Monday, November 19, 2007

Judging "Judgment Day", continued

I had posted a comment about the recent PBS slam on Intelligent Design, "Judgment Day," over at Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and it elicited a little discussion. But the post is getting old over there, and so I decided to take up some of the issues Ed and a couple of others brought up in response, and the commenters can post here if they like.

I made the same sorts of remarks on Ed's blog that I have already made here, mostly having to do with the fact that "Judgment Day" was not a balanced presentation of the issue of evolution and Intelligent Design. There was the usual rude ad hominem attacks here and there that plague the blogosphere, but most were pretty much to the point. Ed's responses were reasonable, so I wanted to respond to a couple of points he made.

Here was his response to one of my posts:
There is no doubt that the producers of the show were biased toward the evolution side, nor that the dramatizations portrayed the other side in a bad light (though in many cases, that was quite justifiable - reality paints them in a bad light). But here's the only question that really matters, I think: was there any claim made that was untrue? I don't care whether one side got a rebuttal while the other didn't, I wanna know if the rebuttal was true and accurate or not.
Unlike a few of the program's defenders, Ed is intellectually honest enough to admit the obvious bias in the program, but argues that the bias is irrelevant and that the only thing that matters is the accuracy of what was presented.

Now I've already said that, from PBS's perspective, I think it has an obligation to be impartial. But I think the biggest problem with Ed's position is that it basically assumes what it is trying to prove. It basically amounts to saying, "Since evolution is true, a treatment that assumes that it is true, no matter how biased it is, is perfectly acceptable." Lack of balance is okay, as I have said before, if it is for a good cause.

Well, that may be acceptable to the people who already accept Ed's position, but the question is why it should be convincing to those to whom it is presumably directed: those who haven't made up their minds yet, and who are wanting to see a fair argument between the two positions so they can make up their own minds on the basis of the best arguments on both sides.

It seems to me colossally arrogant for anyone advocating a position to say that the other side just doesn't deserve to be treated fairly because they're wrong. That kind of arrogance makes me doubt the rest of what they think. And it this kind of arrogance that turns not a few people off to the Darwinist position.

It may be correct to say that what the program as presented was accurate (although I seriously doubt it), but what if PBS put together a pro-ID documentary that was technically accurate, even by the admission of its opponents, but so deficient in its presentation of the Darwinist position, and so biased against Darwinism that it gave the impression that ID was the more reasonable position? And suppose further that the program billed itself as "educational", and gave no hint in its promotional material that was in any way unbalanced or polemical in nature?

Can you imagine the outcry over at places like Dispatches from the Culture Wars? And can you see them being mollified by the argument that, since ID was true, the program was justified in being unbalanced?

Didn't think so.

Yo, Ed, this is a debate. People expect debates to be fair.

If the Darwinists want to convince the general public, they'd be get their noses out from up in the air and their feet back on the ground.

One of the posters on Ed's blog, Troublesome Frog (obviously not his real name, although if I were to find out he was from one of certain parts of my state, it would not be out of the question) brought up another point related to this:
Of course, it's also worth remembering that this documentary was less of an in-depth examination of ID vs evolution than it was a retelling of exactly how the ID crowd got its collective ass handed to it in court. Given that, chronicling the "smoking guns" that lead to the decision makes a lot more sense than diving into the detailed defenses the ID proponents try to give on the scientific front.
Well, yes and no. The program was ostensibly about the Dover trial, but one of the two major examples I gave of bias had to do with the part of the program that went beyond the trial and presented the case for and against Intelligent Design outside of the context of the actual trial. That part of the program had little to do with what happened at the trial and was the most biased part of the program. And besides, if the part that didn't have to do with the trial was blatantly biased, why should anyone believe the part about the trial itself?

I think that programs like "Judgment Day" are in the same category as movies that are supposed to be portraying historical person or events. If they're going to pretend to be about historical events, then they have some kind of obligation to portray events with reasonable accuracy. In this respect, Judgment Day was the Oliver Stone version of events in Dover: one part history, two parts polemic.

As I have said before, those of us who are viewing the debate from the outside can be excused for getting very suspicious that the debate is rigged in favor of one side. I have posted here before about the Richard Sternberg incident, in which the editor of a Smithsonian Institute scientific publication, Sternberg, published a peer reviewed paper favorable to Intelligent Design, after which he was harassed and vilified by advocates of evolution.

