Shame on the BBC

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I think sometimes reporters and news organizations don’t realize that alarmist reporting, while it gets viewers and comment, can have real negative impacts. Here is a recent example. Last week the BBC put up a story, “Call for creationism in science” which suggested that Michael Reiss, the director of education for the Royal Society in the UK, actually supported putting creationism in science classes. Now, if you read the story carefully you would realize that he wasn’t saying that at all – his remarks are pretty much standard teachers-should-be-ready-to-address-this-if-it-comes up stuff, which I believe is the considered position of the NAS, NCSE, Brian Alters and all other serious people who work to improve evolution education and block creationist attempts to subvert it.

But, the headline and some incensed remarks from another professor (who was probably just called up and asked by the reporter, “Hey, this guy supports putting creationism in science classes, what do you think?”) were enough to create a brouhaha.

Now, according to this story today, “‘Creationism’ biologist quits job” What moron writes these headlines!?! (it’s usually not the reporter) Reiss is a biologist and education expert, he was advocating a mainstream (and correct) position, and he loses a position because of it?

I guess this isn’t the hugest deal in the world, the position was probably volunteer/add-on to his main job at the Institution of Education (which he is returning to). But still, nothing was gained and a fair bit was lost from this. As a result of the BBC’s alarmist reporting, some people think the Royal Society supports creationism (which is ludicrous); others think that scientists and the Royal Society are so intolerant so as to want to impose a ban on any discussion of creationism, even a teacher explaining the mainstream scientific view on the issue in response to a student question; Michael Reiss is at the very least feeling alienated from a portion of the scientific community, after being bashed for just doing his job and trying to help them out; and the creationists are crowing. Not a good show.

My 2 cents: as with everything, you’ve got to be skeptical. As we like to say, if a creationist says the sky is blue, go outside and check. But similarly, if a news story headline confirms your worst fears, don’t just believe it, read the actual story and see if the headline was warranted or just incendiary and attention-grabbing.

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I realize that journalists write confused stories and that headline writers produce stupid headlines to go with them, but I would think that academic or scientific organizations, irrespective of subject, should be able to be more sensible. It may not... Read More

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if a news story headline confirms your worst fears, don’t just believe it, read the actual story and see if the headline was warranted or just incendiary and attention-grabbing.

The difference here being that the headlines were coming from the Beeb, which is not particularly sensationalistic, and which tends to offer far more balanced coverage than (for example) Fox, CNN or MSNBC, all of which have clear slants in the way they word differeng headlines for the same basic stories.

So, as you say, shame on the BBC.

It seems was reported in the London Times as “Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government.” Other newspapers simply followed the Times. The Times had it totally wrong, from the text available (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/b[…].creationism). Some of the internet comments are outrageous, the worst case of inquisition by intolerant scientists available.

The statement by Richard Dawkins as cited on Pharyngula is beside the point too: Reiss was not talking at all about the relation between religion and science.

Yeah it wasn’t just the BBC, it’s just more annoying coming from them.

I’ve been keenly following this particular “controversy”. I do think that Reiss is wrong in his advocacy of “teaching creationism” as world view, but his general point is well taken in that we’re failing as educators when it comes to teaching evolution and that maybe we need to teach the controversy.

If I could humbly, well as humbly as possible, point you to a post that I wrote yesterday about this very thing: http://www.afreeman.org/2008/09/16/[…]and-thomism/

All the best.

Chris

Well said, Nick. I entirely agree.

At least I’m not the only one who thinks this. A man looses his job over sensationalist headlines. It’s just sad.

Chris,

Thanks for the link. Reiss didn’t advocate teaching creationism as a worldview, what he meant was that you can understand & deal with creationists better if you view creationism in part as a worldview. And this is very very true. Scientists/teachers often think that creationism is just erroneous beliefs and all they have to do is explain why the science is wrong and the creationists will then change their minds. But this is pretty precisely wrong. You have to explain the science, yes, but you also have to address or at least know about the “worldview” issues which are the real reason students (or whomever) don’t like evolution. I.e., if evolution is true, God isn’t real, there is no basis for morality, we’ll all act like animals, evolution means everything is random/life is purposeless/there is no meaning to life etc. *These* are the real concerns that make evolution scary and threatening to students, and defusing these is just as important as teaching the facts, if you are going to be an effective teacher to a creationist student.

