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Dotted Line
Wired magazine reporter criticized for agenda driven reporting
By: Staff
Discovery Institute
October 13, 2004

SEATTLE, OCT. 13 — Wired has now gone where no pure science magazine has gone before. In an apparent effort to boost the magazine's sex appeal, the latest issue wades into the imaginative world of science fiction.

"We applaud their move into Sci-Fi," says Rob Crowther, director of communications for the Center for Science & Culture at Discovery Institute, referring to an article written by Evan Ratliff and published in Wired's October 2004 issue. 'The Wired piece, called The Crusade Against Evolution,' is an imaginative blend of science fiction, conspiracy theory, and farce."

Crowther did express some concern, however, about what he termed the War of the Worlds syndrome. "Remember Orson Welles" radio version of H.G. Wells' famous novel about a Martian attack? The presentation sounded like a straight news story and folks panicked. The Wired yarn runs the same danger. Because of their deadpan presentation, some of Wired's readers might mistake that story for factual news."

In an effort to keep the line between fiction and reality distinct, Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture director Stephen Meyer was asked to comment on the story. "The piece portrays the theory of intelligent design as a religiously motivated political crusade rather than what it actually is, an evidence-based scientific research program," said Meyer. "It portrays our scientific research and publications as a nefarious plot to infiltrate the public schools with a virulent new form of creationism. We're hoping they'll follow up this yarn with a non-fiction piece about the real attempts to shut down discussion of the weaknesses of neo-Darwinism."

Hyped as "The Plot To Kill Evolution" on the magazine's cover, Evan Ratliff's story could easily mislead readers because the piece ignores the work of Discovery Institute scientists and misrepresents the Institute's recommendations for science education policy. Indeed, to tell his story Ratliff had to ignore many inconvenient facts and flatly misrepresent others.

Some of the most obvious fictions in the article include:

"One has to wonder why Ratliff omitted so many relevant facts in telling the story the way he did. The only reasonable conclusion is that he came to the story with an agenda and decided to suppress information that didn't fit with it," said Crowther. "In other words, he sat down to write fiction, not fact."

Perhaps because he sensed the piece was imbalanced, Wired senior editor Chris Anderson solicited a response from Discovery senior fellow George Gilder, a well-known tech writer and frequent contributor to Wired. Gilder's response explaining his own reasons for favoring design was heavily edited, however, again depriving Wired readers of the whole story.

Crowther said he assumed the demands of the genre drove the editor's decision. "Fiction writers talk about cultivating in their readers a willing suspension of disbelief. George Gilder's full, fact-filled piece undoubtedly would have spoiled the effect of Ratliff's imaginative world, a bit like having an astronomer poking his head into the Death Star sequence at the end of Star Wars and explaining that space ships wouldn't really roar in space because there's no air to carry the sound waves."

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