Reed A. Cartwright posted Entry 3313 on September 11, 2007 03:30 PM.
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readingrainbow.jpg I learned today via an email sent to EvolDir, that some graduate students at Portland State University have put together a petition for Darwin Day. They plan to present this petition on February 12, 2009 to the Library of Congress, libraries, and bookstores, formally asking that that the anti-science works of creationists and intelligent design activists no longer be classified as “science” in libraries and bookstores.

Their hearts are in the right place, but I believe that they have misunderstood the issues facing our libraries and bookstores.

This is actually a common concern among people who understand that Darwin’s Black Box, Icons of Evolution, The Edge of Evolution, the Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, etc. are not books with scientific content. (See Biologists Helping Bookstores.) We often think that books in a section called “science” should be scientific books. However, this view can be described as myopic because cataloging systems developed by librarians handle all types of books, not just science books. The main logic behind these systems is that they describe what a book is about not what they contain. So books cataloged under science are books about science, not books containing science. Like it or not, barring a more specific category, anti-science books are still about science and can be logically cataloged alongside legitimate science books.

However, what can citizens and customers to do to improve the shelves of our libraries and bookstores? Well, the intent of cataloging is to facilitate patrons’ access to books. It may be possible to convince librarians that a questionable book might belong under “religion and science” (BL239-265) instead of “science”. Other possible alternatives include “bible and science” (BS650-667), “creation” (BT695-749), or “photography” (TR45.H). But remember that categories describe what a book is about; they do not vouch for the quality of its contents.

You may have limited success with this route because most local libraries and bookstores don’t use the complex LOC category scheme. Local libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal System, which lacks a central categorization authority. Instead, books get DDS numbers from either their publishers or local librarians, who enter their decisions in a centralized database. Of course you can try the same tactic as above and argue that a questionable book belongs in a more specific category like “creation” (213) or “science and religion” (215). Bookstores, on the other hand, tend to put together their own category systems with the intent of shelving a book where it is most likely to be found by an interested customer. If you don’t want a book in the science section, convince the retailer that they can sell more copies if you put it in the religion section (for example).—But, is selling more copies of anti-science books a good thing?

More important to libraries is not how they categorize their books but what books they have in their collections. If a library has no anti-science books, then it doesn’t matter where they would shelve them. Working with a library on their collection development policies is going to be more important than arguing with them about their shelving policies. Librarians, who are always working under tight budgets, will welcome free, informed advice about their science collections as well as donations of quality science books for their patrons.

It is much easier to drown bad information in good information than to get rid of it.

I’d like to thank Glenn Branch for insightful comments, based on his experience answering questions about creationism and libraries at NCSE.

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Comment #206333

Posted by harold on September 11, 2007 4:43 PM (e)

I am a vehement advocate of the right of creationists to express their beliefs.

Obviously I strongly oppose the illegal teaching of rights-violating sectarian pseudoscience as “science” in taxpayer funded public schools, or damaging the education of all students by distorting or censoring science, for the imagined benefit of a sectarian subgroup.

In addition, there are certain legal but obnoxious creationist activities that I oppose by indulging in my legal right to express my opinion. These are, primarily, attempting to deny real science or promote pseudoscience or non-universal sectarian morality to influence public policy, and attempting to deceive the public by publishing material that, while legal, lies about science.

Beyond these activities, I have no special problem with creationism. If someone wants to believe and express nonsense, that is their perfect right, and there are many other types of nonsense that are believed and expressed, as well, which do not bother me in the slightest.

