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Old 09-05-2009, 12:53 AM
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Default Science Saturday: Mistakes Were Made (Robert Wright & George Johnson)

Note from Robert Wright:

My apologies to viewers who were hoping for a classic Science Saturday, complete with discussion of actual science. But I felt that, given the controversy involving two recent diavlogs that featured either a creationist or an adherent of intelligent design, I should try to explain (a) how those diavlogs came to be and (b) what our policy on discussing creationism and intelligent design will be going forward. I’m not sure how successful this diavlog was in that regard, and I’m not sure how many viewers want to hear as much of the inside story as I presented. For the benefit of those who would just as soon skip the director’s cut, and those who watched it but found it lacking in pith, let me try to provide something like a bottom line:

1) Prior to this controversy I had failed to clearly articulate an editorial policy that would cover diavlogs of this sort. This became particularly problematic as I delegated more authority to staffers who arrange diavlogs, and ceased to personally approve all pairings involving newcomers to the site. One result was this controversy, which has prompted me to clarify our editorial policy and take measures to ensure adherence to it.

2) I don’t have any intellectual sympathy for creationism or intelligent design, as this piece I wrote for Slate in 2001 shows. But I don’t exclude the possibility of featuring creationists and/or adherents of intelligent design on the site--though perhaps not under the Science Saturday rubric--in the future. At the same time, if the conversation they’re involved in is a discussion of the scientific merits of their position, then the diavlog would have to meet strict criteria. For one thing, the person they’re conversing with would have to be expert in relevant subject areas. And since these areas tend to be arcane, the person they’re conversing with would have to be a superb communicator, lest the conversation be inaccessible to our mainly lay audience. In addition, we’d prefer that the conversation involve genuinely new and unresolved issues, not a rehashing of issues that have already been effectively addressed in other venues, including the academic literature. These guidelines (with which the Behe-McWhorter diavlog, in particular, was inconsistent) make it unlikely that diavlogs on the merits of intelligent design will appear with much frequency in the future.

3) If, on the other hand, the discussion is about something other than the scientific merits of intelligent design, the criteria would be less hard to meet. For example, I personally have an interest in theology, and I can imagine interviewing an intelligent design proponent who believes that evolution happened but with some sort of divine assistance; the interview would be not about the scientific merits of this belief but about its theological aspects. (Obviously, this diavlog wouldn’t appear on Science Saturday.) Bloggingheads.tv, while generally focusing on politics and policy, also covers intellectual discourse broadly, and theology is part of intellectual discourse.

For a more general statement of our philosophy regarding diavlogs that appear on BhTV, click here.

One nagging afterthought: My offhand reference in this diavlog to "humanizing" creationists didn't, of course, mean that I consider them inhuman. The reference was to depicting them in a way that would make them seem more acceptable to their intellectual opponents.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, George Johnson and John Horgan will be here next week for a real Science Saturday.

Last edited by David; 09-05-2009 at 09:17 AM..
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