Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pseudoscience, 'Debates' & Unintended Consequences

When Bill Nye debated Ken Ham in February of this year, Nye presented the case for science far better than many expected (see debate with Bill Nye).

But did science really win out?

Early this year, it was reported that Ham's Young-Earth Creationist organization "Answers In Genesis" (AiG) was in a dire financial situation (Junk bonds raise questions about Answers in Genesis' finances). One of the most high-profile creationist organizations in the United States was facing some real financial difficulties.

It was probably no coincidence that around this same time (January 2, 2014) was when Bill Nye had agreed to a long-standing 'offer' from Ken Ham for a public debate (Wikipedia: Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate).

I can't help but wonder if Ham had been pushing for Nye to agree to a debate before the financial information about AiG reached the public.

Once Nye agreed to the debate, AiG promoted the debate heavily, growing their email list and apparently gaining some new contributors in addition to probably re-inspiring previous contributors. Answers in Genesis and affiliated organizations apparently became the sole source for DVDs of the debate (or at least I have been unable to find them from another non-creationist source).

This effort apparently refreshed AiG's cash flow (see NPR: Creation Museum: Bill Nye Debate Sparked Funding 'Miracle', Why Evolution is True: Bill Nye’s upcoming debate earns $$ for creationist organizations).

Talk about unintended consequences.

Losing money, AiG took a "hail Mary" pass to rescue its fortunes. It was a pretty obvious gamble and they had total control of the promotion of the event. They were able to sell it as an epic battle for the faithful. The results were right out of Psychology 101. No rational thought was required.

In spite of many who thought Bill Nye won the day, the event provided enough press and enthusiasm for AiG which was translated into dollars.

This example provides yet another reason why serious professional scientists, and even science popularizers, should not appear with pseudo-scientists.

It merely raises the stature of the pseudo-scientist and even if the scientists wins, the event can easily be exploited by pseudo-scientists to promote their cause.

Even when science won, it kinda lost…

Probably inspired by AiG's success, Some pseudo-scientists affiliated with the Electric Universe cranks are apparently also fishing for debates (link1, link2). However, I will not be participating in any such charade. I encourage other professional scientists to avoid these types of media 'debates' as well.
"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." - Lt. Cmdr Montgomery Scott (Star Trek: Friday's Child)

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