MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program Rips DMN Story on Creationists

Top science writer Paul Raeburn says the story is unfair to readers

One of the great things about working for Genome, a Plano-based national medical science magazine, was getting to know science writers around the country. Because said writers know I live in Dallas, I got several WTF emails after the Dallas Morning News last week published this gee-whiz profile of the Institute for Creation Research, which tries to marry biblical tales with science. (As Dallas Observer writer Amy Silverstein notes, the institute is trying to gild the lily, because the Internet is already full of awesome papers that claim to prove biblical factuals.) The questions these science writers asked can be summarized thusly: Why would a reputable paper suggest that the institute’s members, who are essentially writing King James fan fiction, are in any way practicing science?

Now, the folks at MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program are asking the same question. In this blog post, Paul Raeburn, past president of the National Association of Science Writers, takes several swipes at the story, suggesting this is what happens when even excellent feature writers are allowed to write about science. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the money graph:

Farwell is sadly wrong on the details and wrong on the big picture. He’s unfair to the scientists who should have been asked to respond to the claims the Institute for Creation Research made, and he is unfair to his readers, who will come away from the story with a blinkered and inaccurate view of “creation research.”


  • weird

    What a weird criticism of Farwell’s story.

    No one could possibly read Farwell’s story and conclude that these people are doing actual science. He doesn’t get real scientists to respond because this is not science. It’s a bunch of religious folks doing a gee-whiz project. it’s the old just-quote-them-accurately-and-readers-will-know-they-are-crazy approach. He’s handled these non-scientists with respect, without siding with them, which is hard to do.

  • Bill Marvel

    “Why would a reputable paper suggest that the institute’s members, who are essentially writing King James fan fiction, are in any way practicing science?”
    Demonstrates once again that when it comes to understanding plain English prose scientists (and unfortunately some science writers) are no brighter than ordinary mortals (and sometimes considerably dimmer).
    Farwell’s piece — which was, after all, not about science but about the Institute for Creation Research (big difference) was meticulously balanced and fair. It accurately reported the Institute’s biases and activities and accurately reported the current state of science. Those who imagine they were reading a puff-piece (or a “gee-whiz profile”) are disappointed because it was not blatant propaganda. As a Bible-reading practicing Christian I found nothing in it to disturb my conviction that the folks at ICR are not to be taken seriously either as scientists or as theologians.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    At least two category errors in those critiques. This isn’t a science story. It’s a feature story about something interesting happening in Dallas that readers didn’t know about. And the idea that scientists weren’t quoted hardly means that science was not represented. Early and often. It’s also, in part, a story about religion. Which also gets represented. As someone who has done a bit of science and religion writing for newspapers, I’d say the critiques I’ve seen have been more about the stories the critics think should have been written. Was this piece beyond improving? Of course not. But any reader who comes away without knowing where these folks stand in relation to science didn’t pay attention.