Declining An Invititation To Debate A Creationist

Nicholas Gotelli, a biologist at the University of Vermont, received a request to debate a representative of the creationist Discovery Institute about evolutionary biology and intelligent design. His response:

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

“Conspiracy” is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn’t live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don’t maintain scientific standards.

Finally, isn’t it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.

So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn’t science and doesn’t merit an invitation.

Good response. For the Discovery Institute to expect someone like Dr. Gotelli to take seriously such a request for a debate would be like someone who claims 2+2=5 to expect a chance to debate a representative of the mathematics department.

Evolutionary biology is science. Intelligent design is thinly disguised religion, not science. There is no common ground for any debate between the two in an academic institution.

We Must Eliminate At Least One Of These Wars

Former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, and Columbia write in The Wall Street Journal that the drug war has been a failure:

Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.

Over the last 30 years, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort where the benefits were not proportional to the resources invested. Despite the country’s achievements in lowering levels of violence and crime, the areas of illegal cultivation are again expanding. In Mexico — another epicenter of drug trafficking — narcotics-related violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past year alone.

The revision of U.S.-inspired drug policies is urgent in light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics. The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries.

The drug war is also counterproductive for another reason which Randy Barnett points out:

I once asked former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff if he would be willing to reconsider the War on Drugs since it was obviously providing the financial resources for terrorist organizations. Naturally, he rejected this option as a false choice, and voiced his support for the War on Drugs as the way to reduce drug abuse. But can one be truly serious about the dangers of terrorism if they continue to support the prohibitionist policies that fund the terrorists? If drug prohibition were funding the German or Japanese regimes in WWII, do we really think that it would not have been suspended “for the duration”?

We cannot win both the war on terror and the war on drugs since the war on drugs feeds the war on terror. Neither of these “wars” is actually desirable as envisoned by their conservative supporters.

More Studios Releasing Blu-ray/DVD Combination Packs

At the end of 2008 I noted that, although Blu-ray emerged as the winner in the war for high definition recording format, it was far from becoming the dominant format. Among the reasons many are reluctant to pay the higher cost for both players and disks is that DVD’s, especially on up-scaling players, already are excellent quality and high definition is available from other sources such as cable and digital downloads.

I  pointed out that the move to Blue-ray presents another problem for many of us. DVD players are ubiquitous. I currently have DVD players hooked up to high definition televisions in four rooms, plus we have four  notebooks and portable DVD players. A DVD purchased can be played on any of these (along with the desktops if ever desired). There is little point in replacing every DVD player with a Blu-ray player. The DVD players do a fine enough job and we would notice little if any difference on the HD televisions which are under 50 inches. It is worthwhile to use a Blue-ray player in the main television watching room, but it is not worth the money to replace all the DVD players. Under this circumstance, I’d rather buy a DVD which can be played on any player as opposed to a Blu-ray disk which looks better in one room but cannot be played anywhere else.

In a follow up post the following week I noted that Disney was responding to this problem with the obvious solution–packaging regular DVD’s along with Blu-ray disks. Today Engadget is reporting that additional studies are doing the same:

Reportedly, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment along with Lionsgate and MGM Home Entertainment are all prepping rather large releases in the Blu-ray / DVD 2-disc form, with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment — who is credited with pioneering the practice last fall — hoping to release about seven of the bundles throughout 2009. Fox is even taking things a step further by tossing in Digital Copy on top of a BD and a DVD with Marley & Me. Mary Daily, the studio’s executive VP of marketing for North America, noted that it’s simply looking to become “flexible to adapt to the changing [habits]” of the consumer.

This is a move in the right direction. The studios need to focus on selling the movie for home viewing as opposed to selling a particular format, with purchasers able to watch the movie on any device they desire.