Apologies in advance, this entry's going to be somewhat, well, "meta", as the kids say. In other words, internally and culturally self-referential, picking up several threads and assuming that you already know what's going on. I'll put up some background soon.
In a recent Skepticality podcast (by the time of this writing, it's no longer the latest), Swoopy spoke with Maria Maltseva, a Seattle-based skeptic and lawyer who decided, following a challenge issued by previous visitors to the Discovery Institute's Centre for Science and Culture, arranged her own visit to the Evil Empire TM.
The interview gave us a lot of food for thought - much to chew over, as it were. Ms Maltseva takes great pains to stress both her skeptical and pro-evolutionary credentials, and the fact that she was able, without subterfuge or deception, to gain entry to and meeting time with members of the Discovery Institute's CSC staff. I don't have any reason to believe that Ms Maltseva was in fact a mole working under deep cover for the Disco, but something about this interview just didn't sound right to me. I'll try to explain.
I'll start by saying that no, I've never been to Seattle to try to cadge a visit... not yet, anyway. So I don't have personal experience to compare with Ms Maltseva's description of her visit. And there were some fascinating revelations to be had, certainly. The revelation of the existence of "secret laboratories", of which there are apparently two in the Seattle area, in which CSC scientists are attempting to build proof for intelligent design was cause for some mirth. I suspect that the reason why they don't let anybody in is because anyone who understands laboratory apparatus would take a few minutes, look around, and then start asking some very awkward questions. In my mind, these laboratories look like something out of the old Ealing comedy classic, The Man in the White Suit, starring a young Alec Guinness. It would be a cinematic take on what a laboratory is supposed to look like. It would be neither functional nor real. That's just a guess, of course.
Also of interest was that we were reminded of the fact that the so-called Centre for Science and Culture is but one part of the Discovery Institute's policy thrust. Another is the Traffic wing, which, apparently, has received funding from the Gates Foundation to sort out the nightmare of Seattle's antiquated roadways and infrastructure. To some, the patronage of this notably liberal charity is at odds with the Disco's image as a bastion of nouveau Evangelical conservative fundamentalist lackeydom. But perhaps it just speaks to desperation not to spend pointless hours trying to get home?
Perhaps the most astounding statement came at the end, when Ms Maltseva discussed a group audition that she arranged, where she, Luskin, Smith, and Carruthers listened to the earlier edition of Skepticality on which Kate Holden and Tiana Dietz appeared.
Here are the things that were unbelievable about Ms Maltseva's reporting of that audition:
- The claim that the people of the Disco had never heard the podcast before. This is, on the face of it, blindingly ridiculous. Whatever else the Disco are, they are media-saavy and technologically aware. It does not take a lot of effort to set up a Google search. I refuse to believe that they had not heard this.
- The claim that the people of the Disco laughed good-naturedly at the recording. This speaks, to me, of stage management. History is littered with examples of inhuman monsters who could laugh good-naturedly, even at their own expense. It doesn't mean that they weren't seething and plotting your ugly demise on the inside.
- The claim that, upon hearing the venom with which the comtempt for the Discovery's CSC was expressed, they were moved to tears. Again, this speaks to me of stage management. It does so for the simple and obvious reason that if you are an organisation which has to undermine your opposition, wouldn't you do it by trying to appear more cuddly and vulnerable than you genuinely were?
Consider, for a moment, how things might have looked from the other side. Ms Maltseva gets off of the phone, having arranged her visit. What, if you want to make sure that you are in full damage control mode, would be the first thing that you would do? Well, I don't know about you, dear readers, as I'm sure that you are all unique and splendidly eccentric individuals in your own right, but I'll tell you what I would bloody well do: research.
And, on doing some research, you would read Ms Malkova's blog, and you might possibly class her as something of a sentimentalist. Not a bad thing, in and of itself, but which, in turn, would help you to figure out how to deflect some of the damaging criticisms that might be brought against you. Again, I'm playing the role of a devil's advocate here, assuming that, despite their public posture, the Disco is no more to be trusted than a Bush administration official extolling the virtues of privatising your own hurrican relief.
Are the denizens of the Disco human beings? Well, yes, of course, as far as we are aware, they must be. It seems unlikely that they are really an advance force of the armies of the planet Zog, or any other such improbable thing. But the more important question is this: are they capable of taking in the gullible? The answer to that question, we need only look at the roster of people who support them and their aims. We need only read their fund-raising materials. We need only listen to those who are secondarily and tertiarily taken in by their sophistry.
Those who work for the Centre for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, or whatever else they may wish to call themselves, are not people for whom intellectual dishonesty is a problem. This has been repeatedly demonstrated: by their behaviour with regard to the film Expelled and their wildly dissimilar reaction to Randy Olson's requests for interviews for A Flock of Dodos, to name just two examples. And it is for that reason, more than any other, that I do not feel that finding "common ground" with people and groups who hold a world view that is 180 degrees away from mine is either practical or possible. It may well be fine for some, and each and every one of you must make that choice for yourselves. I won't tell you what to do, I won't presuppose your acceptance of my view. You must make your own decisions for yourself. To think otherwise would be of a wrongness and an arrogance on my part that... well, it would smack of Disco-think. And it is neither my purpose nor my wish to make gains by adopting the dishonourable tactics of the opposition. That's the definition, I think, of a Pyrrhic victory.
So, at the end, I have to think that for whatever reason, Ms Maltseva drank too deeply of the Disco's hospitality. I was immediately suspicious of her descriptions of the people there, and their reactions to the earlier podcast where Tiana and Kate Holden called for the removal of the Disco. It was all a bit too neat. I think that she was carefully managed, spun, and wagged from start to finish. I don't say that this is her fault, or even that her effort was not a noble and valuable one.
It's just that, listening not to my irrational dislikes, nor to my desire to think the best of people, but rather by looking at the facts, I come to the conclusion that I just don't believe that reaching an accommodation with people who cannot be trusted to tell the truth serves any greater goal.