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NPR Criticized for Evolution Misinformation and “AWOL” Ombudsman

SEATTLE, June 2 — Discovery Institute today criticized National Public Radio (NPR) for mounting a campaign of misinformation about the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools. The Institute also questioned whether NPR’s “ombudsman” who is supposed to investigate listener complaints really exists.

Culminating with the cancellation of a guest critical of Darwinian evolution last week, NPR has aired a series of recent reports about the controversy over teaching evolution that were factually inaccurate, misrepresented key issues, or unbalanced.

“This is nothing short of a campaign to misinform the public about how evolution is presented in classrooms across the country,” said Robert Crowther, director communications at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. Crowther listed five recent stories that misrepresented the debate over evolution in states such as Montana, Ohio and Texas:

• On February 6, NPR’s “Science Friday” aired a program about challenges to teaching evolution, but the program only featured guests opposed to teaching criticisms of evolution. “The program was a monologue, not a debate,” commented Crowther.

• On April 21, NPR’s “Day to Day” show aired a report that falsely led listeners to believe that Ohio has adopted a model lesson plan that includes intelligent design, which it does not. In reality, Ohio’s lesson plan only deals with scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory, not with alternative theories like intelligent design. 

• On May 2, NPR’s “Weekend Edition” ran a false story about a purported effort to introduce intelligent design into the Darby School District in Montana. In fact, the actual policy proposed in Darby does not deal with intelligent design; its words are taken almost verbatim from the Montana state science standards, and it only deals with the critical analysis of evolutionary theory. 

• On May 9, NPR aired an “update” of its earlier Darby story, falsely claiming that there is an effort in Darby to include “intelligent design” in the local school district curriculum, and that “two proponents of this intelligent design curriculum” lost a recent election. 

• On May 21, NPR’s “Science Friday” aired a discussion of the history of evolution presenting only one side of the debate after canceling Roger DeHart’s appearance at the last minute. DeHart is a biology teacher critical of Darwinian evolution. The pro-evolution biology teacher who still appeared on the show used the occasion to misrepresent Discovery Institute’s position in Texas’ recent debate over biology textbooks. The teacher asserted that “there was an active campaign on the part of the Discovery Institute and their several intelligent design proponents to weaken the coverage of evolution in the books, is how they put it.” “Wrong,” responded Crowther. “Far from trying to weaken the coverage of evolution in textbooks, Discovery has always advocated strengthening the teaching of evolution by teaching more about the theory, including some of the peer-reviewed scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism.”

According to Crowther, Discovery Institute has submitted detailed complaints about inaccurate stories to NPR’s “ombudsman” Jeffrey Dvorkin, but as of today Dvorkin has not responded, except to claim in a brief e-mail that he believed the one limited response from an NPR producer was adequate.

“We’re beginning to wonder whether Mr. Dvorkin even exists,” joked Crowther. “We certainly wonder what he does during the day. He seems to be AWOL when it comes to listener complaints.”

Crowther added that on NPR’s website Dvorkin is quoted as saying: “NPR is committed to the presentation of fair, accurate and comprehensive information and selected cultural expressions for the benefit of, and at the service of our democracy. NPR is pledged to abide scrupulously by the highest artistic, editorial, and journalistic standards and practices of broadcast programming.”

“It’s time for NPR to actually live up to these standards,” said Crowther.

Discovery Institute has posted complete documentation of its claims about NPR’s biased reporting on its website at Copies of the documentation can be requested by e-mailing Rob Crowther at [email protected]

Click here for a list of downloadable reports documenting the errors and inaccuracies in NPR’s coverage of how to teach evolution.

Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute promotes thoughtful analysis and effective action on local, regional, national and international issues. The Institute is home to an inter-disciplinary community of scholars and policy advocates dedicated to the reinvigoration of traditional Western principles and institutions and the worldview from which they issued.