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Censorship Loses: Never Forget the Story of Biological Information: New Perspectives

The story of the origins of the volume Biological Information: New Perspectives is one of how the Darwin lobby hadn’t read a book, but disapproved of its arguments and conclusions, and tried to prevent its publication. So they bullied and pressured a science publisher into breaking a publication contract and cancelling the book. The contract required that any lawsuits be filed in Germany, but the victims didn’t have the financial means to pursue that, so they looked for other publishers. Ultimately the book was published by a different science publisher. As I explained in an earlier article, this is a tale of censorship. But it also shows how the Darwin lobby’s attempt at censorship ultimately failed.

The Darwin Lobby’s Goal for ID: Perish, Don’t Publish
In that prior article, I quoted from a March 1, 2012 Inside Higher Ed piece on the volume. That piece included a nice rejoinder from John West, pointing out that critics like Nick Matzke are hypocrites because they complain that ID hasn’t published scientific papers, but then when ID proponents attempt to publish such papers, the critics seek to prevent their publication. Here’s what the article said:

John West, associate director at the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, an organization that advocates for intelligent design, said the critics had not read the book and were bigots. “In the academic world, it is not considered a mark of scholarship to attack books you haven’t read,” he said, calling [Nick] Matzke, the blog-poster, a hypocrite. “Intelligent design scientists are criticized for not publishing and then you denounce them for doing just that. It is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

I’ve made this point before myself, when discussing how former National Center for Science Education staffer Wesley Elsberry tried to prevent the publication of a paper by Granville Sewell:

A few years back I had a friendly lunch conversation with Wesley Elsberry, a longtime activist for Darwin and former staff member at the National Center for Science Education. During the conversation, I said it seems unfair that the Darwin lobby alleges that intelligent design (ID) proponents don’t publish in the mainstream scientific literature (an untrue charge), but then those same ID critics simultaneously work hard to prevent ID proponents from publishing in the mainstream scientific literature. It seems like the first rule for many Darwin lobbyists is this: “stifle academic freedom for dissenting scientists at any cost, but don’t invite real scientific dialogue over these issues.” If I recall correctly, Wesley did not confirm or deny my accusations that Darwin lobbyists have sought to prevent ID proponents from publishing. Now we have proof positive — from Wesley himself — that the Darwin lobby engages in this repugnant tactic.

This episode with the Biological Information: New Perspectives book is further proof. In any case, until now, John West’s comments to Inside Higher Education have been just about the only commentary that Discovery Institute has offered on this story. Why did we stay silent?

Well, the main reason is because for many months it looked like there might be a lawsuit, and as a result we wanted to stay out of the public fray and let the lawyers do their best to handle it internally. Though we knew that many at Springer intended to scuttle the book, Springer is a complex organization with a mix of good guys who have integrity, and bad guys who don’t care about honoring contracts or freedom of intellectual inquiry. We hoped that the good guys within Springer might prevail, and that the contract would be honored. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but since that was our hope, looking back we wouldn’t have done anything differently.

We also realized that while it would be a worthy effort to expose Nick Matzke et al.’s intellectual intolerance by condemning his actions publicly back in March 2012, to do so might have risked fanning the flames of intolerance even further. If Matzke and his buddies want to mount public campaigns to have books censored, they can do their thing. Our goal is to foster a real, and robust scientific debate over neo-Darwinian evolution and intelligent design, and until now, we’ve felt that goal was best served by staying out of the public debate on this book.

This is a crucial point: How many times have we heard ID critics (like Matzke) say things like “ID shouldn’t be taken seriously because it doesn’t present research at scientific conferences, or publish scientific papers.” But then what happens when us ID proponents do exactly what they say we should do: We present research papers at a scientific conference at a top research university (Cornell) and then seek to have it published by a world-class scientific publisher (Springer)? Does Matzke applaud us for doing what he demanded? No. ID-critics like Matzke work hard to prevent its publication. This is sheer hypocrisy.

But Matzke and his cohorts never had any intention of evaluating ID in a serious way, under any circumstances. This episode is a reminder that ID’s most vehement critics were never interested in giving ID a fair hearing. Their purpose is, at any cost, to prevent ID from being recognized by anyone as possessing any scientific merit whatsoever.

For them, this is not a scientific debate at all. It’s an ideological power struggle — one that, moreover, tells you something important about the would-be censors. Do people who are confident they are right normally behave like this? No, they don’t. People who are confident welcome challenges as opportunities to demonstrate the merit of their case and advance its standing in public opinion.

Never forget the origins of Biological Information: New Perspectives. It is a story that reveals exactly what the Darwin lobby is about: its main strategy is viewpoint suppression, but note too the inner weakness and doubt that all its bluster tries to conceal.

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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