The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a national group devoted, as Wikipedia says, to “promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the betterment of all humanity.” Wow, that’s important stuff! Among other endeavors, they publish Science Magazine, the top science journal in the U.S.
All this sounds very serious, very distinguished, very sober. But check this out. Science published the remarkable “train wreck” of a review of Michael Behe’s book, Darwin Devolves. As we’ve demonstrated, that was pretty much of an embarrassment. Besides publishing Science, the AAAS also has an “online, global news service.” It’s called EurekAlert! and it issues press releases for research by universities and other bodies. The media then takes those and runs with them.
A Press Release About a Book Review
Well, EurekaAlert! issued a press release about the Science review of Darwin Devolves. A press release about a book review? Strange to say, but yes. And it’s a gem. It was provided by the City University of New York, which employs reviewer Nathan H Lents. (He teaches at CUNY’s John Jay College.) There is no named author. It would be interesting to find out who wrote it.
“Defending Darwin,” fumes the headline. “Scientists respond to attack on evolution”! Golly. So Behe is not carefully critiquing Darwinian theory, with evidence and argument, as you might have thought from reading the book. Science Magazine, the press release begins, took “the rare step of publishing criticism of a new book.” What? You mean it’s rare to publish criticism — they would otherwise only publish praise? Or it’s rare to publish criticism of a new book — most criticism being reserved for old books? Maybe they intended to say it’s rare to preemptively publish a harsh review of a book that hasn’t even been released yet, as happened here, with three credited reviewers instead of the one author that would normally suffice. That is unusual.
Special Praise for Professor Lents
After bathing Professor Lents with special praise (“a noted researcher on cell and cancer biology, genetics, and forensic science”), the press release puffs the review for “discredit[ing] Behe in elaborate detail.” Actually, one of the other reviewers seems to differ on that point, explaining that the trio “left out important points…in the interest of space.” “Elaborate detail” that “leaves out important points”? These scientists need to get their story straight.
The news from the AAAS goes on, saying that the review shows Behe is “‘selective’ in his examples and ignores evidence contradicting his theories.” In reality, though, none of this was shown. Or rather it was shown only by ignoring all that Behe has done over the years to engage and rebut critics, “in elaborate detail.”
Behe the Monster
But it gets better. Not content to repeat the distortions in the review, the AAAS proceeds to puff itself with new and more hysterical claims. According to these leading U.S. scientists, Professor Behe is basically besieging and threatening the country, if not the world. He’s in league with dark forces unleashing a great wave of harm: “Darwin Devolves is being released at a time when science in the U.S. is under assault. Unfounded fear of vaccines has led to measles epidemics. Climate change is causing irreversible damage. And the proper teaching of evolutionary science is being undermined by local school boards” (emphasis added).
Defenseless children, untutored in Darwinism, plagued by measles as the Earth warms, the sea rises, and the polar vortex bears down on us all? Blame Mike Behe, the dangerous “attacker.” Only the brave and noble AAAS stands in this monster’s way: “the AAAS is signaling its willingness to call out pseudoscience and defend the facts” (once again, emphasis added).
As Behe mentions in the Introduction to Darwin Devolves, he’s accustomed to crazed insults from the academic community. Duke University professor Alexander Rosenberg has until now held the prize for the most over-the-top demonizing of the mild-mannered biochemist, comparing Dr. Behe, in a peer-reviewed journal, with Joseph Stalin and Osama bin Laden.
The AAAS has now overtaken Rosenberg for the distinction. At least Stalin and bin Laden are dead, and thus neutralized as threats to the world. Increased measles outbreaks, catastrophic climate change, and the plight of U.S. schoolchildren deprived of “proper teaching” are current, ongoing perils to which Behe subjects us.
This is a scream, and I mean that in two ways. It’s so absurd that it’s hilarious. The press release, covering its rear end, includes a disclaimer that the “AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases.” This comes at the bottom, far below the AAAS logo at the top with its implied imprimatur. Not exactly a vote of confidence!
Yes, the whole thing is a hoot. But when you stop laughing, the sheer frenzy of it is also disturbing. It’s a reminder, far from the first, that scientists and their publications and organizations are not all the reliable truth-tellers that most of us would like to assume, or as the media trains us to think.