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NPR Interview on Texas Evolution Decision Reveals Media Bias

Last week I did an interview with an NPR reporter, Bob Garfield, for his NPR show “On the Media” about the recent decision of the Texas State Board of Education to require critical analysis of evolution. I am used to hostile and skeptical questions from the media–and in fact I generally welcome good, hard discussions from reporters. But this reporter was particularly hostile and seemed to have an agenda to paint Darwin-skeptics like crazy religious fanatics. The final story lived up to its expectations.

The Interview: A string of False Accusations and “How Dare You?” Type Questions

The interview started with benign questions about the recent decision of the Texas State Board of Education to welcome scientific critique of evolution into the curriculum. This quickly descended into various “how dare you” type questions, about whether this was all a plot by the “Religious Right” to insert religion into public schools, and why I rejected all the fossil and cosmological evidence that shows the universe isn’t 10,000 years old. “Huh?,” I replied. I quickly informed Mr. Garfield that not only do we oppose advocating religion in science classrooms, but that I’m not a young earth creationist, and that the debate in Texas has never been about young earth creationism. The new Texas Science Standards only require scientific critical analysis of evolution, and in no way shape or form invited biblical creationism or religion into the classroom.

Mr. Garfield was also reminded that many of the 13 members of the Texas State Board of Education who voted for the new science standards both professed to accept evolution and stridently opposed the teaching of creationism, and thus it would seem highly unlikely that the new Texas standards were a “Trojan horse” for teaching religion. Nonetheless, the final story favorably quoted members of the evolution lobby saying this is all a ruse for creationism.

But during our interview, having lost his argument that the new Texas Science Standards were a conspiracy to bring religion into the curriculum, Garfield shifted our conversation to the science. Again, he asked various “How dare you?” type questions, making assertions like virtually “100%” of scientists accept evolution, or that evolution comprised the unchallengeable “consensus,” or that there is no fossil evidence that challenges evolution. I reminded him that a critical mass of well-credentialed scientists in fact don’t support neo-Darwinian evolution, and that a number of Ph.D. biologists testified in Texas about scientific weaknesses in evolution. He then accused me of cherry-picking data because, outside of the Texas hearings, he asserted that essentially the “universe” of scientists support evolution. Not true, I told him. I replied that while surely majority of scientists do support evolution, there are credible scientists who dissent from it–hundreds of Ph.D.s in fact–and that there are plenty of discussions of doubts about core claims of neo-Darwinism in the scientific literature. I also discussed some of the reasons for these doubts-ranging from the inability of empirical evidence of natural selection to be extrapolated to bolster the grand claims of neo-Darwinism to the lack of confirming fossil evidence.

Mr. Garfield’s reply to my discussion of the science was that we were getting outside of his field, and he cut all of my discussions of the scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinism from the final story. There’s no shame in him not knowing much about science, but it’s troubling that despite his self-professed ignorance on the science, he acted like he knew for a fact that skeptics of Darwinian evolution had no scientific basis should be treated like crazy religious fanatics.

As a last ditch attempt to discredit Darwin-doubters, Garfield compared teaching critique of evolution to teaching Holocaust denial. I replied that not only is there a world of difference between the two (hundreds of serious Ph.D. scientists doubt neo-Darwinism, and one cannot find such credibility supporting something as pernicious as Holocaust denial!), but I also told him that given that I (as well as many other Darwin-skeptics) am Jewish and had close friends impacted by the Holocaust, his comparison was not just fallacious, but out-of-line. I mentioned that even more scientists would come out of the closet to express their doubts about evolution were it not for the intolerance in the scientific community towards dissent from Darwinism. His reply was to twist my position into allegedly arguing that scientists don’t really believe in evolution, they’re just forced to pledge allegiance to it due to pressure. I replied that this was not at all what I was saying, because of course a great many scientists harbor purely bona fide scientific support for evolution. My point was that were it not for the climate of intolerance, we’d see far more doubters and skeptics breaking their silence. However, in the final story, Garfield apparently sliced and diced my response so that it sounded like I affirmed his assertion that any “consensus” over evolution is the result of intimidation, when that is not at all how I responded to his question and false characterization of my views.

NPR Reporter Lets Ken Miller Play Spokesman For Discovery Institute

Rather than letting me accurately state my own views, the final story interviewed Ken Miller and quoted HIM as the expert on Discovery Institute’s positions. Wow. Most amusingly, Miller couldn’t even get the name of our ID program correct, as he misstated the name of the Center for Science and Culture as the “committee on science and culture.” Would-be spokesman Miller also apparently speaks for Discovery Institute’s finances, as he called us a “very well-funded think tank,” even though his own biology department’s budget dwarfs our ID-budget.

Garfield also allowed Miller to speak for Discovery Institute regarding its involvement in the Dover case, stating that “It’s clear that their [Discovery Institute’s] arguments and their publications and their ideas were very much behind what the school board wanted to do, and were part of the reason for the trial happening in the first place.” Somehow Miller, in his new NPR-given role as spokesman for Discovery Institute, failed to mention that Discovery Institute opposed Dover’s policy to mandate ID from the very beginning. In fact, I explained all of this to an “On the media” staffer who interviewed me, but none of my discussion of our actual involvement with Dover made it into the final story. Instead, Ken Miller was granted the privilege of speaking for Discovery Institute and Dover.

NPR’s Garfield Touts Chris Comer as a “Victim” But Neglects to Mention One Supremely Important Fact
The final NPR story showed one additional evidence of gross media bias. Garfield closed by interviewing Chris Comer about the purported discrimination she faced at the hands of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Garfield stated that Comer “could be labeled a victim of the culture of intolerance, but not for being a creationist.” Garfield then let Comer tell her story of alleged discrimination, claiming that the TEA was “firing me over evolution. … it was as if I had committed murder,” when in fact she wasn’t even “fired”! There’s nothing wrong with Garfield letting Comer tell her side of the story, even if it’s not entirely accurate. But the offense came when Garfield somehow forgot to report one minor detail that listeners would probably want to know, namely the fact that a few days before his story aired, a federal judge threw Comer’s discrimination lawsuit out of court on its merits.

Mr. Garfield apparently didn’t want to let a little fact like that get in the way of his touting Comer as a “victim of the culture of intolerance.” (Garfield also neglected to mention Comer’s history of insubordination and misconduct at the TEA.)

Throughout his interview with me, the mindset of Mr. Garfield was basically ‘If you doubt Darwinian evolution, you’re a crazy religious fanatic who is equivalent to a Holocaust denier.’ Based on my experience in the interview, it was unsurprising when I heard the final story and saw how it sliced and diced my quotes to misrepresent my position, let Ken Miller speak for (and misrepresent) Discovery Institute, and forgot to mention that Garfield’s centerpiece evidence of “intolerance” against evolutionists was just thrown out of court.

I guess when you’re trying to paint Darwin-skeptics as intolerant religious fanatics to the public, stereotypes and caricatures are far more important than the facts.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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