Friday, June 17, 2005

The Conservative Assault on Evolution Continues

While browsing in the bookstore yesterday I noticed that the cover story in the current issue of The American Spectator is a ten-page pro-ID, anti-evolution rant. It's author is a fellow named Dan Peterson who is described, as I recall, as “an author in Northern Virginia.” Strong qualifications.

The article is only available online to subscribers, but it really doesn't merit much of a response. It's just a rehashing of the standard ID talking points. Every other word is flagellum this or probability that. Yawn.

The reason I bring it up is that it is just one more example of how important anti-evolutionism is to modern conservatism. Every major conservative magazine in recent years, whether it is The American Spectator, National Review, Commentary, or The Weekly Standard has published anti-evolution articles. Most of them revisit the topic frequently.

Meanwhile, the left-wing magazines, the ones that are supposed to stand for science and reason, sit on in stone-faced silence. Where is the ten-page pro-evolution article in The New Republic or The Nation? The American Prospect has run some good stuff from Chris Mooney on the subject, but they have not run an article of sufficient length to really discuss the scientific issues. And when I proposed to them that I review the book “Creationism's Trojan Horse” they politely replied that they weren't planning to publish any review of the book.

Great. A book that deals specifically with attempts by right-wing groups to corrupt science education, and one of the most prominent liberal magazines wasn't interested.

At least they replied to my query letter. Slate and Salon didn't bother.

H. Allen Orr's recent article in The New Yorker was a good beginning, but there is so much more to say...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

So What Are OSU's Thesis Committee Guidelines?

In case you were wondering, here are the OSU guidelines (PDF format) for the PhD program in Science Education. And here's the relevant portion of it:


Each student will be assigned an initial adviser during the first quarter of enrollment. By the end of a student's second quarter of enrollment, an advisory committee consisting of four professors is to be selected: two from science education, one from outside the science education program area, and one from outside the College of Education. The student will plan the doctoral program in consultation with this committee. This committee also will be responsible for developing and assessing the Candidacy Examination. Upon completion of the examination, the student may reorganize the committee to reflect the expertise needed for the dissertation. The dissertation committee must have at least three members: two from the science education program area and one from outside the science education program area. (Emphasis Added)


And here's Richard Hoppe explaining why Leonard's committee did not satisfy these guidelines:


Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements. It was composed of his advisor, Paul Post from the technology education program area of the section for Math, Science and Technology; Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology in the College of Biological Sciences; and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. For the final defense an Assistant Professor from the department of French & Italian in the College of Humanities was also assigned to the committee to monitor the procedure. Thus, there were no members from the science education program area on Leonard’s final dissertation committee.

What is more noteworthy is that there are no members of Leonard’s dissertation committee who are specialists in science education or in evolutionary biology, even though Leonard’s dissertation is specifically directed at methods of teaching evolutionary biology in public school science classes. The two senior tenured members of the committee, DiSilvestro and Needham, in fact share a single salient qualification: they have both publicly associated themselves with the intelligent design creationist movement in Ohio and elsewhere. (Emphasis in Original)

Heddle Shows His True Colors

A recurring theme at this blog is the willingness of prominent ID supporters to stoop to the rankest sort of deceit and dishonesty in making their case. It is rare, however, for an ID supporter to openly embrace such tactics.

Which is why David Heddle's June 15th blog entry was so interesting.

In this entry, Heddle comes to the aid of Bryan Leonard, whose case I reported on in Tuesday's posting. Recall that Leonard is a PhD candidate in science education at Ohio State University. His dissertation apprently addresses the utility of teaching evidence both for and against evolution in science classes. It seems that Leonard chose his thesis committee in a way that violated OSU's guidelines, and did so to ensure that the only two known ID supporters at OSU would be present. There are also some questions regarding Leonard's ethics in using human subjects in his research.

Heddle writes:


A massive spin is underway, insisting that the sole reason behind the uproar is the fact that Leonard tried to “game” his committee, the makeup of which did not follow university guidelines.

It's no wonder. Leonard was between a rock and a hard place. Follow the rules and face certain failure (regardless of the quality of his work) or break the rules in an attempt to achieve a fair reading of his dissertation.

The spin is that Leonard was stacking the deck. The reality is that this was his only chance to receive a scholarly evaluation.

No matter. This is not really about the composition of a committee. That's just a red herring.


Heddle has no basis at all for the claim that following the rules would have made it impossible for Leonard to achieve a fair hearing. He also has no basis for claiming that the ID friendly committee Leonard managed to assemble would be anything other than a rubber stamp for his dissertation.