The irony here, of course, is that the very people who are saying, "If you ID people really want to prove your case, then get papers published in peer reviewed journals" are the same people who will read out of polite society any editor who has the temerity to actually publish such an article, decidedly reducing the numbers of editors who will ever be willing to publish such papers in the future. No science editor in the civilized world is going to publish a pro-ID article now--not at least if he values his career.

So folks, I'm just tellin' ya: if you continue take positions like this one--that it's okay to treat positions with which you disagree unfairly in programs that clearly give the impression that they are giving a balanced presentation--you're just giving your opponents more ammunition.

Now I suppose some opponent of ID could say, "Yeah. I'm sure you're real concerned about helping the case for evolution. Thanks for the advice." And there is a certain amount of truth to that. But, you see, I am pretty confident, knowing how arrogant ID opponents seem to have become, that they will completely ignore any advice I have to give, and will continue to rig the debate in ways that will make them vulnerable to legitimate criticism.

Just watch.

9 comments:

solarity said...

There is some irony in the fact that such obvious bias should be found in a documentary about a trial. A trial being one of the few aspects of our cultural infrastructure specifically designed with the intent of being fair to both sides of a dispute.

With a few minor exceptions the left pretty much owns everything we see on the tube. "Balance" is an idea that is quickly being given the boot, along with such anachronistic notions as "good taste."

motheral said...

Now I've already said that, from PBS's perspective, I think it has an obligation to be impartial. But I think the biggest problem with Ed's position is that it basically assumes what it is trying to prove.

Wrong: Ed is not "assuming" anything. He's observing that evolution has been proven to be THE useful and workable scientific explanation for the observed diversity of life on Earth; and that ID/creationism has simply never been able to cut it as "science." The scientific debate here is completely one-sided, because creationism has never brought anything to the table. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for a TV show to recognize this fact by giving the most weight to the winning arguments. The "bias" you're going on about comes from this reality, not from PBS.

Lack of balance is okay, as I have said before, if it is for a good cause.

So now you're saying people who agree with you have a right to be "unbalanced?"

It seems to me colossally arrogant for anyone advocating a position to say that the other side just doesn't deserve to be treated fairly because they're wrong.

If "the other side" is wrong -- and, as in the case of creationists, dishonest to boot -- then there's nothing "unfair" about saying so, kicking the erroneous position to the curb, and not wasting any more time with it.

It may be correct to say that what the program as presented was accurate (although I seriously doubt it), but what if PBS put together a pro-ID documentary that was technically accurate, even by the admission of its opponents, but so deficient in its presentation of the Darwinist position, and so biased against Darwinism that it gave the impression that ID was the more reasonable position? And suppose further that the program billed itself as "educational", and gave no hint in its promotional material that was in any way unbalanced or polemical in nature?

If this were the case, we would base our objections entirely on an examination of WHICH crucial facts were left out of such a program, WHY they were crucial and should have been included, and HOW the inclusion of said facts would have changed the overall position of the program.

You, on the other hand, have done none of this; you keep on complaining in vague terms of "bias," without ever describing which specific crucial facts were left out of the program. I just read your entire post, and all I see is a sore loser whining about "bias" and "rigged" and "we wuz robbed!"

I have posted here before about the Richard Sternberg incident, in which the editor of a Smithsonian Institute scientific publication, Sternberg, published a peer reviewed paper favorable to Intelligent Design, after which he was harassed and vilified by advocates of evolution.

Please describe this "harassment" and "vilification" in detail. Last I checked, Sternberg still had his job, and no police agencies were investigating any possible criminal offenses against him (as they had to investigate death-threats against the plaintiffs in the Dover trial).

The irony here, of course, is that the very people who are saying, "If you ID people really want to prove your case, then get papers published in peer reviewed journals" are the same people who will read out of polite society any editor who has the temerity to actually publish such an article, decidedly reducing the numbers of editors who will ever be willing to publish such papers in the future. No science editor in the civilized world is going to publish a pro-ID article now--not at least if he values his career.

