Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Bulldogs and the Politics of Intelligent Design


Tonight I attended forum at JCCC entitled Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media:Is coverage accurate hosted by the Kansas City Press Club. This forum consisted of a discussion panel with the following people: Steve Abrams, chair of the Kansas Board of Education, Dave Awbrey Director of Communications of the Board of Education Toby Cook from Fox 4 and a radio journalist, Ben Embry and Dave Helling from the Kansas City Star.

Much of the discussion was quite good, and the moderator, Derek Donovan did the best he could at keeping people on the topic. This was made pretty hard though by Dave Awbrey who immediately came out swinging attacking scientists for not debating the opponents of evolution at last summer's Board of Education "hearings" the science standards. He portrayed scientists as dour, elitist and acting like the Vatican. Now granted I am a liberal Catholic and not always fond of the pronouncements that emanate from the seat of my Church, but I am not sure if I am more insulted as a scientist or as a Catholic at his comments. He railed at scientists for not debating to which Jack Krebs responded from the audience that scientists are are not all dour and that scientists have been debating via peer reviewed journals and other means since the days of Darwin and that alternatives to evolution have lost out in this process.

Awbrey claimed to be "shocked" that the press had not really covered the failure of scientists to debate their opponents, which by the way was disputed by other members of the panel. Somehow Awbrey's comments sounded very much like the conservative board member party line taken by Abrams and the current conservative majority on the BOE. The whole thing with Abrams and Awbrey reminds me of Thomas Huxley who is sometimes referred to as Darwin's Bulldog for his vociferous defense of Darwin's ideas, only this time Awbrey is Abram's Bulldog with the whole thing contrived to make Steve Abrams seem almost moderate.

Of course Steve Abrams complained that he had been characterized in the press as a Fundamentalist Christian. But I think the press can be forgiven for the confusion since Abrams says he is a Christian and believes that the Earth is young, something that is a common characteristic of Fundamentalists last time I checked.

Well the Awbrey - Abrams show got Sue Gamble, one of the liberal Board members just a tad upset, wondering what Mr. Awbrey was doing on the panel. She asked why board members on both sides of the issue were not invited. Certainly a liberal board member board member could provide some different viewpoint of the press coverage. Doesn't Mr. Awbrey work for the whole board, not just one faction? Looks to me as if there is some mighty sticky politics here and some interesting questions about a spokesman, who represents the whole Board, taking sides with one faction versus another.

I suppose one could argue that he was acting as private citizen, but why was he there then speaking the way he did in a panel about media bias no less. Why did he feel the need to come out swinging about the scientists refusal to play along with the BOE's sham hearings last summer? My bet is on the Bulldog theory...no wait, hypothesis.

There was in spite of this dog and Master Abrams show, some good discussion of the limitations of the press, one being the time and format constraints the press operates under, another being the fact that journalists are generalists, knowing a little about lots of things. Toby Cook observed that "I am just not smart enough to be an expert on everything" a good admission.

I actually managed to get the last word in and asked why are there not science reporters locally just as there are business reporters or sports reporters or local news reporters? The best answer I could get to that was that science is covered in a number of different areas, business and technology, medicine etc. That's all very nice, but it seems that given the importance of science there ought to be room for reporters that specialize on science reporting in the broad sense. At the very least the mainstream media could avail themselves of some of the wonderful science reporting from say Science Magazine, or the New York Times, which has a wonderful unbiased science section.

Editors are you listening?

By the way in addition to me and Jack Krebs, Harry McDonald and blogger Pat Hayes from Red State Rabble was there. I am sure Pat will have some choice comments on the forum as well.

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