Intelligent-Design Creationism on Public Radio

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Jon Pastor, with whom I?ve been corresponding recently, reports that his public radio affiliate recently aired a 3-part series on intelligent-design creationism. Mr. Pastor is a computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher by profession, with strong avocational interests in typography, page layout, and Web design. Unaware that the name was about to be co-opted by creationists, he registered the domain ?intelligent-design.net? back in 1998, when it seemed like a felicitous description of both his professional and amateur interests. Here is his essay:

Temple University?s Public Radio affiliate (WRTI) regularly airs a feature called Temple View, described on the WRTI website (www.wrti.org) as a ?daily public affairs program featuring interviews with newsmakers, authors, musicians, and…experts on various topics.?

During the week of June 27 ? July 1, 2005, WRTI?s Jim Hilgen presented a three-part Temple View series, described as a review of the debate about what Mr. Hilgen called ?Intelligent Design?. Since, to paraphrase IDC advocate William Dembski, (1998) as scientists we know that ?Intelligent Design? is creationism, I will refer to it henceforth as ?Intelligent Design Creationism,? or IDC.

After hearing the first segment in this series, I perceived a strong pro-IDC bias, and called WRTI immediately to discuss my concerns with Mr. Hilgen. He assured me that his intent had been to present a balanced and unbiased review, and suggested that I download all three segments ? which are available as MP3 files on WRTI?s website, at http://www.wrti.org/programming/sch[…]mpleview.htm ? to evaluate the series as a whole.

After listening carefully to each segment, and performing an objective analysis of the allocation of time to the various experts quoted in the report, I felt even more strongly that the series could not by any reasonable criteria be called balanced or unbiased. Clips from interviews with IDC supporters ? Michael Behe, one of the supposedly scientific proponents of IDC, and John Calvert, a lawyer active in the IDC movement ? occupy fully 60% of the total air time for the three segments in Mr. Hilgen?s report, as contrasted with less than 5% for Temple biologist Stuart Neff. The ratio of pro- to anti-IDC air time is therefore an astonishing twelve to one.

This quantitative imbalance is exacerbated by qualitative factors. First, Behe and Calvert provide no support for their inflammatory statements, statements that have been amply and convincingly challenged and refuted many times. Furthermore, their opinions are presented without giving any voice to these challenges and refutations: the comments by Stuart Neff do not explicitly address any of the issues raised by Behe and Calvert. Finally, their opinions are presented with no hint that they are not only highly controversial, but also accorded virtually no credence in the scientific community.

An uninformed listener, after hearing Mr. Hilgen?s report, would be unaware that IDC has no support among credible scientists, and draw the grossly erroneous conclusion that Darwinian evolution is losing in a Darwinian battle. As we know ? again echoing Dembski ? the truth is precisely the opposite: IDC is regarded as credible only within an infinitesimal cadre of unabashedly sectarian advocates, few of whom have scientific credentials relevant to the issues on which they opine. Supposedly scientific proponents of IDC, such as Behe, are coy about the nature of the purported ?designer? ? although it is strikingly obvious from Behe?s statements in the WRTI interview that he has strong preconceptions about his designer?s identity; but other proponents, such as Calvert, accurately portray the debate as having an explicit theological agenda. As a theory founded on religious doctrine, with evidence selected to support pre-determined conclusions, IDC cannot be regarded as science, and is not so regarded by an overwhelming majority of the scientific community.

I brought my concerns to the attention of WRTI?s management via email, suggesting that airing such a biased report would have been inappropriate and unacceptable even on a commercial radio station; its presentation using air time supported by voluntary contributions and public funding is inexcusable. Personally, as a taxpayer and a subscriber to WRTI, I feel that my trust, as well as the public trust, has been violated. Portraying the report as an objective view of the issues, as Mr. Hilgen did, further exacerbates the offense.

The report should not have been aired in that form? but given that it was, I believe that WRTI now has an obligation to ameliorate the situation by airing a second report providing the arguments against IDC ? presented by experts whose stature among opponents of IDC is equal to that of Behe and Calvert among its proponents.

Please note that I am not arguing to ?teach the controversy.? On the contrary, there is no controversy in biology; assertions by IDC proponents notwithstanding, it has no more credibility among competent scientists than astrology, homeopathy, or any other pseudo-science. A radio station that broadcasts a segment on, say, the influence of genes on cancer has no parallel obligation to report a dissenting view from an ID creationist. I am suggesting a correction of gross misimpressions created by a strongly biased and inadequately researched report, not equal time.

