Thursday, July 14, 2011

Forrest Mims III – Irony, Creationism and Scientific American

True examples of irony are rare, but the story of Forrest Mims III’s aborted employment by Scientific American (SA) is one.
SA was founded by Rufus Porter in 1845.  In its first issue Porter wrote an article - "Rational Religion" in which he said:
‘First, then, let us, as rational creatures, be ever ready to acknowledge God as our Creator and daily Preserver; and that we are each of us individually dependent on his special care and good will towards us, in supporting the wonderful action of nature which constitutes our existence; and in preserving us from the casualties, to which our complicated and delicate structure is liable.’ R. Porter, Rational Religion, Scientific American 1(1): 1845

Porter was a man of many talents and interests from painting to inventing. He had an insatiable interest in science and technology which led him to start Scientific American.  The magazine found a ready audience and gained in stature and popularity.
Over time SA added features including The Amateur Scientist which showed non-technical people how to perform experiments and explained scientific concepts.  It was this feature which, in the late 1980’s needed an author.
Enter, Forrest Mims III, whose interests in science and technology were as intense and diverse as Porter's.  By this time Forrest had established himself as a best selling author of science and electronics books, had collaborated on the first production home computer two years before Apple, had invented devices to aid the blind in mobility, had contributed articles to peer review journals, numerous popular magazines, and much more. So, it seemed a perfect fit when SA approached him about taking over 'The Amateur Scientist' feature.  
At SA’s request Forrest flew to New York to meet with Jonathan Piel, the magazine’s editor. The interview seemed a formality, given their prior discussions, until Mims mentioned writing for some Christian magazines.  That admission concerned Piel who followed up by asking if Forrest believed in evolution.  When he replied that he did not Piel’s mood changed and the interview ended.  Shortly after returning home Forrest was told that his views on evolution made it impossible for SA to hire him.  It was not a question of talent, knowledge or ability; it was merely his opposition to evolution.
Over the next few months the SA action was roundly condemned by national organizations and publications including The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Wall Street Journal 
In the following decades Forrest has sold more than seven million books and continues to do research and publish articles.  But the SA affair continues to raise disturbing questions about objectivity and scientific orthodoxy.  Does a scientist’s position on evolution inform on the legitimacy of his entire body of work?  Perhaps not, but it is clear that it shuts and locks doors.  Who benefits from that?  Piel feared the revelation that one of SA’s feature writers was a creationist.  Was that legitimate? The AAAS did not think so. 
Forrest’s success ( has proven just how wrong headed SA’s decision not to hire him was since he has demonstrated that a backyard scientist can be successful and earn a living being just that, creationist or not.
For several years I have participated in*, a discussion forum dominated by anti-Christians.  They call themselves atheists or agnostics but it is really Jesus they oppose.  Ostensibly their god is science with a heavy helping of rational thought and logic.  Given their alleged devotion to science, about the worst thing one can admit to is being a creationist; and so my confession resulted in histrionic attacks on my character and intelligence.  But since God is over everything including science, there should not be a conflict between the two. Certainly Rufus Porter saw none, but the members of did not agree and availed themselves of every opportunity to berate, belittle, and disparage God, The Bible, Jesus, prayer, faith, etc.  In June of 2011 user-id Jonsen1010 posted about the SA/Forrest Mims affair and to justify the magazine’s actions, he wrote as a Forrest surrogate:

“I write an article for a science journal about using a potato as a battery. It checks out and is exemplary on that experiment.
“Then I write another article in a different magazine where I assert … that the lights in the sky which we have all been calling planets are … in fact … fairies which hover … waiting to hear wishes.
“Regardless of my aptitude with potatoes, if I sincerely believe the fables of a fairy tale I have very poor scientific integrity. It is obvious that in this area I am willing to disregard everything there is to know about a subject in order to continue lying to myself. “

Let’s assume that the above contrived story happened; does the hypothetical scientist’s belief in fairies negate his expertise in potato power?  Of course not.  In fact some of the most brilliant minds throughout history have also been some of the most eccentric.

Jonsen1010 continues with an imaginary lecture to his ‘Forrest’

“This is not a matter of censorship, but peer review. You are flat out wrong. That’s why you can’t work at this science magazine. Because what you [report] is delusional, and not at all reflective of the actual truth. It is well known that your position is wrong. You have the right to your opinion, but you do NOT have the right to espouse garbage.”

