In the midst of a fairly heavy fog, if not blackout, in the pop science media, Mazur has done more than anyone to let the public know that evolutionary biology is being forced to rethink a commitment to Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism or a lightly stretched synthesis, or whatever your PR person wants to call it now). For one thing, the genome maps just don’t support the underlying genetic fundamentalism.
And perhaps she was one of the few who even could do it. She has written mainly for popular media and her books are a valuable introduction for the layperson as to why Darwinism is failing as an explanation. They are especially helpful for those who do not have any religious concerns about it, one way or the other.
Assessing the meeting, she writes candidly at at Huffington Post:
I spent much of the last two years investigating and reporting on an evolution paradigm shift that has happened in science — whether the science establishment and main stream media acknowledge that shift or not. And having just published an authentic report of the Royal Society “new trends” meeting, I cringed as I read Carl Zimmer’s distorted coverage that followed of that same event in Quanta and TheAtlantic.com.
Carl Zimmer is not a scientist. He’s a Yalie with a degree in English, best known as a science writer for the New York Times (“all the news that’s fit to print“), although his business card presents him as a national correspondent for STAT.More.
Hmmm. Zimmer may know his market well. Unfortunately, pop science readers are—at least this is my experience—surprisingly incurious. Yes, yes, they are supposed to be the people who are curious. Yet, time and again, they just want to hear that Darwin was right, that the space aliens are sure to arrive soon, and that people who doubt various sciencey nostrums have evolved so as not to understand reality. And a bunch of other things that circumvent serious thought.
One result is that, as a field, science journalism features far more pom pom waving for science in principle—as opposed to constructive criticism of what happens in practice—than is good for the discipline. It’s sure not a recipe for creativity or growth. I’ve seen more genuine skepticism in committees of elderly church ladies.
Put another way: A current establishment always needs PR. The future needs breaking news. At some point, one must decide which side to be on.
Note: Now and then, of course, one comes across really useful science writing. This classic send-up of whole foods culture comes to mind.
See also: New York Times science writer defends the myth of junk DNA:. Worries Carl Zimmer, a “No junk DNA” scenario could help creationists. Carl, if you think that’s your only problem, you’ve got problems you don’t know about. Yet.
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