Spinning the truth the DI way


On the DI website Rob Crowther spins the following story

OSU graduate student, Bryan Leonard, is suffering a vicious attack from Darwinist who seem bent on keeping him from earning his doctoral degree, precisely because he does not adhere to a strictly Darwinian viewpoint. (see here for more details)

As PT has reported already, this is incorrect

But what really caught my eye was the following ‘quote mine’

Charles Mitchell at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/) has posted his insightful take on the situation:

“First, to my knowledge at least, Leonard’s Ph.D. is not actually on evolution or intelligent design or anything else. It’s about pedagogy, period. Its concern is not scientific analysis of which theory on the origins of the universe is right, but rather how teaching about the controversy itself affects students’ attitudes. So they’re not really objecting to a dissertation that “question[s] evolution” in any meaningful sense, but rather one by a person who does. By this line of logic, universities don’t have to give degrees to people who hold views (however unrelated to the degree in question) that those in power don’t like. Imagine a communist student, or an anarchist, or an evangelical, or an atheist being denied a graduate degree on the grounds that some hostile professors thought it would “legitimize” such a worldview.

More importantly, though, even if Leonard’s thesis did question evolution, what would be the problem? Shouldn’t the dissertation be judged on its reasoning and analysis, not its point of view?”

Note how the link does not actually link to the article which can be found here but rather to the home page.

Last Friday’s edition of Inside Higher Ed details a controversy regarding a Ph.D. defense at Ohio State. It seems a student named Bryan Leonard was scheduled to defend a dissertation on how students react to being taught intelligent design along with (not in place of) Darwin’s theory of evolution. The defense is off at the moment, though, in part because OSU’s rules may have been broken. The blog Panda’s Thumb is all over that issue, and at first glance the complaints seem reasonable: apparently there is no one who specializes in science education on the committee, but there are two known supporters of the intelligent design movement.

Funny how Crowther forgot to mention these insightful comments… Charles Mitchell was responding to the following article

But according to Inside Higher Ed, there is another reason people at OSU are upset: “that Ohio State appeared to be on the verge of awarding a Ph.D. for work questioning evolution.”

Hmm, that’s a slightly different spin and the DI also omitted the first part of the paragraph “I have no reason to think Inside Higher Ed’s reporting is wrong here, but I hope it is, because that argument is ridiculous.”

Indeed, the argument is ridiculous because as the author himself observes, there are reasonable complaints involved…

Charles Mitchell concludes:

Bryan Leonard, rightly or wrongly, is questioning such beliefs at OSU. His defense committee ought to be made up of knowledgable people, which it doesn’t appear to be right now, but he should have one, regardless of whom his views offend.

In other words, not only does the DI spin a strawman namely that Leonard is ‘suffering a vicious attack rom Darwinist who seem bent on keeping him from earning his doctoral degree, precisely because he does not adhere to a strictly Darwinian viewpoint”, but they then quote Charles Mitchell who not only sides with Pandas Thumb criticisms but addresses a statement made in a newspaper.

Don’t these people get dizzy?… At least they could have linked to the actual article, but that would have led to a posting which did not really support the DI spin.


In a week or two the first misinformed folks will start mentioning this in the comments as another Darwinist abuse, like the Meyers article, and the Smithsonian movie thing. Jan, I’m looking at you.

This is the sort of thing one can expect when one starts with the “right answer” and then works feverishly to build some case–any kind of case–for it. There are two woldviews: the Baroque Monarchy, and the Spartan Meritocracy.

The Baroque Monarcy starts out with several assumptions, and these assumptions are basically unasailable. Because they come from “the authority,” they cannot be questioned (and this is not peculiar to theism–Lysenkoism is atheistic version of this, as are certain Randian principles).

The Spartan Meritocracy starts out with only those assumptions that are essential to making any further progress (logic works, I can usually trust my senses to approximate the outside world, etc.) and only adds to those assumptions on the basis of merit. Observable, reasonable, proven merit.

ID is an example of a Baroque Monarchy. The scariest thing about it is when it pretends to be a Spartan Meritocracy. And the scariest thing of all–so many people either can’t tell the difference, or don’t care that there is one, as long as their suppositions are propped up.

PvM Wrote:

not only does the DI spin a strawman

They’re probably hoping it will turn into gold for them … among the people who share their fairy-tale world anyway. They need to keep a careful look-out for any little men though (those pygmies + dwarfs, PZ!). They might steal the first-born children and indoctrinate them with good science and other such nefarious attack schemes of “the intelligent, educated segment of the culture”.

