Bazell says “quit whining”


NBC’s science correspondent, Robert Bazell, has an opinion piece today on MSNBC: Stop whining about intelligent design.

Scientists should stop whining about threats to the teaching of evolution and spend more time discussing values.

I should note here that most of the piece is strongly supportive of teaching evolution. Bazell presents a very brief overview of the history of anti-evolutionism in America, and notes that “serious efforts in biology and medicine can no more ignore evolution than airplane designers can ignore gravity.” He gives the example of influenza H5N1 as a current problem that can only be understood using evolutionary theory. Overall, I think it’s a really good piece–but I still think he’s off-base.

(Continued at Aetiology).


I found this opinion piece peculiarly content-free. It isn’t science’s place to discuss ‘values’. ‘Values’ aren’t a scientific problem. Evolution is a scientific problem.

There was no argument made in Bazell’s piece. Well, ok, the obvious one that showing creationism to be vacuous and stupid hasn’t wiped out creationism was run through, but that’s a very old story. But there was no logic to his “conclusion” that we should focus on ethics.

Plus, if he kept his ear to the ground he’d recognize that the concern about “ethics” and “morality” in science and by scientists is one of the driving forces in the effort to depose evolution. Stem cells, abortion, etc., as these are generally accepted by science and medical journals, do not please the anti-evolutionary crowd, and are unlikely to help in any defense of science.

What’s he trying to do, suggest that what matters is morality, and not the evidence behind evolution? That’s a sure way to lose ground to religious forces.

Plus, doesn’t he “whine” as well?

Intelligent design and its predecessors, creation science and creationism, insiduously attempt to undermine science with arguments that can sound scientific but are not.

Of course it’s true, but so is most of the other “whining”. We’d be more than happy to quit “whining”, for instance if the DI would shut up and try to develop ID into a science. Perhaps it’s about time that he quits looking only at Ivy League schools and urban centers, and notice that there is actually a concerted effort to destroy biological science due to religious prejudices.

And yes, while he’s carping, we have made some difference, spreading the word of the vacuousness of ID, and of the evidence for evolution. Mr. Ivory Tower is oblivious to the work being done that leaves him comfortably unaware of the actual problems being caused by ID, and the need to come up with the strategies and arguments necessary to keep education relatively free of religion, and at least not opposed to science.

Being Mr./Dr. Ivory Tower, he really doesn’t understand how plausible IDists and creationists sound to much of the public. Much more effort is required to work through the scandalous misappropriations and distortions of science than is required to make them (it appears to me that Behe has distorted science mostly through his ignorance and obliviousness).

Plus, I recently read an article wherein a science teacher was complaining that even the “evolutionist” students that he taught accepted science more as a sort of political statement, that the more “cool side” accepts evolution, thus so do many students (while others react). Apparently he was hoping that people would accept science for scientific reasons, and not because science was baptized as science by the side not containing the majority of the slack-jaws.

But of course most people do not know science at all well, and they must accept science because it’s what the smarter/more educated people think it’s science. Give them whatever they will absorb in school, certainly, yet we know that most people aren’t going to understand the case for evolution at all well.

It’s like I said one other time, it is good to see Tucker Carlson asserting on TV that IDists aren’t snake oil salesmen (even though they are), because it shows how much on the defensive ID actually is. Give the IDists a chance, and Tucker would be saying, “See, the IDists have gotten the respect that they deserve,” or some other impressionistic notion that came to his science-illiterate brain.

We “whine” because ID was and is a genuine threat, perhaps soon to morph. We keep the pseudosciences on the defensive, while Mr. Out-of-Touch uses his impressionistic notions coming from the Ivory Tower to presume that ID isn’t a threat, and that ignoring pseudosciences that clearly sound scientific to a large proportion of the public is probably the best thing to do. Well, it isn’t, though he doesn’t have the foggiest idea why and how it is not best to ignore present danger to science.

Glen D

Teaching evolution properly in secondary school will have little impact on these difficult issues.

So basically what he’s telling us here is that the quality of education received by students in secondary schools has no impact on med school graduates.

What an interesting theory.

I wonder though, where exactly does Mr. Bazell think med school students come from?

I wonder though, where exactly does Mr. Bazell think med school students come from?


You win.

Scientists should stop whining about threats to the teaching of evolution and spend more time discussing values.

…and priests should stop whining about threats to teaching about Jesus and spend more time learning how science works.

Well, I think Bazell’s completely out of line. Just whose side is he on, anyway? Whining? It’s for certain that doctors will “quit whining” about Intelligent Design considering how many of them are dim-bulb creationists! Think of Dr. Bill Frist’s theory of how AIDS is spread via air, or Bush’s appointee to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. W. David Hager (author of “As Jesus Cared for Women,”) who opposed making Plan B available.

