Thursday, December 07, 2006


An enormously fun debate is going on in the pages of Nature (subscriber link), initiated after the magazine published the 'Creationism in Europe' article which prompted me to write this post a couple of days ago. After that article was published, a Polish gentleman named Maciej Giertych of the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences sent a letter to Nature, in which he questioned the validity of evolution, apparently without citing a single reference, although he did cite his seemingly impressive credentials from the universities of Oxford and Toronto. Giertych said:

"I believe that, as a result of media bias, there seems to be total ignorance of new scientific evidence against the theory of evolution. Such evidence includes race formation (microevolution), which is not a small step in macroevolution because it is a step towards a reduction of genetic information and not towards its increase. It also includes formation of geological strata sideways rather than vertically, archaeological and palaeontological evidence that dinosaurs coexisted with humans, a major worldwide catastrophe in historical times, and so on."

What on earth (pun intended)?! First of all, assuming that what he means by "microevolution" is evolution on the scale of genes and biomolecules, such microevolution has been demonstrated thousands of times, in fact thus enormously supporting and widening the purview of evolution. Secondly, he actually has the audacity to suggest that humans and dinosaurs may have walked together on the earth!

Quite appropriately, this rash letter invoked a series of no less than eight rebuttals in the latest correspondence section of Nature. Here is a snapshot of all the letters

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(Copyright: Nature Publishing Group, 2006)

There are those who have also criticised Nature for publishing such a hack letter, but most have directly condemned Giertych's views. There is the correspondent from the Institute of Dendrology who is prompt to dissociate his institute's views from Giertych's views, and then there are those who lambast him directly for his opinions and deplore his lack of reference citing. But there are also two correspondents who say

"The very fact that his letter was published shows that Nature has no bias against critics of evolution."

This is an interesting point. Should scientific journals publish letters and so-called articles from people like Giertych? On one hand, we may think that this is necessary to prove that scientific journals have no bias in publication. Thus, creationists cannot accuse them of actively suppressing evidence. On the other hand, it is not the responsibility of scientific journals to refute every hack creationist unscientific assertion.

I don't know whether Nature published Giertych's letter to allow dissent (no matter how misguided and unsubstantiated) or to actually publish a serious opposing point of view. It surely cannot be the latter, and I am convinced it is the former reason. But as a matter of principle, I completely agree that scientific journals have absolutely no obligation to publish any pseudoscientific cricticism of sound scientific facts, let alone dissenting correpondence. If pseudoscientists cry foul, it's quite clear they are really crying sour grapes. It's one thing to be a valid scientific critic of evolution, but it's quite another to be a pseudoscientific opponent of evolution who cites not one scientific reference. Since it's really the creationists who assert that the earth was created six thousand years ago, the onus of proof has always been on them to prove their assertions, and no journal needs to pander to their dissenting views that don't have an iota of scientific basis to support them.

The other point is related to Dawkins's stance that we can never disprove the existence of god and creation. Naturally, the creationists tout that as proof of their contentions. Scientific journals also don't have any duty whatsoever to publish assertions that are not disproved. Because in science and the reality seeking world, innocent until proven guilty is a non-existent principle.

On a different note, Poland is a staunchly Catholic country, and I won't be surprised if they start teaching creationism in schools as an "alternative theory". The only condition should be that they should teach all "theories" of creation, including that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Dozing Fatty Spinster.


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