You have to hand it to the creationists, especially the “young-Earth” variety. They are endlessly creative in concocting new rationales for their worldviews. Even when they have to twist into mental contortions, they manage to say it all with a straight face. For example, if, as they contend, the Earth is only six thousand years old, instead of 4.6 billion, and if all life were created the same day instead of evolved over time, that means dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. And if that’s true, then maybe dragon legends actually are evidence of human contact with dinosaurs. And so if they can only show that dinosaurs breathed fire. . . . Yes, I know. Impossibilities multiplied by implausibilities. But they are serious. They write school textbooks endorsing these absurdities. So for our cover article, Philip J. Senter takes them seriously. A vertebrate paleontologist, he carefully examines each hypothesis, one after the other. Senter has great patience. But the end result is a fire hose of cold water quenching each fire-breathing hypothesis. Where then do dragon legends come from? Senter explains that too. In a shorter companion article, he then tracks down a separate bizarre claim that Australian Aborigines may have known of the extinct plesiosaur. I’ll not give away the ending, but think Golden Books.
And so it goes. We examine extraordinary claims. One after another. Patiently. Some may seem trivial. Others are far more serious. But they exist all along one continuum, and we are there with our scientists and investigators at every point. Then we report to you what the scientific evidence actually reveals. We also examine broader issues, including the flaws in our thinking that lead us to wrong conclusions about the world. An example in this issue is Terence Hines’s essay-review of an important new book on why it is so hard for us to properly evaluate risks. Why do we give too much credence to some risks and too little to others? It’s both a fascinating and crucially important topic. We have false problems and real problems. Not seeing the difference is costing us mightily.
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The shame is that we needed a March for Science. But we did. What’s encouraging is that scientists and science supporters turned out in huge numbers April 22 for rallies in more than 600 cities worldwide. They advocated for all the qualities of science we admire. In previous generations, our political leaders extolled science and did what they could to support it. Today, too many now in positions of power and influence belittle science. They demean evidence-based thinking, learning, even intelligence. Science is not partisan. It is our engine of progress. It is one of humanity’s great achievements. The big turnout on its behalf reminds us all that science and critical thinking still have broad public support. The participants illuminated the darkness. Let’s not let that light dim. (For another take on the march, see Matthew Nisbet’s column, p. 18.)
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I hope you have noticed that beginning early this year we have had a “new” columnist, James (“The Amazing”) Randi. As you all know, Randi has been one of the world’s outstanding skeptics for more than four decades. He is one of our founders. He has written for SI over the years, but, amazingly (!), this is his first regular column for us. He has titled it “A Magician in the Lab.” His third entry, “The Farce Known as ‘FC,’” is in this issue. We’re happy Randi is now bringing you his keen insights and investigatory experiences. Better late than never, I say.