However, vehement advocate of free speech though I am, libraries can, do, and indeed must make judgment calls. Do we find all the various non-creationist science-related crackpot schemes represented in the science section? Generally not. Many simply have their own extensive sections. For example, one pseudoscience that seems to lead even creationism in popularity is astrology, which clearly has its own section. Astrology does not even necessarily actively deny known scientific facts. (That there is no scientific support for astrology is a different matter. It’s one thing to agree with scientists about the physical nature of the moon, but claim that the moon also influences or forecasts earthly events in a mysterious way that is not understood, documented, or even expressed consistently from astrologer to astrologer; that’s still not as bad as saying that science is all wrong and that the moon is 6000 years old.) Astrology books are clearly “about” stars and planets, but nobody puts them in the astronomy section.

If there is already a creation section, then why should books that insist on magical creation of physical organisms not be placed there?

Comment #206340

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on September 11, 2007 4:52 PM (e)

I imagine that the problem with shelving occurs more often in commercial book stores, than in libraries with trained staff, that follow a professional category system.

If there is already a creation section, then why should books that insist on magical creation of physical organisms not be placed there?

Business. Bookstores, except maybe religious ones, are more likely to have a science section than they are likely to have a creation section. (And it is much larger and more prominent.) Therefore, when an anti-science book comes in, it gets placed in the existing section rather than creating a new one.

Comment #206366

Posted by Tim Fuller on September 11, 2007 6:08 PM (e)

I think you hit the nail on the head here. Blame the Dewey Decimal System and not the librarians. They seem to have suffered enough already.

I’m in the camp of the first commenter on the rights of these crackpots to get their message out (however unintelligible it is). Thanks to ID’s ceaseless attempts at applying the same sophist arguments to science as they do religion, it’s the ID/Creationist crowd that has helped clarify their true nature to me more than any ‘evidence’ I see around here (abundant btw). Of course I still enjoy hanging out here now and then, because chatting ‘over the fence’ about your freak neighbors is as American as apple pie.

There is also the odious business of limiting the damage they would still like to do. I guess it’s not really coincidence the whole lot of them behave like they’re on a mission from God.


Comment #206368

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on September 11, 2007 6:15 PM (e)

There is much truth in the post, and it is definitively better to demand change than to re-shelve books out of disdain and make it difficult for customers. However there is a qualitative difference between how bookstores and libraries handle books as harold notes.

I have no suggestions on book stores, except perhaps ask store owners to get good books and display them prominently. Maybe indirectly changes in library categories affects bookstores though.

I can’t remember seeing science books in astrology sections, while after all science has debunked it. Maybe we should demand “pseudoscience” sections where these books are broken out? (In a strict sense, pseudoscience isn’t about actual science. But I doubt libraries would yield to the professional view.)

Libraries could do more. Apart from promoting good books they could have displays explaining why there is pseudoscience, and how to recognize it. Just as a service to the public.

Comment #206395

Posted by Gerry L on September 11, 2007 8:50 PM (e)

As both a librarian and a library patron, I struggle with the dilemma of checking out creationist/ID books. I certainly don’t want to spend my money on them, but it can be useful to read them. And once I’ve checked one out, should I renew it again and again to keep it off the shelf and away from innocent eyes? Or would doing so increase the “circ stats” on the title and perhaps prompt the collection development people to acquire another copy?

Comment #206397

Posted by Albion on September 11, 2007 9:34 PM (e)

If a creationist book is in the Religion or Current Affairs section of the library or bookstore, it’ll be seen by a lot more people than if it’s hidden away in the Science section, which is usually in some obscure corner of the bookstore and not really visited by people who aren’t interested in science (and who may very well be familiar with the nonscientific content of books on creationism).

I was complaining to a bookstore owner about some of the creationist books in the science section and saying they should be in Religion where they belong, and he pretty much said “be careful what you wish for.” He said the best he could do was to make sure there was real science there as well, and also science-friendly books about the creationism-evolution controversy, and he’d be glad to stock one of the latter if I could recommend it. Last time I checked, that shop was carrying Ken Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God,” so I consider that a job well done.

The thing I do object to is when I come across bookstores where creationist books dominate the science section. There’s one annoying shop where “Icons of Evolution” was the only biology book they carried. Needless to say, there were shelves of Christian books.

