Why do newspapers still publish anti-evolution crank mail?

Bigfoot is not real, yet there are many believers.  And some of these believers write letters to the editors of local newspapers.

No one has ever been abducted by aliens.  Alien abductees certainly write letters to newspapers.   I knew a guy who could see and hear scenes from ancient times on the surfaces of some round rocks he found, and as his disease progressed, on the tiles in his bathroom.  I know he wrote letters to the editors because he cc’ed them to me!

Yet, we do not see these emails published in the newspapers. The newspapers weed them out.

Evolution is real.  Creationism is not.  Why are emails from creationists often published in respectable newspapers? There is a reason, and I’ll tell you what it is below. (Preview: It is your fault.)

Yes, yes, I get that creationism is part of certain religions, and therefore newspaper editors may feel obliged to print this material. But there are many other things that are part of various mainstream religions that we do not see in letters to the editors of modern newspapers.  Newspapers are not printing any rants about food taboos not being followed; or about people failing to take their hats off or put them on in the correct setting, or forgetting to cross themselves at the altar or eating fish on Thursday instead of Friday.  Few letters say anything overt about being saved by Jesus, and none that I know of say what I hear the street-corner soap-box preachers telling me as I walk by them.  These are all things that are part of religion but being part of religion does not get them on the editorial pages of modern newspapers.

OK, a quick caveat.  Yes, you do see crazy stuff in the letters to the editor section of newspapers, and perhaps you know of (and can point to) examples. But major cities have “local” newspapers that are supposed to be above all this. Minneapolis’ Star Tribune (“The Strib”) is one of those.  

Yet we saw this just the other day:

EVOLUTION
What is unobservable is a theory — no more

Within the species, evolution can be observed and scrutinized in the development of new life forms such as variants of corn and cattle. … However, evolutionists and creationists diverge where observation ends and ideology takes over.

… One does not actually see a life form generating the next level from conception to birth outside of its boundary that serves as an invisible wall.

But where it is unobservable, it may still be considered a construction of the mind — a theory. Political candidates who refer to creationism in less than a negative manner need not be demeaned.

JAMES SCHACHER, Blaine

In this case, the Strib ran this rant side by side with an “evolution is for real” letter written by Arnold Erickson of Mesa, Arizona. Nice. The two letters were debating the validity of a point made by Richard Dawkins concerning the lack of understanding of science by Michel Bachmann, Ron Paul and other political candidates running for the Republican nomination this election cycle.

The Strib has demonstrated that it subscribes to the policy of there being “two sides” to every story (even though this is not true) and they’ve demonstrated that they can’t find anyone in Minnesota who thinks evolution is real. Thanks for that, Star Tribune.

But enough complaining. It seems to me that it is quite possible to do something about this, and here’s where we see how this is all your fault, and that only you can fix it.

The logic is simple: Major, credible newspapers do not publish letters to the editor from those with delusions, poorly informed individuals, or plain old cranks who think they’ve seen bigfoot, were abducted by aliens, have proof that Jimmy Carter was seen in Fukushima’s nuclear power plant just before the meltdown or insist that rocks speak to them. Why, then, would they publish letters from people who deny basic science, including well established aspects of Evolutionary Biology as well as the firmly established findings of Climate Science?

They avoid the former because it would be embarrassing, they practice the latter because it brings in readership and so far has not brought sufficient ire to bear on the editorial staff. Because you haven’t told them that they are doing it wrong.

As a person with fingers and an internet connection (or equivalents) you can tell them how you feel about this. If you happen to subscribe to a newspaper that has published this sort of drek, you can tell them that their credibility is at risk and this causes you view renewal of your subscription as unlikely. This might be especially effective if you currently subscribe to your local newspaper via one of these new, experimental iPad or Smart Phone apps.

In this case, the offending newspaper is the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can send off a few emails and tell them what you think. I make it easy for you:

The letter in question, quoted in part above, is here. Right at the top of the page.

Here are some suggestions as to whom you might email:

Michael J. Klingensmith
Publisher and CEO
612.673.7576
michael.klingensmith@startribune.com

Nancy Barnes
Editor and Senior Vice President
612.673.7937
nancyb@startribune.com

Scott Gillespie
Editor
612.673.4516
sgillespie@startribune.com

Jeff Griffing
Chief Revenue Officer, Advertising
jeff.griffing@startribune.com

Don’t just sit there. Take action!

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28 Responses to Why do newspapers still publish anti-evolution crank mail?

  1. NancyNew says:

    Done! Under a subject line of “Crackpots and Editorial Policy”, I sent…

    A recent edition of the Star Tribune published two letters to the editor–one supporting evolution, the other supporting creationism.

    I understand the “two sides to every story” policy as a matter of general application. However, there are NOT two legitimate sides to the debate between evolution and creationism.

