Earth magazine has an intriguing and disturbing article by Steven Newton describing how geologists, who actually represent the Institute for Creation Research, the Discovery Institute and Christian universities, subtly promote the view that Noah’s flood was responsible for geological observations in the American West. Their new strategy is to give talks, posters and guide field trips at a premier geologic conference.
How can this be? Well, if you’ve ever been on one of these field trips, you know they can be a jargony nightmare. Even as a professional, when it comes to very specialized terms and labeling used in petrology and sedimentology, vocabulary is wicked tough to learn and remember. If this is your introduction to a particular feature or region, you look to the expert guiding the trip to provide you with information. You likely do not have enough background yet to form good questions or recognize some dubious interpretation.
The article’s author, a director for the National Center for Science Education, went on the trip run by five co-leaders. The Creationist content was not openly disclosed. Instead, he notes, one could pick up on certain odd phrasing that he says, “…was telling, if you knew what to listen for.” The phrasing distinctly avoided describing the geological consensus about the age of a rock unit or endorsing an established interpretation. A worldwide flood interpretation was couched in technical terminology. Newton writes:
“If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren’t familiar with the field trip leaders, it’s quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community.”
If you submit an abstract for a conference, such as the Geological Society of America conference, odds are you get in. I’ve given one myself for a GSA Region meeting. Conferences are a rather open opportunity to present your views as you wish. But an important point is your peers in the audience should question you. Skepticism is a virtue for a scientist. Newton describes a confrontation that occurred as part of a past meeting where a Creationist was bluntly called out by someone in the know. That’s what has to be done. Each time. We must be active participants.
Nevertheless, the Creationist scientists return from these conferences to their institutions with a new item for their resumes and, thus, deliver smug satisfaction for their supporters. By standing on the same stage as other geologists with credible science to share, they now can claim a professional presentation at an academic event. It does not matter that they were NOT influential. They accomplished their goal – to appear equal, scientific, credible. In their own realm, they succeeded.
There is a fair argument to be made that they should NOT be kept out. I agree – science must be about the exchange of ideas. They also ought to play by the rules but they don’t. They only come clean with their 6000 year old assumptions when called out. Meanwhile, they lead an unknowing observer to believe that they promote a view justified by science. The public gets duped. They paint themselves with a veneer of scientific credibility that is unequal to that earned by a researcher who publishes in a peer reviewed journal. Creation scientists can claim that they presented to their “peers” and that’s good enough for now.
As long as the public has no insight or understanding of how science works and what is truly important in the process (and what is not), then they will unquestionably accept the trumped up claims of the Creation scientist who cheat the system and make an end run around a fair critique.