Why did they think it was right?

The necessity of a close reading.

This afternoon I was getting the IELTS class to practise multiple choice questions. One of the questions was “What did Darwin discover?”. The answer which the class chose was A. “Human beings were a unique creation of God”. That stunned me a little, particularly because of the obsession with science in China. Pictures of famous scientists, including Darwin, seem to be a feature of Chinese high schools, and you’re not going to find creationism or intelligent design as part of the science curriculum.

The sentence which beguiled the IELTS class was “The Darwinian revolution removed us from our position as a unique creation of God.” Clearly they’d spotted the phrase in the answer and decided that A. must be right without bothering to read the rest of the sentence. It also suggests that they didn’t bother thinking about the answer because it should be contrary to what they’ve been taught. But there’s something else as well.

As regular readers [Ah, there’s wishful thinking. –ed.] will know, I like to deride hacks and their sub-editors now and then for their failure to think first and write/edit later. Think about the sentence from the text. It should say something like “The Darwinian revolution dispelled the belief that humans were created by a divine being”. The sentence implies to me that before Darwin belief in this was fact. In truth, it was never anything but belief.

It should be said that quite a few of the texts that are to be found in IELTS textbooks in China are pretty dreadful when you look closely at them. They’re good for a single, unconsidered reading, but beyond that, their flaws are often all too obvious.

If you’re wondering why I’m getting wound up about this [No, but don’t let the indifference of the rest of humanity stop you. –ed.], it’s because I’ve seen a number of advertisements in the past for jobs writing for websites. In many cases, I’ve thought that it’s a job I could do, but one of the requirements is a background in journalism, as if that makes some journalist competent to write in the first place. I’ve probably dropped a few clangers here in my time, but I don’t believe that I’m any less competent at scribbling than some Grub Street hack.


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