by Martha Heil, Editor, American Institute of Physics
Scientists fared well in national news about the opening of the Answers in Genesis Creationism exhibit. The scientific process would not recognize the proposition in the creationism exhibits as science-based, because the displays began with a certain conclusion * that the Christian Bible can be interpreted as literal fact * and then found facts and logic to support that idea. This, of course is not how science works * science begins with observations or hypotheses and leads to conclusions, often unpredictable from the beginning of the experiment.
National newspapers correctly reported that scientists are concerned about this Kentucky attraction because it misrepresents scientific thought, and uses deliberate untruths about science to make a specific point. The Washington Post, New York Times, and the country’s best selling paper, USA Today, all recognized that the displays were unscientific. The national newspapers also reported that scientists were concerned about this museum because of its potential to confuse students as to the nature of science.
National TV, in the shape of an ABC Nightly News report, also correctly reported the scientists’ concerns, although there was a troubling moment in the report when Answers in Genesis’ spokesperson, Ken Ham, persuaded the reporter to use the phrase “secular scientists” instead of simply “scientists”. The implication that all scientists are secular is incorrect: many scientists are people of strong faith. The process of science is outside of the realm of faith, though the discoveries it uncovers often have implications for faith traditions. Such as all the evidence that the earth is over 3 billion years old, and that humans and apes share a common ancestor * the bane of literalist interpretations.
Science didn’t do so well on local TV reports. Most local TV news reports didn’t quote a scientist, but rather focused on the attractiveness of the exhibits, and quoted the director Ken Ham, throughout the pieces. This is troubling because 44% of adults in the US get their news from local TV and the same percentage of them rely on TV news for their science and technology information. This means they would not necessarily see the articles in the national newspapers that showed that scientists are concerned about these displays. TV news reports are short, and often don’t have time to dig in and explore a subject, but the fact that all the local TV news stations missed the views of the scientific mainstream is troubling. Scientists have to work harder to make their views accessible and understandable to this audience. And TV news stations have to ask themselves if the news they report really represent the audience’s views. Many people – scientists, teachers, parents and clergy – in the area of the Creationism museum do not agree that this is a good thing economically for the area, or that it agrees with their faith’s views on science.
Local newspapers had the most thorough coverage of all the viewpoints and events. Reports ranged from economic impact, a report on the rally, views of scientists, breaking news on the museum opening and its construction, and editorials from both sides of the creationism controversy. Most articles correctly reported that scientists are concerned that this will have negative impact on schoolchildren and that the displays aren’t scientific. Especially strong was a Cincinnati Post editorial putting the creation story in the Aswers in Genesis building in the context of many faiths’ creation traditions, and condemning the potential impact on school children. One local story reported that an Ohio Department of Education spokesperson said that school districts will be allowed to decide individually whether public school groups should visit the exhibits.