The bottom line is…

Cheating is cheating. Rigging your thesis defense to be a “rubber stamp”, and conspiring to keep it secret, while other students work their a**es off to produce theses that can be legitimately and publicly defended, is repulsive. And it is also completely contrary to any sane interpretation of the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. The subject matter of the thesis is not relevant to this fact. This is a significant act of fraud.

When the objective of cheating is partly to create the false impression that a respected university “endorses” a political view, as is clearly the case here, it adds yet another level of amoral, nihilistic fraud to the despicable mix. If you know that Ohio State University does not “endorse” your political views, you should not try to trick them in order to claim falsely that they do. This is true regardless of which political views are in question.

Those who defend these actions reveal themselves to be amoral nihilists as well. They are by no means following the teachings of Christ, but rather, a hateful victory cult that seeks to crush both science and freedom of conscience in the United States, by any means, however foul.

There is no voice saying “I am a creationist, but I darn well admit that Leonard’s cheating and scheming were wrong”. There is, apparently, no honest, sincerely Christian creationist. Their response was as predictable as it was cynical - attempt to defend cheating, by lying about the situation - even to the extent of using “out of context quotes”.


Sounds like you have read, and understood, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism.

It is a great book.


Yes. And I would gladly have credited the ideas if I could recall where they came from. Thanks so much for providing that reference; I wish many more people would read it.

How can we tell that the committee makeup was Intelligently Designed to approve his dissertation? Anybody got a design filter? No? Dang.

Can someone check Radio Shack for Designometers?

Mellow wrote - [PvM See This posting “Note that the accusation of ‘cheating’ or conspiring requires knowledge which as far as I know is not available. In other words, this may all be explainable by a simple oversight. Let’s stick to the facts … “

I profoundly disagree. Actual disciplinary action will certainly require a more formal evaluation of the evidence. This is merely a public forum, and while the contributors to PT are highly responsible in terms of fairness and rapid corrections, it’s always possible that information could be wrong. Having said that, the evidence available to the public at this point overwhelmingly suggests that Leonard and his co-conspirators attempted to assure that his thesis defense was secret and rigged. This is despicable. It is about the purest example of cheating I can think of. It is a very serious matter to defraud a university into granting a PhD, vastly more so when it is part of a scheme to create the false impression that the university “endorses” a political view. This is true regardless of the subject matter; it would certainly be true if someone attempted to get a phoney PhD to set themselves up as an evolutionary biologist. And it is a very gross violation of Christian morality.

I am not attempting to apply official sanctions to Leonard; I am merely freely expressing my opinion of his behavior in this instance, based on the reasonable assumption that it has been accurately reported.

You’re probably a creationism or ID sympathizer, and if you are, YOU PROVE MY LARGER POINT.

There is no creationist voice saying “although we agree with creationism, cheating is wrong.”

Instead, creationists choose the nihilistic, cynical, amoral approach of defending any action by a “fellow creationist”. Are you incapable of seeing that this is morally bankrupt?

Your argument is, essentially, that I can’t “prove” that Leonard really did it - it’s technically true, in a concrete sense, but drips with cynicism under the circumstances. The other strategy adopted to spin this, so far, has been the DI distortions of the situation. Soon, the other constant refrain of the morally bankrupt, “someone else did it too”, will be raised.

If I sound outraged, it’s because I am. Here we have someone who claims to be motivated by “Christianity”. His version of Christianity, that’s his version, is in some sort of conflict with mainstream science. So he makes it his life’s goal to mislead children about science, and deciding that a PhD from Ohio State University will further that goal, he sets out to cheat himself one. This is a peculiar version of “Christianity” - it is in conflict with scientific findings that have nothing to do with morality or religion, yet it is not in conflict with lying or cheating.

Harold, let me post this under my own name. I am NOT a creationist (actually, I am the author of the original thread) and I am a Christian and it does worry me how people perceive Christians. What I am saying is that yes, you have the right to make your own inferences but I would also like to point out that there may be a simple explanation for what happened.

Under the name Mellow I wrote:

Note that the accusation of ‘cheating’ or conspiring requires knowledge which as far as I know is not available. In other words, this may all be explainable by a simple oversight. Let’s stick to the facts …

Let’s start a bet here. I’ll bet that IF the OSU administration makes a determination of cheating, the DI will consider this to be another violation of academic freedom coupled with an ideological decision to impose darwinism as a requirement to be granted a degree. I’ll bet that IF the OSU administration carefully emphasizes that this is strictly a procedural matter unrelated to the contents of the thesis itself, the DI will omit both this statement, and any link by which someone reading the DI material could discover that statement for themselves.