Speaking of which, the Dishonesty Institute now has an article on their site (http://www.discovery.org/a/7191) that implies the new PC game “Spore” supports intelligent design, not evolution since the player is “designing life.”

DavidK said:

Speaking of which, the Dishonesty Institute now has an article on their site (http://www.discovery.org/a/7191) that implies the new PC game “Spore” supports intelligent design, not evolution since the player is “designing life.”

Ah yes. “Since a toy robot panda is made in a factory in China, a real panda must be made in a factory in China, too.”

“That’s silly.”

“You guys started it.”

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

DavidK said:

Speaking of which, the Dishonesty Institute now has an article on their site (http://www.discovery.org/a/7191) that implies the new PC game “Spore” supports intelligent design, not evolution since the player is “designing life.”

I was under the impression that their position was that computer simulations proved nothing, since they were all invalid since they ran on computers and computers are designed.

At least that’s the position they take whenever someone presents a new evolutionary algorithm that solidly demonstrates the power of natural selection.

(seriously, we’ve actually had that very discussion with creo-trolls here on PT)

Does it really matter, kids love the game and learn more about the concept of evolution.

Priceless

Thanks Nick for an excellent balanced post. The sooner all realise that the BBC stands for the Bollock Broadcasting Corporation the better. It supposedly has a good repution like the other of our so-called good British papers like the Times, Telegraph (Torygraph) or Guardian (Graudian).

The trouble in Britain is that we do not have a well-informed group like NCSE to inform us and thus there are usually simplisitic reactions.

To me Reiss, who flirted with creationists in the 70s, gave a balanced approach and was stating you should not kick YEC students in the sphericals but be more gentle. This is not an easy option as I found out when I taught a geology course for Wheaton College in 2001.

As far as I can see Britsh creationism has scored several goals by the Royal Society kicking balls (metaphorical) into their own nets.

Reiss didn’t advocate teaching creationism as a worldview, but he made the point it is part of a worldview. If kids are taught by their parents their salvation depends upon their sins being forgiven, and that sin comes from the fall of Adam, it rocks their life if Adam did not exist. That should not be dealt with by calling creationists stupid and wrong, and stop there, but by dealing with any arguments they might try to have.

My first response on reading this last week was to be annoyed that a Royal Society spokesperson should say this - but delving deeper into the story,I could see that what was reported was not what he was suggesting - I suspect he may have just used a poor choice of words. And the calls for him to resign himfrom his position have been uncomfortable reading - partly because the story did not merit such a response, and partly because it gives creationists a chance to indulge the “victim” mentality they so enjoy using.

A disappointing episode.

You know, it’s not all the BBC’s fault here. And creationists have NOTHING to do with what happened this time.

****************************

It’s one thing when you evolutionist guys apply the usual “Expelled”-type pressure to a non-Darwinist university scientist, but can you imagine how it looks when you guys blatantly do it to the Darwinist director of education of the Royal Society of London???

Well now you know how it looks. Lord Winston of Imperial College is right: the Royal Society DID “diminish itself”, and it’s definitely NOT a good day for the “reputation of science or scientists.”

Gotta start looking in the mirror, evolutionists. Like, real soon. I know you think creationists are all wrong—but maybe they’re seeing some things you really oughta be seeing too.

FL

Absolutely on target, Nick, thank you for your objectivity.

This is simply a travesty of justice. I know Michael Reiss, and IMO he knows a great deal more about science education than most Fellows of the RS (several of whom I also know). So, why did the big hats respond by tossing out a little hat? Here is what I said on the ASA list this morning:

I was shocked by the way in which Michael Reiss was forced out of his position at the Royal Society this week. If you haven’t caught up with this yet, do a google search for “michael reiss royal society” and you’ll see what I am referring to.

