Mopping up on the Medved show

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The Michael Medved show did a show on “intelligent design” today, and against my better judgement, I was on it, due to some rather smooth cajoling from the show’s producer. As it turned out, it was great fun, although during the show I felt a bit like a hobbit in the Mines of Moria scenes from the movie the Fellowship of the Ring: Look out, Medved’s first move is flagrant baiting! [octopus monster] Uh-oh, here comes the bacterial fla[g]ellum [big goblin], and on its heels the Second Law of Thermodynamics! [little goblin]. Then, the Discovery Institute list of 300 [“They have a Cave Troll.”] After that, pile on a classic Darwin quote mine, the where-does-information-come-from argument, evolution is random, you want to ban God and Apple Pie, and lots and lots of “random evolution,” “explain the origin of life in 2 seconds,” and “why won’t you debate Jonathan Wells?” [the goblin hoard]. Then, just when you think you’ve defeated all comers, Medved comes back with a shot at his invited guest’s qualifications, as if he’d been forced at gunpoint to invite someone without a Ph.D., and as if the opinion of the entire scientific community were pointless [a roaring giant flaming Balrog].

However, with science as my trusty sword Sting, and Project Steve as my mithril armor, I think I got through it alright. I’ll quote an email I just received from a listener and then review a few of the highlights. The show is theoretically archived in a repeating loop until Wednesday, and you can check out the opinions of listeners on the Michael Medved blog.

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 13:55:49 -0800 (PST) From: Daniel Lausevic [email snipped] Subject: WOW is the word To: matzkeATncseweb.org X-ELNK-AV: 0

Hello Nicholas,

I am a listener for the Michael Medved show. On occasion, I have to grind my teeth whenever talk of intelligent design comes into play. As a mathematician (almost), my science background allows me to understand the difference between valid scientific investigation and pseudoscience. Even Carl Sagan’s popular, yet no nonsense, baloney detection kit shouldn’t escape. Yet it does.

When you came onto the show, my initial fear was that you wouldn’t have the appropriate background and emotional intelligence to knock down some of the invalid creationist arguments. The second law of thermodynamics comes to mind. I was pleasantly surprised to listen to your intelligent and insightful responses one after the other.

As I listen to the show, I am noticing the signs that your arguments are strong enough for them to attack your qualifications. After all, why not attempt to discredit a person’s thoughts when you have nothing to go with?

It is a shame he cut you off at the end of the hour. He attacked your premise that they need to learn about science before they can attack it. The bigger shame is the pattern seen in creationist/intelligent design advocates. They DON’T know science. And if they do, they’re not regarded with any sense of respect from the remainder of the scientific community. I can rattle off a list of Ph.D’d biologists who practice creation science who won’t be heard by the rest of their discipline’s community. Why? They choose to ignore all the education and training they put themselves through to get their Ph.D.

I just wanted to convey my appreciation to your steadfast defense on common sense. I hope to hear you on the radio in the future.

Daniel Lausevic Reproduced with Daniel’s permission

Let’s see, some of the highlights:

  • Medved kicked off the show with what was really a awe-inspiring exercise in goading and baiting, equating the simple idea that science classes should teach science with fundamentalist dogma. At least he didn’t lull me into a false sense of security with a polite introduction. So, after taking a deep breath and saying something like “First, thanks for having me on the show,” I figured I might as well point out that Medved wasn’t even past the starting line if he thought that evolution was “random.” Randomness was a running issue throughout the show, e.g. me: “Natural selection. It’s nonrandom. That’s the whole point. I’ll say it again slowly…nat-ur-al sel-ec-tion.” Only once towards the end did he seem to get it.
  • Medved brought up the Discovery Institute list of 300 scientists who signed a statement expressing some sort of vague skepticism about some unspecified definition of “neo-Darwinism”. Obviously Medved hadn’t heard of Project Steve, which shows just how silly the Discovery Institute’s argument-by-list is, so I beat him over the head with it every chance I got. (“Guess how many scientists named Steve signed on to this statement?” Medved: “I don’t know, I guess alot.” “515 the last time I checked.” – the actual current number is 521 according to the Steve-o-meter.)

