Scientific American Quote-Mines Palin on Creationism

LAST MONTH we wrote about what we thought was an inappropriate swipe at Sarah Palin in a magazine presumably devoted to science: Scientific American Takes a Shot at Sarah Palin. Now they’re at it again.

At the Scientific American website we read: Sarah Palin dishes on health and science: What does she really think? They have a video clip of Palin’s recent interview with Katie Couric, and then they write about it.

This is an excerpt, alleged to be about Palin’s position on creationism:

Palin has come under criticism for suggesting that creationism be taught alongside evolution in schools, and she didn’t back away from that position last night, exactly. ….

We interrupt that paragraph to point out that Palin never made that “taught alongside” comment, and we must ask — In what way doesn’t Palin’s interview with Couric back away from that — even if it were once her position?

Yesterday we reported the text of the Couric interview, and we took the text from the website of CBS News: Sarah Palin Discusses Creationism with Katie Couric. The text we reported is the same as the video clip found on the website of Scientific American. Yet that magazine goes on to say:

… Noting that she’s the daughter of a science teacher, Palin said that evolution “should be taught as an accepted principle.” But curricula “are best left to the local school districts,” she said. “[I] don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of theories,” she added

That last sentence: ” “[I] don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of theories,” isn’t part of the same paragraph in the recent Couric interview. Palin finished her thought by saying this: “Science should be taught in science class.”

Following that straightforward statement, which wasn’t reported by Scientific American, the following exchange occurred:

Couric: Should creationism be allowed to be taught anywhere in public schools?

Palin: [I] Don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of theories, all sides of ideas that they ever – kids do it today whether … it’s on paper, in a curriculum or not. Curriculums also are best left to the local school districts. Instead of Big Brother, federal government telling a district what they can and can’t teach, I would like to see more control taken over by our school boards, by our local schools, and then state government at the most. But federal government, you know, kind of get out of some of this curriculum and let the locals decide what is best for their students.

Source: Transcript: Palin And McCain Interview from CBS News.

It distresses us to report this, but Scientific American has apparently engaged in quote-mining. Palin’s position shouldn’t have been misrepresented. In particular, her declaration that “Science should be taught in science class” shouldn’t have been omitted in Scientific American‘s zeal to get to the later statement about classroom debates.

Scientific American used to be a reputable magazine.

Addendum: Regarding Palin’s 2006 statements, this information is from

In an Oct. 25, 2006, debate, when asked about teaching alternatives to evolution, Palin replied:

Palin, Oct. 25, 2006: Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject – creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

A couple of days later, Palin amended that statement in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, saying:

Palin, Oct. 2006: I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.

[Our related articles are here: Sarah Palin & Creationism.]

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13 responses to “Scientific American Quote-Mines Palin on Creationism

  1. mightyfrijoles

    It’s getting tough to find a sound and believable source for news. For science itself it’s pretty easy – read the journals, but to do that one has to be scientifically literate. No wonder the public is confused (that and the strain on intellect).

    Well, there’s always The Curmudgeon, but he seems grumpy most of the time.

    Back to my test tubes – I am convincing a fish to give birth to a bat.

  2. mightyfrijoles says:

    Well, there’s always The Curmudgeon, but he seems grumpy most of the time.

    If you waded through as much creationist nonsense as I do, you’d be grumpy too. All things considered, I’m surprisingly upbeat.

  3. First – love your writing! Second, it’s sad to see this from SciAm. Third, hopefully the html tags will work here.

    But . . . Palin did say, “Curriculums also are best left to the local school districts.”

    This is another standard creationist ploy. Those candidates will often not specify exactly what items need to be placed under local control, nor do they demonstrate that local boards don’t already have this control. During the 2000 KS school board race, one of the ringleaders of the 1999 creationism debacle had this to say:

    But [Linda] Holloway contends she’s not trying to ban the teaching of evolution, only leave it up to local boards of education.
    “My question is, ‘So, what’s wrong with local control?'” she said.

    When Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law in late June of this year, he had this comment:

    “I will continue to consistently support the ability of school boards and BESE to make the best decisions to ensure a quality education for our children.”

    They’re taking their cues from on high:

    On teaching evolution in schools, Bush believes both evolution and creationism are valid educational subjects. “He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught,” a spokeswoman said.

    Granted there’s nothing stealthy about that comment, but it shows that using the phrase “local control” can be a clue that a candidate would support the Discovery Institute’s mantra of “teach the controversy.” Republican strategist Ralph Reed described in May of 2007 how Republican candidates are advised to approach the evolution issue:

    “The issue is that this ought to be a matter left to local school boards, teachers and parents. That’s really where it is in our country. And I think where the president came down when he was running in ’99 and 2000, and where I think the overwhelming majority of our candidates today stand, is, you know, this is an issue of academic freedom and local control. So, nobody wants to prevent evolution from being taught. We all agree that, when that went on earlier in our country, that was wrong.

    S^2, D^2

    Palin’s picked up the DI’s talking points pretty damn quick. Tomorrow’s debate could get interesting.

  4. Scientific American has let itself down on this one; kudos to the Curmudgeon for this piece.

    I have no enthusiasm for Gov. Palin, but even less tolerance for sloppy journalism. SA needs to tighten up its standards, or else lose credibility, and that would harm everyone.

  5. The Curmudgeon wrote:

    If you waded through as much creationist nonsense as I do, you’d be grumpy too. All things considered, I’m surprisingly upbeat.

    And in further mitigation: the man, by his own claim, is perpetually surrounded by fools!

  6. … surrounded by fools!

    More than ever now, thanks to the internet.

  7. Cheryl Shepherd-Adams says:

    Palin’s picked up the DI’s talking points pretty damn quick. Tomorrow’s debate could get interesting.

    Your excellent comment got held up by the spam-catcher because it had so many links, and I didn’t discover the situation until this morning.

    It’s difficult to know if “local control” is just Palin’s political instinct, which is fine, or whether she’s become one of the pod people. The devilish thing is that the Discoveroids select their code terms precisely because they’re already accepted — academic freedom, strengths and weaknesses, teach both sides, viewpoint discrimination, etc. But they take these phrases and use them for their own sinister purposes. Palin may be unaware of this, or she could be a stealth Discoveroid.

  8. mightyfrijoles

    Palin shows many Libertarian characteristics and so I think “local control” may not have the sinister connotations of a stealth Discoveroid.

  9. mightyfrijoles, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that one. Here in Kansas, some state board of education candidates have learned how to Speak In Code fluently to appeal to their radical right-wing base, so I recognize that I’m viewing Palin through that lens.

  10. mightyfrijoles

    The rate the polls are going, only Alaskans will have to worry anyway.

  11. It’s not decided yet. Things have just started to get interesting.

  12. mightyfrijoles

    You are into exanguination – what would you know?

  13. Into “exanguination”? This isn’t that kind of website!