Safina Responds to Criticism of His Call to End Darwin Worship
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Not surprisingly, Carl Safina's Feb. 10 essay at the NY Times calling for an end to Darwin worship generated a fair amount of criticism.
Safina's suggestion to frame information in terms of the nature and benefits of evolutionary science rather than the more traditional "great man of science" narrative is a sound one. In fact, it's the exact strategy that the National Academies used in last year's educational backgrounder on evolution. In the Academies report, Darwin is mentioned only a few times, same thing with the Galapagos (for more on the framing and structure of the report, see this forthcoming book chapter.)
Safina has a detailed response to his critics at his Web site. As he writes:
I separated Darwin and his work from the ideological and quasi-religious impression that the word "Darwinism" apparently conveys to many non-scientists. I also sought to boil Darwin's insight on natural selection to its barest essentials, and to show that evolution and our understanding of it is now much bigger than the subject of Darwin. I sought not to further lionize Darwin (he's pretty famous already), but to show that--once you take away the courage and insight required at the time, and once you put in perspective the ensuing 150 years of research--natural selection is so simple, so obvious, that it need not be seen as arcane or threatening.
As I'd written, Darwin gets more astonishing with time, as science proves how much he correctly observed, intuited, reasoned, and expressed. Most biologists understand all these things. Most people don't. Darwin remains lightning rod and whipping boy for many people who simply don't realize that there is much more evolutionary science done since Charles Darwin than by him, comprising whole disciplines of genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology, etc. Getting some of the pressure off poor Darwin, and some of the attention to these other scientific advances, could only help public understanding of evolution (and reflect well on Darwin's insightfulness in the process). Or so I thought; not everyone agreed, and many people missed the point entirely.
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