"A self-styled form of Darwinian fundamentalism has risen to some prominence in a variety of fields, from the English biological heartland of John Maynard Smith to the uncompromising ideology (albeit in graceful prose) of his compatriot Richard Dawkins, to the equally narrow and more ponderous writing of the American philosopher Daniel Dennett . . . . - Stephen Jay Gould, "Darwinian Fundamentalism," The New York Review of Books.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
ACLU Defends Teacher's Right to Promote Racism and Eugenics As Good Science
Well, the title of this post is accurate, but it refers to events that happened 80 years ago.
In light of my last post on fraudulent drawings in modern biology textbooks, and the posts on librarians banning certain books from libraries, I thought I would link back to an earlier related post. In the famously misunderstood Scopes trial, the textbook that Scopes had used was also at issue in the trial. The ACLU was defending John Scopes, but also his right to teach evolution using Hunter's Civic Biology as a textbook. In retrospect, the ACLU was defending the right to teach now discredited pseudoscience that promoted racism and eugenics. Cringe-inducing excerpts from the text of Hunter's Civic Biology can be found here.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Abscheulich! - Atrocious! -- Stephen Jay Gould On Haeckel's Fraudulent Drawings in Modern Textbooks
There has been a fair amount of discussion recently about the use of Haeckel's fraudulent drawings to sell evolution to the unwitting high school student masses in government sponsored schools. See here and here.
Here is what Stephen Jay Gould had to say, including a quote from Michael Richardson:
We should therefore not be surprised that Haeckel's drawings entered nineteenth-century textbooks. But we do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks! Michael Richardson, of the St. George's Hospital Medical School in London, a colleague who deserves nothing but praise for directing attention to this old issue, wrote to me (letter of August 16, 1999):If so many historians knew all about the old controversy [over Haeckel's falsified drawings], then why did they not communicate this information to the numerous contemporary authors who use the Haeckel drawings in their books? I know of at least fifty recent biology texts which use the drawings uncritically. I think this is the most important question to come out of the whole story.
The whole article is worth reading, especially for Gould's description of comments by Louis Agassiz about his discovery of Haeckel's fraud:
I must confess to a personal reason, emotional as well as intellectual, for long and special interest in this tidbit of history. Some twenty years ago, I found, in the open stacks of our Museum's library at Harvard, Louis Agassiz's personal copy of the first (1868) edition of Haeckel's Naturliche Schop-fungsgeschichte (The Natural History of Creation).
The title of the article, "Abscheulich! - Atrocious!" comes from Agassiz's comments.
By the way, Gould also says this about the Darwin to Hitler connection:
I won't even discuss Haeckel's misuse of Darwinian notions in the service of a strident German nationalism based on claims of cultural, and even biological, superiority--a set of ideas that became enormously popular and did provide later fodder for Nazi propagandists . . .
Monday, June 18, 2007
Librarian Fundamentalism: Quintessential Censorship
As a follow up to my previous post about two librarians who used their power to keep two books off their shelves and out of the reach of overly curious high school students, I thought that I would post part of the the Library Bill of Rights:
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
And now for an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, entitled "Diversity in Collection Development":
Throughout history, the focus of censorship has fluctuated from generation to generation. Books and other materials have not been selected or have been removed from library collections for many reasons, among which are prejudicial language and ideas, political content, economic theory, social philosophies, religious beliefs, sexual forms of expression, and other potentially controversial topics.
Some examples of censorship may include removing or not selecting materials because they are considered by some as racist or sexist; not purchasing conservative religious materials; not selecting materials about or by minorities because it is thought these groups or interests are not represented in a community; or not providing information on or materials from non-mainstream political entities.
Librarians may seek to increase user awareness of materials on various social concerns by many means, including, but not limited to, issuing bibliographies and presenting exhibits and programs. Librarians have a professional responsibility to be inclusive, not exclusive, in collection development and in the provision of interlibrary loan. Access to all materials legally obtainable should be assured to the user, and policies should not unjustly exclude materials even if they are offensive to the librarian or the user. Collection development should reflect the philosophy inherent in Article II of the Library Bill of Rights: “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
Note that this clearly states that a failure to "select" is a form of censorship. Note that minority viewpoints should be especially protected.
The librarians who banned the books discussed in my previous post used the same vilification tactics that many in the past have used to justify their censorship. What is clear to anyone who follows these issues is that this involves highly controversial topics. Both sides accuse the other of distorting the facts and both sides accuse the other of politicizing the issues. This issue is at the heart of the culture wars. This is precisely the situation where librarians need to be on the side of open debate and discussion and free access to alternative viewpoints- even viewpoints with which they disagree.