I call this the see-saw approach. It seems reasonable to balance one argument against the other but they are not equal.  By Jonsen1010’s own construction the practical science experiment is significantly more representative of his scientist than the fairies, and the potato experiment is exemplary.

The real Forrest Mims III weighs in: 

“Prior to the SA’s revocation of my assignment no one there or elsewhere ever questioned my expertise. That's why I was surprised when disparaging remarks about my qualifications began to appear in the press.
“Someone wrote that as a believer in creationism I lacked the credibility to write about science. Another suggested that I was attempting to "penetrate" mainline scientific organizations, and another questioned my competency.
“To the best of my knowledge, none of these scientists read any of my works before making their judgments. They were totally unaware that for 20 years I had earned a living from science by writing more than 50 books, hundreds of articles and papers for 75 different magazines, journals, and newspapers.
“Even after learning this some still insisted I should be prohibited from writing SA, since belief that God created the universe, meant I would selectively apply the scientific method. This sword cuts both ways, and it is those who make that claim who fail their own test. On what evidence is my objectivity questioned? None. The claim is based solely on a religious stereotype unsupported by any evidence from my writings which clearly follow traditional scientific methods.
“My lifelong ambition to write "The Amateur Scientist" was thwarted by scientific orthodoxy, not science. Besides ruining careers and closing opportunities, its adherents slow progress by stifling academic freedom and chilling the free and open exchange of ideas. Because dissenters threaten this orthodoxy, they are labeled as heretics, are publicly castigated, and are sometimes fired, much as I was.”(talk about ironic)
Adapted from The Scientist 5[4]:0, Feb. 18, 1991. 
That was Forrest’s defense back in the 1990’s and despite protestations that we live in a more diverse and inclusive society the grants of leniency toward Christians and creationists have diminished over the years.

Writing in Bob Holland* shares the following;

“I can really imagine the nightmare that SA would have faced if they hired [Mims] for the Amateur Scientist column. This crank would have started off with good material to build his position, but then would have subtly injected creationism. It was all a political stunt, aimed at embarrassing science. Mims deceptively concealed his crackpot views from SA in his initial pitch to them but the due diligence process flushed out his unacceptability for such a wide-ranging and influential position. Submitting articles is one thing, but a position as an in-house columnist requires that a journalist should accept the broad policies of the magazine.
“I find it astounding that supposedly reputable outlets like the Wall Street Journal apparently defended him after his seemingly fraudulent behavior in concealing his unscientific views in his job application.  If Mims had not deceived SA in the first place, he never would have got his foot in the door for the job interview that he secured on false pretenses.”

For the record there is NO basis for the above claims of fraud and deception.  Nor did Forrest have a hidden agenda to be a stealth creationist or obtain an interview on false pretenses.  That final assertion shows how irrational secular humanists have become.  Forrest attracted the interest of SA based on his body of work over decades. Is that body of work rendered toxic because the author reads the Bible, believes in the sanctity of life, and doubts evolution?  If so, may God truly help us.

The hysteria in Bob’s rant is difficult to understand even when one factors in a hatred of Christianity.  It just doesn’t make sense until one compares their websites.  Bob Holland’s is a brief dreamscape of sailing icebergs and algae farms.  There are no articles or publications cited.  On the other hand Forrest’s website is a mind numbing list of articles and publications, of completed and ongoing experiments, of  inventions and the voluminous output of a scientifically oriented and trained creative mind.

I had not heard of Forrest Mims prior to the posting.  After I checked him out I was convinced that the members of BiblioTalk had made a major error ridiculing him and I told them so.  Shortly afterwards I received the following email:

“You've been banned from because you bring far more negative than positive to the community.
In the nearly two years I was a member of I was constantly belittled, called stupid, retarded, ignorant, cursed at and more.  I expected that, so I am not complaining but what is odd is that for a group of people who hold science in such high esteem that it borders on worship, I don’t recall anyone ever talking about any science they actually did.  So, here is a situation where people who are anti-Christian in favor of science never actually do any, while a Christian man practically does nothing but science.  Holland called Forrest a crank scientist and he is, in the sense that he CRANKS science out!
[*Names have been altered and some quotes edited for space but the context has been preserved.]   

Forrest Mims studies smoke at Brazil's Cristalino River. Photo by Brad White.

TOPS measures the ozone layer to within 1% of NASA satellite and ground-based Dobson and Brewer measurements.
Yankee Shadowband LED Radiometer

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