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Getting The Facts Straight: A Viewer's Guide To Pbs's "evolution"

by Mark Hartwig

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Getting the Facts Straight: A Viewer's Guide to PBS's Evolution/I>

Accuracy and objectivity are what we should expect in a television documentary--especially in a science documentary on a publicly funded network. But the PBS Evolution Series falls far short of meeting these basic standards. It distorts the scientific evidence, ignores scientific disagreements over Darwin's theory, and misrepresents the theory's critics. The series also displays a sharply biased view of religion and seeks to influence the political debate over how evolution should be taught in schools. Evolution presents itself as science journalism, but it is actually a work of one-sided advocacy.

The PBS series is intended not only for broadcast on public television, but also for use in public schools. Evolution's biased content, however, makes it inappropriate for classroom use without supplementary materials. This Viewer's Guide has been prepared to help interested citizens, students, teachers and parents ensure that discussions of evolution in the classroom fairly represent the evidence and the full range of scientific viewpoints about Darwin's controversial theory.

Excerpted from Getting the Facts Straight by Discovery Institute. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved.
False and Outdated Evidence

"Evolution affects almost every aspect of human life," claim the
series producers, "from medicine to agriculture to a person's choice
of mate." The seven episodes supposedly present "the underlying
evidence" for this contention, yet some of the evidence presented in
the series is known to be false, and the remaining evidence provides
surprisingly little support for Darwin's theory.

We are told that "powerful evidence" for the common ancestry of
all living things is the universality of the genetic code. The genetic
code is the way DNA specifies the sequence of proteins in living
cells, and Evolution tells us that the code is the same in all
living things. But the series is badly out of date. Biologists have
been finding exceptions to the universality of the genetic code since
1979, and more exceptions are turning up all the time. In its
eagerness to present the "underlying evidence" for Darwin's theory,
Evolution ignores this awkwardÑand potentially
falsifying--fact. (p. 10)

Dissenting Evolutionists Ignored

Much of the remainder of the series consists--not of evidence--but
of interviews with evolutionary theorists giving us their
interpretations of a few ambiguous facts. And surprisingly, the series
completely ignores biologists who--though strongly committed to
Darwinian evolution--are also strongly critical of the interpretations
being presented.

For example, several episodes deal with human origins. We are
treated to lots of wildlife photography of apes, and numerous
dramatizations featuring human actors in "missing link" costumes, seen
from afar--like shots of "Bigfoot"-- while we listen to stories told
by people who apparently think a very little evidence can go a very
long way. But Henry Gee, chief science writer for Nature (and
an evolutionist), has pointed out that all the evidence for human
evolution between about 10 and 5 million years ago "can be fitted into
a small box." According to Gee, the conventional picture of human
evolution as lines of ancestry and descent is "a completely human
invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human
prejudices." Putting it even more bluntly, Gee wrote in 1999: "To take
a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a
scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that
carries the same validity as a bedtime story--amusing, perhaps even
instructive, but not scientific." (p. 11)

Scientific "Just-so" Stories

Science is supposed to rest on evidence, but a whimsical cartoon
animation about the evolutionary origin of sex is not evidence. In
fact, most of what we have just seen is what evolutionary biologist
Stephen Jay Gould would call a "just-so story." About a hundred years
ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote a children's book by that name which
recounted entertaining but scientifically meaningless stories about
how leopards got their spots, and other things. In just-so stories,
according to Gould, "virtuosity in invention replaces testability as
the criterion for acceptance." Evolution is telling us just-so
stories, yet we are expected to regard them as scientific
. . . (p. 75)



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