So how does Heddle back-up his charges? Well, it seems that three professors at OSU, in writing a letter exprssing their concerns to OSU's graduate dean, did something unsavory. Heddle writes:


Ohio State University Graduate student (and high school teacher) Bryan Leonard, who apparently argues in his thesis that the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution should be taught in high school, is under attack by unscrupulous professors.


and


The three yahoos at the heart of this story are OSU Professors Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis.


and


Actually, this trio of cowards is not bright enough to hide their real motivation.


and


The three fundamentalist professors also wrote...


and


The ethics of these professors is so twisted that to be regarded by them as unethical is undoubtedly a good thing.


Golly! That's tough talk. After all of this repetition you'd think Heddle would get around to telling us what, exactly, the three professors did to merit all of that invective. But you would be wrong.

Instead Heddle simply offers two brief quotes taken not from the letter itself, (which does not appear to be available online and which Heddle gives no evidence of having actually read) but rather from this article published in Inside Higher Education. Here's Heddle's first quote:


…the letter [from the three professors] noted that two of the committee members were the only two Ohio State faculty members who have spoken publicly in defense of Leonard’s views on evolution. “The only qualification that these gentlemen bring to Mr. Leonard’s dissertation committee is an assurance of a non-critical hearing.”


Now I get it! Heddle believes it is cowardly and unscrupulous to argue that members of a thesis committee be chosen for their expertise in the relevant subject areas, and not for holding political views sympathetic to the student.

Here's the second quote:


There are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution. Mr. Leonard has been misinforming his students if he teaches them otherwise. His dissertation presents evidence that he has succeeded in persuading high school students to reject this fundamental principle of biology. As such, it involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical.


Wow! Bad enough that these scumbags believe that students should follow the rules in forming their thesis committees. But now they're actually defending the doctrine that lying to students is a bad thing. I see why Heddle is so upset.

Of course, two brief, second-hand quotations are not Heddle's only evidence that the gaping maw of the Darwinian establishment is poised to swallow Mr. Leonard whole. Certainly not. He has also uncovered a blog comment left by P.Z. Myers:


Yes -- I know some who failed, too. However, I don't know of any who failed the oral defense. I've seen one defense that was shockingly bad, and I was sure the person had failed...but she passed, and I was told that they simply don't allow the defense to get to the stage of the final oral defense if the work is worthless.

Leonard is nothing unusual in that sense. He's doing sub-standard work, and he's going to get stopped in his tracks. The disgraceful thing here is that his committee allowed him to get this far without administering many needed corrections.


Heddle siezes on Myers' description of Leonard's work as sub-standard. How could he know the work is sub-standard, since he has not read the thesis? Zing!

We will come back to this in a moment, but first consider this further thought from Heddle:


Spinmeisters like The Panda's Thumb would have you believe that Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis (who by all accounts have not read Leonard’s thesis) are valiant guardians of academic integrity, who undoubtedly investigate all Ph.D. committees for bureaucratic violations, and when found, respond just as quickly and forcefully regardless of the thesis topic.


See the original for links.

Uh-oh. Looks like Heddle's got 'em. How could Myers, and the three OSU professors, know that Leonard's work is sub-standard when the actual dissertation is not even available to the public? Heddle must be right. I guess these Darwinian bigots are just pre-judging work that is critical of their cherished ideology. I mean, it's not as if Leonard testified in public about the work he's doing for his dissertation, and that this testimony is readily available to anyone who cares to do a Google search on the usbject, right? Even Heddle wouldn't overlook something that obvious.

Oh, wait a minute, he did so testify, and his testimony his readily available. Leonard appeared for the creationists in the recent evolution hearings in Kansas. His testimony is available here (PDF format). If you decide to wade through it, you will find all the ammunition you need to describe Leonard's work as substandard (as I will discuss in a future post).

How does Heddle think that the three OSU professors found about this situation? As he says, they surely don't investigate the committees of every graduate student at OSU. So what does Heddle think happened? Obviously they found out about it because of Leonard's public testimony, in which he explicitly describes himself as a doctoral candidate at OSU and goes on to describe obviously substandard work. In possession of such information, should the three professors not have looked into the situation a bit further? And having found clear evidence that university procedures were not being followed, were they supposed to do nothing about it?

As it is, all they did was write a letter expressing their concerns. That's it! That's what gets them referred to as unscrupulous, cowards, yahoos, fundamentalists, and unethical. They are in no position to stop anyone outside their respective departments from defending his thesis, and have not tried to do so here.

So here's the situation. On the one side you have people who believe that university rules should be followed in forming a PhD thesis committee, and that breaking those rules for ideological reasons is especially egregious. They believe that presenting false information to schoolchildren is unethical, and that all relevant guidelines should be followed in conducting research on human subjects.

On the other side you have people like Heddle who believes it is perfectly acceptable to violate whatever rules you wish as long as you fear that following the rules would make it impossible to obtain your degree. He believes that on the basis of a letter written by three OSU professors, and one comment left by a blogger, he is justified in implying that virtually the entire OSU faculty is incapable of giving Leonard's thesis a fair reading. He believes it is perfectly acceptable to pack your thesis committee with ideological sympathizers, even if those sympathizers are not in departments relevant to your work.

