Okay: Full disclosure. The folks at NR were kind enough to add my book to National Review’s book service–for which I’m very very grateful–and I really like the cast of characters who run the magazine–Rich Lowry and Kathryn Jean Lopez (despite being Yankees fans), Jonah, Derb and Byron York, most of whom I met when the crew visited Doyle’s in Boston a few years back.
But…I have to start wondering who is in charge over there when it comes to coverage on science? Are they trying to discourage pro-science conservatives with more empty swill against evolutionary biology?
Here’s Steve Reuland on this latest NR piece by George Gilder. (The same George Gilder who wrote Macrocosm–a fantastic and inspiring book. Sigh. It goes without saying of course that he is associated with the PR firm called The Discovery Institute. In fact, I believe he co-founded it.)
Early on, Gilder repeats the old canard about natural selection being a tautology: “…at its root, Darwinian theory is tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives,” he writes. This is really bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, requiring a willful misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Let’s clear this up: Natural selection is about the probability of an organism surviving and reproducing relative to the rest of the population. The theory requires that some features of living things are more conducive to survival and reproduction than are others; hence if these features are heritable, they will increase in frequency over successive generations. Since there is no a priori requirement that this be true of the world, it’s hardly a tautology, now is it? We could live in a world where all organisms, regardless of their traits, were equally likely to survive and reproduce. But a century of experiment and observation shows that this isn’t the case. In their famous work on Darwin’s Finches, Peter and Rosemary Grant found that a difference as small as 0.5 mm in beak size was enough to cause a measurable change in the likelihood of survival. Obviously, given that those features which improve survival can be detected empirically, Gilder’s blather about everything being equally good is nonsense.
It’s not like Gilder is saying anything new. What was the point? One can only read this and just wonder what is happening to conservative journalism on science when a major magazine like NR keeps recycling the same junk faxed to them by the DI.
Or does the Discovery Insitute write NR such big checks to keep the magazine going they feel obligated to publish this nonsense? Just asking.
Update: A gynecologist friend of mine writes to me: “I too get peeved when NR messes up big time on evolution, biology and medicine. (I do like Derb’s defense of evolution.) KJL messes up OB/GYN all the time. I have tried to correct her sometimes, but I never get a response….”
Yep. Embarrassing. First Things publishes many articles by the DI crew as well, but at least they balance them with reasoned rebuttals. In general, NR fails to do so.
Update 2: In fairness, I mean NR dead-tree and NROnline combined. In terms of the magazine itself, they are more even-steven.