  • Then came the callers. Unsuprisingly, nearly every single argument was already listed and refuted in the Index to Creationist Claims, among other places. For example, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (CF001) and the “Miller-Urey experiment is disproven” argument (CB035)

  • Bacterial “flagella” (CB200_1). The caller mispronounced the word (it’s “flaj”, not “flag”), so I had to straighten that out and then give the basic argument that most of the flagellum proteins now have identified homologs with proteins in systems with different functions. This is something that the ID movement still has yet to admit – they think the only thing they have to deal with is the type III secretion system. It probably would have been overkill to mention the Big Flagellum Essay. Somewhere in there I pointed out that bird wings are descended from dinosaur forelimbs.

  • Another caller tried the “no new genetic information” argument (CB102). Unfortunately ID folks had never informed the poor caller about nylonase or the many other examples of new genetic information evolving (which, parenthetically, the “DI staff” themselves have yet to deal with in their as-yet unfinished rebuttal to the Panda’s Thumb critique of Meyer 2004).

  • Yet another caller read a quote and tried to have me guess it. Surprise, surprise, it was:

    If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

    Gee, who wrote that? Since this is quite possibly the most-mined quote of all time (appearing in the Talkorigins Quote Mine Project, admittedly, not the Index to Creationist Claims), I asked the caller what the next sentence was. He didn’t know, perhaps because he’d only read the mined quote and not the relevant chapter of Origin of Species, but of course the next sentence is: “But I can find out no such case.” I think I went on to try to say something about change of function, but was cut off.

  • Medved repeatedly tried to portray little old me and the scientific community in general as dogmatic for opposing the teaching of ID in the classroom. After a few rounds of this (me: “ID isn’t a theory, it’s a fairy tale – ‘poof, it happened’ is not an explanation”), I brought up the fact that various people disbelieve the well-established fact that HIV causes AIDS, and I noted that I would oppose these yahoos introducing this quackery into the public schools just like I oppose ID. Medved foolishly agreed with me about HIV/AIDS, which of course made it an ideal time to point out that leading IDist Phillip Johnson is himself an AIDS denier. Medved was apparently startled by this unknown fact about his buddy and attempted to deny it, until I pointed out that all you have to do is google on these terms to discover this. I said something like “that tells you something about the quality of the man’s scientific judgement” – which is blunt, but, well, accurate.

  • After all of this, the callers seemed to be reduced to saying “you can’t call everything a ‘classic creationist argument’” (wanna bet?), and Medved seemed to be reduced to “you won’t debate Wells, nyah nyah” (a decision made last week and agreed to by Medved – we’ve seen plenty of creationists do the Gish Gallop, if a creationist wants to do that with an uncritical host and uncritical callers, he can do it himself – my hands were quite full just between the callers and Medved).

  • But, almost at the end, in apparent desperation, Medved made an issue of my qualifications, almost certainly suggested by Wells or someone similar whom Medved was in touch with. Never mind that Medved had invited me onto the show, never mind that if qualifications are the issue, then the intelligent design camp is hopelessly outgunned by the scientific community at large – nope, the important thing was that I don’t have a Ph.D. Of course, I’m not the one claiming that 150 years of science is wrong and that my scientifically unpopular fringe views should be inserted into public schools. I think it was here that I brought up the AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory, kind of an ace-in-the-hole if one starts comparing Arguments from Authority. I should have added that any literate person can refute creationist arguments with some common sense and careful reading – Ph.D. not required.

Anyway, at the very end I think I got a kind of subtle compliment from Medved – I suspect that most of his rhetoric and bombast is an act put on to entertain the listeners. All in all, the show went surprisingly well despite being a total food-fight. Whether or not anyone learned anything is debatable, but it probably made for engaging talk radio.