Pick a side.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The DI Keeps Topping Itself

Update June 16, 2005: I corrected some typos and grammatical errors from the original version.


Every once in a while even I need a reminder of just how utterly devoid of shame and conscience the Discovery Institute is.

In this press release the DI comes to the rescue of Bryan Leonard. For those who have not been following this story, Leonard is a graduate student at The Ohio State University, hoping to receive his PhD in Science Education. He has apparently written his dissertation about using ID as a tool for teaching evolution. Leonard is also known for having testified for the creationists in the recent Kansas hearings.

The recent dust-up has revolved around the make-up of Leonard's committee. It seems that he tried to hand pick the two OSU faculty members who were sympathetic to ID. In doing so, he seems to have violated OSU's clearly stated guidelines for the make-up of a thesis committee. On top of that, there are some unanswered questions concerning Leonard's use of human subjects in his research.

The basic facts of the situation are laid out by Richard Hoppe here and here. Go read his posts to get the basic facts of the situation.

To repeat, there are two issues here. One involves violations of OSU policies concerning the make-up of a thesis committee in order to avoid a serious evaluation of Leonard's dissertation, the other involves possible violations of the guidelines for using human subjects in research.

So, of course, the DI completely avoids those issues.


An effort by three professors at Ohio State University (OSU) to publicly damage the academic future of a graduate student, Bryan Leonard, because of his support for teaching about the controversy over evolution is “an attack on academic freedom and a violation of professional ethics,” said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman.

“Bryan Leonard has not even had a chance to defend his dissertation through the university process and they have gone to the press to try to discredit him in public,” said Chapman.

“It seems to me that the graduate student's real crime in this group’s eyes is that he represents the science teaching policy recently adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education,” added Chapman. “Having failed to win their way with the state board, they are taking it out on an unusually promising graduate student who was consulted by the board in its deliberations. The professors apparently have not even read the dissertation they are denouncing.”


Not a word of this is true of course, as Hoppe explains in the blog entries linked to above. And at no point do they address the main issue, which is the make-up of Leonard's thesis committee.

They do include this paragraph:


According to the Dispatch, the professors admit that they haven't read Leonard's dissertation. But that hasn't stopped them from asserting that Leonard's research is flawed because it “may have involved unethical human-subject experimentation.” But the supposed unethical problem with human subjects is nothing more than teaching high school students the scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the theory. That kind of teaching is an approach endorsed by Ohio's official science standards and also the conference report appended to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.


This is more nonsense, as Hoppe points out:


While it has been mentioned in comments to my earlier posting, it bears repeating that Leonard’s dissertation is not a public document (yet), and the three professors did not have access to it. Leonard himself called attention to it in his testimony to the Kansas BOE hearings, attempting to influence public policy on the basis of undefended and unpublished research. The three did not attempt to “discredit” the dissertation; their concerns are with the integrity of the academic programs of the University.

Furthermore, Leonard’s testimony in Kansas also raised the ethics question. Knowing of that testimony and of the illegitimate composition of Leonard’s committee, had the three professors not acted then they themselves would have been guilty of an ethical violation for failing to call the graduate school’s attention to the issue. The content of Leonard’s dissertation is irrelevant to the core issue, which is the subversion of the university’s degree-granting process by Mr. Leonard and his IDC mentors.


And later:


In fact, the question here is whether Leonard’s research as performed was vetted by the Institutional Review Board. Once again, the question arises from Leonard’s testimony in Kansas. IRB review and approval is not a minor bit of red tape. Violating IRB requirements can cost a university dearly. Failure to properly submit to, and receive approval from the local IRB of any research protocol involving human subjects (if this is what happened in Leonard’s case) is not only a matter of administrative red tape, it is in itself a violation of ethical guidelines, and could result in major penalties for the Institution and involved investigators, including the partial or complete loss of federal funding.


The DI cares nothing about things like academic integrity or simple truth-telling. They only care about finding things they can spin to their advantage in front of audiences unwilling to obtain the facts for themselves. So they go hunting around for a loophole in the Smithsonian's policies to allow them to imply that the Smithsonian is backing ID by cosponsoring a DI event. They are willing to completely subvert the processes by which academic degrees are awarded in a desperate attempt to produce credible people to make their case. They seek out sympathetic editors of obscure journals to make a mockery of peer-review and publish ID garbage.

The only thing they do not do is play by the same rules professional scientists and serious scholars agree to live by. That is because they have no good argument to make, and no conscience to get in the way of making their bad ones.

Well, Except for the Crazy Part...(I Hope!)

From Moby Dick, Chapter 41:


All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.


I know the feeling. Creationism has the same effect on me.