Now, do I have any takers? Is anyone willing to bet that the DI will condemn cheating as unChristian, OR that they will mention the actual *reason* for OSU’s determination, OR that they will provide a link so that a reader can learn that reason directly. Any one of these three wins the bit. Anyone?

Now Flint, you know that’s a sucker bet. While you’re at it, you might as well offer odds on any Discovery Institute fellow every actually producing a scientific theory of intelligent design - or even a single, precise, testable intelligent design hypothesis.

Come to think of it, I like sucker bets… as long as I’m the one collecting. Anyone take the above bet? I’ll offer any odds you like.

;-) G


Alright, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt - maybe you are just being very scrupulous about casting judgment on others, even if there is strong circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing. That’s a position I can respect, even applaud, IF it’s consistent. If it’s a tendency to make excuses for those who declare themselves “Conservative Creationist Christian” only, that’s a different story.

The issue here should not be, of course, how Christians are perceived, since perception of Christians in general should not be affected by the actions of a single person. Every reasonable person knows that millions of Christian students work hard and honestly for their degrees (including plenty of evolutionary biology degrees). It would not even be an issue of how creationists are perceived, if creationists did not already have a track record of similar bad behavior.

Creationists already have, of course, quite a track record of playing fast and loose with degrees. Some claim titles like “doctor” without an accredited degree, as in “Dr Dino”. Some brandish irrelevant degrees in law or sciences unrelated to evolutionary biology, to imply non-existent expertise. A tiny few have biology-related degrees, but insinuate that their eccentric views are typical of biologists in general, eg Behe. However, while most of these activities are certainly not honest in a Christian sense (why would a Christian want to trick people into thinking he’s a “doctor” if he isn’t, in the usual sense of the term, and how could he square that with the teachings of Jesus?) they are at least legal and free of academic fraud, strictly speaking (no-one denies that the author of “Darwin on Trial” seems to have earned a LAW degree fair and square, and so on).

As for simple explanations, if 1) Leonard’s thesis defense was either not publically announced, or announced in a way that made it obscure and 2) the thesis was to be evaluated by two professors who are experts in neither education nor evolution (for a thesis on education in evolution), but who are “coincidentally” the most vigorous, if not the only, ID advocates at OSU and 3) these facts seem to have come to light only because Leonard could not resist testifying at the Kansas hearing (and my guess is that he was paid to do so), well, only one simple explanation suggests itself to me. I’m certainly open to others. Please note that, although I am an opponent of ID, my opinion of this matter would be pretty much the same if Leonard were trying to earn a fake degree to advance some cause I believe in.

These are dead serious questions. I am far from an expert in grammar, but I have been seeing a lot of confusing use of the singular lately:

Rob Crowther says: “…from Darwinist…”

Does that mean “from a Darwinist” or “from Darwinists”?

Is this a normal use that I missed over the years, some new colloquialism, or just a typo? I do know that at least one PT semi-regular uses it consistently.

Note, these questions are separate from my usual complaint of the use of the words “Darwinist” and “Darwinism.”

I’m not cynicism-impaired enough to take that bet. :)


I try to be consistent and I am on the record as accepting the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design as well as the theological risks of using bad science to support one’s faith. In fact, I regularly speak out against the lack of science and what I see as poor theology. I agree that there are many questions to be answered but I would also like to give people the benefit of the doubt until more data has become available. Not looking for excuses, just being patient.

When data are lacking, it’s often tempting to take extreme positions. I do not find such extremes very useful when actual data are mostly lacking or circumstantial. As I said, I am not trying to silence your criticism(s), I am just voicing my own viewpoints here while trying to remain open to other viewpoints.

I started this thread with a posting addressing comments on evolutionnews, comments which I found somewhat ‘ironic’ and which made my head spin… Spinning the quote mines…


Dang! I was counting on you!

PvM -

It would seem we have no disagreement whatsoever (and it was rather dull of me not to notice that you were the original author, and a contributor to other threads).

In general, I strongly endorse your tactic of waiting for all the facts before issuing condemnatory judgments.

In this case, I defend my comments. At worse, I have expressed my opinion as to how bad it would have been, if Leonard had acted as the current information in this media suggests that he has, but were later shown to be, rather, a victim of some bizarre series of coincidences. At best (or perhaps I should say, at worst), I have recorded my moral outrage, should the situation ultimately prove to be what it now merely seems very much to be. I notice that you do not offer an actual alternate “simple explanation” for the points I raise above. I also notice that no actual creationist has yet made any comment remotely resembling a statement that “cheating is wrong”.

