My growing respect for New Scientist.

I have said some nice things about New Scientist, such as noting that they printed one of the best popular treatments of “junk DNA” I have read [New Scientist gets it right]. On the other hand, I also criticized one of their headlines as perpetuating misconceptions about how evolution works [Chimps are not more evolved than humans or anyone else]. Today, New Scientist shows that they are far more worthy of endorsement than nitpicking in their publication of a special issue on evolution. Not only this, but the online version of one of the articles links to my aforementioned criticism, which I consider very decent.

My local bookstore does not have the April 19 issue yet, so I have not seen the print version, but their collection of 24 myths and misconceptions can be accessed freely online:

Shared misconceptions:

Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selection

Natural selection is the only means of evolution

Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexity

Evolution produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environment

Evolution always promotes the survival of species

It doesn’t matter if people do not understand evolution

“Survival of the fittest” justifies “everyone for themselves”

Evolution is limitlessly creative

Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexuality

Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution

Creationist myths:

Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant

Accepting evolution undermines morality

Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocide

Religion and evolution are incompatible

Half a wing is no use to anyone

Evolutionary science is not predictive

Evolution cannot be disproved so is not science

Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex life forms

Evolution is an entirely random process

Mutations can only destroy information, not create it

Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolution

The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Yet more creationist misconceptions

Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics

[Tipped hats to Panda’s Thumb and Sandwalk]




10 comments to My growing respect for New Scientist.

  • JA Gill

    Agreed. There’s always room for improvement, but I say good job all around.

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  • Luke Radl

    This article is very well put together and I especially appreciate the online version for linking to various on and off site resources. Thanks so much for posting this!

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  • CAE

    This looks like one to look forward to. (My subscription usually gets it to me about a week after the publication date). Overall they do more good articles than bad!

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  • kevinl

    I always thought I be risking ridicule from colleagues by reading newscientist.. but I was inspired to do science and am still inspired by science because of articles in newscientist that put science in plain speak which isn’t always easy…

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  • author@ptgbook.org

    I can add one more myth to your list of myths:

    “Science has proved that evolution is how life came to be.”

    In order to prove that evolution happened, you have to do more than show that it can explain the evidence. You have to show that no other hypothesis can explain the evidence. In other words, you have to show that creation cannot explain the evidence.

    You have to look at both sides.

    But science cannot examine creation to see if it can explain the evidence because science is not allowed to consider supernatural causes. The scientific method does not allow it.

    So to prove evolution happened, you have to show that creation cannot explain the evidence. Science has never done that and cannot do that, according to the scientific method.

    Therefore it is logically impossible for science, following the scientific method, to prove that life in all its variety came into existence through evolution.

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  • TR Gregory

    I can add one more myth to your list of myths:

    “Science has proved that gravity exists.”

    In order to prove that gravity exists, you have to do more than
    show that it can explain the evidence. You have to show that no other
    hypothesis can explain the evidence. In other words, you have to show
    that tiny invisible unicorns pulling on objects cannot explain the evidence.

    You have to look at both sides.

    But science cannot examine tiny invisible unicorns to see if it can explain the
    evidence because science is not allowed to consider supernatural
    causes. The scientific method does not allow it.

    So to prove gravity exists, you have to show that invisible unicorns cannot
    explain the evidence. Science has never done that and cannot do that,
    according to the scientific method.

    Therefore it is logically impossible for science, following the
    scientific method, to prove that gravity exists.

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  • author@ptgbook.org

    There are differences that are significant in this context:

    1) Laws of gravity describe everyday processes that can be reproduced and studied. The law of gravity does not attempt to state how something began in the past. While there are aspects of evolutionary theory that can be studied as everyday processes, such as natural mutation and selection that allow bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics, evolution goes farther than describe reproducible processes. It makes a kind of historical statement, saying that all species came into existance only through natural forces.

    2) Gravity is not controversial. Evolution is controversial because it challenges the religious beliefs of millions of Americans who believe the Bible and teach their beliefs to their children, children who attend tax-support schools and are taught that evolution is a fact. This in a country with a constitution that guarentees the people’s right to freely exercise their religion without hindrance from the government.

    3) Gravity is not controversial because no one believes in tiny unicorns that pull particles together. No one believes in such unicorns because there is no evidence that they exist. But many who believe the Bible have found evidence both that God exists and that He inspired the Bible. I won’t try to itemize every piece of such evidence here, but I can mention that some people have experienced personal answers to prayer, and fulfilled prophecy is evidence of the inspiration of the Bible.

    Evolution vs. creation is not just a science issue. It is a religious issue. It is a legal issue. It is a political issue. It is of concern to millions of Americans in a way that gravity is not. That raises it in importance and a higher standard of proof should be required before stating it as fact. There is also evidence for the Bible and for God’s intervention that science cannot look it.

    You could see these things for yourself before you wrote your comment, but ridicule seems to be a skeptic’s answer when he does not have logic on his side.

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  • TR Gregory

    My comment addressed one thing only: your claim that because supernatural explanations cannot be disproved by science, nothing can be considered fact. The rest was not part of your original argument. If your point is about freedom of religion, ok, but that was not what you said.

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  • author@ptgbook.org

    Your point is taken. I should have omitted my last paragraph. Sorry for the harsh tone.

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  • TR Gregory

    No worry. :)

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