The Corner

Science & Tech

Authority Figures

In response to More Than a Technical Debate

David Klinghoffer scoffs at the notion of “passively allowing our views to be determined by others.” It has been a while, but, if memory serves, that is more or less how I learned algebra. Physics and chemistry, too.

Where we disagree is this: I do not believe that lawyers and novelists have anything of real value to contribute to our knowledge of evolution, and I have not seen any evidence that they do, however committed and well-intentioned these amateurs may be.

If I were in need of treatment for cancer, I would not at any point in the course of my therapy consult a poet. I do not hold poets in contempt. But poetry isn’t oncology.

If I had a document in German that I wanted translated, I would consult someone who knows German — not somebody who has been to der Wienerschnitzel and developed some strong feelings about the menu.

It isn’t a put-down to acknowledge that somebody who doesn’t really know very much about a particular topic doesn’t really know very much about that particular topic.

The important questions related to evolution are not really questions of “views.” They are questions of fact. Call me parochial, but I prefer to get my facts from people who know what they are talking about. I wasn’t entirely joking about making a case from authority — sometimes, that is exactly the right thing to do. And the relevant authorities in the evolution debate are not political activists and practitioners of the rhetorical arts.

Again, if you have a great scientific breakthrough, PNAS is ready when you are.

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