Monday, April 03, 2006

Media Coverage of "Intelligent Design"

Jason Rosenhouse and Glenn Branch, writing in the March 2006 issue of BioScience (sorry, once again only accessible by subscription) have noted a striking trend in the way the media cover the ID controversy. It is clear from the article that the authors regard ID as a religious movement, rather than a scientifically-based endeavor. Nonetheless, some of the insights are interesting. They note:

The journalistic need for succinct definitions also distorts the treatment of young-earth creationism and ID. The reporter typically makes a clear distinction between the two, which has the effect of making ID seem like a science-based critique of evolution, not a religion-based attack on it. (p. 248)

This is a common problem with most of the coverage, because the authors of the news pieces only have time to brush the surface of the controversy. They are also keenly aware that their audience will be composed of people who hold to both sides of the issue. Time is also a problem. As they state:

Antievolutionists have a very attractive message to market. They do not tell journalists that they want a certain myopic religious viewpoint presented as legitimate science. Instead, they talk about presenting both sides, being open-minded, opposing censorship, and presenting all the evidence. The only way for the evolutionist to counteract this is to show that creationism's scientific pretensions are nonsense. That is precisely what cannot be done in a brief newspaper article or television appearance. (p. 251)

One-sided language aside, this is an important observation. Often, it simply is not possible to get people up to speed on evolutionary theory. Entire graduate programs are devoted to, and Ph.D.s are granted in evolutionary theory. A half-hour program is simply not sufficient to even scratch the surface. And a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

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