Reports of the National Center for Science Education

In Memory of Bob Schadewald

Bob was a technical writer by profession, but he was known to NCSE members and many others as a researcher of the scientifically quirky. The creation/evolution issue occupied much of his time, but his true specialty was the turn-of-the-century flat-earth, geocentric, and hollow-earth movements. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was truly the authority on these early pseudosciences, about which he wrote several articles.

He assembled an unusually complete library of materials on these enthusiasms, including original books and pamphlets as well as copies of obscure and one-of-a-kind items archived at libraries in the US and abroad. Bob was a bibliophile's bibliophile: whenever he visited a city, he inevitably would check the library's holdings, and he always made the rounds of used book stores. Bob's library reflected his fascination with how science could be distorted, spun around, and turned inside out to justify false claims, whether those of special creation, or the even more bizarre "theory" of a hollow earth. He delighted in pointing out similarities in how geocentrists, flat-earthers, and creationists marshaled their arguments. One of his prize possessions was a framed certificate declaring him a member of the International Flat Earth Society, headed by Charles K Johnson, of Lancaster, California. He was always happy to relate the story of how Johnson rescinded his membership after he discovered that Bob possessed "spherical tendencies".

When I broke the news of his death to various friends and associates, the universal response was dismay that Bob had died so young, depriving us of his intelligence, his knowledge, his wit, and his company. "He knew so much!" was a common lament, and indeed, Bob had a wealth of information, seemingly retrievable on a moment's reflection. I know that I relied a lot on his mental encyclopedia as well as on his keen insight into the people and ideas of the creationism controversy.

For Bob, more than any of us, personally knew and was friends with many of the people whose ideas we disagree with. Readers of RNCSE (and its predecessor, NCSE Reports, which Bob once edited) will recall Bob's published analyses of quadrennial International Creationism Conferences, which he faithfully attended. There was never any question that he disagreed profoundly with the "research" presented at these meetings, and he gave no quarter in vigorous debate with the creationists participating in these meetings, but he saw no contradiction in going out afterward for a beer with these same adversaries. He made a distinction between creationists whom he considered sincere and who treated the scientific data on evolution fairly (even if they rejected it), and others whom he considered "snake-oil salesmen". When one creationist recently lost most of his personal library in a fire, Bob generously boxed up duplicate copies of his books on the creation/evolution controversy and shipped them off. There are a number of creationists who personally will miss Bob, even though they may not miss his barbed criticisms of their scientific statements or his astute dissections of their logic.

Bob resigned from the NCSE Board of Directors in the mid-1990s, citing increased demands of work as well as some personal reasons. But he remained an "on-call" advisor to me and other Board members, and was a strong proponent of NCSE to the general public. He maintained informal email connections to many other "creationism fighters", sharing information and suggesting strategy up until the last week of his life.

Once, after a typically long NCSE board meeting, a group of us had gone out for dinner. Immersed as we were in the creation and evolution controversy, after a few drinks, we started talking about creationist "scientific models" — laughing about the convolutions of data and theory required to accommodate scientific data within a 6-day creationist model. Much of the conversation consisted of "and can you believe that they actually think…?" as we regaled one another with examples of creationists' apparent ability to believe at least 7 impossible things before breakfast. We were having a pretty good time at the opposition's expense, when Bob looked up and said, "You know, somewhere, there's probably a bunch of creationists sitting around a table, drinking beer, and saying, 'those evolutionists! Can you believe they actually think…?'"

We're going to miss him.

By Eugenie C Scott
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