The DI Spins Leonard

| 48 Comments

A month ago I described the Bryan Leonard dissertation story, reporting that in light of several concerns raised by three senior faculty members at the Ohio State University, Leonard’s supervisor had requested a delay in Leonard’s defense. Now the Discovery Institute spin machine has ramped up its whining with this publication of a statement from the two ID creationist members of Leonard’s committee, Robert DiSilvestro and Glen Needham (hereinafter “D&N”). While one could fisk it in detail, I will here just touch on a couple of the highlights (lowlights?).

More below the fold.

The first misrepresentation is right up top in the Discovery Institute’s title: STATEMENT BY BRYAN LEONARD’S DISSERTATION COMMITTEE. But what follows is not a statement from Leonard’s dissertation committee. It is a statement from the two ID creationist members of the committee. Neither Paul Post, Leonard’s advisor who requested the delay in the defense, nor Dr. Joan Herbers, the Graduate School Representative on the committee, are signers of the D&N statement. So in fact it’s a statement from the creationist half of Leonard’s committee.

The D&N statement claims

At the last minute, certain persons in the OSU community appeared to be trying to derail Mr. Leonard’s candidacy using highly questionable tactics. Rather than first contact his dissertation committee or dissertation advisor directly with any concerns they might have had, they have campaigned against Mr. Leonard in the news media and on blog sites.

That’s simply false. In fact, none of the three persons in the “OSU community” who raised concerns about the affair have sought out the press or blogged anything. I wrote the original blog entry on Panda’s Thumb, and notification of that entry to the press went out over my signature. While I know people in the “OSU community”, I am wholly independent of that institution. One of the three faculty members appropriately released the letter to a reporter when asked for it, knowing (after consultation with the graduate school) that it is a public document.

The D&N statement goes on

If these persons have legitimate concerns, they ought to be raised through proper university channels, not in the media.

And in fact, that’s exactly what the concerned faculty members did: raised their concerns through the appropriate university channels. DiSilvestro and Needham, on the other hand, are using the Discovery Institute as a conduit. Channels, anyone?

D&N’s statement then lists several specific points of complaint. The first is an interesting one, and provides a nice insight into the thinking of creationists. D&N claim that because the Ohio State Board of Education adopted (in 2002) a standard “… encouraging teachers to teach about ‘how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory’”, Leonard was justified in asking (in his research) “When students are taught the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution, do they maintain or change their beliefs over time?” Note the slide from the standards language – “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze” – to the creationist-tinged “both supporting and challenging macroevolution”.

We don’t know exactly what “scientific data” Leonard taught that allegedly challenges “macroevolution”, but if the original model lesson plan he wrote is any guide, it came straight out of Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution. In the original model lesson plan that Leonard wrote there were nine so-called “Aspects” of evolution that were offered as debate topics for students. Eight of the nine were straight out of Wells, including such Wellsian favorites as homology and peppered moths, all of which Wells butchered (see here and here and here for general reviews of Wells’s book by scientists, and especially see here for detailed critiques of each of Wells’s claims). Wells’s book was among the “resources that supports (sic) or challenges (sic) aspects of evolution”, along with a hodge podge of references to the scientific literature, including one reference to an alleged Nature paper whose only existence is on creationist web sites. The creationist “resources” Leonard provided in the original lesson plan also included a so-called “National Association” with no employees and no dues-paying members, whose sole income is tax-deductible donations from the Washington tax attorney who is its executive director. After considerable debate, the Ohio State Board of Education eliminated Wells’s book from the references, along with stripping out other inappropriate creationist material.

If Wells’s “Icons” were what Leonard taught as “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory” the suggestion of the three faculty members that Leonard was unethically teaching false information seems perfectly appropriate. Teaching creationist-inspired trash science to high school students in the course of doing doctoral research is not ethical.

The chronology of events contradicts D&N story line. D&N claim

Instead, it [Leonard’s dissertation] looks at the impact on students of teaching a curriculum that includes scientific information and interpretations for and against macroevolutonary theory (an approach called for in the Ohio science standards).

The new science standards were adopted in 2002 and the scrubbed model lesson plan was accepted by the State BOE in March 2004. But in his testimony before a committee of the Kansas State Board of Education earlier this year, Leonard said he has been using the approach in question for years:

Q. And in your high school you’re teaching 10th grade biology?

A. Yes, I am.

Q. Teaching it how?

A. Well, the way in which I teach it is similar in a way in which basically we wrote the lesson plan that was– that– that serves as the curriculum mono [sic] lesson, entitled Critical Analysis of Evolution. So that particular lesson plan, I was the original drafter, however I had a number of people who were involved in generation, shaping and the molding of that particular lesson. Went through an extensive peer review process. And the way in which I teach evolution in my high school biology class is that I teach the scientific information, or in other words, the scientific interpretations both supporting and challenging macroevolution.

