Monday, January 26, 2009

Editor alert

All desks, be careful if you see this not-bad tale from McClatchy, owing to the really-really-bad second graf:

WASHINGTON — Two centuries after Charles Darwin's birth on Feb. 12, 1809, people still argue passionately about his theory of evolution.

Was Darwin right? Should schoolchildren be exposed to contrary views in science class? These two controversies continue to rage, partly because both sides are evenly matched.

Well -- no. No, they aren't evenly matched. We're getting a couple of separate controversies confused here, and that's unfortunate for a story that actually does a nice job of summing up the state of play on national efforts to infuse un-science into science classrooms (if your newspaper's idea of national coverage is episodic crime, missing moms and weather, this is an especially valuable service).

If "was Darwin right?" is a question about the evolution of evolution, there's a useful summary at the bottom of the story that indicates why it's a pretty good topic to teach. But if we're talking about a demand that natural science be made to accommodate supernatural explanations, we're creating some genuine confusion. "Both sides" may be about even in survey results, but that's a far cry from "evenly matched."

The story's a bit even-handed overall for my taste. I'm not that fond of invective journalism, but we seem to be missing the voice that explains clearly and simply that we aren't looking at an even match between opposing views about theory; we're looking at opposing views of what's appropriate to teach under the heading of "science" (wouldn't hurt to point out the level of national panic that arose in the 1950s when it became clear the childrens weren't learning enough science to keep us all from speaking Russian any day now). If you run it, be sure to fix the second graf. But it'd be all right to remind the Washburo that it earned its laurels earlier this decade through an appropriate skepticism toward the specious.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Yes. I really hate this "balance" that means "he said X, but he says Y" comes without any hint that Y is fringe or even (in politics, often) flat out untrue.

5:49 AM, January 27, 2009  
Anonymous locksmith mesa said...

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8:52 AM, January 27, 2009  
OpenID q-pheevr said...

The other problem with the assertion that "both sides are evenly matched" is that, at least for linguistically conservative readers like me, the word both is not quite synonymous with "the two." For us, both works pretty much the same way as each: it forces a distributed interpretation, so that "both sides are evenly matched" means "this side is evenly matched and that side is evenly matched." I know that in current usage, many people have no trouble accepting non-distributed readings of both, but I'm not one of them, and I expect my newspaper to indulge my fogeyism in this and similar matters.

10:42 AM, January 27, 2009  

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