Posted by Nick Matzke on August 18, 2005 10:34 PM
Perhaps in some kind of cosmic penance for Slate editor Jacob Weisberg’s fight-starting editorial, today the Slate “medical examiner” desk has an excellent slide-show essay on Haeckel that actually gives a reasonably balanced overview of Ernst Haeckel, his science and art, and his legacy. The essay appears to be provoked by a showing of the new award-winning documentary Proteus, about Haeckel and the scientific and artistic “discovery” of the under-sea, invertebrate world. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but we are about due for a correction of the all-too-common Haeckel-was-pure-evil narrative that is very common among both evolutionists and creationists. On the other hand, part of the problem with Haeckel was that he tended to mix the science and the artistic, imaginative, metaphysical vision a bit too much, and from the looks of it Proteus may do this too. On the other other hand, all great science popularizations seem to have a pretty strong imaginative vision tied to the dry scientific facts, so mixing the two may be intrinsic to the work of the science popularizer. If this is so, then the thing to do is for readers to simply be alert to what science popularizers are doing, and mentally separate the two aspects of the work so that each can be considered on its own merits.