Q. How long have you been doing it?

A. I’ve been doing it for about– I think this is probably about my fifth year. About five or six years now.

In other words, Leonard’s been “doing it” since around 2000, years before any Ohio State Board of Education actions. D&N’s appeal to some sort of sanction for Leonard’s teaching by the Ohio State BOE would require time travel.

One final note. D&N’s story about the composition of Leonard’s committee boils down to a simple claim: It’s someone else’s fault. They absolve both themselves and Leonard of any responsibility for adhering to the requirements of the program in which Leonard seeks a Ph.D., instead blaming it on bad advice from unnamed “appropriate university offices”. When I did my degree, it was my responsibility to ensure that the process conformed to the requirements of my department and the graduate school, right down to the width of the margins in my dissertation and the nature of its binding.

That’s all I intend to comment on now. DiSilvestro’s and Needham’s claim that the three OSU faculty members did not follow appropriate channels is false, their claim that the faculty members “have campaigned against Mr. Leonard in the news media and on blog sites” is flatly false, and the concern that Leonard may have unethically taught trash science in the course of his disssertation research is valid.

I invite commenters to elaborate on their favorite misrepresentations in the DI’s spinning of this matter. I’ll moderate comments as I deem necessary and appropriate.

RBH

48 Comments

When Leonard plans to study the effect on high-schoolers of being taught two different points of view on a subject what are his grounds to assume or take as proven that the two points of view are equally valid in terms of the science? Rather than frame this study as the effect of two diverse points of view it should be framed as the effect of teaching a scientifically established theory vs. a poorly conceived explanation that has found no scientific approval whatsoever. If indeed Leonard wanted to study the question of divergent explanations he should have chosen some other subject. As a rule at the school level better established theories are taught with a brief look at current controversies - in the sciences. The objective is to help students to develop an understanding of fundamentals and a scientific temper, not to confuse them. If Leonard has not made it clear that the lesson plans he has used on ID are faulty, inaccurate and so with motivation; he is in the process of passing off bad theory as legitimate science. While studying the process of learning Leonard cannot and must not conduct this study with reference to a discredited and unscietific theory.

With apologies for beating those who usually bang this drum to the punch…

One gives too much credit to the neo-creationists by calling ID a theory, even if one calls it a bad theory, a discredited theory, or an unscientific theory. There is no actual theory of Intelligent Design. None. Never has been. Never will be.

In this related statement by Discovery, the DI refers to

outside Darwinist pressure groups

What might this be, exactly? Am I a member of this apparently august body of movers and shakers because I occasionally post comments on a blog site?

It concerns me, although I don’t lose sleep over it, that the DI can throw out a term like “outside Darwinist pressure group” without question or accountability.

Where are these pressure groups? Who are their members? Who do they pressure? And how?

Are Darwinist’s rampaging through towns threating people with evolution? (Better watch it, buddy, or you and your family will never evolve again. Never.)

I beat someone to death just yesterday with my origin of species, doesn’t everyone?

I note that Paul Post, Leonard’s thesis advisor, has a link to Veritas Forum on his page. Looks like the whole committee is a Christian fundamentalist operation.

Les Lane wrote

I note that Paul Post, Leonard’s thesis advisor, has a link to Veritas Forum on his page. Looks like the whole committee is a Christian fundamentalist operation.

That particular page layout and link is new as of late in the first week of June of this year. It appeared while I was researching my earlier post on this matter. Here’s the earlier version.

RBH

Link to Veritas Forum @ OSU: http://veritas.org/OSU/

note also the feedback page: http://www.veritas.org/OSU/feedback.htm

One can make too much of this. Looking at the speakers lined up for the Veritas Forum there, it’s a fair variety, including a Unitarian Universalist astronomer. Unlike DiSilvestro and Needham, Post has not publicly associated himself with the ID creationist movement as far as I know.

RBH

Comment #38098

Posted by G on July 14, 2005 10:08 PM (e) (s)

With apologies for beating those who usually bang this drum to the punch…

While you’re at it, apologize for that syntax.

