Sunday, August 28, 2005

Why Does the New York Times Hate Science?

This is actually a trend that permeates most, if not all, of the mainstream media. But today's New York Times is particularly eggregious in its celebration of bullshit. Only one prominent counter-example popped out at me: This important explanation (by Daniel Dennett, my college faculty advisor, actually) of why so-called "intelligent design" ought not be taught in schools.

But then there's this. It's a front-page look at "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You To Know About." After devoting the top grafs to its wondrous success, the Times puts on its white gloves to deliver some balanced, delicate caveats about author Kevin Trudeau. One of them informs us that "he served two years in federal prison for credit-card fraud." It almost sounds noble. A real newspaper would simply say, "he committed fraud." Or refer to him as a convicted con-man. Not the Times, which lacks the balls to call a fraud a fraud.

And it gets worse. With this piece of evil shit. Writer Stephanie Rosenbloom looks at the impact on astrologers of the discovery of a new planet (or, perhaps, proto-planet). Rosenbloom brings to her work the seriousness you would expect from the reporter whose most recent past works include: "Outfitting Yourself from the Easy Chair," and an anatomy of a girl crush.

It takes Rosenbloom about halfway through the piece to devote a whopping four paragraphs to the notion that astrology might, just might, be horseshit (that it's DESTRUCTIVE horseshit doesn't seem to enter her mind). Here's how Rosenbloom deals off-handedly with the concept of rationality:

But to some critics, the discovery of a potential 10th planet is just more evidence that astrology is humbug. If astrologers were able to detect the influences of planets on people's lives accurately, should they not have noticed the influence of a 10th planet long before astronomers detected it?
"You would think astrologers would have noticed after 2,000 years of making predictions that every 20 years or so things would get messed up," said Phil Plait, an astronomer at Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park, Calif. "And then someone would say, 'Maybe there's another planet out there.'"
Astrologists argue that they have never asserted that the known planets and stars account for every last detail of human life. "We assume there are going to be other planets," said Deb McBride, an astrologer in Brooklyn.
Leigh Oswald, an astrologer in London, said unknown forces may determine when scientists discover new planets. "A planet is discovered when it's appropriate for humanity to understand it," she said. "In other words, when we are ready for it."
If the condescending phrase "some critics" doesn't make you want to log off so you can hunt and kill Rosenbloom yourself, take a look at just how hard she has to work to insult astrology from its obvious and common-sense rebuttals. She ignores such howling claims as the notion that some cosmic force is regularly assessing humanity's state of mind to determine the species' collective discovery-of-new-planet readiness (and then apparently manipulating individual astronomers -- or the course of scientific progress itself -- to bring about planetary revelation). Rosenbloom's first actively dishonest move, though, is to mischaracterize the criticism, by giving astrologers the rebuttal that they've never claimed to predict every element of human existence. Well, shithead, the critic of astrology never said you did. In other words, Rosenbloom, who's supposed to be aiming for truth and balance here, gives astrologers the last word on this point by letting them rebut a criticism that wasn't even leveled at them.

In fact, Rosenbloom and the (faux) editorial team behind this crap are clearly on the side of astrology. They clearly reject the obvious point that astrology, if it had a basis in reality, should have foretold the existence of this body. It starts with the headline: "Today's Horoscope: Now Unsure." NOW unsure??? Was it sure yesterday? If so, shouldn't that have been the A1 lede, upper right, banner headline yesterday?

The entire thing is a journalistic embarrassment made possible only by the Times' knowing reliance on the general, pervading ignorance and misunderstanding of science and, it would seem, the universe. And if you think enabling that mindset is harmless fun, you've missed the point that Rosenbloom's rape of logic is precisely the same kind of strategy that's enabled the assault on evolution to succeed (thereby crippling our country's scientific competitiveness and the progress of medicine overall; dismiss that the next time your doctor says you need to come in for a talk).

(Oh, and if you want to make your feelings on this known to the paper of record, here's the contact info: Public editor, Byron Calame, public@nytimes.com or (212) 556-7652).

1 comment:

AnonyMiss said...

You tell em' Jonathan! It seems like EVERYONE today hates science! People would rather take an unstudied herbal remedy than a FDA drug that has gone through rigorous testing. Common Evolution, get to work!

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