    Creationism/ Intelligent Design is in no way shape or form, accepted or acceptible science. It’s a pile of deliberately spread lies. The theory of evolution is in fact, FACT. Don’t encourage this utterly false and dishonest “debate.” Support legitimate science, instead.

    Dispite the angry wails and shrieks of ax-gringing fundementalist idiots, Creatonism or Intelligent Design, or whatever newly manifested name to disingenuously disguise such nonsense should be treated like any other crank letter. Put that crap on par with the alien-abductions and big-foot-sightings, where they belong, and don’t print them.

    Regards–

  2. Actionsho says:

    Will forward to the rest of my fellow writers.

    “Dispite the angry wails and shrieks of ax-gringing fundementalist idiots,”

    “Dispite” … despite
    “ax-gringing” … ax-grinding
    “fundementalist” … fundamentalist

    I hope you spelled these correctly in your email. :(

  3. Cuttlefish says:

    The Manchester Union Leader (NH) has (or perhaps had until recently–I have not checked) a policy of publishing *every* letter they got. So, yes, there were letters from UFO abductees, and chemtrails, and every variety of sincerely held crackpot idea.

    It was the only reason to buy the paper, frankly.

  4. The Lorax says:

    What is a “hypothesis”?
    A guess that we can go and test!
    Any different from a “theory”?
    Evidence supports it, clearly!
    But none of these are science “fact”
    That’s an observation stack.
    And what about this thing called “law”?
    It always happens, without flaw.

    It’s fine to speak with brevity,
    But, choose your words more carefully.

  5. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says:

    Cuttlefish:

    The Manchester Union Leader (NH) has (or perhaps had until recently–I have not checked) a policy of publishing *every* letter they got.

    I think I’ve heard of that, and I think there are some other small newspapers that have, or had, the same policy. Way cool, I think, and probably good business. Sure, ink and paper cost money, but you can always print them in agate. And everyone who writes to their local rag, and gets their stuff printed, no matter how tiny the typeface, will buy a copy of that paper out of sheer vanity, and probably several more copies to oppress their family, friends, and acquaintances with.

    I’m guilty, as you might guess. I write my local paper a couple of times a month, outraged by this or that, and get published fairly often. Trust me, the publisher makes out ok.

  6. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says:

    NancyNew:

    Pardon me, not usually a spelling-Nazi, but that would be “fundamentalist” – with an “a”.

    /* Anyone can typo, but if you’re sending a letter to a real newspaper you have to be more careful than you would be for just a blogpost.

  7. hiro says:

    I think most newspapers are in economic handcuffs and dare not risk offending readers. Let’s be honest, the group most likely to spew forth some evolution diatribe are easily mobilized and willing to cancel subscriptions if they thought the local “insert…your local paper” was supporting atheism or agnosticism.

    In some areas, the mere threat that the Baptists (just to pick one group) were to boycott the local paper would cause many editors to have second thoughts, particularly in light of the economic mess most papers are in.

    Besides, it’s easy to “present both sides” under the guise of fairness, etc., even if it’s ridiculous.

  8. sailor says:

    Most newspapers think the truth lies halfway between right and wrong.

  9. RickK says:

    Hi Greg,

    One other avenue to consider if you have a copy of the newspaper is to pick 4 or 5 of the biggest, full-page advertisers and write to them that you object to dwindling editorial standards of the STrib and that they should consider advertising elsewhere if they want to reach your demographic.

    One letter passed from a major advertiser to the newspaper is worth 10 sent directly to the newspaper.

  10. Ed S. says:

    I’m with Hiro above, newspapers and other media trying to stay in business cater to the masses who believe in angels, bigfoot, “alternative” medicine, and other superstitions. Should an editor take our advice to filter out the delusions, they lose share to the next guy. Stupid sells.

  11. mark says:

    My local papers sometimes carry longer opinion pieces on evolution and climate denialism. A collection of letters to the editor was made part of the official record of Kitzmiller v. Dover (Appendix IV, Table DD, I think). There are quite a few letters that discuss other nonsense (natural disasters as signs from God, Obama is a Muslim, etc.). These papers have also carried stories about water witching and use of acupuncture on animals. The Crazy permeates the papers; I guess they se it as competing with the tabloids.

  12. Paco says:

    They should move to an “all or nothing” policy. Print all the letters or none of them. That way they’re off the hook, and frankly I bet it would increase circulation, especially if they only published all the letters in hardcopy (and no letters online).

    Everybody wins.

  13. Greg Laden says:

    Paco, actually everyone loses. The point of edited products is editing. We do have the interent for the “print everythign” approach!

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  19. sailor1031 says:

    I shouldn’t hink for a moment that Michels Bachmann, Ron Paul and the rest of the repubs are truly so ignorant. But they do pander to their voters who they think ARE ignorant.

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  23. Larry Geiger says:

    Free thought blog.
    Advocating censorship.
    Hee hee.

