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The Many Faces of Science Censorship

Each year, evolution enthusiasts, evangelizing atheists, and Religious Left activists celebrate Charles Darwin's birthday, February 12, as "Darwin Day." They've got a spiffy new website with a full calendar of upcoming events. At Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, we also mark the occasion, but our focus is different. We call it Academic Freedom Day. That's in honor of Darwin's own wise counsel that in scientific inquiry, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Unfortunately many of his modern disciples have abandoned this principle and prefer to suppress the other side in the evolution debate. That is why we established our Censor of the Year (COTY) award, so at least the malefactors should not do their work without fear of any criticism at all. It's with pleasure, then, that we open this year's nominations to you, our readers at ENV and anyone else with a censor in mind in need of being condemned.

Think about the events of this past year and send us your nominees at the email link at the top of this page (at EMAIL US). We're providing more than a full week to give us your nominations, through Monday, February 2. We will then have time to mull our decision and announce a winner, to be formally recognized on February 12.

I want to ask you to think about this in a broad manner.

Last year we presented our first ever Censor of the Year prize. The winner, biologist-blogger Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago, was instrumental along with his Siamese twin, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, in silencing a young physicist at Ball State University in Indiana. Their victim, Professor Eric Hedin, had provided his students with a list of reading resources on intelligent design, both pro- and con-. Coyne and the FFRF got his course shut down, and may yet succeed in scuttling his career altogether.

Hedin's case was a lesson to vulnerable scientists and scholars hoping to earn a livelihood in academia: Don't inform your students about the debate on evolution going on in professional science. Don't tell them about the case for a scientific alternative to Darwinism. Certainly don't get involved in controversial research yourself. If you do, you'll be sorry.

In other words, classic censorship. Orthodoxy maintained by fear.

In nominating your favorite censor, consider casting the net a little wider. Darwinism's dominance in science and the media depends on intimidation, but also on subtler means: an implicit partnership between science vendors and science consumers to avert one's eyes from evidence challenging a prestigious idea, Darwinian theory. With that in mind, let's briefly review the past year.

Thinking of censorship more capaciously, the highlights of 2014 would certainly include the remake of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson. A slippery character, as we're not only the ones to have pointed out, Dr. Tyson glibly unspools a narrative of the past, present, and future that erases the role of faith in inspiring scientific inquiry, twists the facts to make it appear that legitimate scientific controversy is a thing of the past, and generally make it appear that a scientific materialist perspective has things pretty much all figured out.

This is censorship by airbrush, and by seduction. We analyze the science behind Cosmos in our book The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos: Fact and Fiction in Neil deGrasse Tyson's Landmark Science Series. Cosmos was aimed at young people, and we expect it to become a staple in public schools, from the intermediate grades on up.

However the elementary grades aren't safe either. A Boston University psychologist, Deborah Kelemen, advocates indoctrinating younger children. In a remarkable story this past year, the Wall Street Journal saluted her research showing how elementary-school kids can be deprogrammed and redirected from the common-sense recognition of design in the natural world.

Turning to adult education, Casey Luskin reported that the state-run New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science used Darwin Day 2014 to give a forum to atheist groups, simultaneously shutting out dissenting views. When challenged on this, the museum covered up, and decided it would prefer to silence the discussion altogether rather than permit an exchange of ideas on evolution. The museum's sole event for February 12 this year is a soporific-sounding lecture on "The Rio Grande and its Food Webs," which they are charging $6 for as if to ward visitors away.

As for more traditional forms of censorship, we've documented the uneven manner in which academic freedom is apportioned on campuses. At the University of Washington, for example, evolutionary biologist David Barash brags, in the New York Times no less, about pushing his atheism on students.

He's not investigated or censured for that. But Coyne and the FFRF got another professor at a public university, Emerson "Tom" McMullen at Georgia Southern University, in boiling hot water for allegedly advocating his own Christian faith in the classroom.

Finally, as Time Magazine sometimes devotes its "Person of the Year" cover story to groups of individuals ("The Ebola Fighters," "The Protester"), you could think about nominating the American Intellectual, or maybe Pseudointellectual, for our COTY prize. It never fails to amaze us how otherwise thoughtful people, who take pride in their skepticism and critical analysis skills, avoid informing themselves about the Darwin question. They refuse to do their homework and come to grips with an ultimate scientific question, refuse to read a book on intelligent design, placing their faith in clich�s, slogans, and a skim of a Wikipedia page or two.

For an illustration, take a look at my exchange with Geoffrey Mitelman and R.P. Nettelhorst here the other day. This is self-censorship, carefully straining the information you allow yourself to take in lest you be tainted by impure thoughts. When it comes to challenges to evolutionary orthodoxy, the attitude is: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

There you have it, plenty of possibilities for your consideration. But don't feel at all limited to the abovementioned. Please be in touch, now, and let us know your views on a worthy successor for Professor Coyne.

I'm on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.