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All the News that Fits: The NYT’s Evolving Definition of “Biologist”

Who are biologists? The New York Times can’t seem to make up its mind. Last week, the Times described Darwinist Patricia Princehouse at Case Western Reserve University as an “evolutionary biologist.” This was despite the fact that Princehouse’s doctorate is in the history of science — not biology — and her position at her university is “Lecturer in Philosophy & Evolutionary Theory.” When questions were raised about the accuracy of calling an historian of science an “evolutionary biologist,” the Times corrections desk refused to budge, ruling that Princehouse’s credentials were good enough for the Times.

But that was last week. Yesterday, the Times apparently decided that even biochemists shouldn’t be called biologists if they happen to be skeptical of Darwinian evolution.

In his article about Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin statement signed by more than 500 scientists, the Times’ Ken Chang stated that “128 biologists” signed the statement along with 26 scientists with degrees in “biochemistry.” Huh? Biochemists are no longer considered biologists? The 26 biochemists referenced by Chang include Michael Behe, a Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University; Russell Carlson, a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia; Tony Jelsma, an Associate Professor of Biology at Dordt College; and Luman Wing, an Associate Professor of Biology at Azusa Pacific University.

According to the Times, professors of biology (with doctorates in biochemistry, a biological discipline) do not qualify as biologists, but a lecturer in philosophy with a doctorate in history does. Go figure.

But it gets stranger. Apparently even an evolutionary biologist is not entitled to be described as such once he becomes critical of neo-Darwinism. Chang ends his article by citing Darwin critic Stanley Salthe. Salthe is a biologist who authored a textbook on evolutionary biology. But readers wouldn’t have known that fact from Chang’s story, for Chang merely describes Salthe as a “scientist.”

The Times’ bias is so brazen — and so predictable — it’s hard to get upset about it. In fact, this week I’m feeling pretty kindly toward the Times. Since Chang’s article featuring our dissent list on Tuesday, we’ve been contacted already by more than two dozen new scientists who want to sign our dissent statement. Thank you, New York Times!

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.