[Note: All quotes from the show are paraphrases from memory. You have been warned.]

27 Comments

Very cool Nick. I’d try and listen to it now, but its 5:30 in the morning and I need some sleep.

So, Medved smackdown starts tomorrow..

This show is 80% commersials! :/

And the beauty is, the cave troll is slain with a single shot through the brain.

:)

I was amazed by the caller near the end who advocated for “open discussion.” Apparantly, informed and honest discussion is somehow against his taste.

Can we get this in an mp3 form somewhere? I’d love to fast forward through the commercials and have it for my personal archives. The file on the radio station site is all streaming only.

I just tried getting to the streaming audio…I think it’s the current show now (they’re babbling about the silly xmas controversy), rather than the ID stuff. Is there an archive?

It’s a bit off-putting, too, to see the talk show lineup. Bennett, Prager, Medved, and the odious Hugh Hewitt…you were really plumbing the depths, Nick. I guess we need to get the information to even the deeply ignorant and insane, though.

Yeah, it looks like the show stream changed. If anyone archived it please send me an e-mail or post a link here. I’d love to hear the Darwin quote mining exchange at the very least.

I was thinking this was very stereo typical creationist. The people that know better on the creationist side try to twist everything. The people that are ignorant spout out the same dribble thats been refuted agian and agian and when given the correct information they don’t even hear it. They think they are right even after being corrected. In some other comment someone said that it lets the people that are ignorant feel like they are better then 99% of the scientist out there. Well in science they aren’t and they need to face the fact. But they never will.

Oh for those that are listening remember it is a 3 hour tour.. a 3 hour tour. much like Gillians Island most of it is dribble (sorry for those that are fans) the whole show is played with commercials. Which honestly is atleast 50% of the show.

Hello Nick. I’ve just finished listening to the show for myself, and I think that you did a great job. Your paraphrases are fair and reasonably accurate IMO, but being a skeptic, I had to check for myself ;-)

I take no pleasure in defending Medved, in cutting you off on several occasions. But it’s a radio show with a tight schedule, determined by the producers, and they have to pay the bills. Sure, I don’t like all the commericials, which is one reason why I don’t like shows like Medved’s. But the apparent popularity of Medved’s show means that lots of people will want that commercial airtime, and the producers have decided that they can sacrifice actual program airtime without losing the desirability of the commercial airtime. As long as radio listeners don’t care about such things, successful air personalities like Medved are essentially tied to cutting off people at unfortunate times.

Again Nick, great job. I especially appreciated your repeated calls for people to look into the literature for themselves – not that I believe that anything other than a very tiny minority of listeners will actually bother …

Wow. Nice job!

Somebody has to engage the discussion in popular media – the refusal to make it a “debate” every time is a good idea. When it comes time to debate, I suggest we have non-Ph.Ds do it – you show that explanation of evolution can be done brilliantly without a Ph.D.

In fact, it may be better done without the lab work that numbs one’s senses to the games being played.

I especially loved your defense of Darwin’s writing. My experience is that nearly 100% of the creationist complaints about Darwin’s work is exactly opposite of what he did and said.

Great Job!

One thing about the “why won’t you debate” argument, is the simple fact that they are asking you to debate on a conservative radio show, with you having no control of how the debate would be conducted. Why would you trust Michael Medved to conduct the debate in a fair manner? I wouldn’t, and I wish you would have pointed out that to him. You would NOT be just debating Jonathan Wells, you would be debating Mr. Wells and Mr. Medved and the callers and the shows format, which is just a silly thing to try to overcome.

I should have added that any literate person can refute creationist arguments with some common sense and careful reading — Ph.D. not required.

I haven’t heard the file, but it sounds like you did a great job, Nick.

