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Berman's Back Page Defended
Marshall Berman's call to arms against the pernicious doctrine of creationism ("Back Page", October, 2005) deserves more support than it receives in the December, 2005 Letters.
Creationist attacks on the theory of evolution, arising because of its incompatibility with a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, stir up a wide range of scientific defenders, some of whom overstate their case by assigning to evolutionary theory a greater certainty than it merits. So J. W. Lane, in identifying these overstatements as the source of all the furor, has misconstrued an effect as the cause.
Edward J. Garboczi's fatuous suggestion that scientists should ignore all statements by religious believers raises the question of why many who accept the scientific pronouncements of, for example, Newton reject his religious beliefs. The answer of course is that observational and experimental support is offered for the former but not for the latter.
John G. Fletcher
Science Reporting or Junk Writing?
I read with amused distress the two articles "Living the (Scientific) American Dream" and "Science matters at USA Today" in your November 2005 issue. The first, with dramatic verve, the second, with lyrical eloquence, assures us that is is possible to become a single universal genius who upon need and command is capable of writing meaningful, nay, inspiring reports on all scientific topics, from quark confinement to laser technology, from polymer science to molecular genetics, etc., all the way to cosmology.
To achieve such a feat, one ought to be something like Lavoisier, Darwin, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Crick, Hubble etc. combined. This cannot be achieved by human beings, not even if they are supported by the APS. The outcome of such an enterprise is at best a hotchpotch, mixed with PR publicity propaganda, "gee-whiz" show biz, as we are, sadly, accustomed to from our papers and journals. Even reading editorial short-reviews published in Physics Today, one sometimes feels that the reporter went beyond his ken and did not quite understand the topic.
More importantly, such junior-high-school-science-inspired articles may entice inquisitive kids to "take up science", but finding out that this requires specific concentration and that miracles are rare, they will soon drop it. (I have examples of this even in my family.) And whether politicians (from whom the money comes) will be impressed to dip into their (i.e. the public's) pockets, is very doubtful. When I was very young, in communist Hungary, I occasionally acted as a science writer to supplement my meager and uncertain income as an assistant professor. I remember the agony (not elation!) I went through when I had to write about a topic which, though in my field of theoretical physics, was not really in my area of active competence. But then, this was almost 60 years ago. Standards are now different.
If we want to (as we must) make young people and the mysterious "public" more conscious of the role which science plays in humanism and society, we must find better methods than propaganda journalism. I became a scientist because first, my father inspired me; and second, because when I was 10, I asked for and got a chemistry set for Christmas. It was only after that that I started reading well-written, single-topic popular science books–the few which then existed both in my mother tongue and foreign languages. And finally, I had a well-versed scientist as my physics and math teacher in senior high school. (Eventually he became a professor at the University and I got my PhD under his guidance.) Nowadays we indulge our children with TV's, computer games, cell-phones. Something is wrong here.
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