spiked article

Wolfgang Wuster bss166 at clss1.bangor.ac.uk
Mon Apr 3 03:39:38 EST 1995

On Fri, 24 Mar 1995, Richard Milton wrote:
> In article <3lghfv$ffm at mserv1.dl.ac.uk>, Wolfgang Wuster (bss166 at clss1.bangor.ac.uk) writes:
> >On Wed, 22 Mar 1995, Richard Milton wrote:
> >>  
> >>  Thomas Boyce (thomasb at SPIDER.ENTO.CSIRO.AU) writes:
> >>
> >> >I sympathise with your objections to censorship, and I do not think
> >> >irrepairable harm would have been done by the publication of the article.  
> >
> >The problem with publishing stuff like this is that there are people
> >around with a political agenda (i.e., your friendly neighbourhood
> >creationist group) who pounce on this kind of stuff, especially because it
> >is written by a non-creationist. Headline: "Leading evolution expert 
> >dismisses Darwinism in respected Publication".
> >
> >Censorship must never get in the way of publishing new ideas or 
> >criticisms of old ideas IF THEY ARE BASED ON SOUND SCIENCE.
> I cannot help wondering if you have really thought about
> what you are saying here.  You have (I assume unconsciously)
> stated the censorship rationale of every totalitarian regime
> this century. 
> Of course, it is _you_ who decide what is "sound" and what
> is "unsound" -- and by an astonishing coincidence all that
> you disagree with, you also happen to find "unsound" and
> hence censorship can be allowed to "get in the way of" it. 
> I do hope, Wolfgang, that if you ever find yourself
> in disagreement with someone in authority, that he doesn't
> think like you.

Thanks for your concern. You do not seem to understand the difference 
between censorship and quality control.

By "sound science", I mean having a basic understanding of what you
actually criticise. I also mean having a basic understanding of scientific
methodology, and producing data (and criticisms) based on data and facts,
not on misconceptions and ignorance. As I have discussed, your paper did
not display these qualities. On the other hand, the references you cite as
being "detrimental to Darwinism" were published in Nature, despite the
editorship of Maddox, whom you accuse of being pro-censorship, presumably
because they were based on sound science. Hence, they should have been
published and were. 
> >> >
> >> >However, I do see that much of what you say is based on misinterpretation
> >> >or poor understanding of the facts of biology (even the history of
> >> >evolutionary biology).  If I were the editor of a biological journal, I
> >> >would have rejected the article as misinformed and naive - perhaps more for
> >> >what it leaves out rather than what little is in it.
> >
> >I would have failed it as a first year undergraduate essay.
> Given your unreflecting, authoritarian aversion to open
> debate on subjects that you consider not to be "sound", then
> I would not employ you to teach first year students.

As I said, there is no such thing as an unsound subject, but there is such
a thing as ill-informed writing. From a first year undergraduate who
undertakes to criticise a theory, I would expect that s/he should
understand the theory he wishes to criticise. I would also expect him/her
to have done some background reading to see whether the criticisms s/he
mentions have been refuted or discussed, or whether there are alternative

> >
> >> >Could you also post Dawkins's objections?
> >> 
> >>  I'm afraid I haven't made myself sufficiently clear on this
> >> point.  Dawkins has not made any attempt to reply to any
> >> of the points in the article.  As far as I know, he has
> >> not even seen the article. he has simply written to the
> >> editor of THES falsely alleging that I am a secret
> >> creationist. It was following this allegation that the
> >> article was rejected. 
> >
> >There are two possible reasons for this:
> >
> >One is that many of your arguments could have come straight out of a 
> >creationist text, with techniques such as quotes out of context, and 
> >criticisms based on ignorance.
> >The second is that Dawkins may simply have been familiar with your 
> >writings, and felt that replying to the arguments is a waste of time, as 
> >this has had to be done far too many times before.
> There is also a third possible reason.  That Dawkins shares
> the views you have expressed earlier and believes that
> scientific arguments that are disagreeable or which might
> aid creationists should be suppressed, regardless of their
> merits. There is a word for this kind of thinking and
> behaviour. 

I have already stated my view (and hopefully all scientists' view) that
SCIENTIFIC arguments should not be suppressed. However, a repetition of
tired old arguments which have been debated to death is a waste of
everyone's time, and I see no reason why a "semi-academic" publication 
such as THES should not be discouraged from publishing it. 

However, I certainly would regard it as unethical to knowingly falsely
accuse an author of being a creationist in order to stop his work from
being published. 

Since we both regard this as seriously unethical, you would perhaps care
to post evidence that this in fact occurred in the case of your article. 
How did Dawkins get to hear about your article in the first place? Is it 
possible that he was sent a copy of the ms. to check out, and then 
misinterpreted it as being creationist (see reason one above)? Before 
accepting your accusation against Dawkins, I would like to see a lot more 
evidence, and perhaps a reply from Dawkins.

> >> You will probably now better appreciate my sense of 
> >> indignation and my reason for publishing the article. 
> >
> >I hope that after the comments your article has elicited from a variety of
> >sources, you will understand that, even if the reason given was perhaps
> >unsatisfactory, your article should still not have been published by the
> >THES. 
> >
> >I hope you will also understand that those working to improve our
> >understanding of biology get rather irritated at constantly being
> >subjected to a barrage of uninformed criticism, which is used by others to
> >further a political agenda determined to ridicule and undermine this line
> >of research, and therefore has to be addressed at the expense of our time.
> Whether you are irritated or not by rational discourse is
> not a matter that merits discussion.  If I have undermined
> neo-Darwinism (and I sincerely hope that I have) it is
> because the scientific facts are on my side. If I have not
> undermined the theory it is because I am wrong. Either way,
> science does not need fundamentalists to sniff out and
> condemn heretics.  The decision to spend your time responding
> to my article was yours -- to complain to me about it is a
> clear indication of how confused your perception of this
> issue is. 

I have outlined the reasons why I responded to your article, namely
because ignorance should not be allowed to go unchallenged. You may not be
a creationist. However, there are creationist groups all over the place
(especially in the US), who seize upon this kind of "debate" to undermine
evolutionary science as a whole. This should not be used as a pretext to
discourage WELL-INFORMED SCIENTIFIC DEBATE. However, it does make the
constant stream of uninformed criticism, which then gets misrepresented
elsewhere, extraordinarily annoying. 

Dr. Wolfgang Wuster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor

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