01 October 2009

A radical idea

Responding to Nature's review [$-a] of his new book about evolution, The Tangled Bank, Carl Zimmer objects to the reviewer's justaposition of his work with the more, shall we say, combative book Richard Dawkins has just released. Zimmer has the audacity to assume that his readers aren't hostile:
I envisioned my potential readers as curious people who didn’t know much about evolution–what the idea actually is and how scientists study it. I envisioned people who might be interested in learning the nuts and bolts of processes like selection and drift, and who might be intrigued by sexually deceptive wasps, whales with legs, the viruses that dominate our genome, and other features of life that evolution allows us to understand.
With all due respect for those who want to take the fight to the wingnuts in the war on science -- I enjoy Pharyngula as much as the next grad student -- this seems so much more, well, hopeful. Ultimately, it might even be more productive.

Growing up in a science-friendly household surrounded by creationists, I didn't come to the conclusion that evolution was true because I read a diatribe about the idiocy of biblical literalism. I came to that conclusion because I thought dinosaurs were pretty cool, and it turned out that you could learn a lot more about dinosaurs in the context of their evolutionary history than if you just assumed they all died in Noah's flood. I think that people in a similar state -- "curious people who didn’t know much about evolution" are much more likely converts to the cause of science than the wingnuts. Certainly there must be a lot of them out there; otherwise who's keeping the Discovery Channel afloat?

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