Nature Blog Network

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All I want for Darwin Day is Real Science Books

The graduate students at Portland State University have created a "Petition by Scientists to reclassify non-science books from science categories" in honor of Darwin Day. The entire petition is reprinted below. As of this posting there were 314 signatories.

As scientists, we feel strongly that categorizing Intelligent Design (“ID”) as science is both inappropriate and misleading. Local bookstores and libraries unintentionally exacerbate this misleading categorization when they shelve ID books and legitimate science texts in the same section . Our goal is to convince the U.S. Library of Congress to re-classify ID books into sections other than the science section.

Science can be defined as the process of using empirical evidence to make predictions and test hypotheses in the effort to increase our understanding of the world around us. ID seeks to answer many of the same questions about life on Earth that science does. However, the two differ drastically in that ID invokes supernatural explanations to explain natural processes, while science explains natural processes using empirical data. As the study of ID does not involve the use of empirical evidence to make predictions and test hypotheses, it cannot be considered a science under any circumstances. In a recent case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 765 (M.D. Pa. 2005), U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones, III, agreed stating “We have concluded that [ID] is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious antecedents.”

Despite this clear distinction between ID and science, some ID books are placed into the “Science” section of local bookstores and libraries. Our chief complaint comes in two forms. (1) Placement of ID books within a science section presupposes that ID is itself a science, and thus lends scientific credibility to a supernatural explanation of the world. (2) Placement of ID books within a science section also diminishes the amount of truly scientific books that can be displayed in any one science section, and thus limits the public’s access to scientific knowledge. Given that a recent study by the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that “70 percent of Americans do not understand the scientific process,” further confusion surrounding what is and is not science is particularly problematic. We want to be entirely clear that we fully support freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Under no circumstance should this statement be viewed as a surreptitious attempt to censor ID literature. As scientists we make no claim about the validity of ID as a philosophy, we simply state that ID is not science.

Some criticisms of this I have seen on one list-serve is that because creationists or ID-proponents purport their ideas as science that their books should remain in the science stands and bookstores and the Library of Congress should remain impartial. Another criticism is that segregating the books doesn't solve the problem of a broken educational system that has failed to teach students what science is and how science works. Additionally, including pseudoscientific books in the science stands may demonstrate what is improper science.

I personally feel these claims are bogus and sustain the view that the general public will weed out the good from the bad, that the answer is obvious. It is not obvious to many and people don't always have the necessary scientific and philosophical background to so out the good science theories from the blatantly false and nonprogressive ones. Just because someone proposes an idea to be scientific doesn't mean it is. I hope that I don't have to clarify that statement, even for the lay readers of my blog. Some might say it depends on how you define science. I believe it is a process that one can undertake to understand natural phenomena in a rigorous and systematic way. Something along those lines anyways. The definition, like any definition, can slightly modified or elaborated upon but never entirely changed into something contradictory. The other criticism about not fixing an educational system is entirely irrelevant to the idea of reclassifying books that hide religion beneath the cloak of science. It is an entirely different subject that is independent of this issue.

So I commend the initiative by the Portland State graduate students. I am a bit surprised that this hasn't been thought of before and applaud them for taking the initiative. I will add my signature of support and urge others to do likewise.

**Update: Reed Cartwright posted on this topic here. He brings up a good point that library handling system for books:
The main logic behind these systems is that they describe what a book is about not what they contain. So books cataloged under science are books about science, not books containing science.
He offers a suggestion that perhaps libraries could catalogue questionable science books in other categories.
It may be possible to convince librarians that a questionable book might belong under “religion and science” (BL239-265) instead of “science”. Other possible alternatives include “bible and science” (BS650-667), “creation” (BT695-749), or “photography” (TR45.H). But remember that categories describe what a book is about; they do not vouch for the quality of its contents.


  1. However to be consistent, I also think Dawkin's "god delusion" should not be filed in the science section.

  2. Having not read the book, I don't feel qualified to comment on that. I don't really visit bookstores as much as I would like to, so I am presuming by your comment that it is shelved in the sciences section. Although, if the premise of the book is to diagnose believers as delusive, then perhaps it is psychology? But from the reviews I have read it does seem more like philosophy or humanism.

  3. I would imagine anybody who so shelves that book is doing so because Dawkins' other books are science. He doesn't claim this one is - it's philosophy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.