Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Science is "offensive"

Traditionally, Unix computer systems (including Linux) come with a "fortune" program: type "fortune" at a command prompt, and you are rewarded with a "random, hopefully interesting, adage", much like opening a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant in the USA. Type "fortune -o" and you get a "potentially offensive aphorism". The manual page for the fortune program says:
Please, please, please request a potentially offensive fortune if and only if you believe, deep in your heart, that you are willing to be offended. (And that you'll just quit using -o rather than give us grief about it, okay?)

Being quite willing to be offended, I typed "fortune -o" today on my Linux laptop, and was rewarded with this:
"Creation science" has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage -- good teaching -- than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?"
[Stephen Jay Gould, "The Skeptical Inquirer"]

Yup, I'm offended. Not at the fortune, but at the fact that the maintainers of the fortune databases -- presumably intelligent, educated techies -- considered this "potentially offensive", while they did not consider the following fortune, in the regular database, "potentially offensive":
We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism... we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today...our battle is with Satan himself.
-- Jerry Falwell

But I won't give them grief about it.

(Click here for more quotes from the recently deceased Falwell.)

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