Isn’t he worried at all about the profession being taken over by superstitions such as “fetal pain,” “abortion-breast cancer link,” “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS in heterosexuals,” “Terri Schiavo was awake because without a brain you still have a soul,” or “the cervical cancer vaccine will turn teenaged girls into crazed whores”? My own sister was told by a therapist that her stillborn child was “an angel who came down to earth to tell you to get out of that bad marriage.” Does Bazell l want to see his son’s own profession go the “repressed memory”/”satanic ritual abuse” route? Is he even aware of the obstacles to a college education that exist for the large numbers of people out there who are receiving a big dose of pseudoscience in the schools?

Luckily for Mr. Bazell, very few people appear to be whining about ID’s vacuity. There are, however, many scientists and educators who are using their free time to try to prevent the exact sort of underminuing of scienctific and evidence-based progress that, as Bazell bemoans, has been sniped at since Galileo pointed a telescope at Jupiter.

Oh my god, Tara, you’re beautiful. I’ve always wanted to marry a beautiful scientific genius.

Are you single? Do you like English guys? Do you like English guys that leave sleazy and tiresome remarks in the comments of your sensible blog postings?

If so, please contact me immediately. I may be the man of your dreams.

I was about to start reading Bazell’s piece when I caught the non sequitur subheading.

Evolution debate doesn’t help doctors confronting difficult medical decisions

Not only that, the evolution “debate” doesn’t help me decide if it’s time to change the oil in my car. It doesn’t make “puppies cuter and kittens more adorable” ( ) It doesn’t even give a lot of insight into big important problems like the national debt or the Iraq war.

Oddly enough, the “debate” (not a debate over science, but perhaps over policy) does roughly one thing: it addresses one specific part of science that is under attack from religious fundamentalists. It should be no surprise to find that this effort is important to evolutionary biologists. I guess it would be nice if it also somehow mysteriously helped some surgeon who was trying to decide between a bypass and angioplasty, but this is an awfully strange criterion by which to judge it.

Great. Perhaps Mr. Bazell would like to come out here to Arkansas and see for himself the actual damage done by ID and creationism to science education in the rank and file. Ethics aside, I think we have a whole lot to worry about when a huge percentage of our population is effectively incompetent in science, with much of it grossly ignorant about not just evolution, but all of science. Come on out here and you can see for yourself just how deeply religious fear impacts our children’s education and pervades polical discussions about science. These are the same VOTERS who are so easily swayed by political rhetoric concerning stem-cell research and global warming, among other things. True, evolution will survive in the nuts and bolts science that we do here in the “Ivory Tower”, but these folks have got to wake up and see the damage that creationism and ID are doing to all science.

When I see the word “whining” used lately, it immediately lowers the credibility of the writer in my mind.

Over the past decade (maybe longer) it has become a facile codeword for dismissing the validity of any grievance. I admit I sometimes use the word myself. E.g., when I see wealthy people going on some tirade about about confiscatory tax rates, they’re “whiners” as far as I’m concerned. I’m pretty sure they’re doing just fine, and I’m not interested in listening to their complaints. But it’s a very subjective term, and indicates a lot of rhetorical laziness on the part of the person using it.

Many people have legitimate grievances. To get your grievances addressed, you have to speak up about them. Sometimes, you even wind up writing these elaborate puffed-up documents yammering on about “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object.” Surely, some very sensible person at the time might have said “Suck it up, man. You guys are just colonists, and the king is the king.”

The rhetorical goal of calling someone a whiner is very simple. A whiner is a weak-willed person who complains easily. You’re “challenging” them to be less weak-willed. Anyone dumb enough to fall for this sucker’s game will demonstrate their strength of will by shutting up, which is exactly what you were hoping they’d do.

There really are whiners; I don’t deny it. But it is so easy to call anyone a whiner with predictable effects, that virtually any use of the term has to be viewed as a lazy substitute for making a genuine case.

PaulC Wrote:

Not only that, the evolution “debate” doesn’t help me decide if it’s time to change the oil in my car.

Unless, of course, you count the whole thing with the abiogenic oil proponents as part of the evolution “debate”.

From the article:

“But science can never help us make moral or value judgments like those the new physicians will face.”

Will teaching children blatant falsehoods and pseudoscience improve their ability to make these judgments? Or does Mr. Bazell think that MDs make these important decisions without input from their patients?

Will it aid future politicians and business people in separating reality from ungrounded belief so that they can make sound decisions about medical policies?

Science is an important tool in making moral and value judgments — it allows us to differentiate between what is true, what is not true, and what is not currently known about empirical issues, and all moral and value judgments, especially medical judgments, do have empirical results.

When I see the word “whining” used lately, it immediately lowers the credibility of the writer in my mind.

Oh, quit your whining.


Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Hey Bazell,

If I wanted to discuss “values” I would have obtained a Ph.D. in $*#(* values.

Bryan knew that the notion of “survival of the fittest”, or natural selection, had been used by German generals, many of whom had been academic scientists and doctors, to justify their increasing desire to dominate Europe. (Hitler would later rely on it as rationale for his racial horrors.)

BWAHAAHAHAHAH!!!!!! The clowns at the DI will be scratching their heads: will they praise Bazell? Or will they chastise him for playing the dreaded Hitler card?!?!

Such tough choices.

