Material from the KASES File Newsletter

KASES File vol. 6, no. 5, September 1993, p. 6

The News Stand
By Robert Baker


The new issue of Skeptic magazine (Vol. 2, No. 1) has just been published, and this issue is concerned with the problem of genius in all its forms, as well as the issue of creativity. Subscriptions to the journal are $30 per year for four issues.

Along with a complimentary copy, editor Michael Shermer sent an offer to exchange one copy of his publication for one copy of ours, as well as another offer of a free subscription to our "board members" if we will send them our mailing list, which amounts to one free subscription for every 50 names. Since we only have 75 members, that means only one free subscription. We will exchange publications and give them our mailing list. You will be hearing from them soon, so if you want to subscribe, you can.

Personally, I am not convinced that we need a competitor to the Skeptical Inquirer, nor that Skeptic is all that good. You, however, should make up your own mind.

One thing that definitely turned me off was a negative review of Ivan Zabilka's Scientific Malpractice. Although not too negative, it, unfairly in my opinion, accused Zabilka of neglecting the scientific issues in the debate.

The reviewer--Jim Lippard--considers the book "superficial" and neglectful of all the nitty-gritty nuances and detail of the true scientific issues. Like so many nitpickers, Lippard's major complaint is that Zabilka didn't write the book that Lippard would have written. Zabilka is aware of this. It was never meant to be the definitive word about the creation-evolution debate, and Lippard should have known this. The book did what it was intended to do and did it admirably. Why Lippard didn't like it is beyond me.

KASES File vol. 7, no. 1, January 1994, pp. 2,11

Unfair review

Dear Editor: It strikes me as rather unfair that Robert Baker ("The News Stand," KASES FILE, September 1993) should suggest that Skeptic magazine isn't "all that good" solely on the basis of a three-page book review authored by me. My review accounted for only 0.7 percent of the 414 pages of Skeptic which had been published at the time Baker wrote his review.

Further, Baker misrepresents the content of my review. I did not chide Ivan Zabilka's Scientific Malpractice for not being the book I would have written. Rather, I criticized the book for its wholly inadequate coverage of the scientific issues promised by its title and back cover description, for a number of serious factual errors, and for unsupported claims (some of which were repeated by Baker in his review of the book in the Summer 1993 Skeptical Inquirer, see my letter on p. 220 of the Winter, 1994 issue). Baker's statement that "Why Lippard didn't like [the book] is beyond me" seems rather disingenuous in light of the specific complaints I made in my review.

For the record, I sent a copy of my review to Zabilka for his comments more than six months in advance of its publication, but he did not reply until afterward. In his reply to me, he acknowledged his mistakes and informed me that one of the reasons for the book's superficiality in the science chapter was that the publisher cut the book's length by about half. Had I known this prior to publication, I would have changed my review to recognize it.

Finally, I should note (as Baker hints when he says my review was not "too negative") that I did have some positive things to say about the book--it does a good job of covering the social, political, and legal history of creationism and some of the theological issues related to the controversy. I also recommended the book as a whole to "the layman with only a passing interest in the creation/evolution debate," and I have suggested other resources for those whose interest is deeper, such as Arthur N. Strahler's monumental Science and Earth History (1987, Prometheus Books).

Jim Lippard
Tucson, Ariz.

KASES File vol. 7, no. 1, January 1994, p. 11

Robert Baker replies:

First of all, I did not suggest that Skeptic magazine isn't "all that good" on the basis of a three page review written by Lippard. In fact, my appraisal of the Skeptic had nothing to do with Lippard's review.

Lippard has been upset with me ever since I wrote a favorable review of Zabilka's short but very well written book Scientific Malpractice. I strongly regret that Lippard does not share my opinion, and I even more strongly regret that he has taken such personal offense at my remarks in this newsletter. I do, however, intend to stand by them.

Zabilka's little book is only 160 pages long; Strahler's is 502 pages, according to the Prometheus Books catalog. As Zabilka told Lippard, his publisher cut the book's length in half, or his science chapter would have been more thorough. Zabilka never claimed that his book was supposed to be definitive and Lippard knows this.

One doesn't have to be a genius to see that Lippard is, for some unknown reason, upset with Zabilka's book--otherwise, he would not be going on and on trying to put Zabilka and me in our place.

As for our "serious factual errors," they turn out to be our statement to the effect that "creationism research is not peer reviewed" and "creationist are predominantly technicians." I agree with Zabilka that "creationists do not practice science (for the most part). They do little original research under laboratory conditions or in the field related to their biological or geological claims ... Most of them are not biologists or geologists, but as noted they are engineers, computer scientists, medical personnel and teachers at smaller, non-research oriented colleges ... When they have conducted research where it could be observed by the scientific community, it has frequently proved amateurish and even damaging to artifacts" (pgs 75-76).

Not being an authority on creationism, I have found in my cursory readings in the field that Zabilka's characterizations here are on target. If both Zabilka and I have missed the back issues of the Journal of Experimental Creationism and the creationist symposia at the AAAS meetings, then we stand corrected and owe both the creationists and Lippard an apology.

Enough of this. I do not intend to engage in nor continue to press such a tempest in a teapot. If I have wittingly or unwittingly offended Lippard, I humbly apologize and, since I am not an expert in anything, I stand corrected. Satisfied, Jim? I hope so because this is my last comment on the matter.