Again, please describe in detail WHICH editor tried to get WHICH peer-reviewed pro-ID paper published in WHICH journal, and what, exactly, us evolutionists did to him in response. Was any such editor threatened with violence, as the plaintiffs in the Dover trial were? In the absence of specific allegations, with proof, I'll have no choice to conclude that, like so many creationists before you, you're making up "persecution" stories to excuse ID's total failure to produce any real scientific work in all of the 150+ years since Darwin first published.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not ID is true is not merely tangential to whether the program was appropriate in its bias. You haven't called for the History Channel to give Nazis free time for all the programs on Hitler. In that case, of course, the reason is primarily that Nazis are morally repugnant. But it demonstrates that bias can be appropriate.

Let's take another case, that of Lamarkianism in the Soviet Union. Would you demand PBS give equal time to Lamarkians on programs about DNA? Or even any time at all? Are you advocating that PBS give flat earthers equal standing with the scientifically accepted view of the earth? (These examples are particularly interesting because in the first case, Lamarkianism and ID have about the same scientific standing, and in the second, the people that are flat-earthers are required to be by the same type of fundamentalist thinking as people who are creationists)

Let's be honest here. Some positions are discredited enough that bias isn't that big of a deal. The question is whether ID falls in that category (and the answer is that it does).

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Boy, you all sure don't need us to give you much rope to hang yourselves with, do you?

Okay, let me see if I've got all this down: Intelligent Design advocates should not receive any fair treatment because giving ID fair treatment is akin to giving Nazis equal time.

If anyone wonders why evolutionists are having such a hard time convincing the public of their position, I'll be sure to have have them check out your post.

motheral said...

Okay, let me see if I've got all this down: Intelligent Design advocates should not receive any fair treatment because giving ID fair treatment is akin to giving Nazis equal time.

Cdesign proponentsists have had PLENTY of fair treatment: they've had more than ample opportunity to do research, experiment, develop testable hypotheses, and publish in peer-reviewed journals. And guess what -- they didn't produce ANY results that can remotely be described as "science." Despite that dismal track record, however, they had yet another opportunity to present their "work" in the Dover trial -- before a Bush-appointed judge who was expected to be biased in their favor, no less -- and all their best arguments got shot down and exposed as empty at best. Now, when faced with this consistent lack of substance, all you can do is make up "persecution" stories, robotically repeat the same old unsupported complaints of "bias," and fantasize about the destruction of all the horrible people who refused to let you pretend you were the smartest guy in the room.

Anonymous said...

You missed the point So I'm just going to quote back to you what I said: "You haven't called for the History Channel to give Nazis free time for all the programs on Hitler. In that case, of course, the reason is primarily that Nazis are morally repugnant. But it demonstrates that bias can be appropriate."

The point, obviously, is that bias is appropriate in that case, and I don't think anyone would question that.

Then I brought up two cases that are more directly relevant: that of Larmarckianism in the Soviet Union, and that of the flat earthers. Neither case is morally repugnant, but both are discredited scientific positions which, because of their lack of scientific rigor, I doubt you would claim that a show such as NOVA should present them fairly.

As I said before, it's obvious that bias is appropriate in some cases, that's not the point. The question is whether its appropriate in this case, which requires an answer to the question of just how scientific creationism is.

motheral said...

Is it just me, or is Martin starting to sound like the Iraqi Information Minister?

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

I said: "Lack of balance is okay, as I have said before, if it is for a good cause."

You said, "So now you're saying people who agree with you have a right to be 'unbalanced?'"

My comment was a paraphrase of what I was hearing Ed say, not my own view. I think if you look back at the context you will see that.

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

If this were the case [my hypothetical case of a program that treated evolution like PBS treated ID], we would base our objections entirely on an examination of WHICH crucial facts were left out of such a program, WHY they were crucial and should have been included, and HOW the inclusion of said facts would have changed the overall position of the program.

You, on the other hand, have done none of this; you keep on complaining in vague terms of "bias," without ever describing which specific crucial facts were left out of the program. I just read your entire post, and all I see is a sore loser whining about "bias" and "rigged" and "we wuz robbed!"


And you wouldn't be the least bit disturbed by the fact that the very structure of the presentation was rigged against your position?

I don't think so.