Comment #206410

Posted by MPW on September 11, 2007 10:19 PM (e)

Gerry L, are you serious? I’m not sure how much ethical difference there is between the perpetual borrowing strategy you propose, and just dumping a book in the trash so that people can’t see it. Especially given that you’re a librarian, I’d hope you’re being ironic in that post. But maybe I’m a little too tired to tell.

Comment #206440

Posted by Mike on September 12, 2007 12:02 AM (e)

No. The NCSE has a blind spot here that seems to have been induced from the top down. This is what really happens: The author and the publisher tell the LOC how to catagorize their book. The LOC almost always just rubber stamps it. Libraries, even those using the Dewey decimal system, use the LOC catagorization as a basis for where to shelve the book. School kids, and the rest of the general public, expect to find science books in the science section, and really shouldn’t be faulted if they think “Darwin’s Black Box” represents valid science when they find it shelved next to a biology textbook in the tax funded public library. There is no reason why creation science books can’t be shelved on their own shelf under “religion and science”, “philosophy”, or whatever, other than the general laziness and lack of responsibility of the system. Protesting the creation science campaigns taking advantage of this weakness in our library system could be very productive. Claiming otherwise is just an attempt to focus limited resources elsewhere, but, IMHO, its throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Comment #206471

Posted by Walter Brameld IV on September 12, 2007 2:47 AM (e)

This thread is a bit disturbing. It’s one thing to refute an invalid perspective by putting good information out there. It’s quite another thing to make the undesired viewpoint less accessible to those who are interested in it.

Comment #206474

Posted by Christophe Thill on September 12, 2007 3:03 AM (e)

It is not uncommon to find books about astrology, homeopathy, telepathy and the like in the “science” sections, just as some trashy, celebrity books can find their way into the “sociology” section. It’s silly and sad, but I guess that’s life…

Comment #206487

Posted by Nigel D on September 12, 2007 4:19 AM (e)

Walter Brameld IV wrote:

This thread is a bit disturbing. It’s one thing to refute an invalid perspective by putting good information out there. It’s quite another thing to make the undesired viewpoint less accessible to those who are interested in it.

I don’t think anyone was seriously suggesting we make access to the crackpot books more difficult, just that they should be categorised under more accurate headings. Creationism and ID books contain more religion than accurate science, so that would be a more appropriate category.

There is a danger that someone uninformed but interested, seeking a science book, might end up with a creo/ID book instead because it was shelved under “Science”.

However, as has been pointed out, the crackpottery may well have less exposure by virtue of being shelved under “Science” than would otherwise be the case.

Comment #206544

Posted by Billy on September 12, 2007 9:19 AM (e)

Contrary to what is implied in the post, the Library of Congress _does_ assign Dewey Decimal numbers as a service to the many Dewey libraries who use its records. Check it out for yourself: go to the LC catalog at, search for your favorite (or least favorite) book, then click on the “MARC tags” tab.

You’ll see the MARC record, an example of the things a catalog librarian stares at all day. The LC class number is in field 050, and the Dewey number is in field 082.

Convincing the Library of Congress to change its classification policies would indeed affect classification policies all across the country – and believe it or not around the world.

At the same time, the graduate students are quite mistaken if they believe that the Library of Congress is unaware of the problem of classifying creationism science texts, and I’m rather skeptical they’ll effect much change. Every cataloger has encountered the problem or something like it. The rule of thumb is: you classify the book based on its subject (librarians invented the ugly word “aboutness”), and not based on your personal opinion of its viewpoint, methods, or validity.

At my own library, I put as much creation “science” as appropriate in the BLs. And I would alert the professor who teaches the popular “Weird Science” course– except that he’s usually the one who requested the material. If he asked me to reclassify something, I would seriously consider it, but I wouldn’t rubber-stamp his (or anyone’s) opinion.

