Yesterday and today, the New York Times ran stories about the "Intelligent Design" scam and the Discovery [sic] Institute--except they failed to describe it correctly as a scam and they failed to insert the "[sic]" in the name of the Institute, thus leaving readers with the impression that it is an Institute devoted to "discovery" as opposed to proseltyzing. Pharyngula was generous in his assessment of the first article, but he's certainly right that the second one is a disgrace. I leave you to his good offices for an assessment (and his links to other discussions are useful too).
Let us be clear about the lesson to be drawn from this coverage in the nation's "most serious" newspaper. Any religious zealots with millions of dollars and some committed pathological liars on staff can, without producing any credible scientific research or any scientific evidence, convince the "newspaper of record" for the educated public to present its quackery as raising doubts about matters on which there is no scientific dispute. As with Nazi "racial science," which also had the backing of the nation's leader, "Intelligent Design" has now entered the public culture as a "serious" topic for discussion, as opposed to what it really is: creationist nonsense for those who've consulted a lawyer and a public relations expert.
UPDATE: Edouard Machery (History & Philosophy of Science, Pittsburgh) tells me has sent the following letter to The New York Times:
Like many readers, I am painfully aware that the journalism standards have steadily been lowered at The New York Times. Recent scandals, including your endorsement of the White House’s propaganda on Iraq, illustrate this fact. Your recent article in Sunday’s Times, “Politicized scholars put evolution on defensive” (08/21/2005), suggests, alas, that you may have dropped these standards altogether.
This article is no less than an endorsement of the allegations of the Discovery Institute. Intelligent design is said to be “a scientific hypothesis” (notice that this claim is not attributed to a proponent of intelligent design, but asserted by your journalist, Jodi Wilgoren); we are told that “evolution is on defensive;” that “intelligent design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection,” and so on. This is nonsense. This is an insult to the intelligence of your readers.
The agit-prop of the Discovery Institute has been refuted again and again by biologists and philosophers of science. Maybe, it could have been useful to mention this fact, instead of reproducing unchallenged Dr. Meyer’s assertion that critics of intelligent design avoid discussing the evidence. Maybe, instead of gasping in admiration at the academic titles of some proponents of intelligent design, the Times could have fruitfully interviewed one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of PhDs or one of the dozens of Nobel Prize winners who take evolution for granted. Maybe, it could have been fruitful to repeat that evolution is a fact, supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.
It is a fact that the earth rotates around the sun, even if some lunatics believe that the contrary is true. It is a fact that there are no Martians, even if some lunatics believe that the contrary is true. It is a fact that species, including the human species, have evolved from a common origin, even if the Discovery Institute believes that the contrary is true.
In no other industrialized country is evolution a controversial fact. I assume that the mission of the Times is not to further the scientific illiteracy in the United States of America.