In which I am forced to take on Forbes magazine

A few days ago, Forbes magazine published an online “Darwin issue,” containing a number of pieces by eminent philosophers and evolutionists, including Sean Carroll, Michael Ruse, and Adrian Desmond. For some strange reason—presumably a misguided attempt to achieve journalistic “balance”—Forbes also gave room to the creationist lucubrations of evangelist Ken Ham (founder of Kentucky’s bizarre Creation Museum), the Discovery Institute’s own resident Moonie, Jon Wells, and Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon at SUNY Stony Brook who has apparently been a public opponent of evolution for some time. In his article, called “A neurosurgeon, not a Darwinist,” Egnor makes the usual ID claims that there are no transitional fossils, that biochemical complexity is incomprehensible without an intelligent creator, etc.

What bothered me more than these creationist assertions, which I see all the time, was that a magazine of the caliber of Forbes saw fit to publish them. I wrote a reply attempting to dismantle the specious claims of Dr. Egnor, using web links to the evidence so that readers could see for themselves. Forbes was gracious enough to publish it, complete with my rather strong criticisms of the online magazine.

The one lesson we should draw from Egnor’s assertions is that a medical degree is not simultaneously a license to speak authoritatively about evolution. And the lesson that journalists should draw from Forbes‘ crazy decision to publish creationist blather is that one does not achieve “balance”  by giving a say to opponents of established fact.

10 Comments

  1. MelM
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    “Balance”? Yes indeed. Some food and some poison on the same plate.

  2. Vincent
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Well done.

    And great presentation at UPenn today.

    Happy Darwin Day!

  3. J.J. E.
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I think that “balance” is a cleverly packaged marketing device used by journalistic outlets. To be perfectly honest, conflict sells better than anything else that these types of magazines dare publish (Playboy and Hustler don’t operate under those constraints). And adding in that counterpoint always adds conflict. This is a clear conflict of interest, journalistically, as it pays for media outlets to foment conflict in the guise of balance even when none exists.

  4. John Cozijn
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    The usual suspects are not the only grotesque contributors. This from Matt Woolsey, a senior reporter at Forbes:
    “That’s not to say Charles Darwin is or isn’t right, only that when you examine a discovery made as a result of studying nature, it’s impossible to tell whether it arose as the result of belief in random mutation or intelligent design.”

    What’s going on here is not just a warped view of “balance” but a profound problem in American attitudes towards science. All opinions are not equal in science, it is not democratic and comports with neither common sense nor conventional pieties. And certainly has no respect for national boundaries and no use for patriotism. Science — and by extension scientists — is, in short, somehow “unAmerican”, at least in the eyes of a great many citizens.

  5. Steven J Fonken, MD
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    As a physician, it saddens me to see the abuse of authority committed by Dr. Egnor but does not surprise me considering the ego of the average neurosurgeon. The degree of ignorance that he displays is truly humiliating. Medical education does not include anything more than rudimentary cell biology and biochemistry. Physicians, unless trained elsewhere, are not experts in these areas. It is equally saddening that our general public cannot or will not distinguish between areas of intellectual authority. This may, in fact, be a indicator of the success that creationists have had on suppressing science education in this country.

  6. SeanK
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    I just finished reading your article at Forbes.com. I too was frustrated to see Forbes giving a platform for such nonsense and I’m glad you were able to publish an effective rebuttal.

    Well Done!

    -Sean

  7. sparkomatic
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Nice dismantling of Egnor and Forbes.I have to wonder if the publication of his piece was an attempt at “balance” or as JJE speculates if its just a cheap attempt to generate a little furor and sell more magazines. Or does that make me jaded? I somehow thought Forbes was better than that.

  8. ggab
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    My “God”!
    You sir, are merciless.
    Well freaking done.
    I especially liked the digs on Forbes.
    I would hope that they’re at least a little ashamed of themselves.

  9. downunder fans
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your clear and sensible writing. Most of all thanks for getting out there and speaking up.

    If modern society returns to being led by blind superstition then we’re all going to start regressing into a painful and oppressive world.

    Well done. More please!

  10. Posted February 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    It always pains me to see journalists and publications miss the mark so much when it comes to “controversial” (in the public sense) issues. It’s like the ethos of showing all opinion is directly at odds with secular reason and especially when it comes to science. It’s got to come to a point where cultural relativism plays a backseat to truth and the role of opinion needs to be minimised.

    Well done putting Forbes to the sword for running that credulous nonsense, keep up the good work.


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