Sunday, May 29, 2005


What Price Scientific Legitimacy?

The Dutch purchased Manhattan from the Indians for 60 guilders. With condos in the Big Apple currently going for a median price of $878 per square foot, that has to go down as one of the astute real estate deals in history.

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, about 800,000 square miles of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, from France for 60 million francs, or about $15 million dollars. A dollar was worth more then, but still, this was a great, great deal.

History's verdict on Napoleon's fire sale of the Louisiana Territory and the Native Americans who traded the world's hottest real estate market for a handful of gold or beads hasn't been kind. They'd been had.

What, then, are we to make of the sale of scientific legitimacy to the pseudoscience (Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog calls it antiscience, and RSR thinks that may be more accurate) of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute by one of the premier science institutions in the world -- the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History -- for $16,000 dollars?

On June 23, the National Museum of Natural History will co-sponsor the premier of the intelligent design film "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe." They are doing it because the Discovery Institute paid them $16,000 dollars.

As reported in the New York Times, Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute says, the museum staff itself asked to see the film. "They said they liked it very much -- and not only would they have the event at the museum, but they said they would co-sponsor it. That was their suggestion. Of course we're delighted."

This is another in a long series of attempts by the proponents of intelligent design to gain the imprimatur of science without actually having to do any. As statements by Chapman, and blogger Denise O'Leary, already indicate, the antiscience crowd will use this event to prove to the unwitting that there is a legitimate "controversy" over evolution between scientists and science organizations.

In RSR's humble opinion, this constitutes a blatant violation of the museum's policy which states that "events of a religious or partisan political nature" are not permitted.

If we allow the Smithsonian to sell the realm of science -- vaster and ultimately more valuable than Manhattan or the Louisiana Territory put together -- for a paltry $16,000 dollars without a fight, we should expect to go down in history as the sort who are easily taken advantage of.

Fortunately, there is still time to fight back. According to the New York Times, when museum spokesman Randall Kremer was informed about the language of the Discovery institute announcement, he said, "We'll have to look into that."

Let's help him understand the issues.

You can call Randall Kremer at 202-633-0817. You can send an e-mail to the Special Event staff at Snail mail can be sent to National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20560-0135.


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