Seriously, though, Bazell is an ass. Scientists aren’t “whining” about ID. Most scientists are not paying attention because they correctly guessed that ID would suffer the same fate as every other attempt by lying creationism peddlers

Those of us who do pay attention aren’t “whining”. Rather, we are scorning and ridiculing the liars and willfully ignorant creeps who peddle pseudoscience to American rubes and their children. And we do this for a good reason: we respect the truth more than we respect stupid crap written on scrolls by medieval and pre-medieval scam artists (or, in the case of L. Ron Hubbard, typed out by a genuine nutcase).

Bazell is right about one thing: values are important. His problem is that he continues to believe that without the input of scroll-reciters, humans will have difficulty distinguishing “right” from “wrong.”

That’s pure baloney, as any honest person will admit after a two minute conversation about the reality of human behavior.

Getting back to this:

Bryan knew that the notion of “survival of the fittest”, or natural selection, had been used by German generals

That elementary “notion” has also been used for thousands of years by hundreds of thousands of religious humans as they bred animals and plants to suit particular needs. And guess what? Bryan knew this fact as well but, like the present day professional liars at the Discovery Institute, Bryan pretended not to know.

Was Bryan an ignorance peddling brainwashed sicko? Or “just a fundie”?

You decide. I no longer make such trivial distinctions.

Robert Bazell Wrote:

Bryan knew that the notion of “survival of the fittest”, or natural selection, had been used by German generals, many of whom had been academic scientists and doctors, to justify their increasing desire to dominate Europe. (Hitler would later rely on it as rationale for his racial horrors.)

Doesn’t it cease to be natural selection when you start rounding up and gassing those you consider inferior, or waging war against everyone around you because you consider yourself superior?

Has this “notion” ever occurred to Bazell?

On top of everything else, did this guy bother to check the curriculum? Does he talk to his son? As far as I am aware, Medical Ethics is already required in every medical school in the country.

Roger Rains, MD

Bazell’s article was largely supportive of evolution, but his description of scientists as “whining” about intelligent design just shows that he doesn’t understand what’s happening.

Working scientists are busy people and we would much rather not have to spend any time on this kind of bullshit. We are only starting to respond after having been specifically targeted by the religious right and put at the front lines of a culture war in which they are unquestionably the aggressors. Make no mistake: They want to change the role of science and the way science is done in order to render it more amenable to their world view, or at least something they perceive to be more amenable.

What Bazell describes as “whining” is actually the scientific community waking up to the fact that their community is being targeted, attacked and demonized in an attempt to gain political control of science education and probably, ultimately, the institutions and processes of science itself. And now the fundies have the political winds at their back. If fighting against this is “whining” I’d say we need to do a lot more of it.

As a physician who is intimately involved in medical education I agree that targeting medical students for specific instruction in evolutionary theory has little practical value. Specialists in infectious diseases/public health/epidemiology and those in clinical genetics would benefit from it but those (the vast majority) in med/surg/psy/peds/o.b. need education in ethics, communication skills, cost containment, and teamwork far more than in basic science unless they are planning careers in pure research. It has been said that medicine (the practice of) is an art and not a science and this is very true. You can’t relate to people as so many drisophola (sp?) and your effectiveness as a clinician more often depends on your skill in humanities than in applying the scientific method. I wish it would be so simple that all I had to do was formulate a hypothesis of the etiology of my patients symptoms, test that theory using the differential diagnosis, coming to a conclusion and objectively treating the diagnosis using the “standard of care” which would result in 100% resolution of my patient’s symptoms, but if that worked 75% of the time I would fall on the floor and worship any diety even one reccommended by Dr. Rev. Leonardo Flanko MD pHD FOTHB. Most premed students are encouraged to become fluent in organic chemistry, basic physics and calculus. Biology isn’t that important and students learn human biology in medical school all of which is geared towards understanding pathology and physiology. I know several physicians who are Christian (as well as Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim) fundamentalists (as far as I can tell) who are very effective clinicians. The public is not very forgiving of incompetent doctors regardlesss of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Since when is a smack down (of ID) considered whining?

pro from dover

The public is not very forgiving of incompetent doctors regardlesss of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

It’s also true that very few people enjoy stale graham crackers.

erm Why thank you Pro but I only take worshiping from people with faith not metho-logical naturalism

Being an insular arrogant jackass is pretty much a job requirement for a mainstream “correspondent”.

Scientists should be talking about values?

What values?

Science tells us nothing about values. That is what they tell the people of Kansas over at Kansas Citizens for Science.

Actually, you are wrong.

Over at Kansas Citizens for Science they are currently dominated by discussions of atheist ethics.

They think that evolution provides its own basis for meaning AND ethics.

Actually, you are wrong.

Actually, I am not.

Over at Kansas Citizens for Science they are currently dominated by discussions of atheist ethics.

Perhaps that has something to do with fundie after fundie yelling that “science is atheistic!!!!!!!”.

Right after they tell us that “ID isn’t about religion, no sirree Bob”.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on May 23, 2006 1:30 PM.

Vacuity of Intelligent Design was the previous entry in this blog.

Yet another version of the origins of ID is the next entry in this blog.

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