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.
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.
The three yahoos at the heart of this story are OSU Professors Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis.
Actually, this trio of cowards is not bright enough to hide their real motivation.
The three fundamentalist professors also wrote...
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
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.