In this spirit, I have asked the station manager, Dave Conant, to respond to my objections and my proposal for remediation as soon as possible, with the understanding that, if WRTI is not willing to address this matter, I will bring it to the attention of the administration of Temple University.

I urge readers of this article to download the audio clips for this series from WRTI?s website, listen to them, and judge for themselves whether the report is fair and balanced, as claimed by Mr. Hilgen. If not, contacting Mr. Hilgen, Dave Conant (Station Manager), and Windsor Johnston (News Director), and informing them of your concerns might help convince WRTI to take appropriate ameliorative action. Finally, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not consider the broadcast of this piece to have been deliberately misleading. I have utmost respect for the management and staff of WRTI, some of whom I?ve known as radio personalities for more than 20 years. On the contrary, I believe that the bias reflected in this broadcast was an error of omission: the issues are, in fact, complex ? although not nearly as controversial as Mr. Hilgen was led to believe by Behe and Calvert ? and navigating through the sophistries of IDC proponents is a challenging activity, requiring in some cases detailed knowledge of the underlying science and mathematics. I still support WRTI, and will continue to do so ? but I hope that they will justify my confidence by acknowledging that allowing the report on IDC to be broadcast without sufficient oversight and review was an error, and remedying the damage done by this report by providing the information that was lacking.

Acknowledgments.

I wish to thank Matt Young, for reviewing drafts of this essay and providing invaluable feedback and guidance not only on the content, but also on fine points of technical writing (one of his many areas of expertise). Pete Dunkelberg and Mark Isaak also commented on an early draft.

I also wish to thank Dr. Young, Taner Edis, and the dozen or so scholars and scientists whose articles appear in Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (cited below). Anyone with a sincere interest in understanding the issues, and particularly the misuse and abuse of scientific research by IDC proponents, should read every article in this volume: they present, in language accessible to persons outside the biological sciences and mathematics, detailed and scrupulously documented explanations of the whole truth ? not just the facts selectively culled from the whole truth by Intelligent Design Creationists to rationalize their preconceived conclusions.

References.

Dembski, William A., 1998, Mere Creation, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, Ill., 1998, p.14: ?As Christians we know that naturalism is false.? Quoted in Perakh (2004).

Perakh, Mark, 2004, ?There Is a Free Lunch After All,? Chap. 11 of Young and Edis (2004).

Young, Matt, and Taner Edis, eds., Why Intelligent Design Fails, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J., 2004, p. 170.

23 Comments

Clips from interviews with IDC supporters – Michael Behe, one of the supposedly scientific proponents of IDC, and John Calvert, a lawyer active in the IDC movement – occupy fully 60% of the total air time for the three segments in Mr. Hilgen’s report, as contrasted with less than 5% for Temple biologist Stuart Neff. The ratio of pro- to anti-IDC air time is therefore an astonishing twelve to one.

Did any of them offer a scientific theory of ID and tell us how to test it using the scientific method?

Why not?

Finally, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not consider the broadcast of this piece to have been deliberately misleading.

Of course not — it’s the **IDers themselves** who are deliberately misleading. Indeed, they are liars. Delberate, calculating, liars, with malice aforethought. IDers are nothing more than creationists in cheap suits.

Sue me, Caldwell. Please. PRETTY please.

It appears they have removed the audio files and any description of Temple View from their website. Does anyone have them and send them to me? Or post tehm somewhere?

The link above leads to:

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Thanks.

Martin Weiss

(Cross posted at above link)

I’m the last to endorse anything like balance in news reporting. News reports inevitably make subjective judgments about what viewpoints and facts are important, as they cannot say everything there is to say about an issue in the limited space that all reporting works under. No reporter today would treat support for segregation as a significant viewpoint, or evidence supposedly showing that blacks are vastly inferior to whites. Picking viewpoints representative generally population sounds nice, but it turns reporting into mindless reinforcement of what people already believe. Referring to what reasonable would think doesn’t work, because it’s like picking food based on what a unicorn would like; human judgment, 99 if not 100 percent of the time, is clouded by bias. All these are good reasons why no one should complain about a report that is “biased” in favor of mainstream science. And yes, it means there’s no violation of journalistic ethics for publishing a report biased in favor of ID.

That said, something feels wrong about the omission of what most scientists think. What we need is some kind of principle of fairness that, even while allowing for “unbalanced” reports, requires inclusion of such basic points. The NPR report fails to do this One possibility is a “good persuader” principle: include a point if it would be included in any good piece of persuasive writing on either side. Good writers must be careful not to leave out an opposing point if it opens their piece embarrassingly easy rebuttal. (This, of course, assumes a writer who truly wants to persuade and not merely reinforce the beliefs of dittoheads who won’t listen to the other side).

