If you need one more reason why the public’s trust in the news media continues to collapse, consider the recent fake news stories filed by the Houston Chronicle and its agenda-driven reporter Andrea Zelinski. The stories focused on the adoption of revised science standards by the Texas State Board of Education.
Zelinski’s articles portrayed the science standards battle as a struggle to introduce creationism or intelligent design into Texas’s science curriculum. Her stories carried titles like “State ed board reins in science standards hinting at creationism” and “SBOE gives final OK to curb creationism language in science standards.” Another story began by claiming that the science standards dispute was “rekindling a long-running debate about how much to emphasize creationism in public schools.”
In reality, this year’s debate over science standards in Texas was not about either creationism or intelligent design. It centered on whether the standards should encourage students to evaluate the evidence for various evolutionary claims, many of which are disputed by a growing number of scientists.
For example, should students “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for what natural selection can actually do? Should they “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for universal common ancestry? And should they evaluate existing explanations about the origin of DNA or cellular complexity?
Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific explanations is a key part of the scientific process, and it doesn’t require getting into alternative theories such as intelligent design.
Of course, Discovery Institute supports discussion of intelligent design in the public square and the scientific community. But we don’t advocate that discussion in K-12 public schools.
As I clearly told Zelinski in a phone interview, Discovery Institute is not trying to push intelligent design into public schools, and the Texas science standards don’t deal with intelligent design in any case. For K-12 public education, all we recommend is allowing students to critically evaluate the evidence for the main prongs of modern evolutionary theory.
However, Zelinski did her best to obfuscate our actual position about intelligent design in public education, and she let her personal opposition to our views show through in her slanted writing. Here is what she wrote (emphasis added):
Students should be learning more about evolution, not less, said John West, vice president at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that seeks to discredit evolutionary biology while pushing the non-scientific theory of “intelligent design.” The group, which has an office in Dallas, is urging Texans to tell school board members to keep the words “evaluate” in the standards.
“Our concern is there is an effort to dumb down the standards,” West said. “To dumb down and to cut out what students would actually learn about and we think more science is better, and we think critical thinking and critical analysis is good too, especially when it comes to the origin of to the origin of the first life, where there are a lot of competing views.”
Notice the loaded language Zelinski used to describe Discovery Institute. According to her, we are trying to “discredit” evolutionary biology while “pushing” the “non-scientific theory” of “intelligent design.”
This is not a neutral journalistic description of our work. It is blatant editorializing.
One can easily see this by re-writing her sentence using more neutral language. What if she had described Discovery Institute as “a Seattle-based group focused on critiquing parts of evolutionary biology and advancing the idea that life is intelligently designed”? The impression conveyed to readers would have been vastly different.
Lest one think Zelinski didn’t know what she was doing, compare her slanted description of Discovery Institute with her innocuous description of the far-left Texas Freedom Network (TFN) as “an activist group focused on religious freedom and individual liberties.”
What if Zelinski had instead described TFN as “an activist group that seeks to discredit the ‘religious right’ while pushing a partisan left-wing agenda”? TFN would have been justifiably upset by such a description appearing in a supposedly impartial news story.
As it was, TFN needn’t have worried, because Zelinski was clearly on their side to begin with.
But Zelinski’s slanted description of Discovery Institute isn’t the biggest problem with her report. Far more serious is the critical piece of information she conveniently left out from her interview with me.
Zelinski nowhere acknowledged that Discovery Institute actually opposes inserting intelligent design in K-12 public schools, and so for us, the science standards debate was not about intelligent design.
By failing to disclose this important fact, Zelinski’s statement that we are “pushing” intelligent design clearly misled readers by making it seem we were trying to insert intelligent design into schools through the Texas science standards.
That’s fake news.
Newspapers are in a free-fall throughout the United States as they deal with competition from new forms of media. You’d think that in such an environment they would be trying to improve their coverage and address reader concerns about agenda-driven and biased reporting. Apparently the journalists at the Houston Chronicle have decided not to bother. Some day they may wish they had.
Photo: Houston Chronicle headquarters, by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.