From Leonard’s testimony at the Kansas school board hearings

“So what is my job as an educator? My job as an educator is actually trying to shape and mold and put my students in the best position to perform well on a test. Okay. You know, we have a set of assessments and various assessments there, so basically a–I just want them basically to do well on the tests, as well as, of course, a number of other things, which I’ll talk about a little later.

I realize that one unfortunate outcome of no child left behind is pressure to raise standardized test scores, but I question whether Leonard’s methodology will achieve that goal.

Teaching contradicting evidence– I’m sorry, information and multiple points of View suggests supporting and challenging, help students stimulate more complete understanding and critical thinking.”

ID has nothing to offer but “multiple points of view” and the specific point of view depends upon who you talk to. Also see Red State Rabble

“As far as the comparison between the Minority report and critical analysis of evolution lesson. There is some areas in which I pulled out and which to me I was able to see a connection, so it does appear that the Minority report has a wonderful beginning, wonderful– you know, so it’s definitely heading in the right direction.”

Is the slippery slope a fallacy or a toboggan ride?

On a related note:

Darwinism vs. creationism fight at OSU

The Discovery Institute in Seattle has filed a public records request with OSU seeking documents related to doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard. The request was submitted in June by the institute’s Center for Science and Culture under the Ohio Public Records Act.

I beat someone to death just yesterday with my origin of species, doesn’t everyone?

I use mine to kill cats, like the senior Senator from Tennessee. In my off time I take 4 minutes of a 4 hour, highly redacted, video to make profound medical diagnoses I later deny…

But, the way things are going, I think it may be better to join them than fight them. The power of stupidity is great and the ranks of the ignorant are rising not falling.

Therefore, after October 15th, I think I’m going to start my own ID cult blending the best of “Alien-Source” Intelligent Design with new-age crystal healing powers and pop-psychology… We’ll be preaching that Jesus was an Alien and we’ll comingle some of the biblical apocrypha that surrounds handling snakes, drinking strychnine and shoving stones up our bums while at indian power vortex’s in Sedona Arizona…

We should fit right in…

Careful RBH. Door left open to mistaken impression. The lesson plan was not scrubbed clean of creationist references, though I’m relatively certain that’s not what you meant. There is at least one doozy (Denton, Michael. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Bethesda: Adler and Adler, 1986.) and probably more.

There is one major troubling thing about N&D’s DI press release not mentioned. Needham and DiSilvestro are insisting that a political body, in this case the Ohio Deparment of Education, should override the concensus opinion of the scientific community on what constitutes scientific knowledge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer demand for a Stalinist model of party controlled science.

But, the way things are going, I think it may be better to join them than fight them. The power of stupidity is great and the ranks of the ignorant are rising not falling.

This is an idea I have been contemplating a lot lately. Maybe we should just redefine “intelligent design” to match actual science, then actively promote it!

Let’s face it–many people in that group are baldassed liars. And when confronted with their lying they deny, change the subject, blame someone else…And this is the group that claims to be religious, with the moral high ground? For how long will the public tolerate such blatant dishonesty before they begin to feel beshitted by all of the dung that’s flung so furiously by this group? Are there no members of the group with enough integrity to call for an end to the dishonesty, or at least distance themselves from the liars?

There is one major troubling thing about N&D’s DI press release not mentioned. Needham and DiSilvestro are insisting that a political body, in this case the Ohio Deparment of Education, should override the concensus opinion of the scientific community on what constitutes scientific knowledge.

There’s another angle to this that I’m not sure is fully appreciated. The ODE’s creationism-friendly policy’s have been cited as justifying Leonard’s “scholarship”, and Leonard’s “scholarship” has been cited as supporting the ODE’s creationism-friendly policies.

Leonard appears to have been adopted by the Board of Ed members closely associated with the Discovery Institute - Reverend Michael Cochran and Deborah Owens-Fink. The ODE’s choice of Leonard to write the evolution lesson plan is otherwise difficult to fathom.

Though I haven’t seen Leonard’s dissertation (who has?), I invite any interested readers to read his Kansas testimony and decide for themselves about the quality of the “research” described.

As has been brought out before, did Leonard have approval or an exemption from the OSU Institutional Review Board?

If not, someone could go to jail. (Although teachers are allowed to try out curricular materials in an educational setting, I don’t think the allowance applies to the gathering of data for research purposes.)

If yes, there is a lesion that needs to be addressed.