This doesn’t address what’s really wrong with the NPR report, however. A much simpler rule, obvious enough that I hadn’t really even thought about it until now: don’t give listeners/readers a distorted view of something that no one disputes. We need to stick by such principles without falling into parroting of Fox News slogans.

And yes, it means there’s no violation of journalistic ethics for publishing a report biased in favor of ID.

Well, there’s no violation of journalistic ethics for publishing a biased report depending on the subject, as you note. But there absolutely is a violation if the subject of the report is Intelligent Design, as it falls under the same category as “blacks are vastly inferior to whites.” The entire ID movement is one giant piece of propaganda and certainly should not be presented as a either scientific or as a legitimate alternative to evolution.

ID is completely faith-based. It deserves equal time in a church.

I have the MP3 files, but I have some reservations about posting material that is almost certainly subject to copyright restrictions without the permission of the copyright holder – and my guess is that my request for permission would be met with the same response that I’ve gotten to my email about the report (i.e., none).

On the other hand, I have already written, and am in the proces of revising, a follow-up to my original essay – this time reviewing and commenting on the content, rather than the form, of the “Temple View” broadcast. This second essay contains quotes from the broadcast, and I am reasonably certain that posting this follow-up essay would be considered “fair use”.

I will continue polishing the second essay while I seek guidance on the nuances of copyright law and fair use; if there are any lawyers out there with knowledge of copyright law, please feel free to speak up.

In the meantime, I will contact WRTI (and Temple U.) to ask them about the mysterious disappearance – although I can guess what sort of response I’ll get.

It seems to me that everyone should be encouraged to call ID by its more descriptive name, IDC (Intelligent Design Creationism). The term IDC should be used everywhere, but as many as possible (including all the Steves). This new “nickname” will clarify ID to the masses so that they will be less apt to be duped.

Time was when it was considered part of a reporter’s job to attempt to discern when he was being lied to, and to issue a retraction if he found out after the fact. NPR’s national news desk abandoned this practice about three years ago and it seems WRTI has followed suit.

Those who would like to add their voices to Jon Pastor’s should visit the WRTI staff page and utilize the email or telephone information there. Likely choices for contact include Executive Director Dave Conant.

He assured me that his intent had been to present a balanced and unbiased review…

As Chris suggested, it is a false sense of fairness to think that all arguments can be balanced. On the one hand, we have the leading science researchers presenting evidence for evolution in numerous scientific journals; on the ther hand, we have disingenuous, misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest non-scientists presenting their beliefs with little or no supporting evidence. What little “evidence” they do present has mostly be refuted numerous times, but mostly their arguments consist of error-ridden attempts to find fault with evolutionary theory. What do they teach in journalilsm schools these days?

We know what they don’t teach in journalism school:

  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology

FLASH! I received notice from Dave Conant of WRTI that he has sent a response via snail mail. I thanked him for responding, and told him that I would mention this and follow up when I’ve read and analyzed the response.

Also – please do not pester Anne Todd – the Membership Services Manager – whose responsibilty is Membership Services, not programming or oversight of news and features. If she did have any responsility or control in this area, the whole issue would probably have been resolved amicably within days: she has always been remarkably responsive, and was in fact the person who brought my concerns to Dave Conant’s attention. I haven’t mentioned this only because program content is totally outside Anne’s area of responsibility, and she has (quite properly) not commented on it.

Please be as fair to Anne as she has been to me. Direct your comments, if any, to Dave Conant, who (as Executive Director) does have programming content under his purview.

Thanks.

To the extent that “intelligent design creationism (IDC)” is a superior term – and I agree that it is – I can’t claim credit for it. It was suggested by Matt Young, who was of inestimable help in preparing my essay for posting.

Regarding what is and is not taught in journalism school, and whether there is any reason to expect “fair and balanced” reporting – in the usual senses of those words, not their Fox News senses:

There is no reason why journalism schools should attempt to teach every subject with which a journalist might have contact, because this is clearly not possible. What I believe Marc Duigon was asking was “Aren’t they teaching journalistic ethics and integrity? Aren’t they teaching that when you screw up, the professional and responsible thing to do is ‘fess up? and that even if you believe you were right, a credible objection should be addressed, not ignored?”

If a reporter explicitly and unambiguously states that his intent was to present an objective and unbiased report – as Jim Hilgen did when I spoke with him – then yes, we are justified in expecting the report to meet some reasonable criteria for objectivity, and not present excessive evidence of bias.

