Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Graham Lawton

Mr. Lawton is a print journalist for the magazine The New Scientist. He has rather pissed off several science bloggers with his sensationalist cover story; Darwin Was Wrong. While he has found some support from folks in the "intelligent design" movement, actual scientists and science bloggers have gotten a little bit pissed off with him.

You seem to have a very bad attitude about blogs and an overinflated notion of your impact as a print journalist. Let me talk a little about the impact of blogs and science blogs in particular, on my own life.

I'm a thirty two year old high school dropout. Not because I'm stupid, but because I have a whole host of problems that brought me to this point in my life. I'm actually a rather bright fellow, with a wide range of interests that I tend to be rather well informed about. One of the biggest challenges I've faced, while trying to get back to school; I didn't know what I wanted to do.

A few years ago I discovered the blogosphere. Not terribly long after that, I discovered science bloggers. Joy of joys, I discovered that I could not only learn something, I could get involved in the conversation. And nobody cared about my educational background. As long as I was basing my own assertions on evidence, I was accepted as a valuable contributor to the conversation. Even better, I suddenly had some access to people with relevant background in fields that really interest me (even Bora here, was kind enough to answer some of my questions way back).

I had questions about genetics, a Phd geneticist was happy to take the time to answer. I had questions about drug interactions, a professor of pharmacology could help. I had questions about the workings of the human brain, there's a neurologist positively thrilled I was interested. I wanted to discuss addiction, there's an NIH funded addiction researcher glad I provided the insights of someone with substance abuse issues.

And now I'm in school and I have a direction. I'm in a position to incorporate several fields of interest, into a degree that will place me into a position to have a positive impact on my community and society. And I have the support and validation of a host of academics, some of whom are as excited as I am that I've begun this journey. People who have emailed me, to make sure that I know that they are a resource I have at my disposal. The same people who fostered discussions that helped me find my direction, also feel some compulsion to help me succeed.

What I have gotten out of a few years in the blogosphere and have every reason to expect I will continue to get, is something that just doesn't exist with print journalism. Not to say that it doesn't have it's place, but ours is a brave new world that values discussion over dictation, interaction over awe for the author's grasp of a concept. And above all, truth over sensationalism. Which is not to say that sensationalism doesn't have it's place, we're all human after all. But when the sensational takes precedence over honesty, folks will crawl out of the woodwork with the truth of things.

And it is more than truth, it's perception of truth. Your cover story chose the sensational over a reasonable perception of the truth. In a time when science has been under heavy fire from the forces of ignorance and darkness (and while the UK is doing better than my own nation, the difference is one of degree, not the problem itself), you just provided them with more fodder to attack reason.

And lest you find yourself pretending the internet forgets, just google society of homeopathy, or truth homeopathic. The latter won't get you as many critical hits as the former, but there I am at number two, for a post I wrote fifteen months ago. Google the former and you will discover why the UK's Society of Homeopathy probably regrets using a bullshit lawsuit threat, to silence criticism of homeopathy. Here's a hint; if you try to google them to find their site, you have to get through a couple pages of pieces on them, most of which post the article that offended them to the point of lawsuit.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Google Graham Lawton and in the first 10 hits, Bora's "Graham Lawton was wrong" blog and Laden's "Graham Lawton sells out Darwin" blog pop up. his ass is grass.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Give it a few days and this post will be towards the top too. And it will probably be there for a very ling time to come.

mezzobuff said...

Fantastic post... nice to see blogs championed. I find as a "non-scientist" that I am given the same kind of courtesy and thoughtful interaction that you received. It's a great education!

walyc said...

Touching post, says the most amazing and cool thing about internet and science... thx.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Quite welcome. I just get kind of pissed at folks who want to slam blogs because some bloggers have hard truths to say about them.

But maybe I should write a better post about the blogs....