Darwin vs the New Scientist and the Fight for Evolution Education

The above cover of the New Scientist has been rightfully bashed by T. Ryan Gregory of Genomicron.

Fundamentally, Darwin was right about his two big ideas that really matter: common descent and natural selection. To say “Darwin was wrong”, even within the article’s context, is nonsense. The fact that it will undoubtedly be taken to refer to the big ideas rather than a specific analogy makes it infuriatingly misleading.

He makes the point that a magazine chasing a popular audience in order to garner ad revinue is not inherently wrong, but it can be made to be so.  The above cover (and associated story) is a clear example.

This one has, rightly, provoked the ire of many bloggers/scientists [see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]. It is without question irresponsible, poorly timed, and sure to be invoked by anti-evolutionists, making the job of defending science and science education more difficult. The explanation offered by the author/editor for it is unacceptable.

Well … here’s another blogger who ain’t happy.  Darwinian evolution is, on the whole, a remarkably robust theory.  Darwin’s details are, here and there, off–sometimes way off.  But, his central thesis is sound, and profound.

There is a lot that Darwin didn’t know, and I hope that the success of evolutionary biology in the 150 years since the Origin is talked about in abundance this year. But the fact that his two big ideas, common descent and natural selection, have survived every scientific discovery since the mid 1800s is overwhelmingly convincing that he was brilliant and insightful and right. (The associated story, Modern Darwins by Matt Ridley, is certainly worth reading.)

The lack of understanding of even basic evolution among the general population is abysmal.  There is a reason for this: it isn’t taught!  And it isn’t taught for a reason:  fear of reprisal by people who don’t know anything about evolution.  It’s a vicious cycle.

We can safely assume that the writers and editors of the New Scientist are “believers” in evolution.  I’d also wager that they are concerned about the lack of education in public schools on the subject.  What they (clearly) don’t understand is the political implications of what they say, given their platform.  A cover isn’t about science, it’s about promotion–of both the magazine proper and the content therein.  As such, they should keep in mind what they want to promote.

EDIT:

It looks like the Creationist sharks have already begun circling:

… the New Scientist article has already apparently been cited by a creationist Texas Board of Education member in support of her proposal to weaken the Texas science standards (see here for the original story):

Barbara Cargill, a Republican who supported the weaknesses requirement, said there have been “significant challenges” to the theory of evolution and she cited a recent news article in which a European scientist disputed Darwin’s “tree of life” showing common ancestors for all living things.

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