After all, one of the ideas of a library is that its users are bright enough to form their own opinions.

Comment #206552

Posted by Tim Fuller on September 12, 2007 9:36 AM (e)

To all you wannabe book banners out there:

I want this creationist claptrap to be JUST as accesible as pornography in the public library.

Fair is fair.


Comment #206553

Posted by harold on September 12, 2007 9:37 AM (e)

Walter Brameld IV

It’s quite another thing to make the undesired viewpoint less accessible to those who are interested in it.

There was no discussion whatsoever of making any viewpoint less accessible.

What was under discussion was the rather technical point of whether creationist books in libraries should be shelved in the science section, or shelved in another section.

Reed A. Cartwright argued in favor of shelving them right where they want to be, in the science section.

Although I actually don’t have a huge problem with that, I countered with the point that librarians can, do, and must employ professional judgment (no library can simply uncritically shelve every book that arrives). Since there actually IS a “creation” section in the common library subject classification system, I suggested that creationism books be shelved in the “creation” section. (Note - of course, ID/creationist authors do attempt to disguise their work, a circumstance that in and of itself speaks volumes about their credibility, so no doubt some would likely be mistaken for serious science by well-meaning but busy librarians under any circumstances.)

As an example of a non-scientific subject that overlaps in some ways with the contents of science books, but is not shelved with science, I offered astrology. Do you suggest that astrology books are inaccessible?

In fact, astrology books are much more accessible in their own section than if they were admixed with astronomy and cosmology books. Likewise, putting books that advocate magical creation of physical organisms and their subsystems in a “creation” section might allow easier access for creationists, who would not have to hunt through books on the dull (to them) topics of real science.

To make my views especially clear, I included such comments as…

I am a vehement advocate of the right of creationists to express their beliefs.

If someone wants to believe and express nonsense, that is their perfect right, and there are many other types of nonsense that are believed and expressed, as well, which do not bother me in the slightest.

Comment #206554

Posted by NJ on September 12, 2007 9:48 AM (e)

Guys, this is a simple problem to handle. Using the LC system, just catalog the books under S 631.

Agriculture: Fertilizer

Comment #206592

Posted by Mike on September 12, 2007 12:04 PM (e)

Ok, so maybe the NCSE is right and I am naive and it is too easy to twist a protest of this into a charge of book banning, but its not as though they aren’t going to be twisting every other thing they can anyway. NCSE has itself made an issue of a book being shelved in the Grand Canyon park gift shop. The protest would have to emphasize ad nauseum that we want the public libraries to have as many creationist books as they can get, just so long as the library doesn’t appear to be making a value judgement that they represent accepted science.

Comment #206647

Posted by harold on September 12, 2007 3:21 PM (e)

NCSE has itself made an issue of a book being shelved in the Grand Canyon park gift shop.

And rightfully so, as that is a national park, and my tax dollars are applied to its maintenence.

The appearance was created that the particular secular dogmatism of that book was privelged in the eyes of the government. There shouldn’t be any books claiming that Allah, Jesus, Thunderbird, or any other religious entity magically created the canyon, being sold from government property. American taxpayers of all religions and no religion pay for that park.

However, if you want to set up a bookstore on private property as close to the park as you can get and sell (or give away or pay people to take) creationist books about the Grand Canyon, I strongly support your right to do so.

The protest would have to emphasize ad nauseum that we want the public libraries to have as many creationist books as they can get, just so long as the library doesn’t appear to be making a value judgement that they represent accepted science.

The first part is incorrect. I don’t necessarily want public libraries to have as many creationist books “as they can get”, as that approach would necessarily lead to public libraries shelving nothing but creationist books, as the crackpots would run the presses full steam day and night, and deluge libraries with their books by the truckload.

However, I do agree that public libraries should shelve the major creationist books, fully in proportion to the size of their overall collection.

