Conservapedia capers: Richard Dawkins

Here’s the idea: every now and then I take a Conservapedia article on a subject related to science and, without breaking a sweat over it, spot some major errors, then blog them and see how long it takes Conservapedia to fix them.

The article on Richard Dawkins dated 1349, 21 September, 2008  calls Dawkins’ Simonyi professorship into question with the apparent intention of implying that he has coopted the term “professor” without justification.  “Dawkins holds the post of Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, but whether this post was granted according to normal academic procedures is a matter of dispute,” it claims.

There is no dispute.  See this item from rationalwiki dated 2329, 22 September, 2008.  They contacted Merriam Webster and Oxford University, both of whom say he’s a professor.   He’s also, since 2001, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and they don’t hand those fellowships out like lollypops.  Only candidates  who have made “a substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science” are considered.  Conservapedia dismisses the body as “an increasingly political group of scientists that wrote a letter to Exxon telling it to stop opposing the liberal view of global warming,” which says more about Conservapedia than it says about the Royal Society.

The article seems to omit Dawkins’ biography.  One would read it in vain  if one expected to know about the place of his birth (Nairobi, Kenya), his marriages (Marian Stamp, Eve Barham, Lalla Ward), and children (Emma, by Eve Barham), where he got his doctorate (Balliol, under Niko Tinbergen).  This is basic information of the sort that most of us have read a thousand times on his book jackets.

The article is of course hopelessly slanted, and I have no hope that any article on Conservapedia will match other, more reputable sources for quality, but it could at least try to do a decent job of including the most basic facts.

Meanwhile, there’s always the Wikipedia article about Richard Dawkins which is probably reasonably accurate.


4 Responses

  1. Tony. Have never heard of “Conservapedia.” I thought the list of the “popular articles” is rather revealing about who goes there. What I have read of this piece on Dawkins certainly slants toward the negative. Although I like that they quote Alister McGrath, whom I think is rather respectable. But I think Dawkins is respectable too. I’m not quite sure why everybody thinks that we have to try and prove each other wrong all the time. It seems that coming at a problem from widely different angles allows all of us to learn something about ourself, each other, and the world.

  2. I should declare an interest, I suppose. I am a longtime contributor, currently “resting” and possibly even emeritus, to Conservapedia’s more popular rival, Wikipedia.

    I am very much wedded to Wikipedia’s house style, which is more conservative (with a small C) in that it holds to the neutral point of view. The partisan statements and essay-writing of Conservapedia are not to my taste. However my target here is the inaccurate presentation of the facts, and the omission of the most basic biographical facts from an article about a very famous man.

  3. Tony, your not going to ever get that particular claim to change. It is one of Andrew Schlafly’s pet ideas and he pretty much never changes his mind on anything no matter what the evidence. The only thing I’ve ever seen him change his mind on was on some math stuff where his brother who has a very good math background explained to him that Andrew had no idea what he was talking about.

  4. Another problem with the “he isn’t a real professor” line adopted in the article as it stood, which I don’t think I mentioned at the time, was that Dawkins has held a professorial fellowship at New College for some decades. This was mentioned in Wikipedia, of course.

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