Monday, May 19, 2008

The Intellectual Poverty of Pop Science

Something needs to be done. You see, most creationists, most people, in fact, do not have the attention span to watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos, read The Selfish Gene, Why Darwin Matters, or Finding Darwin's God. Yet they do have the attention span to flip through Scientific American on occasion, watch the news, or read any other pop science magazine. The problem with the pop science tabloids-er, I mean magazines- Is that they oversimplify and love to use "buzz words". For instance, I have seen, on at least one occasion, a magazine describe evolution as "long periods of time + chance". This is a gross oversimplification. Anyone who understands evolution knows that while variation might be random, the variations which become common are not. In any population with some genetic variety, evolution is simply bound to take place. Natural Selection is not random.

Even worse is when science news sites have decided to label the platypus as some wild and crazy crossbreed of birds, reptiles, and mammals. PZ Myers has taken the time to fully correct this mistaken position and explain the way it really is. Blogger Chimera Contemplations has even written us a poem about this incident, allow me to quote a few lines:

A chimera is a mythical creature
With breathing fire as a prominent feature
Part lion, part serpent, part goat but all Greek
Bellerophon and Pegasus killed this freak

In conclusion: Does it reflect poorly on creationist for only obtaining a superficial understanding of science through pop literature, or does it reflect even worse on the folks who will dumb down science to the point of distortion just so that a few extra idiots will buy it?

6 comments:

Laurie said...

Thank you for using my post as an example and in the same paragraph as a P.Z. quote, too!

Unfortunately, I'm beginning to think that no matter how simple or complex or logical an answer is, creationists will always somehow manage to take it the wrong way.

Thanks again!

Eugene said...

//Does it reflect poorly on creationist for only obtaining a superficial understanding of science through pop literature, or does it reflect even worse on the folks who will dumb down science to the point of distortion just so that a few extra idiots will buy it?//
I'm going to go with "folks who will dumb down science". Creationists will ALWAYS cherry pick their data and as a rule they don't have much of a science education (or any interest in getting one) apart from what AiG tells them and that is never going to change.

However, creationists don't live in labs or research centers, they live in debates and internet forums. Therefore having dumbed down science available to support their pseudoscience is pretty much their lifeblood. Remove that and they will be left with basically nothing.

(OK, that last sentence was pure wishful thinking, after all they will have a partial quote of Darwin on the eye and the magical ability to connect "evilution" to all manner of social ills.)

Codswallop said...

I enjoy your blog a lot, but is SciAm really an case pop science? I have several recent issues here--can you cite an example?

AIGBusted said...

I have to admit I like SciAm, but they are too sensationalist sometimes. I don't mean that they are incorrect, but they do oversimplify on occasion.

Evolved Rationalist said...

Well said!

Anebo said...

The popular press is just awful and Scientific American, when it deals with antiquity (I'm a Classicisit) propagates pseud-science as often as not.

However why do you you palce Sagan apart from the popualr presentation of Science. Why do so many in the Skeptical blogging community look upon Cosmos as (pardon the expression) holy writ?

I liked the show when I was in high school too, but then I went to graduate school and saw through its highly popularizing form. Rmember the Neo-Pythagorean deep space fleet? Our dependence for all of ancient Greek learning on Arabic translations preserved in a single Islamic monastery [sic] in Iran? Its risbile.