Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talking to origin of life scientists: Like giving a bobcat a prostate exam?

While I am here, Pamela Winnick (quoted here) also directs my attention to columnist Fred Reed's difficulty getting straight answers about the origin of life
One seasoned journalist humorously recounted his many attempts to wrest this admission from scientists he had interviewed. His experience with their word-sputtering defenses has been shared with many other journalists who likewise have been stared down with silent accusations.

"It was like giving a bobcat a prostate exam" " wrote Fred Reed in "The Metaphysics of Evolution",
They told me I was a crank, implied over and over that I was a Creationist, said that I was an enemy of science (someone who asks for evidence is an enemy of science). They said that I was trying to pull down modern biology (if you ask questions about an aspect of biology, you want to pull down biology). They told me I didn't know anything (that's why I was asking questions), and that I was a mere journalist (the validity of a question depends on its source rather than its content).

But they didn't answer the questions. They ducked and dodged and evaded. After thirty years in journalism, I know ducking and dodging when I see it. It was like cross-examining hostile witnesses. I tried to force the issue, pointing out that the available answers were "Yes," "No," "I don't know," or "The question is not legitimate," followed by any desired discussion. Still no straight answer. They would neither tell me of what the early oceans consisted, nor admit that they didn't know.

This is the behavior not of scientists, but of advocates, of True Believers. I used to think that science was about asking questions, not about defending things you didn't really know. Religion, I thought, was the other way around. I guess I was wrong.
. Yes, exactly. Just when one wants information, one is greeted with demands for professions of faith.

I had the same problem recently with a Darwinian who asked whether I "accept" common descent - in the same way as a tract evangelist might ask if I "accept" Jesus Christ. I wonder if they'll start banging on doors next ...