From the Department of “ARRRRRRRRGH!!!!”

In my never-ending quest to give poor PZ Myers cardiac arrest, I bring you MSNBC’s “chief science and health correspondent,” Robert Bazell:

Scientists should stop whining about threats to the teaching of evolution and spend more time discussing values.

Nice idea. It would also help if they quit being scientists and became priests.

The thought occurred to me recently when I was attending my son’s medical school commencement.

And you probably should have kept it to yourself, Bob. (Or at the very least, not drawn it out into a 700-word column.)

Following the well-trod path of a graduation speech, the dean, a highly regarded physician and scientist, told the new MDs they would face many challenges. These included, he said, a world where science endured constant assault as evidenced by the recent attempts to bring “intelligent design” into the curricula of Dover, Pa., and other high school districts.

Yeah, so a bunch of religious nuts are trying to undermine the quality of science education during a time when our children need it desperately due to increased overseas competition… BIG FRICKIN’ DEAL!!!

Young physicians will indeed have a tough time of it. For example, what are the life-saving limits of expensive high-technology treatments? When have they accepted too many promotional gifts from pharmaceutical companies? Should an experiment be done on humans just because researchers have the tools to try it?

Teaching evolution properly in secondary school will have little impact on these difficult issues.

It obviously doesn’t matter if our doctors are creationist fruitcakes — what’s important is that they have the right set of values. Sure, they’re a lot more likely to treat a sprained knee by tourniqueting your neck, but at least their hearts are in the right place.

Gavin adds: Don’t mind me; I’m just in here fixing line breaks and things. Ok, wait: What in the screaming Sam Hill does teaching ethics to med students have to do with the teaching of evolution in public secondary schools?

You know what else ‘teaching evolution properly in secondary school’ will have ‘little impact on?’ My dick. However, I believe my dick and the teaching of evolution are both beautiful and important in their own way.

This guy’s in polar orbit around Planet Bonktard.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe evolution itself and Darwin’s concept of natural selection as its driver are both as true as anything in our understanding of the natural world.

Calling evolution a “theory� makes it no less correct than theories of gravity or electromagnetism. Intelligent design and its predecessors, creation science and creationism, insiduously attempt to undermine science with arguments that can sound scientific but are not.

Hey, Bob? I do believe you’re whining about creationism and intelligent design. I thought you said that was a big no-no.

[I]t took one very popular American, William Jennings Bryan, who lived from 1860 to 1925, to elevate the teaching of evolution in schools to the major status it still occupies in our culture wars.

Called “The Great Commoner,� Bryan ran for president three times and came close to winning. Today, he would be branded a liberal or even dangerous radical. He fought for the rights of the dirt farmers in his home state of Nebraska against the trusts that controlled the railroads. He opposed armed intervention by the United States and resigned as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State when the U.S. entered the First World War.

Above all, Bryan was a religious man — a fundamentalist Christian as were most of his millions of ardent supporters.

Bryan’s religious convictions also led him to support a free silver policy. I needn’t tell you how that little historical battle turned out.

Bryan knew that the notion of “survival of the fittest�, or natural selection, had been used by German generals, many of whom had been academic scientists and doctors, to justify their increasing desire to dominate Europe.

Yeah, and it’s not like the Bible has ever been used to justify the bloodthirsty actions of ruthless governments.

Bryan knew that most Americans, then as now, relied on religious beliefs for many of their values. He shrewdly understood how most would respond to the question: “Do you believe in the Good Book or that man descended from monkeys?�

Bryan’s campaign of course led to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial where he assisted the prosecution.

A key point to remember is that Bryan’s side won. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution (the conviction was later overturned on a technicality). More important for the legacy of the cause, many newspaper accounts, especially from big cities of the north, portrayed Bryan and his followers as a bunch of illiterate yokels who had been utterly defeated. The famous Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken called Bryan, who died a week after the trial, “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt.�

Such venom did not persuade Bryan’s followers to give up the cause. Quite the opposite.

OK, this article has now gone from being vaguely annoying and into the realm of making me wish for death.

A few paragraphs ago, Bob was accusing creationists of “insiduously attempt[ing] to undermine science.” Now he’s saying they’re just hapless victims who are portrayed unfairly by the biased homo-nup-lovin’ Northern media. Bob, are ya even trying to make a coherent argument here? Or are you just mailing it in so you can get an early start on Memorial Day weekend?

State anti-evolution statues proliferated after the Scopes trial until a 1969 Supreme Court decision held them unconstitutional because they served a religious purpose.

Evolution’s opponents returned with creation science. Several states and school districts mandated it to be taught at least along with evolution as an alternative explanation for the origin and variety of life. In 1986 the Supreme Court held it to be a thinly-disguised religious interpretation.

Now we have intelligent design, the well-funded doctrine that holds that some things in nature are so complex they can be explained only by some designer. ID’s backers insist they offer a genuine scientific alternative to Darwinism.

Federal district Judge John Johns III in his decision last December about the Dover school board said intelligent design, too, is religious belief masquerading as science. Many scientists have been gloating in the wake of Judge Jones’ decision, but that will serve their purpose no better than did the ridicule of Bryan and his followers more than 80 years ago.

The lesson here is, don’t ridicule people who are completely and embarrassingly wrong.

This debate is not about to end.

Science is something very specific. It is a means of understanding the world around us by posing hypotheses that can be tested with experiments or observations. But science can never help us make moral or value judgments like those the new physicians will face.

Hey, Bob? Have you ever read a medical school curriculum? If I’m not mistaken, most of them have courses in ethics. Behold, our good friend Giz-oogle will get you started.

Serious efforts in biology and medicine can no more ignore evolution than airplane designers can ignore gravity.

