the shock jocks of biz magazines?

February 7, 2009

There’s one more thing that bothers me about Forbes’ decision to give the Discovery Institute free reign to talk about how Darwin is the personification of the anti-Christ, or at the very least, not far off with his evil theory of evolution. I contribute essays to another business magazine and even when the topic is scientific in nature, there’s still a very pronounced focus on the business side of things. I’m also not aware of an op-ed about the merits of evolution or science in any other business magazine (though I might’ve missed it) as anything more than a passing sentence or two in an article about education.

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This is why for Forbes to publish a trio of essays from an anti-scientific activist group is a very bizarre decision. Imagine the Weekly World News or the National Enquirer writing a cover story on Darwin’s life based on in depth research of historical documents and books about evolution while covering recent advances in the theory he helped bring into the public eye. It would raise a few eyebrows for sure. Then again, let’s keep in mind that tabloids are tabloids and very few of their readers actually expect any sort of research or scholarship in their articles. Forbes is a well respected business magazine that focuses on the stock market, the economy and covering important stories in the business world. It’s read by executives and entrepreneurs who rely on its editors for making sure there’s a factual backing behind every story or opinion.

It takes a long time to earn a reputation for being accurate and trustworthy and it doesn’t take all that much to sully that reputation. When devoted readers are suddenly looking at completely asinine condemnations of modern biology by zealots who’s organization is founded on the belief that science is evil because it focuses on the tangibles and the here and now, being placed in the middle of their business news, they’re going to wonder what’s next. Is Forbes going to ask Erich Von Dniken or Zecharia Sitchin to give alterative history lessons? Are they going to have Jim Marrs talk about how business figures he doesn’t like are part of a grand Nazi conspiracy to take over the world? Is Forbes experimenting with shock-jock journalism? Is that really the best way to boost their sales? If the editors who made the decision to publish DI rants think that any publicity is good publicity and however many hits their website gets is just gravy, they need to think again. Contrary to the popular axiom, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Of course, the reason behind publishing the columns could be as simple as an editor at Forbes being a fan of intelligent design and using the publication as a vehicle to promote his views. It’s a private media company that’s financed by investors and ad sales, he or she has the right to do that. But with that right comes one nagging question. Is using your media soapbox to spotlight what amounts to foaming at the mouth rants against the scientific method and downright libel of a naturalist who made a lasting contribution to science, good for the stakeholders? Is it in the best interest of the readers? Will it come back to bite you down the road? I would argue that Forbes made an embarrassing stumble that has the potential to haunt them in the future and will be mentioned when its editors make another gaffe.

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