I definitely agree with your statement in quotes, however. While a technical background might be necessary to explain why a particular scientific claim trotted out by creationists is bogus (e.g., age of the earth), it’s certainly not required to understand why “ID theory” amounts to useless unscientific crap and why evolutionary theory is great science.

As for Johnson’s AIDS-dendying ineptitudes, I also might throw in reference to the argumentative similarities between creationists and UFO, ESP, Holocaust and slavery apologists, just to spice it up.

And don’t forget to refer to multiple designers theory and enterocraftic theory, the equally “compelling” and equally pseudoscientific sister theories to “ID theory.”

Someone has told me that they’ve recorded the show while it was looping, when they put the file together I’ll try to figure out if/how it can be distributed.

The Medved Fan Blog has a second post up on hour 2 of the Medved show on ID. Randy Bennett put an excellent post up there, mentioning that IDist Jonathan Wells also signed up to the HIV dissenter list, something I forgot to bring up.

UPDATE: Robert Crowther, director of communications at the Discovery Institute, is apparently trying to defend Medved/Wells/ID over on the Medved fan blog.

Good heavens! Out of morbid curiosity I looked at the blog. Despite years of exposure to Talk.Origins more loopy deniznes, it still was pretty shocking how they piled onto you. With this kind of reaction to rather straightforward science, how can we ever hope to make any headway.

I heard the show and I think that you did a great job! I also think that the ignorance of the callers was pretty obvious to the audience. However I could be wrong since on the MM show blog the blogger is claiming that their callers really knew their stuff. What also may have helped is that the callers that challenged Dr. Wells in the next segment really knew their stuff. Quite a few were scientists in relevant fields with strong challenges. I just hope that the audience was able to understand what was going on. I’m probably the only one here who would consider himself anything like a fan of Michael Medveds show. It’s mostly for the political stuff where I agree with him maybe 60%. Whenever I hear him cover science issues I have to admit I mostly cringe. I have sent him maybe a dozen emails over the last year with links from talkorigins about evolution related stuff as well as problems with his (typical) positions in my own words. He is always pushing “Icons of Evolution” and I have sent him the link to those reviews maybe six or seven times. I really doubt he has read it or even plans to since become obvious that it’s religion that keeps him interested in ID.

At least one caller complained that you “dodged the question” by saying, in essence, that it’s complicated and you have to go read some of the source material.

As if anybody could explain relativity in a few minutes of talk radio, or international ecenomics, or even something simple, like how DNA and RNA work.

Of course it’s complicated. If it weren’t complicated, you could have finished and wrapped up Panda’s Thumb in 4 or 5 screens.

Joshua White Wrote:

He [Medved] is always pushing “Icons of Evolution” and I have sent him the link to those reviews maybe six or seven times. I really doubt he has read it or even plans to since become obvious that it’s religion that keeps him interested in ID.

I too am mostly conservative and cringe when conservative commentators speak on subjects on which they are either grossly misinformed or are deliberately misinforming. Occasionally I remind them that Dr. Laura, the quintessential religious conservative, accepts evolution as “a sign of God’s creativity.” The reason of course, is that with a PhD in Physiology, she knows some science.

While some of these commentators are probably truly clueless, my growing suspicion is that many of them have read the counter-arguments, know that evolution is not a “theory in crisis,” yet still pretend otherwise because it is politically correct for the far right to do so. Ronald Bailey made a good case for why non-clueless anti-evolutionists misrepresent evolution:

http://reason.com/9707/fe.bailey.shtml

As I was reading this, I was just so reminded of this:

http://www.npr.org/rundowns/segment[…]wfId=4184520 NPR : Media Often Fails to Distinguish Opinions from Facts “Commentator Drew Westen studies the way that psychology and politics intersect, and he says the format of cable TV news – throwing out a topic to two representatives of opposite sides – capitalizes on a design flaw in the human brain. People believe what they want to believe, no matter what the facts are.”

I’ve always felt that shows like that were more about entertainment, by way of sensationalism about topics that people happen to getting riled about, more than about real issues, more than being informative.

