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Exposure of NYT’s Evolving Definition of “Biologist” Hits Nerve

John G. West

My previous post exposing how the New York Times changes its definition of who is a biologist depending on whether a scientist supports or opposes Darwin’s theory has apparently hit a raw nerve. A Darwinist blogsite calling itself “Hell’s Handmaiden” has taken me to task for supposed inaccuracies in my post. But it turns out that it is Hell’s Handmaiden who is misrepresenting the facts, not me.

First, Hell’s Handmaiden insists I was wrong to say that Patricia Princehouse has a doctorate in the history of science. According to the Handmaiden, Princehouse hasn’t actually finished her doctorate. Well, check for yourself. Unless Princehouse and her university are spreading false info., Princehouse does have her Ph.D.—and it’s in the history of science, not evolutionary biology, which was precisely my point. Frankly, I don’t understand why Hell’s Handmaiden is obsessing about whether or not Princehouse has her doctorate yet, because in either case the fact remains she has no graduate degree in evolutionary biology. All the Handmaiden can say to this is that Princehouse has a master’s degree in physical anthropology, and that physical anthropology includes a lot of biology. So what? A degree in anthropology is still a degree in… anthropology. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education actually has a doctorate in physical anthropology, but even she doesn’t go around calling herself an “evolutionary biologist.” If the Times had wanted to be more accurate, it could have called Princehouse an anthropologist, although it still should have noted that Princehouse’s university lists her faculty position as one in “philosophy,” not anthropology. Utlimately, I don’t really care how the Times identifies Princehouse. If the Times wants to call her a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, that’s OK by me. What is not OK is a double-standard that identifies an historian/anthropologist as an “evolutionary biologist” but then claims that scientists critical of Darwin’s theory with doctoral degrees in biochemistry somehow don’t qualify as biologists—even if they happen to be professors of biology!

It should be pointed out that most of the Handmaiden’s post is devoted to changing the subject rather than documenting any inaccuracies in my post. For example, I pointed out that the New York Times refused to tell readers that Darwin critic Stanley Salthe who signed Discovery’s Dissent from Darwin statement is an evolutionary biologist. The Handmaiden cannot refute my criticism, because it happens to be true. All she can say is that Salthe doesn’t support intelligent design. So what? Discovery Institute never claimed that Salthe supports intelligent design. Our Dissent from Darwin statement is a list of scientists who are skeptical of neo-Darwinism, not a list of scientists who all support intelligent design. In fact, that is precisely our point. Dissent from neo-Darwinism reaches far beyond the scientists who support intelligent design. There are many scientists who are critical of the sufficiency of neo-Darwinism who do not support intelligent design. Salthe is one of these. Far from discrediting Discovery’s statement, the existence of Darwin skeptics throughout the scientific community reinforces the truth that there is a significant minority of scientists who doubt neo-Darwinism on scientific grounds.

This is why Salthe was willing to sign our statement even though he is a critic of intelligent design, and why he supports exposing students to scientific evidence critical of neo-Darwinism. As he explained in 2003:

Darwinian evolutionary theory was my field of specialization in biology. Among other things, I wrote a textbook on the subject thirty years ago.

Meanwhile, however I have become an apostate from Darwinian theory and have described it as part of modernism’s origination myth.

Consequently, I certainly agree that biology students at least should have the opportunity to learn about the flaws and limits of Darwin’s theory while they are learning about the theory’s strongest claims

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.