Letters

Salon readers wonder whether CBS's report on Dan Rather missed the real scandal, and debate what role "intelligent design" should play in science curricula.


Salon Staff
January 13, 2005 4:29AM (UTC)

[Read "Behind the Firings at CBS," by Eric Boehlert.]

At the end of his article, Mr. Boehlert references what I consider the greatest unanswered question about the fake Killian memos. Clearly CBS foolishly let itself get snookered, but by whom? Is there any ongoing investigation into that? Internet speculation of a Machiavellian theory implicating Karl Rove is all very interesting, but don't we deserve a credible determination of who did the forging?

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I would think that should be a more serious matter than CBS's having been taken in by the forger.

-- Johan Muller

It is worth it for all journalists (and the rest of us, probably) to understand just how CBS's reporting on President Bush's National Guard performance got the network into trouble.

However, I remain dismayed that the news media as a whole allowed this one error, however serious, to shoot down the whole story. CBS had enough other material to support a significant story. Instead of doing at least a balanced analysis of the story, other reporters leaped onto the one error and conveyed the message that the entire story was without merit.

To make the situation worse, they gave the "swift boat" campaign considerable free airtime and were very slow to provide appropriate perspective on it -- something not done until the campaign waters had been well poisoned.

Intentionally or not, as a whole the media could not have done better for the Bush/Cheney campaign if they had been its direct employees.

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-- Janice Manuel

[Read "The New Monkey Trial," by Michelle Goldberg.]

As a pagan, I believe in a creative force that could be called God. I also believe in evolution. That so many (certainly not all) of my colleagues who work in academic science do not believe in God is due in part, I think, to the extreme tunnel vision required to succeed in such a competitive field -- and also a bit of hubris. A lot of scientists are so focused on their area of specialization and on their need to generate data to support their hypotheses that they forget to take a broader view. More important, they also begin to believe that only the things they have tools to measure are real. But there were bacteria before we had microscopes, and there were subatomic particles before we had supercolliders.

Intelligent design doesn't belong in the science curriculum, not because it isn't true, but because it isn't testable. If someone can conceive of and carry out an experiment through which the hand of God can be discerned objectively using the measurement tools science has or will one day have at its disposal, then intelligent design will be welcomed into the curriculum and the discovering scientist awarded one or possibly several Nobels. Right now we don't have those tools. We just have to remember that just because we only have hammers doesn't mean that everything is a nail.

-- Carol Bonner

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What I find astounding is that the analogy between capitalism and evolution is completely missed.

The reason capitalism works so well is that it works fundamentally like evolution: compete, grow or become extinct (or go bankrupt, as the case may be).

How can someone be such a firm proponent of a "free market" in one context, and completely deny the same system in another?

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-- Jim Provost

Though I firmly believe in evolution, I also think that good education could well include a discussion of intelligent design in the context of science. Put it right up there: Is it testable? What are the flaws of that theory? Why would an intelligent designer create complex systems that aren't completely optimized -- for example, why would a vertebrate have vestigial bones (as in whales) or joints that hardly articulate and can cause painful arthritis (as in horses) if those animals were designed from scratch? Why do all vertebrates have the same number of neck vertebrae, regardless of neck length or function? Is there an advantage to that scheme or was our theoretical intelligent designer just lazy?

And I think it could be useful to do the same with other theories. The idea of gravity is well established. Why is it that we think gravity is what holds us to the earth's surface, and not, say, the earth's magnetic field? How can we test these theories? How can we establish that one is more likely than another?

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This is what good science is all about -- using the scientific method to look at data, and at arguments, and evaluating the relative merits of each.

-- Elaine Lindelef

Ms. Goldberg's closing line says it all: "Evolution's allies might win the battle for Dover's biology classes, but they're losing America." Our recent election showed that the Enlightenment -- the triumph of reason and empirical experimentation -- is losing. Reason, in the modern sense, is taking a back seat to faith; believers think that their faith trumps evidence. Just as 67 percent of individuals who voted for Bush believe in some version of creationism (as opposed to the still high 47 percent of Kerry voters), only two weeks before the election 72 percent of Bush supporters still believed that Iraq had actual WMD or a major program for developing them (PIPA poll).

For many years, I have described my teaching in science as a political act. Not because I propagandize my students -- I don't. I just teach the science. But because I teach the critical thinking and experimentation that drives science, it is my hope that my students will take those skills and apply them to critically examining other aspects of their lives. I'm not sure how well I've personally succeeded, but the rise of "intelligent design" and the firmly held, though clearly disproven, beliefs of Bush supporters are clear evidence that we are collectively failing to make the lessons of the Enlightenment sufficiently broadly understood. Until a larger proportion of Americans values reason and empirical evidence in interpreting our world, we will continue to suffer the political and scientific consequences.

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-- Randy Linder

[Read "Rags to Riches, Republican Style," by Mike Rose.]

Rose's article is excellent with the exception of his comment that "the conservatives would keep government out and let the market determine the order of things." Perhaps traditional conservatives would want to do that, but today's conservatives do not want the market to "determine the order of things." They want, for themselves and those they consider friends, bailouts by the bushel.

Time after time they have shown their love of corporate welfare -- from tax breaks to cash contributions to corporations' bottom line to keep them afloat (airlines are one excellent case in point). These uncompetitive giveaways are what impoverishes the middle class, which, sooner rather than later, will no longer exist.

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-- Ardis Wade

Missing from the rags to riches stories of Republican heroes is any mention of public assistance, affirmative action, Head Start or other programs that they or their families may have benefited from. Their biographies are always presented in a vacuum, as if they were just able to break loose from the chains of poverty and discrimination and make it to the top.

It would be interesting to see if these individuals benefited from the very programs that the Republicans have been trying to dismantle for the past 25 years.

-- Doug Kreeger

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Salon Staff

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