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I've been Hammed! Answers in Genesis (AIG) Executive Director Ken Ham has taken me to task for my keynote address to Dinofest '98 in Philadelphia. My talk was about American scientific illiteracy (extending to over 95% of adults), how the media contribute to it, and some remedies for the situation. I have given my talk perhaps 25 times from Limestone, Maine, to Long Beach, California, and the usual response I have had is "terrific", "great", "funny". But Ham did not like it, writing in the Answers in Genesis Newsletter (1998: 8) that I was "rather emotional ... critical, bitter, and intolerant of any view that differed from [my] own concerning evolution and dinosaurs - including a tirade against many beliefs, including creationism." Emotional? Well, I'd rather say that I was impassioned. Critical? Yes, but of the media - television in particular. Bitter and intolerant? Maybe I was, but not of creationism, UFOlogy, astrology, or a host of other pseudosciences, but of scientific illiteracy, which lets them flourish. But if Ham somehow equates creationism with scientific illiteracy, who am I to object?
I was "Hammed" because the good sense, reason and science literacy I call for are threats to creationists. They fear these, for their own tirades (or "battles", as they like to call them) against evolution will be less compelling if their audiences acquire these attributes. My point in writing here is to note just how sensitive Ham and his kind are, and how he twists reality to fit his own needs. He uses a common strategy on me, and a closer look at what he did may help us to understand how these folks work. Basically, I was simply a good excuse to rouse the troops.
In fact, Ham purposefully confuses the point of my talk. My talk was not about dinosaurs or even evolution. I know nothing much about dinosaurs, although I am an evolutionist through and through. Because I only had 45 minutes rather than my usual hour and a quarter, I reduced my comments about almost everything except science illiteracy, the media hyping of pseudoscience, and what we can do to get reasonable science incorporated into television programs. One slide stated that religion, science, and pseudoscience are different ways to view the world, but I made no comment about religion at all. I showed another slide listing some paranormal beliefs, and creationism was on the list. But again I made no comment about it. My example of pseudoscientific ignorance was UFO beliefs, because that is a very funny subject; whereas, by contrast, I find little that is humorous about creationism. I focused on scientific illiteracy in this country and how the media contributed to it with a variety of fraudulent programming, including "The Mysterious Origins of Man", a television program (and now a video series) that every good creationist should object to as much as evolutionists should (see NCSE Reports 1995; 15 : 1 and sidebar). I suggested how the media could present science in a reasonable, compelling, and profitable way, if it cared to.
Ham "Hammed" me on that too. He implores his readers to "join the battle" against us evolutionists who are trying to use "the media to brainwash the public in evolutionary thinking." (Ironically, Ham's own article ends with an appeal for creationists to use dinosaurs to reach people about creationism.) He emphasized that I wanted to recruit the media aggressively "to ensure that writers present evolution as science and as fact - and to do it often." Not true. What I said was that television writers, in particular, should present science - and present it often. Insofar as evolution is part of science, it should be presented too. But I am far more concerned with getting people to understand how science works than in presenting evolution. That will come when the demon-haunted world is no more.
ReferencesThese references, including the last one about creationism, put my views about scientific literacy, pseudoscience, and the media on record.
Ham K. The dinosaur agenda. Answers in Genesis Newsletter 1998 June; 5: 8.
Lipps JH. The decline of reason? In: Scotchmoor J, McKinney FK, editors. Learning from the Fossil Record, Paleontological Society Special Papers 1996; 2: 3-10.
Lipps JH. The media, trash science and paleontology. Palaeontologica Electronica 1998.
Lipps JH. Beyond reason - Science in the mass media. In Schopf JW, editor. Evolution, Facts and Fallacies. San Diego (CA): Academic Press, 1999. p 71-90.
Lipps JH. Paleontology challenged! Palaeontologica Electronica 1999.