Off-screen, 'Evolution' Spokesperson Tries to Tar Scientific Critics Who are Ignored On-screen

Thursday, September 20, 2001
To: Internet Wire: General News and Education Wires
Contact: Mark Edwards 206.292.0401 x107 /

SEATTLE-- Eugenie Scott, a designated spokesperson for the WGBH series, 'Evolution' on PBS has charged that scientific critics of the series are mainly motivated by "religious beliefs" and can safely be dismissed as "creationists."

Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and one of the key spokespeople chosen by PBS producers to defend the seven-part series that starts next Monday, said in a September 17 press release that "virtually every reputable scientist in the world argues that evolution is good science."

Her organization is an interest group that exists to promote the teaching of Darwinism and which routinely opposes criticism of Darwinian theory, including scientific criticism.

The NCSE press release specifically attacked a September 10 press release by Discovery Institute, which described a scientific error in the 'Evolution' series.

Discovery today published a 154 page "Viewer's Guide" to the series, available online at It presents this and many other examples of scientific errors and omissions that scientists affiliated with Discovery have identified in the program.

"The Evolution series makes a very selective presentation of the scientific evidence," said Stephen Meyer, a geophysicist and Cambridge-educated philosopher of science who directs the Discovery science program. "The Evolution series has many factual errors as well as errors of omission. It also denies the public the opportunity to hear from scientists who have alternative interpretations of the biological evidence. PBS has erected the journalistic equivalent of a Potemkin village where scientific dissent-which is real and growing-is kept out of sight."

"Scientists who dare question Darwin's theory and who find errors in the series on evolution apparently are not 'reputable' in the mind of the series' spokesperson," said Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute. "To be 'reputable' is to be a Darwinian and vice versa. This is tautological thinking."

"Dr. Scott imagines that she can read the minds and motivations of critics. Though the critics she dismisses have advanced degrees in relevant scientific disciplines, and though their critiques are based upon scientific evidence, she still routinely dismisses them as religiously motivated. But her ad hominem charge is false. It's also irrelevant. Would she concede that the motives or religious beliefs of Darwinists were relevant in assessing their scientific claims?"

Quoting biologists Michael J. Behe and Jonathan Wells, Discovery Institute's September 10 press release detailed just one of the series' scientific errors: the claim that the genetic code-the way DNA specifies protein structure-is the same in all organisms, and that this universality provides "powerful evidence" that all living things "evolved on a single tree of life." Yet scientists have known for decades that the genetic code is NOT universal. The National Institutes of Health even maintains a web site that lists the growing number of exceptions to it.

In response, on September 17, the NCSE quoted another biologist, James Hanken, who called the statement by Behe and Wells "bizarre beyond belief." Another biologist, Norman Pace, dismissed "variants" to the universality of the genetic code on the grounds that they occur in organisms "known to have derived from organisms that had the standard code."

Yet this statement by an NCSE spokesman clearly concedes that the genetic code is not universal. Pace acknowledges that "variants" exist. Why, then, does Hanken claim that it is "bizarre beyond belief" for two scientists to point this out?

Pace's statement also begs the question. How do we know that organisms with variant codes are "derived" from organisms that had the standard code? Pace merely assumes that these variants evolved from simpler organism with the standard code. But these supposed organisms are extinct, and we don't have their DNA. Moreover, many molecular geneticists doubt that any organism could survive an alteration in its genetic code. Pace merely assumes the point at issue-namely, existence of a universal common ancestor and code-and then uses that assumption to explain away troublesome evidence.

In any event, both sides agree that the genetic code is NOT universal. 'Evolution' says it is. Therefore, the series contains a serious scientific mistake, indeed, one that has the effect of overstating the scientific evidence in support of Darwinism. "It is disturbing that when scientific critics point out an error in the Evolution series," Wells notes, "Scott and the NCSE attack the critics even as they implicitly concede the substance of their factual critique. They should have just said, 'We were wrong.' Instead, they once again obscure their concession with an ad hominem attack."

Founded in 1990, Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy center for national and international affairs. Its programs deal with a range of issues, including science, technology, regional development, environment, and defense. More information about the Institute and its activities can be found at