials again and again, and quotes him as saying:

“There’s a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.”

But nowhere in the story does it mention that he’s got something of a vested interest, because he is apparently a Young Earth Creationist. According to Wikipedia:

Young Earth creationism is a religious doctrine which teaches that the Earth and life on Earth were created by a direct action of God relatively recently (about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago). It is generally held by those Christians and Jews who believe that the ancient Hebrew text of Genesis is a literal account of historical events, that evidence for a strictly factual interpretation of the text is present in the world today, and that scientific evidence does not support Darwinian evolution or geological uniformitarianism

Which means the headline, “Let us test Darwin, teacher says” is misleading, because the story is missing out a key bit of information. “Let us test Darwin, creationist says” would be more accurate – but then again, that would make the story as newsworthy as “bear shits in woods” or “Pope: Catholic”.

24 replies on “Intelligent Design story evolves. Which is rather ironic”

Our media’s insistence that everything is a matter of conflicting opinions is a big part of the problem.

Education officials insist intelligent design is not recognised as science.

No, no, no. Intelligent Design is not science. Science has a definition; Intelligent Design doesn’t meet the necessary criteria. This would still be the case if education officials were to insist that Intelligent Design is science. To say so is not controversial and is not editorializing; it is merely reporting. Do your fucking jobs, you ignorant hacks.

In other news, gardening officials insist that pebbles are not recognized as a type of shrub.

Our media’s insistence that everything is a matter of conflicting opinions is a big part of the problem.

Indeed. I’m getting very, very pissed off with the supposed “balance” in reporting where a nut-job of whatever flavour gets equal airtime as someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Which leads to a half-formed theory I’m currently simmering: as the internet makes it easier for people, no matter how crazed, to put their views across, the role of journalists becomes *more* important – their job is to filter the crap and try to get to the truth, “balance” be damned. But the obsession with balance is spoiling that noble aim.

Science has a definition; Intelligent Design doesn’t meet the necessary criteria.

Absolutely. It’s a political movement that’s never actually got involved with the scientific community, let alone published anything in peer reviewed journals. It’s PR, and sadly it’s very effective PR.

Incidentally, the fact that teachers are embracing externally produced, unauthorised teaching packs is pretty depressing – it suggests the teaching materials they’re currently getting are either inadequate, out of date or utterly shite. Or all three.

Hm, how strange – you being a journalist and coming up with a theory that journailsts are even more important than we thought before ;-)

Recently the BBC had a story that got about the second bullet on the 6 pm summary. The bullet was your standard ‘OMG! How Terrible – our kids learn to much about sex too young!’ number. Dermot what-ever summarised the actual story, brilliantly, as follows:

Are children in england and wales being learning too much about sex too young? According to the BBCs survey the answer is – Possibly!

So a misleading sounding survey of a not clearly defined, not clearly quailfied to answer, group of people has come to a total non conclussion of an answer, yet it gets reported like your typical daily mail article. Journalism anyone?

you being a journalist and coming up with a theory that journailsts are even more important than we thought before

No, not at all – I’m coming at this from the perspective of a frustrated reader, not a writer. There’s a lot of stuff kicking around blogland at the moment explaining why journalists are no longer needed, but my gut feeling is that we need *more* filtering, not less. The signal to noise ratio is getting worse by the day and I want journalists to find the signal and ignore the noise.

I think that’s partly because reporters are expected to do ridiculously large amounts of work in next to no time for bugger-all money. Various old-school hacks can be found bemoaning the death of investigative journalism in the trade press, or at least the bits of the trade press that haven’t folded.

Just thinking about this some more… it’s partly the fault of the Journalism Rule*, which says that you must always have two quotes to add authority to a piece. Which leads to a situation where, if one quote represents the opinion of every sensible and sane person on the face of the Earth, then quote number two will always be from an idiot, vested interest or something similar.

* None of my current editors demand it – they want balance but not at the expense of being sensible

I’ve been thinking about this some more too, and I don’t think we can lay all that much blame at the feet of the Journalism Rule or reporters’ insane workloads. Here’s why. What that story is actually about is a political group demanding of the Education Secretary that their beliefs about evolution are taught in schools as science. Now, imagine that Majority Rights, a political group, were to demand of the Education Secretary that school science classes include a bit about how, since white people evolved from black people, they must be more evolved than, i.e. superior to, black people. Can you imagine it being written up in the same way — even if MR were to use a respected science teacher as their spokesman? Of course not. In other words, news reporters are perfectly capable of noticing and reporting that a group are marginal extremists and of not making their pronouncements look reasonable — they can call quackery quackery when it suits them. The problem, as Ben Goldacre is always saying, is that they know fuck all about science. And that’s because science correspondents are rarely scientists — they’re usually humanities graduates who watch a lot of Star Trek.

