Monday, 16 March 2009

What's going on at the New Scientist?

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Last week we had Turkey's leading science magazine being forced to spike a story on Darwin, but could we now have a similar story somewhat closer to home? The blogosphere is awash with news that the New Scientist have pulled a piece from their website entitled "How to Spot a Hidden Religious Agenda", in which their book reviews editor Amanda Gefter explains the key signs she looks out for when deciding if a "science" book is in fact a creationist tract. At the URL where the article was, all that remains is the message, "New Scientist has received a complaint about the contents of this story. It has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience", along with the 643 comments the article must have received before it was pulled.

The Skepticism Examiner give details of what was in the article, including what must have been the opening paragraph:
"As a book reviews editor at New Scientist, I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda. As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to... well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I'd share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science's clothing."
So what's the story behind this? PZ Myers is unimpressed, calling it "ridiculous":
"I am troubled by the apparent knee-jerk retraction of a legitimate article that is critical of creationism simply because there was a 'complaint' (I'd also be concerned if a creationist article was yanked with such ease—more speech, not less speech, is the answer to the idiocy of these yahoos). I hope New Scientist isn't going to be catering to the whims of popular, uninformed nervous nellies. That kind of timidity is not appropriate to a journal that has 'Scientist' in its title."
Could the New Scientist really be catering to creationist whims? Could it really have reacted to a few creationist complaints by pulling an article? Let's be honest, this has to be seen as pretty unlikely. Anyone out there accusing them of cowardice or suggesting that the creationist hordes now hold sway over one of the world's most respected science magazines (and people are suggesting this – just Google blog search "New Scientist creationism", and look at posts like this) should probably stop and think for a moment. Perhaps the complaint was of a legal nature, in which case the magazine will have a policy of removing the piece while it is investigated. By a "complaint about the contents of this story", the New Scientist won't just mean that someone wrote in and said they disagree because creationism is actually right. In all likelihood the "complaint" will have had legal implications that will have had to have been addressed by removing the article, at least temporarily. It's what any publication would have to do.

Anyhow, if the New Scientist is so scared of creationists, why is it currently carrying this article on the Turkish magazine controversy?

Update: The message at the article's URL has actually changed now to:

"New Scientist has received a legal complaint about the contents of this story. At the advice of our lawyer it has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience."

As I said earlier - less a case of caving in to creationism, more a case of sensibly heeding legal advice.


Neuroskeptic said...

Bets that the legal complaint is either from a certain well-known Turk or from a Mr Green?

Gary said...

The clarification is helpful but they could have done this to begin with. It will be interesting to hear what the "legal complaint" is.

Grumpy Bob said...

Well, given the legal threat most likely came from a creationist lobby, I think the original suggestion that New Scientist caved in to creationist pressure still holds.

Jon Britton said...

I think people are really getting carried away with this. New Scientist has always uses language highly critical of ID and I've never seen anything to suggest that they are "sympathetic" to creationists. People should just chill out until they know the facts (aren't us atheists supposed to be good at that?)