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Chapter 12: Media Reaction to the Arkansas Trial

Along with a few other cherished concepts in science, evolution enjoys superstatus. It is tacitly understood that any scientist who wants to maintain a reputable standing within the scientific community must never publicly challenge such a theory. Up until the Arkansas trial my research was not generally considered in that category because I had stayed within the norm of publishing my results in the scientific literature. At the Arkansas creation trial I stepped outside of that accepted norm and issued a public challenge to one of the superstatus theories of science. For that reason alone my participation at the Arkansas trial was certain to evoke discussion among my scientific colleagues. To a large extent, their reaction would depend on whether my testimony and evidences for creation received favorable or hostile reviews in reputable scientific magazines.

Effects of Journalism on Research Funding

Government laboratories are sensitive to any evaluation of their staff activities published in respected scientific journals. A positive evaluation of a project or scientist at a national laboratory provides an incentive for the parent agency, such as the Department of Energy, to recommend a high level of support when budgets are prepared for Congress. At the same time, a government laboratory must be wary of supporting a scientist who is criticized in one of those journals. Support of controversial research could produce a negative reaction from the Congress and in turn affect funding for that laboratory. This chapter focuses on two accounts of the trial published in the January 1 and January 8, 1982, issues of Science and how they adversely affected my status as a professional scientist.

[p. 146]

This journal had always given my technical reports fair treatment. Their chosen reporter, Roger Lewin, was expected to provide an evenly balanced account of the trial proceedings. But as I read his reports (Lewin 1982a and 1982b), it seemed that the creation position at the trial, my testimony in particular, was considerably minimized for the benefit of evolution. A few months later I learned firsthand of his strong preference for evolution when he was featured as an invited speaker at the American Physical Society meeting in Washington in April 1982 (Lewin 1982c). In that presentation he upheld the standard evolutionary scenario. That same year he authored a book on evolution (Lewin 1982d). Conceivably, some other staff reporter might have given a different perspective of the trial, and this chapter might not have been written.

Reporting from an Evolutionist Perspective

On the surface Lewin's two reports of the trial appear to be a simple reviewing of the important events. But a close examination reveals a different picture. By omitting and minimizing crucial parts of the trial testimony, while emphasizing other phases, he favors the evolutionary position and leaves the impression that the creation science position was in shambles. Lewin accomplishes this feat by building up the ACLU contention that evolution is truly scientific whereas creation science is religion in disguise.

In his first account Lewin refers to the testimony of one of the ACLU witnesses:

Science has to be testable, explanatory, and tentative, said Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at the University of Guelph, Canada, and he made it plain that in his mind creation science was none of these. (Lewin 1982a, 34)

A few paragraphs later the build-up continues as these witnesses are allowed the privilege of defining the scientific status of their own theory:

Each [evolutionist] testified that yes, evolutionary theory was thoroughly scientific even though there were problems with it; and that no, creation science (Ayala could hardly bring himself to mouth the phrase) most definitely was not. (Lewin 1982a, 34)

Note that Lewin is not content to report the evolutionists' evaluation of their own theory. Here he uses a parenthetical comment to inject his own appraisal of Ayala's reaction to creation science. From this one could easily conclude that the ACLU witnesses were intellectual heroes, the brave defenders of scientific truth.

[p. 147]

In contrast, Lewin pictures the creation science position as being confused and fearful:

The attorney general presented six science witnesses, two more than had testified for the ACLU, presumably on the grounds that quantity made up for evident lack of quality. There would have been more had not a serious case of disappearing witnesses set in as the second week wore on. Dean Kenyon, a biologist from San Francisco State University, fled town after watching the demolition of four of the State's witnesses on day 1 of the second week. (Lewin 1982a, 34)

True enough, one of the planned witnesses for the State did leave town very hurriedly after observing how the ACLU tried to intimidate the State's witnesses during their cross-examinations. Lewin cannot be faulted for reporting this occurrence. But to imply this was because four of the State's witnesses were demolished is an opinionated statement. It leaves the impression that creation science was not up to the challenge of the day. Near the end of Lewin's first commentary my work is described as follows:

Defense witness Robert Gentry, a physicist associated with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, brought the trial to a close with 4 hours of excruciating detail about an anomalous result in the radiometric dating of the age of the earth that Dalrymple had described as a "tiny mystery."

Judge Overton left the bench at 10:46 on Thursday, still holding his head from Gentry's massive presentation. . . . (Lewin 1982a, 34)

Readers should note that after Lewin heard those four hours of evidence, which encompassed years of research and many publications in respected scientific journals, the most perceptive comments he can offer in this first write-up are that my testimony was "massive" and involved "excruciating detail" of an "anomalous result." No mention is made of my scientific publications or of the granite synthesis experiment which I had proposed. Lewin's greatest assist for the evolutionary position, the one most needed by the ACLU to maintain a posttrial image of scientific invincibility for evolution, is his repeated silence about this critical falsifiability test.

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