Friday, July 03, 2009

New Scientist shows its bias again

The New Scientist magazine has a real problem with anyone who disagrees with its philosophy.

I've just picked up the 18 April 2009 edition, which I found under some papers on my desk at work, and a quick flick through picks up these extremely scientific statements:

1. In a book review of Quantum Gods by Victor Stenger, the reviewer (Amanda Gefter) writes at one point: Like most scientists, Stenger believes that most religious claims can be dealt with scientifically, so beliefs such as creationism or astrology aren't immune to science, they are merely wrong.
Most scientists? Most religious claims? And what does 'immune to science' mean?

2. On page 23, for no apparent reason except that it maybe fills up a space, the editors have put a heading: Essential Number. This is followed by a very large 48, and then the words: per cent of Americans think religion will help answer the US's problems, a Newsweek poll has found - the lowest proportion ever. What has this particular comment got to do with anything? Are the New Scientist readers so insecure that they need such information?

3. On the same page, they have a box in which the word AGNOTOLOGY appears. Beneath this is the 'explanation': The study of deliberately created ignorance - such as the falsehoods about evolution that are spread by creationists. Oh dear, creationists spread false information? Let's not even get into the false information spread by scientists: whole humanoid chains produced by a skull and a bit of jawbone; climate change models that can't actually tell us what they claim they can; the huge debate about global warming....
Methinks the pot calleth the kettle black.

When you check out the section that 2 and 3 appear in, it turns out to be the Opinion page. Okay, so who's opinion are we getting? Neither the 48 or the Agnotology have a by-line, which is unusual in an opinion 'piece.'

Anyway, it was worth checking out what the Newsweek poll actually said.
Yes, the 48 percent figure is correct, but it has to be counterbalanced against this information from the very same Poll:
Americans' personal beliefs about religion haven't changed much in the last 20 years. The number of Americans with faith in a spiritual being—nearly nine in 10—has not changed much over the past two decades, according to historical polling. Seventy-eight percent said prayer was an important part of daily life, an increase of 2 points since 1987. Eighty-five percent said religion is "very important" or "fairly important" in their own lives—a number that hasn't changed much since 1992. Nearly half (48 percent) described themselves as both "religious and spiritual," while another 30 percent said they were "spiritual but not religious." Only 9 percent said they were neither religious nor spiritual.

Next time it might be worth giving us a more of the information, New Scientist, and letting less of your bias show.

Incidentally, there's an intriguing piece by the Skepticism Examiner on the Examiner.com site, in which he writes that New Scientist pulled a piece by Amanda Gefter in which she claimed to be able to reject books on the basis of their 'creationist' code. The piece was re-instated with a rebuttal by James le Fanu, the author of the book Gefter was reviewing. His comments are well worth reading
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