With the data at hand, I rather strongly favor the hypothesis that a sleazy cheating scheme has been exposed. I grant that, as far as I know, it remains a hypothesis, albeit a rather strong one.

As outraged as I am by the mere idea that someone might try to fraudulently cheat themselves a doctoral degree in education from Ohio State University, in order to get a high paying job, teach lies to American children, and pretend that Ohio State University endorsed those lies, to boot, my outrage is tempered, and surely lesss than that felt by some. Because I am not a student or alumnus of Ohio State University, nor an Ohio taxpayer…

And finally -

I’m willing to admit that one other explanation for the events described above may exist, more or less. But it doesn’t quite fit as well…

Mutual deliberate ignorance may be at work.

It’s possible that somehow, Leonard may never have gotten the feedback he needed from people who actually understand the theory of evolution, despite the high number of people at OSU who do understand it.

This doesn’t explain certain facts - that his thesis evaluators were coincidentally those most likely to rubber stamp it, nor that the announcement of his thesis defense appears to have been omitted or deliberately obscured - with the same elegance as the “cheating” hypothesis.

I’ll grant, it’s not quite impossible. An advisor with expertise in some other branch of science education, but lack of knowledge of biology (but why would a biology teacher working on a thesis about biology education have such an advisor?) may have sent him to seek advice from faculty members rumored to know about “ID” (but why wouldn’t he have been given reference to an expert in evolutionary biology as well?).

Lacking adequate feedback, he may have created a thesis with flaws that a mainstream biologist, or scientist from another field or layman interested in biology, could have pointed out.

By an inadvertent coincidence or innocent act of naivete, he may have ended up with only “pro-ID” faculty members, from fields not closely connected to his thesis, as his comittee (despite the plethora of experts in education and evolution available at OSU).

By a second coincidence, someone may have inadvertently failed to make the thesis defense widely known. In this scenario, Leonard’s paid invitation to testify against mainstream science education in Kansas is a fortunate coincidence for him, allowing appropriate faculty to be made aware of his dissertation.

But it sure is a stretch, isn’t it?

And either way, the end result is the same.

OSU is an internationally prestigious institution, and deservedly so. The hard-working people of Ohio (and other people of Ohio as well, in some cases) gladly pay taxes to support it, because it provides educational, economic, and cultural benefits to their state.

Had Leonard’s appearance in Kansas not resulted in faculty members other than his all-ID duo, and a professor of Italian who seems to have been most rudely exploited, being made aware of the situation, OSU would have inappropriately granted a degree to someone who didn’t really earn it, who planned to use it to advance a career of teaching lies about science, and who would have used to suggest that OSU endorsed those lies.

And I still know which hypothesis I favor. And exactly how “Christian” I consider the protagonists of this little tale.

I received my masters from OSU, a MOO degree (Master of the Obvious), so I feel I can make some predictions here. If he ever says anything at all, which he might not, Leonard will claim that he tried to recruit some School of Teaching and Learning faculty for his committee, but that no one would touch it with a ten foot pole, so he was left with the only two people on campus who were interested. Even though there are 58 faculty in that department alone in the College of Education, the Grad School will quickly accept that explanation, help select another committee, have everyone swear a blood oath of secrecy, and have the defense conducted with no announcement. The only way we’ll ever hear anything about this again is if Leonard is passed and his thesis is found one day on a library shelf. If he’s failed we’ll only hear of it from Leonard himself, guaranteeing that the truth will never be known.

While the majority of the faculty at OSU seems to have backed faculty senate resolutions defending the teaching of evolution during the OBOE evolution wars, and key members of the faculty have fought the good fight above and beyond the call of duty, I don’t trust the administration. People in the Grad School, and the College of Education knew what was happening, and wanted it done quietly. We’re never going to find out who those people were. President Holbrook is on record downplaying the importance of evolution in science education(http://sciam-editor.typepad.com/web[…]e_creat.html). Her main concern in this will be keeping it quiet so that the Ohio government, which supports teaching creationism as science, doesn’t get upset and pull back funding (see http://president.osu.edu/speeches/o[…]budget05.php). The only way that a message opposing the teaching of psuedo-science in the science class is going to come out of this is if the faculty senate takes a strong oversight role in the affair.

All just wild speculation on my part. MOO

“although we agree with creationism, cheating is wrong.”

