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Sunday, March 15, 2009

What's Up with New Scientist?

Amanda Gefter wrote a nice article in New Scientist pointing out the sneaky tricks that creationists use to discredit science. You can read the article here.
As a book reviews editor at New Scientist, I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda. As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to... well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I'd share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science's clothing.

Red flag number one: the term "scientific materialism". "Materialism" is most often used in contrast to something else - something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of ID frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.
Unfortunately, you can't read this article on the New Scientist website because it has been removed. If you click on How to spot a hidden religious agenda you'll find the following message ....
New Scientist has received a complaint about the contents of this story. It has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience.
I can't imagine a complaint that would cause a respectable magazine to withdraw that article. It sounds like New Scientist isn't standing behind its writers.

[Hat Tip: PZ Myers]


  1. I read PZ's post and the comments. I also read the article and noted that Amanda Gefter mentions Denyse O'Leary who call herself a "Roman Catholic Christian."

    O'Leary should ask her pope about the connection between Darwin and the Holocaust.

    Is it too obvious to point out that O'Leary and Uncommon Descent complained about Gefter's story?

  2. I can understand their anger. The article cleanly outs their cryptic attempts to make creationism a science. Years of hard work got flushed in a single article. The pens and keyboards had to be rallied to kill this threat.

    Sadly New Scientist pulled the plug and caved to the "complaints".

    But in the internet age, anything online stays online. PZ supplied a link to the article. I found no threats on that website, despite the scary warning from my browser.

  3. I sent a comment to the New Scientist; unfortunately my comment is #647:

    Story Temporarily Not Available?

    Mon Mar 16 14:49:03 GMT 2009

    I can't comment if I can't read the article. I really want to read it; I hear Denyse O'Leary is mentioned.

  4. Whoa, when I clicked on the link it said:

    New Scientist has received a legal complaint about the contents of this story. At the advice of our lawyer it has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience.

    Which may imply something totally different, e.g., not capitulating but rather protecting itself against legal action.

  5. Carlo's comment does put a different spin on the matter. However, I note with some sadness the fact that the legal advice New Scientist apparently received was rather boring and conservative.

    In contrast, there is the story of Patagonia, a sports-and-outdoor clothing company, which received notice that anti-abortionists were planning to picket their stores because of Patagonia's support of Planned Parenthood. Patagonia's response was to inform the anti-abortion organization of their new Pledge-a-Picket program, where for each picket they would pledge a designated amount to Planned Parenthood.

    No pickets showed.

    It would be nice if New Scientist's counsel could figure out an analogous in-your-ear strategy to deal with whoever complained about the article.

  6. Denyse O'Leary has posted on Uncommon Descent

    "New Scientist pulls post for legal reasons?" March 19, 2009.

    O'Leary says, "Apparently, someone complained, but - although the post mentions me, - I wasn’t the one."