Your right to express yourself does not include a right to oblige public libraries to shelve your works, of course. Library collections are by necessity guided by the judgment of professional librarians. Unfettered expression of and access to ideas is a guiding ideal for many libraries, but physical space, budgets, the extensive production of crackpot “vanity” works of substandard quality by any measure, etc, all mean that choices must be made.

I strongly believe that creationist ideas are among those that should be represented, given that they are culturally important, and frequently presented in professionally published and edited form that facilitates discussion and analysis (if not always the discussion and analysis the authors hope for).

So yes, the entire point here is whether or not librarians should be especially careful to exercise professional value judgment, and scrupulously shelve creationist books in the “creation” section, or whether they should should shelve them in the science section. The word “protest” is a bit strong.

As I have said, I don’t have a huge problem with putting them in the science section, but that’s not where other pseudoscience books go. Science is full of controversy (as it should be), but creationist/ID books are uncontroversially unscientific and anti-scientific. Although librarians will never be able to “catch” them all at any rate, I would slant toward putting them in the “creation” section.

My rationale is that even pseudoscience of a more innocent nature, that does not deny but merely seeks to “supplement” scientific reality, is not shelved with science. I don’t see books on the magic power of pyramids in “Archaeology” or “Architecture”, I don’t see astrology books shelved under “Cosmology”, I don’t see UFOlogy shelved under “Aeronautics”. Why should ID/creationism claptrap be shelved under “Biology”?

Someone may raise the issue of “revisionist history” books. I suppose those, if they are to be shelved, must be shelved with “History”. However, if there is a “Creation” section of “Religion”, we don’t face that dilemma with creationism books.

Comment #206657

Posted by wamba on September 12, 2007 3:50 PM (e)

As Tipper Gore once said, “This is not a censorship issue, this is a labelling issue.”

Comment #206670

Posted by harold on September 12, 2007 5:00 PM (e)

As Tipper Gore once said, “This is not a censorship issue, this is a labelling issue.”

Those funny creationists.

They’ve tried to censor science from public schools (that was the effort in Kansas in 1999).

They censor it from the science classroom in their own private universities, as is discussed in another nearby thread (that is their legal right, of course, but it’s still censorship).

Heck, they even censor critical comments off their very own blogs, while simultaneously posting all over everybody else’s blog.

They would, of course, rip every book with the word “evolution” in it out of every library if they had the power.

They generally support censorship of a wide variety of things, with some success.

But putting a religion book in the religion section is unacceptable “censorship” to them.

Shelving books in the appropriate section is not a censorship issue. Neither, in fact, is it a “labelling issue”.

It’s a shelving issue.

The fundamental attribute of the creationist brain is, and I’m sorry if I’m rude but I’ve learned this over the years, an infantile and narcissistic sense of hyper-entitlement. The creationist brain interprets other peoples’ resistance to being persecuted by creationists as persecution of creationists.

You actually don’t have a “right” to have your claptrap in public libraries at all. You have right to freely express it and legally distribute it at your own expense. What goes in a library and where it goes is ultimately a professional judgment.

What’s really a hoot is that everyone here supports putting your delusional stuff in libraries, and most don’t even have an objection to shelving it with “science”.

You are the ones who censor. You are the ones who fear free exchange of ideas.

We debate what shelf to put your book on. You’d be debating what brand of lighter fluid to burn everyone else’s books with if you had the power.

Comment #206740

Posted by Knoedler on September 12, 2007 10:05 PM (e)

Funnily enough, I worked at my college’s bookstore this past summer and at one point discovered “The Edge of Evolution” on a cart of books I was required to shelve. The label said “science”. I couldn’t do it. I put it in the fiction section instead. As far as I know, it’s still there. Funnily enough, my religious friends who would probably actually agree with Behe (if they read it) thought it was funny (they really don’t know anything about evolution, but they’re liberal enough to oppose creationist claptrap). Also, my adviser (I’m a biology major) seemed to think it was funny.