I have often argued with groups of creationists who were far from unified in belief, and of course I often heard one or another say quite outrageously wrong BS, but I don’t think I ever heard one creationist admonish another for talking crap when there is a common atheist enemy present. I know there are rare examples like the anti-hovind page on AIG, but the selection I speak to give the impression that “it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit of a scoundrel, as long as they’re a scoundrel fighting on my side”

On the specific case of Leonard, it seems he’s cheating in fact, but whether he’s cheating in intent needs some consideration of the extent wishful thinking compromises the logical process in the creationist mind. My guess is that when you “know” you’ve produced a valid result, it seems reasonable to assemble a panel who can “recognise” this validity when they see it. Naturally creationists don’t have the necessary integrity to take precautions against the effective cheating which arises from blindness, but, well, there’s this blindness…

Could someone clarify a point for me that seems unspecified?

First, it seems obvious why DI wants Leonard and this degree for their movement. Like other of their “experts,” they want to play semantic games by saying his degree is “in ID education,” or some such.

I also understand that Ph.D. candidates in Teaching and Learning at OSU must have someone on their committee in the field that they are writing about. My Ph.D. required four members from my field (plus one outside member).

But is there some way they could reasonably claim that the subject isn’t the issue. By making some kind of value neutral claim about “the effect” of teaching these subjects on students, couldn’t he say that the correctness or incorrectness of the subject matter is irrelevant? What matters is pedagogy and psychology and rhetoric.

This seems to be the DI is trying to argue. What can we point to that would suggest that their “spin” incorrect?

Test post to see if I can make the invisible #35439 appear.

Well it worked for me at any rate - plus I got a bonus post #35427 appearing which I didn’t know was in between. Over 12 hours was a long time for it to be in limbo.

Psssst… I have a trick I wish to share with you.

If you preview (even an empty message), scrolling down reveals posts not yet visible in the “regular” page.

Paulk asked

But is there some way they could reasonably claim that the subject isn’t the issue. By making some kind of value neutral claim about “the effect” of teaching these subjects on students, couldn’t he say that the correctness or incorrectness of the subject matter is irrelevant? What matters is pedagogy and psychology and rhetoric.

This seems to be the DI is trying to argue. What can we point to that would suggest that their “spin” incorrect?

Once again, the plain requirement is that two members of the committee be from the program in which the degree is sought. In Leonard’s case, that’s Science Education. There are five OSU faculty members in that program, none on Leonard’s committee. The subject of Leonard’s dissertation is science education, in which neither Needham nor DiSilvestro hold professional qualifications.

That leaves aside the question of whether teaching kids falsehoods about a content area (evolutionary biology in this case) is ever good pedagogical practice.


Snaxalotl -

“My guess is that when you “know” you’ve produced a valid result, it seems reasonable to assemble a panel who can “recognise” this validity when they see it. Naturally creationists don’t have the necessary integrity to take precautions against the effective cheating which arises from blindness, but, well, there’s this blindness … “

In other words, you offer an insanity defense, more or less. Perhaps Leonard suffers from a mental defect that prevents him from understanding that to rig (or comply with rigging) a secret thesis evaluation before a hand-picked pair of ill-qualified evaluators, chosen solely for their probable willingness to rubber stamp anything he says, in order to obtain a PhD he could not have honestly earned, while other students work hard and honestly for theirs, is wrong.

You know, when I was a professor, I was criticized for my excessively forgiving and pliant nature. I don’t have any idea why you usual good guys at this site are bending yourselves into mental pretzels to deny the significance of this situation.

Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe he isn’t just a creationist, but he’s also so mentally defective that he can’t understand that this kind of behavior is a violation of the basic moral principles advocated by Christianity, as well as Buddhism, secular humanism, Hinduism, etc, and enforced as rules at every academic institution at any rate, just in case someone has no moral principles.

It really doesn’t matter much, does it? A PhD in education is in effect a recognition of expertise in the academic field of education. I think we can agree that someone who suffers a mental defect that prevents them from understanding that cheating is wrong is not qualified to be an expert in education. A defect of this nature would also be a profound disability in terms of academic work in general, especially at the graduate level. It sounds like a stretch to me, given the apparently well-reasoned and cynical machinations in this case, but inability to understand that cheating is wrong might be potential defense against a criminal charge of fraud. That’s about as far as it goes, though.

I note that not one creationist voice has said “Cheating is wrong”.

Creationism is anti-Christian. Creationism is attacking the moral fiber of America (and Australia and Turkey, as well, I’m told). Creationism is teaching our young people that there is no need for a moral code, and that dishonesty is okay, as long as you can get away with it. Creationism has parallels with Lysenkoism, promoted by Stalin. Creationism is wasting tax dollars, and contributing to budget deficits. The difference between this list, and the typical list of “evils” claimed by creationists to be due to evolution, is that this list is accurate and logical.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on June 14, 2005 10:42 PM.

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