Serious people

Sean Carroll has kissed Bloggingheads good-bye.

It’s important to understand exactly what the objections are…Namely: if has something unique and special going for it, it’s the idea that it’s not just a shouting match, or mindless entertainment. It’s a place we can go to hear people with very different perspectives talk about issues about which they may strongly disagree, but with a presumption that both people are worth listening to. If the issue at hand is one with which I’m sufficiently familiar, I can judge for myself whether I think the speakers are respectable; but if it’s not, I have to go by my experience with other dialogues on the site.

What I objected to about the creationists was that they were not worthy opponents with whom I disagree; they’re just crackpots. Go to a biology conference, read a biology journal, spend time in a biology department; nobody is arguing about the possibility that an ill-specified supernatural “designer” is interfering at whim with the course of evolution. It’s not a serious idea. It may be out there in the public sphere as an idea that garners attention — but, as we all know, that holds true for all sorts of non-serious ideas. If I’m going to spend an hour of my life listening to two people have a discussion with each other, I want some confidence that they’re both serious people. Likewise, if I’m going to spend my own time and lend my own credibility to such an enterprise, I want to believe that serious discussions between respectable interlocutors are what the site is all about.

That’s why mixing respectable interlocutors with crackpots is so insidious and destructive – because the respectability bleeds into the crackpottery, lending it a veneer of seriousness that it can’t aquire on the merits. That is not a useful situation! (That’s why Michael Ruse never should have teamed up with William Dembski on that book and why Cambridge shouldn’t have published it.)

Carl Zimmer also said so long.

In my job as a science writer, I try my best to convey an accurate picture of where science is at the moment. That means I do not write about just anything. I write about research and ideas that have held up under scrutiny. Sometimes that means writing about an important new development in a line of research that has emerged from peer review. Sometimes that means writing about a fierce debate between scientists who all have made a lot of important discoveries on the topic. It doesn’t mean writing about creationism–or medical quackery, or any other non-science–in a way that implies it really has scientific merit. I have sometimes blogged about creationists, but chiefly to explain why scientists do not take them seriously.

I brought these standards from my writing to my work at Bloggingheads. So I was not happy to find a creationist holding forth there (and never even being challenged about a 6,000-year-old Earth).

More from Jerry Coyne.

2 Responses to “Serious people”