Thursday, October 10, 2013

John G. West Speaks Out Against Using Derogatory Labels to Describe Your Opponents

John G. West is Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of the Center for Science and Culture (CSC)—the most important Intelligent Design Creationism propaganda organization. He is upset because some reporters describe Intelligent Design Creationism as a form of creationism. I've taken an excerpt from his post at Attempting to Win the Debate over Intelligent Design through Stereotyping and changed just a few words so you can get the gist of his argument.
The really discouraging thing here is not that some reporters are critical of evolution. It is that so many of them apparently see nothing wrong with preventing evolutionary biologists from defining their own position. This is a very strange way to do journalism, and if journalists started to apply their approach to evolution to other topics, I think it would become manifestly clear how unfair it is. Imagine, for example, a journalist deciding to use "Marxist" as a neutral label for President Obama based on the views of certain right-wing academics and political activists. Would that be regarded as fair or impartial by most journalists? Of course not. What if a reporter redefined Marxist to mean anyone who supports more active government? Would that make applying the term to Obama in a news story more defensible? Hardly. Yet when reporters label evolutionary biologists as "Darwinists," they are essentially doing the same thing.

What is really going on here is censorship. When reporters use as a "neutral" description of evolution a polemical smear invented by its critics, they are effectively silencing evolutionary biologists by not allowing them to speak for themselves. They are poisoning the well so no one will be willing to listen to the actual views expressed by evolutionary biologists. Journalists who write about evolution should re-read the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, especially the provisions calling for them to "Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant" and to "Give voice to the voiceless...."

Whatever a news reporter's views on evolution, he or she has a professional duty not to simply spread stereotypes and caricatures. That duty means nothing if it only applies to news coverage of groups and positions with which the reporter agrees. The real test of fairness for reporters is how they treat those with whom they disagree. When it comes to evolution, sadly, many reporters are failing the test.