Sunday, June 13, 2004

Seebach on Project Steve As part of their ongoing quest to convince ignorant people that scientists are abandoning evolution, creationists routinely produce lists of people with PhD's (usually not in any relevant branch of science) who challenge evolution. To parody this silly rhetorical strategy, the The National Center for Science Education started Project Steve. The idea was to compile a list of scientists who support evolution. The catch was that only people with the name Steve (or some variation on it like Stephanie) could sign. Currently, Project Steve has 435 signatories, far more than any comparable creationist list.

Linda Seebach, of the Rocky Mountain News has written this fine column on the subject. Here's an excerpt:

People who oppose the teaching of evolution in the schools or who want nonscientific theories such as “intelligent design” to be part of the curriculum are fond of claiming that evolution is “a theory in crisis” and that “growing numbers” of scientists now dispute it.

As purported evidence for their claim, they compile lists of scientists - well, some of them are scientists - who agree with them. They are very short lists, compared with the hundreds of thousands of scientists who understand that evolution by natural selection is the foundation of all the biological sciences, but how to make that point to, say, members of state school boards who are neither scientists themselves nor well prepared to evaluate competing claims about what is science and what is not?

Evolutionary biologists' light-hearted answer: Project Steve.

The National Center for Science Education, whose motto is, “Defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools” (at - click on "resources" and then the Project Steve box on the right) came up with the idea of parodying the intelligent design lists by making their own list of biologists willing to sign a strong statement in support of evolution, with the only requirement being that their names had to be Steve, or some variation of it (Stephanie or Stefan, for instance).

Matt Inlay, then a graduate student in biology at the University of California at San Diego, suggested that Steve would be an appropriate name, to honor Steven Jay Gould, who died not long before the project got started. (There are no plans to repeat it with other names; as the center says on its Web site, “It's only funny once.”) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1 percent of the U.S. population has a Steve name.

Since one list widely circulated by intelligent design proponents has 100 names, the center originally hoped to get 100 signers by circulating the statement to a limited number of qualifying scientists. But scientists like to chatter among themselves by e-mail, and so as soon as word got out, in February 2003, lots more people volunteered. The Steve-o-meter currently stands at 435, executive director Eugenie Scott said. About two-thirds of them are biologists but the others include such luminaries as Stephen Hawking.