CBC thinks science is just an opinion

Evolution is a fact.

Evolution is so established as a scientific fact that I’m not actually going to spend time proving that here. Instead you can go read entire databases debunking anti-evolution myths.

So it should be fair and uncontroversial to say that something like Biblical creationism, which offers an alternate and incompatible hypothesis for the diversity of life, is a religious myth, a story or even a superstition.

But apparently doing just that crosses the line for some people.

After senior CBC correspondent Neil Macdonald offhandedly referred to creationism as superstition in a recent analysis article, Steve Cherry complained. He called the comparison “inflammatory & divisive & discriminatory against statutory rights & a large segment of the population.”

CBC management, having a duty to take complaints seriously, responded.

[Executive Producer of cbcnews.ca, Lianne Elliott] added that senior CBC news staff have met with producers and reviewed the use of language and the need to ensure that “greater care must be taken when choosing descriptive language.” She also told staff it is important to show respect for diverse points of view and beliefs.

Following this action, the CBC Ombudsman reviewed the complaint and decided that:

In this case [Macdonald’s words] crossed a line and it reads, no matter how tangential to the main point he was making, like opinion. I agree it was unnecessary in the context of this piece, but it is there, and it shouldn’t be.

Science and free speech be damned, CBC has decided that calling creationism a superstition is merely an opinion and an offensive one at that. The Ombudsman tried to justify her position through the CBC Journalist Standards and Practices, which emphasizes “impartiality” and forbids “personal opinion.” But as I started out, evolution is not an opinion, it’s a well established fact.

Just like in discussing the science of climate change, there's no scientific debate and therefore no need for balance.

Scientific consensus
John Oliver illustrates the scientific consensus on climate change. Via Last Week Tonight

Now, there is plenty of discrimination against marginalized groups in Canada. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable that journalists – particularly those working for a media outlet funded by the government – should be sensitive to the words they use so as to not fuel further bigotry. In fact, Macdonald makes pretty much this exact point in a more recent column about the role casual anti-LGBT bigotry in religious communities played in the Orlando massacre.

However, Christians are not a marginalized group in Canada. There is not widespread discrimination against evangelicals. While their numbers are declining, the religious still enjoy significant privileges across Canadian society. There are symbolic examples like God in the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in O Canada and more tangible examples, like religious organizations automatically being recognized as charitable or that only religious groups can appoint marriage officiants. While anti-religious bigotry does exist, the vast majority of hate crimes motivated by religion are targeted at Jews and Muslims.

So not only is there no debate over the science, Macdonald isn't discriminating against Steve Cherry and other fundamentalist Christians because there isn't a larger anti-Christian narrative for Macdonald's words to feed into. Instead when Macdonald says “Young Earth Protestant fundamentalist who take over local school boards, to force schools to give superstition equal place alongside the theory of evolution,” he’s talking about what is literally happening right now in Alberta.

It's fundamentalist Christians who continue to demand a privileged place in society, free from criticism of their beliefs, even when those beliefs run afoul of reality (as an aside, this is another good reason to sign the petition to repeal Canada's blasphemy law). In this case Cherry has attempted, successfully it seems, to get bureaucrats to censor future discussions of science and evidence at the CBC.

Finally, I just want to point out that while CBC considers equating creationism with superstition as “insensitive”, it continues to maintain the title of “Ombudsman” even when the position is held by a woman.

h/t Paul Adams’ response on Frank Koller’s blog.

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  • commented 2016-06-26 11:18:56 -0700
    By stating, “the CBC thinks science is just an opinion” you’re fighting an invisible opponent. The CBC never said any such thing. They said evolution was a well-held scientific consensus. They said their reporter calling creationism a superstition is his opinion and he shouldn’t have voiced it. That isn’t the same as vilifying science.
  • commented 2016-06-25 02:50:13 -0700
    What other superstitions besides creationism must the CBC not criticise? Flat Earthers? Apollo moon landing conspiracists? Actually, I suspect things like homeopathy and other kinds of woo are regularly given sympathetic treatment on air. I can’t actually say, since I haven’t listened to a CBC programme in decades.
  • commented 2016-06-24 20:52:55 -0700
    Spot on! It is past time for the federal government to dump the current politically appointed, in most cases completely unqualified, board of directors of the CBC and replace them with qualified journalists, broadcasters, and science reporters who report to Parliament rather than to the PMO’s office.
  • commented 2016-06-24 18:52:54 -0700
    BOOM, mic drop…

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