    You have an opinion. I have an opinion.
    You are obviously a much better person than I because your opinion is better than mine?
    Hee hee.

    “Don’t just sit there. Take action!”
    Ok, I did just that. Emailed them and asked them to ignore anything from a group that calls themselves FREE thought that wants to censor FREE thought.
    Hee hee. :-)

    Hilarious. Just plain hilarious.

  24. DarwinsBullgod says:

    Re: “Why, then, would they publish letters from people who deny basic science, including well established aspects of Evolutionary Biology as well as the firmly established findings of Climate Science?”

    Evolution is science fact. ‘Climate Science’ is science fiction.

    I majored in Biology. I am familiar with the theory of evolution. I understand that it is fundamentally correct, deeply supported by all of science, explanatory and predictive. Nevertheless, it is very messy business in the details. Though simple to state, it gets complex quickly and it is notoriously difficult for some people to grasp. For the most part, it is non-expert believers that support both Evolution and Creationism. Evolution is fascinating and important and enormously well supported. Despite this being a completely finished debate in scientific circles, it is most definitely not a finished debate with the public, because it constantly comes up. When will this end? Likely never, since there will always be people who have yet to understand evolution.

    Biologists have tons of evidence for evolution and evolution is discussed and evidence presented in many places. It is not a valid argument to insult people who do not understand the arguments and/or disbelieve the evidence. Typically even the most strident evolutionists merely refer once again to evidence and understanding. I am sure there are those in the Biology community who get frustrated with the zombie-like resurrection of creationism or intelligent design or whatever they call it this time out. Still, it is evidence and reason that supports evolution, not heavy-handed argument from authority, straw men and ad-hominem attacks. Darwin did not set out to silence his critics.

    Since most in the evolution/creation(ID or whatever) debate do not understand the arguments either side, neither set of uninformed believers has a very strong claim to the high road.

    This is not to say that evolution and creationism are on an equal footing. They are not. Creationism or ‘Intelligent Design’ or whatever new cloak this idea is wearing, is a completely failed theory. Evolution is the binding paradigm of an entire branch of science. Despite the disparity in the merit of the ideas, we can and should respect the individuals presenting them. In public debate amongst laymen, the ideas do not have equality, but the people presenting them should.

    It is ironic that people who believe in the magical and fanciful notion of catastrophic climate change raise the Evolution/Creation social controversy to bolster their arguments. In that analogy, they are the creationists. It is doubly ironic that they highlight their fragile credentials and bring a real scientific discipline into focus, because they chose the one discipline that, if they understood it, provides conclusive evidence that climate alarm is nonsense. They predict dire consequences for species that come from epochal time due to minor fluctuations in centenary time when the adaptations are encoded in genetic material that comes from geologic time.

    I understand Evolution and realize how Creationism/Intelligent design is a failed notion. However, I have never called for silencing those who wish to discuss this. I recall, back in the 1980s when this was a fairly unpleasant thorn in the side of Biology professors, we held a series of seminars to allow both sides to present their case and to challenge the other side.

    Both ‘creation science’ and ‘climate science’ have science in their name, but that does not make them science. Both present arguments from scientific and mathematical illiteracy.

    ‘Creation Science’ and ‘Climate Science’ are philosophical fellow travelers. Both come from a mindless religious devotion. Both would dearly love to replace scientific research with a-priori assumptions. It would seem that both feel, with no other evidence than a devout conviction, that they should be the ‘null hypothesis’.

    ‘Climate Science’ simply cannot compete in the open marketplace of ideas and evidence. That is why they are forever attempting to stop the presentation of evidence. Don’t let them get away with it.

  25. Monado, FCD says:

    Greg, the following comments are spam:

    * Programi za rezanje
    * Collene Schwingel
    * Centrum biznesu

    Darwin’s bullgod, my personal observations over the last 40 years tell me that climate change is occurring. Dig a little deeper into the evidence and stop listening to the denialists.

    Pandering to the masses is an economic strategy.

  26. jackwarnock says:

    I believe the operational term is “Letters To The Editor” They are not letters “From The Editor” I strongly believe the Theory of Evolution is very sound science. I also believe it is a dynamic Theory that is evolving as is its basic premise. Just as I would not want a lock placed on the Theory of Evolution that it can only be interpreted as it is written right now, I do not advocate trashing Letters To The Editor regardless of how outlandish they may seem at the moment. Expose the outlandish claims to the light of day. Do not associate those that support the Theory of Evolution with any effort to “surpress” opposing viewpoints. It is only through discourse that crackpot beliefs can be debunked. Additionally if the only thing you listen to is the conversations of like minded individuals you will not understand the mind set of those with opposing ideas. Write off too many crackpots and before you know it they will control your Board of Education, then your state government, and eventually the US Congress.

  27. Kyle says:

    Jeez, and newspapers have a hard enough time already. They may be going extinct.

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