I think one of the DI’s statements on this issue include something to the effect that Leonard’s project was approved by the IRB at OSU. I wouldn’t expect an IRB to critique the content of a survey or similar study (and it shouldn’t - this is the responsibility of the PI, advisory committee, and granting agencies, if relevant), other than to assure that the proper notifications and consents are in place, and that guidelines that pertain to minors are followed.

Why are these two professors releasing this statement through the DI? Why not through the University or local papers? IMHO it seems unethical to release this statement through a special interest group.

This also shows that these professors are not acting in OSU’s best interest, but rather in the interests of external agents.

Shenda

Jason Spaceman noted the Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Discovery Institute to recover documents associated with Leonard’s situation.

The DI FOI request refers to the possibility of “outside Darwinist pressure groups” influencing the OSU process. I find it bizarre in the extreme that the Discovery Institute, the primary political lobbyist for Intelligent Design Creationism, worries about “outside pressure groups”. This is the same DI whose representatives originally pushed for teaching IDC in Ohio in 2002, and whose operatives were ensconced in a room just up a short flight of stairs from the meeting room of the Ohio State Board of Education during its 2004 deliberations on the model lesson plan Leonard wrote. When the Board adopted the ID-friendly model lesson plan, the DI operatives were immediately – within double-digit seconds – at the bottom of the stairs with their press release in hand, already prepared. Anyone think the fix wasn’t in?

RBH

Art Wrote:

I think one of the DI’s statements on this issue include something to the effect that Leonard’s project was approved by the IRB at OSU. I wouldn’t expect an IRB to critique the content of a survey or similar study (and it shouldn’t - this is the responsibility of the PI, advisory committee, and granting agencies, if relevant), other than to assure that the proper notifications and consents are in place, and that guidelines that pertain to minors are followed.

IIRC, OSU may be looking at whether what Leonard actually taught satisfied what the IRB approved, i.e. did the IRB approved the teaching of religious pseudoscience to school children.

Richard, Thanks for your post. I think your are probably right about the attacks in the press- that they were not the result of nefarious plants on the part of OSU profs, but rather released through the usual channels. One point that is worth taking from the press release is that the argument that the dissertation committee was out of line or not properly made-up is not as strong as I originally thought. That was a big weakness of DI’s defense of Leonard, but a couple facts (according to the two professors) clear up some of that concern: 1. The policy requiring two professors from his specific area on his dissertation committee is not widely known. 2. Several other committees had made similar infractions without anyone noticing.

This does not mean that the policy should not be followed, but it does put some credibility back on DI’s side. We’ll have to see how all this turns out.

R

With reference to my comment above about the DI’s FOI request, I’ve finally thought of the appropriate phrase to describe the DI’s fear that “outside Darwinist pressure groups” might be involved: breathtaking hypocrisy.

RBH

Ryan Wrote:

…a couple facts (according to the two professors) clear up some of that concern [the improper constitution of the dissertation committee]: 1. The policy* requiring two professors from his specific area on his dissertation committee is not widely known. 2. Several other committees had made similar infractions without anyone noticing.

This does not mean that the policy should not be followed, but it does put some credibility back on DI’s side.

Caution: never take any statement from the DI or its operatives at face value.

With respect to the policy* in question, that information can be obtained by anyone from the program’s website. I don’t know why Leonard, his committee and the administrators he talked to had so much trouble finding it.

With respect to the “everybody does it” defense: first, I wouldn’t necessarily take Needham & DiSilvestro’s word for how commonly this rule is ignored. (Or anything else, for that matter.) But even assuming that the rule hasn’t been strictly adhered to, how many times have the rules been ignored in order to constitute such an obviously biased and unqualified committee? That’s the real focus here. For all the spin in their little press release, I challenge Needham or DiSilvestro to offer any conceivable qualification other than being the DI’s closest - if not only - collaborators on the OSU faculty.

And finally: Ryan, I have a bridge in the New York area I need to sell ASAP. Are you, by any chance, interested?

Is there any chance that someone could do a study based on follow-up interviews with students in the (at least) five classes that Leonard conducted (“taught” would certainly be the wrong word here), to see how much of his material they incorporated into their own worldviews, what effect this may have had on later education experiences, etc?

Another potentially worthwhile followup: any such student who was rejected from any college for using Leonard’s material in an application essay, for instance, probably has very solid grounds for a court case.

If yes, there is a lesion that needs to be addressed.

That is a WONDERFUL typo. :>

For all the spin in their little press release, I challenge Needham or DiSilvestro to offer any conceivable qualification other than being the DI’s closest - if not only - collaborators on the OSU faculty.