Gary I think you’re also making a subtle distinction, perhaps unconsiously, between what you regard as journalists – free thinking creative types, old school hacks, etc – and the editiorial departments cutting budgets and focussed on lowest common denomitator rubbish. If only the *real* journalists were in charge! etc.

Of course this distinction simply doesn’t exist. All of those people are journalists. Even the ones who write for the daily mail, in a constant reactionary fluster.

Incidentally – did anyone see the express on the day after Sadam got sentenced to death? Every other paper had a picture of the man himself on the front. The Express had a pciture of, you guessed it – Princess Di. Now I’m all for being different and not following the crowd, but…

While we’re at it, can I point out this other journalism pet hate of mine? Thanks.

Science teaching materials deemed “not appropriate” by the government should be allowed in class, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has been urged.

Yes, it’s the fucking passive tense, so popular in opening paragraphs.

Look, I could call Downing Street right now, get through to some receptionist or secretary or press officer or whoever, and shout “You must make sure that everyone in the Cabinet reads my blog! You must!” Then I could legitimately publish the following:

Senior ministers should pay more attention to the contents of Squander Two Blog, Downing Street has been urged.

So many of those “The Government have been criticised …” stories make me wonder whether the missing words are “… in this very paragraph.”

It’s a similar trick to the way they use the word “after” in possible overdose stories: “A teenager has died after taking ecstasy.” Read to the end of the article and you invariably discover that the post-mortem hasn’t even been done yet, so cause of death is not known. Bloody coroners don’t work fast enough for the news cycle. It’s not technically lying, because the word “after” doesn’t technically mean “due to”; it’s just that the entire English-speaking world understands it to in that context.

Gary Marshall has done his back in after drinking coffee.

I think you’re also making a subtle distinction, perhaps unconsiously, between what you regard as journalists – free thinking creative types, old school hacks, etc – and the editiorial departments cutting budgets and focussed on lowest common denomitator rubbish. If only the *real* journalists were in charge!

No, I don’t think I am. I think the two things co-exist, unfortunately: talented journos who *could* do some really good work, but whose workload is so high that they can’t. I spoke to an editor a while back – not one of my current employers, I hasten to add – who told me that whenever circulations look a bit iffy, the very first thing the suits say is “cut the writing budget and sack a few staff”.

The other problem, I think, is that there’s too much newsprint / web space to fill, so surveys become stories. I’ve certainly done that in news sections, although in my game it’s going to be browser market share and daft stuff about how long grannies spend on eBay – so it’s not hugely important to delve beyond the figures. But there’s been quite a few survey-based things where vested interests aren’t picked up in the press, such as the milk allergy thing this week – go beyond the headline and it’s a case of “real milk is evil, says biased survey from manufacturer of formula milk”. That’s dangerous, IMO.

I know this started off as an intelligent design thing, but the real worry for me at least is health journalism. The overwhelming majority of it is written by people who aren’t trained in health or science, and it’s based on press releases and spurious claims by quacks. Even really, really obvious wrongness – urban myth stuff – gets regurgitated as fact. Ben Goldacre’s not going to run out of material any time soon.

That’s not to get at proper health writers, incidentally. But they’re few and far between – which is why magazines, particularly women’s ones, print such utter shite.

Read to the end of the article and you invariably discover that the post-mortem hasn’t even been done yet, so cause of death is not known.

Indeed. There was a great example of that in this week’s daily record, which I’ll cheerfully cut and paste from Jockrock. Apologies for the formatting.

Story number one:

A TEENAGER had his face sliced off in a murder that will shock Scotland.
Robert McKenzie, 19, was sadistically slaughtered by a gang who burst into his home yesterday. He was also scalped.
A witness said the scene was like “something from Hell, the walls, carpet and furniture were covered in blood. It was almost unimaginable.”
Robert’s bloodsoaked body was found shortly before midday.
The gang smashed their way into the house on Drumfrochar Road in Greenock yesterday morning.
They are understood to have injected the victim with ketamine – a horse tranquilliser – to subdue him before their horrific attack.

Same story, the following day:

A TEENAGER’S face was eaten by his pet dog as he lay dead for days in his flat.
Robbie McKenzie, 17, collapsed and died from a suspected drug overdose.
But it took three days for his body to be found in his blood-soaked flat.
During that time, his pet Staffordshire Bull terrier, which was locked inside with him, savaged his head and face.
Police were so horrified by the injuries they first feared he had been murdered.
Some officers were convinced he’d been scalped and had his face sliced off in a frenzied killing because the wounds were so severe.

Who says technology doesn’t have a sense of humour? The blog’s decided the best anti-spam word for comments on that Daily Record thing is “woof”.

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