Letters for February 14, 2008

Dueling dissents on Darwinism
Re: “Giving Darwin his due” (Editorial, CN&R, Feb. 7):

With the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth coming up, it might be scientifically enlightening to take a look at the flip side of the coin of origins.

“A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism” (www.dissentfromdarwin.org) has the signatures of 700 Ph.D. scientists in the fields of physics, biology, genetics, chemistry, geology, astrophysics, zoology, anthropology and more. They simply state: “We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian Theory is encouraged.”

If you Google “intelligent design” you’ll find interesting articles on discoveries that seem to point to a creator. As you read on, you’ll soon realize you’ve violated the inner sanctum of the monastery of Darwinian thought.

Apparently it is forbidden to question what we were taught about evolution in high school and college. Shouldn’t we follow scientific facts wherever they lead, or is there really a door we are not to open?

Gary Rayome

In “Giving Darwin his due,” you’ve raised some interesting issues about those who stubbornly cling to contentless beliefs in the face of scientific evidence. You stated that “a nation that doesn’t respect a fundamental scientific truth is in serious trouble.” This is obviously true, though perhaps the context is wrong.

Darwin’s theory doesn’t stand up under close scientific scrutiny. On a molecular level, it’s an untenable theory because of the irreducible complexity of the components that are needed for everyday life (such as the inner working of the eye, the cascade effect of blood clotting, or the mechanical intricacy of flagella). The parts could not have evolved and been selected before the whole.

It’s also untenable on a genetic level. The information encoded in DNA is not increasing in content and complexity, nor can it. In fact, it can easily be demonstrated that the entire human genome is losing information with the passing of each generation.

Why does the scientific community cling so tenaciously to a theory that has been shown to be without merit? Give Darwin his due. Brilliant man, a theory that is elegant in its simplicity, but completely wrong. It’s time to move on and discover the true “Origin of the Species.”

Larry Carmichael

Journalism profs take CN&R to task
Re: “Copy cat?” (Campus, by Meredith J. Cooper, CN&R, Feb. 7):

After reading Meredith Cooper’s story in which she asserts plagiarism occurred on The Orion, we were disappointed by her reporting.

For the record, we determined that there was no plagiarism. The situation Cooper described was treated seriously; the reporter in question was called to account; and appropriate action was taken given the circumstances.

Given that Cooper’s accusation of plagiarism ran contrary to the sources she cited in the story, she turned to a media law textbook to which she also showed disregard. The key feature of the plagiarism definition cited in Cooper’s story occurs when “…competing reporters either make no effort to find new information or are unable to find any, and simply rewrite the original without credit to the source…”

Though Cooper pointed out similarities in the first four paragraphs of the two stories in question, she did not report that The Orion story had an additional 10 paragraphs of information not contained in the Sacramento Bee story, including a fact correction that Cooper herself acknowledged in her story. The additional reporting performed for The Orion story clearly undermines Cooper’s claim of plagiarism as cited in the media law textbook.

And there rests our final complaint: Cooper’s opinion on the issue. After interviewing five people—two students and three professors—her reporting is clear: There was no plagiarism. Yet, she asserts that—in her opinion—the story was plagiarized, and she asserts that her sources are wrong and irresponsible.

To our minds, what is irresponsible is opinion masquerading as a news story.

Glen L. Bleske, chairman; Dave Waddell, Orion adviser; Aaron Quinn, assistant professor
Journalism Dept., Chico State

Editor’s note: Professor Bleske sent a separate request for a correction, which is addressed later in this section.

Concurring opinions
Meredith J. Cooper’s piece last week surprised us, not because it implied plagiarism at The Orion, but because she passed off commentary as an article.

Cooper inserted her opinion throughout and made it apparent she thinks our reporter plagiarized. She has a right to her opinion, but as journalists we are taught to remain neutral. Sentences such as: “So how can it be ‘not even close to plagiarism,’ but at the same time ‘closer than it should have been'?” are anything but.

