I watched the approach and landing of Curiosity on the red planet with delight. I like space stuff, big distances and the many wonders of the universe. And was really interested in the images sent back. I lay outside on Saturday night around midnight watching the Perseids as they whizzed over northern Scotland. Splendid stuff, and thrilling too. But that’s stuff from out there visiting us. The wonderful thing about Curiosity is it’s about us visiting ‘them’.


Mars rover Curiosity © EPA


I was very curious about the cameras being used, and the general design features of the mars rover, so I googled it to  find out, and was woefully unprepared for the content of some of the stuff that was returned using keywords ‘mars’ ‘design’ etc.

Silly me. Here was I thinking the Mars mission was about pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge. Boy was I wrong. Seems the real motive is far more important, according to the folks at the misleadingly named Discovery Institute. The real reason as reported in the Evolution News blog the DI ‘Fellows’ maintain, is:

“Broadly speaking, they sent Curiosity to Mars in an effort, however doomed, to refute intelligent design.”


Whilst I am well aware of the so-called ‘controversy’, I’d not paid too much attention to ID (as it’s affectionately known by its proponents), but this made me sit up and take notice. And whilst I was digesting author David Klinghoffer’s Curiosity ‘conspiracy’ theory a banner ad caught my eye as it flipped to “Wikipedia’s tyranny of the Unemployed”.

More curiosity (on my part) so off I went. And the following gem was revealed (again by Mr Klinghoffer):

“Translation? This is all a roundabout way of saying that, on Wikipedia, “fact” is established by the party with the free time that’s required to wear down everyone else and exhaust them into submission. The search for truth yields to a tyranny of the unemployed.”

Yep you read that right, the tyranny of the unemployed. Those pesky idlers sitting about on their sofas, crisps to hand, clenching their iPads and misleading everyone about their origins. Rascals eh? Free time, the curse of the working classes. Well, when its wielded against them by the wrong sorts that is, y’know – the ones who aren’t working.

Now, whats all this got to do with the real world you may well ask?

Well, with my curiosity well and truly fired up, I read some more about the ‘fellows’ of the  ‘Discovery Institute’ and their (successful) efforts to try  to get this American anti-science stuff into the school curriculum in various parts of the USofA, and it made me wonder what was happening here in the UK education system, given that where the USA goes we often follow.

Didn’t take much googling to discover that our Education Secretary Michael Gove has indeed followed the American example and has apparently backed:

creationists’ proposals for free schools in Sunderland, Sevenoaks and Nottinghamshire.

Oh dear.

I’ll leave further analysis of the accuracy and implications of that situation to others. For me there are deeper questions that need answering, such as, will these schools allow Mars bars and Milky Ways in their tuck shops?

These are traditional playtime snacks we all know and love. The ID folks may view them as likely to trigger pupil’s curiosity, leading on to a much wider and wholly inappropriate interest in the universe. But a far more likely scenario is that our children will be forced to adopt the American version of these snacks.

Problem is if we adopt the American version of the Milky Way it is not only bigger, it also has concealed within its bloated exterior, a caramel topping. And what child could possibly resist that tooth-rotting delight?

But it’s not just their teeth we need to worry about.

If our children succumb to this American-led temptation what else do we stand to lose?

The science.

Real science. Facts that are important. Such as the fact that because the ‘British’ Milky Way consists only of a fluffy nougat centre it is considerably lighter than the pumped-up American caramel version (which in fact more closely resembles a Mars bar.)

Because of this low density (0.88 g/cm3), ‘our’ Milky Way floats when placed in milk. How brilliant is that! And you may or may not know that this rare attribute was used for an advertising campaign in Germany, France, Russia, Republic of Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. (And I know this is true because I read it on Wikipedia – I suspect the unemployed tyrants might have missed this one.)

Whereas the much denser American Milky Way er…well….um… just sinks in milk. Ho hum. Not much curiosity-inducing excitement there then. And who really wants any of that sinking anti-science nonsense? Not we British I hope. It’s thinking not sinking for us.

Stick with The Milky Way whose heritage you know, any other version will be very hard to swallow.

See what we potentially stand to lose as a consequence of Gove’s ill considered decision.

Dont say duckrabbit didn’t warn you.

  • Ed

    Oh John, now you really are stepping into my territory, even closer than before. Such a beautifully curious web you weave here, with just enough prose for us to hopefully be led willingly down the right path, that for science fact, not unsubstantiated supposition. As you know, in my new job I’ll be dealing with this kind of thing on a more regular basis just in the life sciences, not astrophysics.

    • Hello Ed – glad you enjoyed it. The beautiful thing about science is that its everywhere, just waiting to be enjoyed. Even in a Milky Way. Science in bite-sized chunks! But of course you know that already. Good luck with the new job – sounds really exciting.

  • Brilliant. The intrigue. The tangled connections. And I would say that the Curiosity Rover itself is a wonderful example of intelligent design. I guess the creationists missed that angle..

    • Thanks Tom. And you’re right about the Rover, but the ID folks will decide whats ‘useful’ or ‘intelligently’ designed based not on what it allows the object/nature to do, but on what they themselves can do with it to further their anti-science aims.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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