Michael is an important member of our sister organization, Christians in Science, and a highly competent expert in medical ethics and science education. His comments about responding seriously to creationists in science classes are IMO absolutely on target. The comments from some leading scientists in the RS who oppose what he said, it seems to me, reflect both ignorance of the origins controversy (with which we here in the US have much more experience than our friends across the pond) and arrogance about science education itself (on that score we can match the Brits). What Michael was calling for, apparently, was some serious talk about how science works and what science is, and why creationism fails to qualify as science. Why distinguished scientists would not want that to happen in science classes is beyond me: shame on them.

I am thinking of writing a pointed letter to the RS about this. I urge like-minded ASA members to do likewise.

It looks to me like maybe Dr. Reiss posted his article on the Guardian SciencBlog (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/b[…].creationism) on the 11th. James Randerson, a Guardian science writer, saw this and wrote a terminally confused article for the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/a[…]gion.science), in which I can’t tell what Dr. Reiss is advocating, on the 12th. Other Brit reporters then copied, being careful to maintain the original’s confusion. I don’t see how Randerson could have botched it that badly based on Reiss’ post, which seems pretty clear to me.

The problem of appeasing is, obviously, that you grant validity to an invalid position.

This was challenged by Simon Underdown, senior lecturer in the department of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University.

Creationism should be taught within the context of religion rather than science, said Dr Underdown.

With the above background is really satisfactory that the Royal Society decides to strictly follow the resolution 1580 of the Council of Europe:

16. The Council of Europe has highlighted the importance of teaching about culture and religion. In the name of freedom of expression and individual belief, creationist ideas, as any other theological position, could possibly be presented as an addition to cultural and religious education, but they cannot claim scientific respectability.

Btw, some commenters think that european nations should act according to US positions on “the origins controversy” - but where is the evidence of such a social controversy in CoE nations?

Perhaps the NCSE should issue a statement denouncing the actions of the Royal Society.

The Royal Society also need to apologise to Darwin for their President and the many members who oppsoed Darwin in 1860.

The Church of England was not as hostile as the Royal Society, so didnt really need to apologise to Darwin.

[quote]Michael Roberts: The Royal Society also need to apologise to Darwin for their President and the many members who oppsoed Darwin in 1860.[/quote] Interesting idea, Michael, though perhaps a bit misguided and misinformed. Darwin wasn’t ousted, was he? Actually, I seem to remember the society gave him some kind of award for his work. No apology necessary at that point.

I really don’t think it’s fair to compare professional disagreement, however intense, to the firing of a colleague under false pretenses.

A denunciation from the NCSE would go a long way toward easing the current climate of “creation-phobia” that fomented this embarrassing episode.

chunkdz

I agree with you, but I was making a point

FL said:

You know, it’s not all the BBC’s fault here. And creationists have NOTHING to do with what happened this time.

****************************

It’s one thing when you evolutionist guys apply the usual “Expelled”-type pressure to a non-Darwinist university scientist, but can you imagine how it looks when you guys blatantly do it to the Darwinist director of education of the Royal Society of London???

Well now you know how it looks. Lord Winston of Imperial College is right: the Royal Society DID “diminish itself”, and it’s definitely NOT a good day for the “reputation of science or scientists.”

Gotta start looking in the mirror, evolutionists. Like, real soon. I know you think creationists are all wrong—but maybe they’re seeing some things you really oughta be seeing too.

FL

Don’t ask us to do something you’ve never been known to do.

Michael Roberts: I agree with you, but I was making a point.

What point was that, Michael?

My point was that so many opposed Darwin for various reasons that apologies seem daft.

As for the getting rid of Reiss that’s sinply a disgrace, and downright stupid.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on September 16, 2008 3:19 PM.

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