[Paleopsych] SciAm: Okay, We Give Up

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Tue Apr 12 19:57:09 UTC 2005

Okay, We Give Up
Editorial Page of Scientific American, issue dated 4-1-05

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 

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.

Okay, We Give Up

THE EDITORS editors at sciam.com

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