{I’ve added an update below.}

As a follow up to my previous post on this topic, I want to point out that the bloggingheads.tv discussion between Michael Behe and John McWhorter is now back up at bloggingheads’ web site. But as a result of disagreements over what sorts of interviews bloggingheads should air, cosmologist Sean Carroll and science journalist Carl Zimmer have decided not to participate in bloggingheads any more. This despite the fact that the editor in chief of bloggingheads, Robert Wright, said:

1) Both of the diavlogs in question had been arranged without my knowledge.
2) I would certainly not have approved both of them, and probably not either of them, had I known about them.
3) The Behe diavlog, in particular, was blatantly at odds with guidelines I’d laid down to my staff more than a year ago in discussing the prospect of Behe appearing. Namely: Behe should only appear in conversation with someone who is truly expert in the relevant biological areas, and since most such matchups would yield a conversation unintelligible to a lay audience, it was hard to imagine a Behe pairing that would make sense.
4) Since these two diavlogs were arranged, I have told the staffers who arranged them that in the future they should make sure to clear diavlogs of this sort with me before arranging them.

What was Carl Zimmer’s reason for not continuing to take part in bloggingheads? It seems to boil down this this:

My standard for taking part in any forum about science is pretty simple. All the participants must rely on peer-reviewed science that has direct bearing on the subject at hand, not specious arguments that may sound fancy but are scientifically empty. I believe standards like this one are crucial if we are to have productive discussions about the state of science and its effects on our lives.
This is not Blogginghead’s standard, at least as I understand it now. And so here we must part ways.

I take it Zimmer is implying that Behe’s arguments are specious, and sound fancy, but are actually scientifically empty. I guess I disagree — while I’m no expert on biology, I find Behe’s arguments interesting and worth discussing, even though I ultimately think he’s wrong. There’s are some wrong ideas that aren’t worth discussing (like the claim that the moon is made of green cheese), but I think Behe’s arguments are on the other side of the line. (And even with the moon claim, it is interesting to think about what evidence we have for the claim that the moon isn’t made of green cheese, and what the moon would look like if it were.)

I’m obviously not the only educated person who thinks that Behe’s arguments are worth discussing (even though I think they’re wrong). So the question becomes: how should those who think that they aren’t worth discussing behave? Should they intellectually distance themseves from those who think that they are worth discussing? Or should they adopt more of a live-and-let-live attitude, and recognize that it’s worthwhile for those smart people who think that the ideas are worth discussing to be able to discuss them?

The latter strikes me as the right answer. Given that some smart educated people think that they are worth discussing, those who disagree should nevertheless be happy that the ideas are being discussed. Science is full of episodes where a certain idea looked silly to most all the scientists, but that idea ended up being right (or at least, widely accepted). We have to be careful about restricting discussion to what’s based on peer-reviewed science. The revolutionary ideas come first, and peer-review comes later. In my opinion, a forum like bloggingheads should be a place where the revolutionary ideas can be discussed. This means that wrong ideas will end up being discussed too, but that’s a necessary consequence of open-minded intellectual inquiry. And isn’t that the best kind of inquiry?

UPDATE: For a thought-out, but wrong, reply to this post of mine, see what Joshua Rosenau has to say.

About these ads