That’s not to say that I think people shouldn’t debunk junk claims & whatnot, I think that’s very important. I just fear that not enough significant information or education is imparted in situations like that. :(

>NPR : Media Often Fails to Distinguish Opinions from Facts

Wow, NPR finally catches up to The Daily Show (“the most trusted name in fake news”).

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EmmaPeel Wrote:

Very frustrating for this Randian conservative. (Does conservatism really have to be a big tent? :-)

No. By “Randian” I assume that you apparently lean Libertarian, as I do somewhat. The “conservative” IDers and creationists, however, are mostly Authoritarian. See:

www.self-gov.org

For obvious political reasons, conservative politicians and commentators want as many Libertarians and Authoritarians as possible under their big tent, so they overlook differences. When it comes to anti-evolution, they even have the reproductive cloning advocate Raelians under the tent!

Despite its popularity, the strategy of conservatives of being anti-evolution-friendly (if not all-out anti-evolution) may backfire in the long run, as conservatives gain a reputation as being anti-science and pro-ignorance. Even on those scientific issues where I think that conservatives are right (e.g some environmental ones), the majority of the public disagrees. So opposing even more science, even under the pretense of “fairness,” is a risky strategy. My sample is not necessarily representative, but among the devout Christians I know personally, I notice that a growing number are voting for liberal Democrats, because they perceive the conservative Republicans as out of the mainstream.

I hope ‘Randian’ is a reference to James Randi, and not to (shudder) the Ayn Randroids.

Interesting article Frank J, thanks. I have noticed some things about the way that Medved talks about America and Judeo Christian culture that make more sense in this light. I would not be able to keep up a big lie under such a circumstance frankly. I would rather see society deal with the truth and find another way to maintain social order even if it requires a little short term chaos. In Medved’s case though I think that it is more likely a combination of religious belief and scientific ignorance that allows him to maintain his opinion, but I could be wrong. He spends most of his time studying political issues for show topics and probably only has a very basic scientific knowledge and little time to expand it. That is no excuse if true IMHO since he does have an opinion and an obligation to make sure that it is backed by the facts if he is going to air it publicly. This is especially true since he does come off as someone who has a good, informed grasp of most issues even if you disagree with his opinion.

These shows (theoretically) have their value in hearing the best arguments on a particular subject and then getting go online to learn more and see a more valuable debate in a better format. Especially since web logs have become more popular. I think that Matzke was successful in that context.

EmmaPeel I’m interested in what “Randian” you mean too. I consider myself an independent conservative (libertarian leaning) but base that more on which arguments make more sense to me rather than a philosophical basis. I’m trying to do more reading into political philosophy.

Interesting article Frank J, thanks. I have noticed some things about the way that Medved talks about America and Judeo Christian culture that make more sense in this light. I would not be able to keep up a big lie under such a circumstance frankly. I would rather see society deal with the truth and find another way to maintain social order even if it requires a little short term chaos. In Medved’s case though I think that it is more likely a combination of religious belief and scientific ignorance that allows him to maintain his opinion, but I could be wrong. He spends most of his time studying political issues for show topics and probably only has a very basic scientific knowledge and little time to expand it. That is no excuse if true IMHO since he does have an opinion and an obligation to make sure that it is backed by the facts if he is going to air it publicly. This is especially true since he does come off as someone who has a good, informed grasp of most issues even if you disagree with his opinion.

These shows (theoretically) have their value in hearing the best arguments on a particular subject and then getting go online to learn more and see a more valuable debate in a better format. Especially since web logs have become more popular. I think that Matzke was successful in that context.

EmmaPeel I’m interested in what “Randian” you mean too. I consider myself an independent conservative (libertarian leaning) but base that more on which arguments make more sense to me rather than a philosophical basis. I’m trying to do more reading into political philosophy.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on December 22, 2004 2:02 AM.

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