I would never suggest that IDC be given any more air time than its proponents already manage to beg, borrow, and steal; or that it merits serious “debate” as science, since it is inarguably not science. But if one wishes to present an explicitly objective report on a theory with as little support among credible scientists as IDC has, then one has a corresponding responsibility to portray accurately the relative standing of said theory and the generally-accepted theory.

I would not have expected perfect equity in the allocation of air time to the opposing sides in this “debate” – but it’s difficult to see how any meaningful interpretation of “fair” or “balanced” could encompass a 12:1 dominance in exposure during a supposedly objective report.

My request for equal time was not – as I stated in my original post – an argument for “teaching the controversy”: I requested equal time to ameliorate and redress the damage done by the dramatic bias in the original report.

I did not mean that journalism schools shouldn’t graduate journalists who aren’t experts in everything.  That’s clearly impossible.  On the other hand, the purpose of an education in the liberal arts (of which journalism is a subset, or am I mistaken?) is allegdly to prepare the student to judge information, to learn to learn.

What does it say about today’s journalists when they not only do not (or cannot) check basic facts, but they don’t see through elementary logical fallacies peddled to them?  If they lack even that much, I question the value of degrees in journalism.

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Perhaps this series of events should be called to the attention of the NPR ombudsman. Yes, I know they’re looking for pro-science bias – but that’s a good reason to report anti-science bias.

Maybe NPR biased this report in favor of IDC to please the Republicans in the Senate who keep talking about pulling their funding?

This is not NPR: it’s a locally-produced program on a local NPR affiliate. I’m more inclined to attribute it to intervention by Martians – hey, wait, there’s a theory of the development of life on earth that should be aired: “Martian Genesis” ;-) – than to meddling by NPR. And the Republicans apparently got a few earfuls when they tried to pull that stunt: all of the activist Internet groups I belong to gave the call to arms, and I could hardly get through to my sens and reps: the lines were busy, busy, busy.

Re “It seems to me that everyone should be encouraged to call ID by its more descriptive name, IDC (Intelligent Design Creationism).”

Or an even more descriptive phrase, like perhaps “deliberately engineered life” (DEL). IMNSHO, the word “design” is in there to start with in order to avoid admitting that a design has to be followed by engineering, else it’s just marks on blueprint paper (or on a computer screen).

Henry

On the topic of “balanced” reporting, I recommend This Chris Mooney article in the Columbia Journalism Review. Blinded by Science How ‘Balanced’ Coverage lets the scientific fringe hijack reality

On the topic of “balanced” reporting, I recommend This Chris Mooney article in the Columbia Journalism Review. Blinded by Science How ‘Balanced’ Coverage lets the scientific fringe hijack reality

From this article:

On May 22, 2003, the Los Angeles Times printed a front-page story by Scott Gold, its respected Houston bureau chief, about the passage of a law in Texas requiring abortion doctors to warn women that the procedure might cause breast cancer. Virtually no mainstream scientist believes that the so-called ABC link actually exists – only anti-abortion activists do. Accordingly, Gold’s article noted right off the bat that the American Cancer Society discounts the “alleged link” and that anti-abortionists have pushed for “so-called counseling” laws only after failing in their attempts to have abortion banned. Gold also reported that the National Cancer Institute had convened “more than a hundred of the world’s experts” to assess the ABC theory, which they rejected. In comparison to these scientists, Gold noted, the author of the Texas counseling bill – who called the ABC issue “still disputed” – had “a professional background in property management.”

Let’s see … we have a legal attempt to ban something they don’t like, which fails; in response, they dream up some crap “science” that criticizes it, call it a “controversy”, and demand that their idiotic “scientific dispute” be taught to people.

Hmmmm. Sound familiar to anyone?

Lenny,

I’ve noticed this same practice exercised in favor of just about any policy position, including the position that science is valuable and should be funded better. The general practice is to gin up a “newsworthy” controversy to generate coverage, because controversies (real or fictitious) attract it. Media coverage is essential to any political battle, and the media are attracted to bait. The White House PR department has long mastered the techniques – what time of which days to make which announcements, considering such things as media deadlines, prime time, vacations and holidays, availability of key people who cah provide depth or insights, etc. Depending on these factors (which have nothing to do with the content of the announcement and everything to do with the dynamics of the media), the material can be headlines or buried in back of the lifestyle section (announced on the 2AM news).

Mooney is talking about one such dynamic, the media’s concern with “balance”, and with presenting “both sides” (even if there are many sides, and the sides are nowhere close to balanced). But taking advantage of these ideosyncracies is what PR departments do. The DI’s PR department is one of the best, admit it.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 6, 2005 6:31 PM.

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