It is hard to believe that — whatever the outcome in the many evolution battles — we will stop worrying that the H5N1 bird flu virus might evolve into something easily transmissible among humans.

It is far more difficult to know what moral values should guide our decisions, and perhaps we should put more effort into helping students grasp that reality.

First they have to understand what reality is, Bob. And that’s not gonna happen if we teach them creationism.

Rate this story: Low oneoffive.gif High

That score is far too high.

Read it and weep, kids:

Robert Bazell is NBC News’ Chief Science and Health Correspondent.

God help us.


Comments: 22


I vaguely suggest that we might toast the wish-washy, unless that’s a bad idea.


Do you think a “Science Correspondent” has to actually know any science, or will any interchangeably dippy journalism major do okay?


Sadly, I am reminded of the Daily Show’s various “Chief Health and Fruit Ethics Correspondent” etc. and those guys put together a more coherent presentation.


How do we call for a resignation or firing?


Giz-oogle. That’s chuckalicious.


Theory of gravity…

This guy is a correspondence school diplomate in what… Welding? Small motor repair? Brain surgery?


There’s been a trend in this sort of crappola of recently. The big news reporting organizations hire ill-informed yahoos like this fella to report on science. His argument seems to amount to, “Well, the creationists aren’t gonna believe you evolutionists anyway, so why bother teaching it in the first place?” Um, maybe because it it the best science regarding its particular field? But, no–it offends the funnymentalists, so it Just Won’t Doâ„¢!


Actually, there is a site called Giz-oogle, which is incredibly full of awesome.


The thesis of this is that scientists should focus on the moral questions surrounding medicine than on teaching evolution in schools. And to prove it, Bazell supplies you with some evolution meta-whining and an 8th graders theme on the history of evolution in schools and never offers any focus on medical moral questions, except to mention that they exist.

I think 2 stars is being generous.


Oh, and it seems that Mr. Bazell is actually a relatively well-informed scientist (on paper at least), so he really has no excuse. From his bio:

Mr. Bazell is a 1967 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. degree in biochemistry. He did graduate work in biology at the University of Sussex, England, in 1969, and was awarded a doctoral candidate degree in immunology at Berkeley.


I think his argument is: “Creationists have been losing these battles ever since Darwin. They have had absolutely no impact on biological or medical research. Hence, focusing scientific attention on the creationist yahoos is detracting scientists from focusing on the truly important moral questions surrounding the relationship of science to society.”

Of course, I agree with Hemlock that if that was his argument, he should have spent some time unpacking those moral questions.

I think he’s probably right, by the way. Creationists have had no impact on biological research. At least I’ve never seen anyone make an argument that they have.


The so-called mainstream press, television and print, have been complicit in allowing the creationist nutjobs and the Intelligent Design IDiots to create the illusion of a “Debate around Evolution”. Because these “journalists” are either too lazy to do real research or terrified of somehow offending your typical midwesterner who can’t be bothered to actually think through the implications of his belief in mythology, they find the best way to present this story is to use the valueless and intellectually dishonest approach that has come to be called “He Said/She Said Journalism”.

By now it is nothing less than the conventional wisdom to report the ongoing Evolution Debate ™, complete with spokesmen from both sides. This has festered into the current situation where a man who actually knows better has to write a pandering piece like this.

This debate is not about to end.

The most important thing is for us to say, loud and clear, over and over: There is no Debate

Intelligent Design/Creationism is not science. It’s that simple. It makes no testable predictions and is not falsifiable. These, boys and girls, are requirements for something that wants to be a “science”. Therefore, it does not have any place in science classes. QED



The only whining I see about creationism is when there are attempts to present it as an alternative to evolution in the school system. If the wacko religious nutbars stopped doing that, I think we’d all shut up about it.


What the-? After reading and rereading that article, I still don’t really think I understand what the hell Bazell’s arguement is. That ultimately the intelligent design battles have nothing to do with scientific morality and as such academics shouldn’t really bother confronting it? That’s like saying that the debate between a Bi-Plane and a Mono-plane aircraft design doesn’t solve the problem of how often to serve peanuts on board intercontinental flights and as such should safely be ignored. Not only is the arguement ridiculous in premise, but it is also dangerously inept. If scientists do not actively confront the threat posed by Creationism, ID, and other labcoated religious dogma, then these same scientist may find themselves having to teach it one day, thus eroding the quality of scientific education and discoruse as a whole in this country and setting us back several hundred years.


That’s a great anaology, Marc.


if you rate this article, you can rate it a 0.5 – that’s lower than a 1.

keep this in mind if you follow the link.


Creationists have had no impact on biological research. At least I’ve never seen anyone make an argument that they have.
Except when they outlaw it completely because it uses stem cells, or involves cloning, or whatever the evil buzzword of the week is. I’d call that an impact.

What creationist-controlled politicians fund, or refuse to fund, with your and my tax dollers is a *definite* impact.


you can rate it a 0.5 – that’s lower than a 1.

that is just the kind-of devil-worshipping, scientific flim-flam that Jesus was sent here to oppose! If god had wanted us to use a number lower than a 1, He would have given us a smaller number. “lower than a 1” indeed.


Shorter Robert Bazell: Just because people don’t believe in evolution, that doesn’t mean they won’t believe in evolution.


I am the Divider!


To mikey:
I was with you up until your “typical midwesterner” comment. The same people who insist that there is some Debate Around Evolution would also have you believe that “most Americans”, which I see you interpret as “landlocked Americans,” agree with them. As a midwesterner myself, I can’t stress enough that this is not the case.
Reasonable people need to stop accepting, and perpetuating, the Christian right’s claims that our country is home, primarily, to an enormous constituency of gullible yokels who hate books and science. All you’re doing is granting their position the illusion of clout.


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