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Stampede! What the California Science Center Scandal Reveals about Our Scientific Culture

David Klinghoffer

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You’ve heard a lot in this space the past few days about the viewpoint-discrimination lawsuit settled by the California Science Center for $110,000. That’s money the CSC found it advisable to pay out to the American Freedom Alliance in order to avoid having to go to court and argue the case in public, with all that would have entailed by way of exposing a trail of incriminating emails by CSC staffers and scientists around the Los Angeles area.
Lead by Casey Luskin, ENV writers have already very clearly spelled out the evidence of duplicity and intolerance on the part of the California Science Center, the panicky attempt to squelch the airing of a viewpoint favorable to intelligent design and the subsequent cover-up. Now that there’s a little bit of a breather following the widespread reporting of the settlement, I’d like to suggest why the whole thing matters so much.
I can imagine someone saying, “Hey, too bad for the American Freedom Alliance. They wanted to screen a pro-ID film at the California Science Center and the CSC canceled its contract to host the event. That’s a matter for lawyers to work out. Maybe it even has constitutional implications. But in the end, isn’t it appropriate for staff at a Science Center to feel intolerant of crank science like intelligent design? Whatever the legal merits of AFA’s lawsuit, discriminating between good science and junk is something scientists do.”
That response would carry more weight if it weren’t for the massive, accumulating evidence over the past several years that ID faces not healthy scientific skepticism but a kind of scientific-materialist hive mind. In one discrimination case after another, ID’s opponents have shown themselves to be absolutely sealed shut against arguments and evidence for a competing perspective. Buffaloed by a small cadre of loud, doctrinaire Darwinian enforcers, they are fearful of dissent, fearful of being suspected of dissent.
To say that Darwinian scientists are “buffaloed” is, by the way, the correct metaphor. Writing a few days ago in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman mocked Texas governor Rick Perry for his skepticism on evolution and climate change. In Krugman’s mind, Perry must be supposing there’s a “conspiracy” afoot: “Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence.”
No, neither on evolution nor on the climate do you need to believe in a conspiracy to doubt the orthodox view. In the 19th century, American buffalo were hunted almost to extinction. Just a few men could drive a herd of these gargantuan beasts into a panic and stampede them literally over a cliff to their death. Once the panic, the fear, took hold, it required little effort by hunters to dominate a large number of mighty buffalo.
In episode after episode in the world of science, where mild, scattered expressions of Darwin-doubting were heard, we’ve observed this panicked mentality immediately set in. Staff at the CSC and even scholars at neighboring institutions were driven into a mass anxiety attack. They feared for their reputations and their livelihoods, but there was also something almost existential about the delirium that overtook normally sober, thoughtful men and women.
In terror, our scientific buffaloes have trampled individuals and groups that merely wanted to encourage debate about a scientific issue of profound scholarly, cultural and philosophical importance. What’s changed just in the past year is that, gratifyingly, we’ve seen several instances where the trampled party fought back and won vindication through the legal process. That’s what happened in AFA v. CSC.
Look, money talks. Though Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian Institution’s American Museum of Natural History had his own account of persecution confirmed by no less than the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, he received no monetary compensation. By contrast, when the CSC reluctantly coughed up $110,000 to the American Freedom Alliance, it was an implicit admission that the CSC had done an injustice. After all, the CSC is a government entity, and government cannot discriminate against viewpoints. In fact, it’s been striking how many of the documented cases of anti-ID discrimination have taken place at state-run educational and scientific institutions.
All this matters because it demonstrates with a shining clarity the obstacle that intelligent design faces in making its case. Critics taunt ID advocates with the accusation that, “If your science were as solid as you claim, the scientific establishment would have recognized it.” But it is precisely the buffaloing of that establishment, perpetually in a cold sweat about being identified with Darwin heretics, that explains the panicked resistance to intelligent design in some academic departments. (Among the general public, of course, support for ID is broad.)
You can’t really expect to talk reason to someone who’s having an anxiety attack. It doesn’t work that way. Yet as institutions realize that they cannot continue to indulge the bullies in their midst, can’t continue to go into hysterics this way because it costs upwards of $100,000 to do so every time a victim fights back, I expect that progress will be made in the opening of the scientific mind.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.