It’s interesting that Cooper didn’t mention talking to The Sacramento Bee reporter and editor. That would have been included in one of The Orion’s first paragraphs, but again, that’s what would have appeared in a news article, not in a column.

We would have also first called the reporter in question to get her story. Instead Cooper called an adviser and managing editor 11 days before the reporter.

Cooper also questioned how the situation was handled. Her commentary implies The Orion compared the stories, wrote the editor’s note without much thought and posted it. Actually, we had several discussions involving editors, educators and the reporter, and decided to be honest with our readers and clear up confusion.

The Orion isn’t implying Cooper should have not written the piece, but news articles should be written fairly, accurately and unbiased. Opinion pieces should be labeled so readers don’t confuse them with actual news.

Reporters gather information, organize it and let readers make their own decisions. It’s just basic journalism.

Ashley Gebb, managing editor, and Olga Muñoz, news editor
The Orion, Chico State

Plagiarism is, no doubt, one of the most serious issues dealt with in journalism. That being said, discussion of plagiarism should be held to a high standard. Meredith Cooper’s article would have been a reasonable, well-written piece—had it been labeled as a commentary. But when presented as a news article, it comes across as a cheap shot.

During my journalism education at Chico State, I was taught writing one’s opinion for a straight news story is unethical—not the mortal sin plagiarism is considered, but still a serious transgression that can undermine the public’s trust a publication will give everyone in the community it serves fair treatment.

When presented with factual arguments, readers are more than capable of forming their own fair, reasonable opinions. Reporters don’t need to do it for them.

Robert LaHue, reporter
Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Truly wasted votes
Re: “Don’t waste your vote” (Editorial, CN&R, Feb. 7):

After digesting the recent editorial representing your collective consciousness, I find myself motivated to repeat my question [from an earlier letter]: How can you continue to pander to the ideas and institutions that only serve to keep us voting against our best interests?

I concede that waste is a subjective term, but let’s consider the numbers. There are 23 million technically eligible voters in California, of which 16 million are actually registered. Of those actually registered, only 7 million bothered to vote. We have 7 million people throwing away their invitation to participate and another 9 million avoiding the polls on Election Day, for a total of 16 million wasted Californian voices.

Win or lose, voting for your best interest cannot be a waste. The true waste is knowing what your best interest is and then supporting something else, just because an invisible force tells you to. Your best interest may not win in an election, but your interests will never be [served] if you don’t stand up for them.

Daniel Haren

‘Sexist’s cop-out’
Re: “Another take on the tasing” (Letters, by Michael M. Peters, CN&R, Feb. 7):

While I agreed with the majority of Mr. Peters’ letter, he completely lost me when he got to the last paragraph. I have never heard of or seen any studies that show that 71 percent of criminals in our state are coming from single-mother families.

A two-parent family can raise children properly and they can still come out bad or be criminals. A grown child will do what a grown child chooses to do—to blame the parent or “single mothers” is just a sexist’s cop-out.

Lareina Reyes

Following up
Re: “Act of God? More like PG&E hubris” (Guest Comment, by Paul Cella, CN&R, Jan. 31):

In my Guest Comment, I asserted that one of the reasons for PG&E’s unreliability of service is “state regulation amounts to little more than window dressing.”

At the same time I submitted the material for my Guest Comment, I sent an expanded version of my complaint to the California Public Utilities Commission. In its letter dated Jan. 24, the CPUC stated: “The issue you raised is not within the jurisdiction of the CPUC.”

Repeated phone calls to the CPUC asking for the name of the agency actually having jurisdiction were not returned.

The only conclusion that can be reached is the state of California has removed even its attempt at window dressing and now denies any ability to control the reliability of PG&E’s service to its customers.

Paul Cella
Butte Valley

Re: “Copy cat?” (Campus, by Meredith J. Cooper, CN&R, Feb. 7): A sentence that said Orion adviser Dave Waddell “signed off” on an editor’s note may have left readers with an incorrect inference. Waddell discussed the note before it ran, but student editors control The Orion’s content. This has been fixed online. Additionally, in the online version, we have eliminated one passage and edited another that came across as opinion, rather than references to reported material.