Since our two ID heros are so gung-ho about getting ID into science classrooms, one would epxect that they would have … well … a scientific theory of ID to offer.

Do they?

Why not?

Ryan Wrote:

That was a big weakness of DI’s defense of Leonard, but a couple facts (according to the two professors) clear up some of that concern: 1. The policy requiring two professors from his specific area on his dissertation committee is not widely known. 2. Several other committees had made similar infractions without anyone noticing.

It is clearly described in the rules of the PhD program which are easily available (as Russell pointed out). The fact that (according to Needham and DiSilvestro) Leonard made multiple inquiries to the graduate school about the appropriateness of his committee suggests to me that he was aware of the rule and knew he was breaking it, but wanted the assurance of the graduate school that it wasn’t going to be enforced.

I know a few kids who took his classes, and EVERY SINGLE ONE thinks evolution is a crock. none have gone on to college. I’m waiting for august. I will get a copy of his syllabus, and proceed from there. They’ve done a good job burying this here. I won’t let it die.

TriciaFromOhio Wrote:

I know a few kids who took his classes, and EVERY SINGLE ONE thinks evolution is a crock.

Yikes! I wonder if the only parents who signed the permission slip for their kids to be part of this “research” were all creationists to start with.

I won’t let it die.

Please keep us posted. Do you know of other Hilliard parents concerned about this? Was there any coverage of it in the Hilliard suburban newspapers?

This form of child abuse in the name of a religion which makes such a big deal of its supposed morality and care for children is really sick.

there was a tiny blurb on an op-ed page after the dispatch article. a lot of the parents around here are fundamentalist christians, so they don’t have a problem with it. i am fighting an uphill battle.there are a small group of us parents against it, however.

none of the three persons in the “OSU community” who raised concerns about the affair have sought out the press or blogged anything.

And in fact, that’s exactly what the concerned faculty members did: raised their concerns through the appropriate university channels.

While I know people in the “OSU community”, I am wholly independent of that institution.

So, how then did you get to know about this? Who told you?

One of the three faculty members appropriately released the letter to a reporter when asked for it, knowing (after consultation with the graduate school) that it is a public document.

Public enough for the contents to already be known about? Apparently not. Then how did the reporter know about the letter? Who told him?

Do the answers to those “who” questions have any bearing on your first quote above?

Troll asked

So, how then did you get to know about this? Who told you?

I got an email from someone not otherwise directly involved alerting me to the timing of Leonard’s defense and the composition of his final oral committee.

Troll asked

Public enough for the contents to already be known about? Apparently not. Then how did the reporter know about the letter? Who told him?

As I said, I notified the press of my posting. I learned of the letter through my own sources. And no, it has no bearing on the first quote.

Relax, Troll. I’ll have a response to West’s hissy fit soon.

RBH

RBH,

I notice that no contrary opinions are expressed in this entire thread. Are you deleting all dissenting opinions?

Can one be sued for posting libelous comments on an internet blog? I’m wondering, because Hoppe calls OSU professors DiSilvestro and Needham creationists without any factual basis, that I’m aware of.

puzzled asked

I notice that no contrary opinions are expressed in this entire thread. Are you deleting all dissenting opinions?

Nope. I’ve deleted no comments at all.

RBH

Can one be sued for posting libelous comments on an internet blog? I’m wondering, because Hoppe calls OSU professors DiSilvestro and Needham creationists without any factual basis, that I’m aware of.

Being thought of as a creationist certainly can damage someone’s reputation.

puzzled also wondered

Can one be sued for posting libelous comments on an internet blog? I’m wondering, because Hoppe calls OSU professors DiSilvestro and Needham creationists without any factual basis, that I’m aware of.

The truth (easily established in public documents in this instance) is an unassailable defense against a charge of libel. I’d welcome such a suit. Besides, what would such a suit do to ID’s big tent? Who’s going to tell all those YECs in the pews (and voting booths) that the IDists think being called a “creationist” is libelous? Careful about what you wish for, puzzled.

RBH

I don’t know dick about these guys, but google immediately led me to http://www.reasons.org/about/index.shtml

What We Believe Reasons To Believe adheres to the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy.

… Our Scholars

Reasons To Believe keeps attuned to the frontiers of scientific research and tries to integrate these findings with biblical theology. … Robert DiSilvestro, Ph.D., Ohio State University

RBH, repeating Eugenie Scott’s famous last words before getting smacked down by a libel suit, said: The truth (easily established in public documents in this instance) is an unassailable defense against a charge of libel.  I’d welcome such a suit. 

He should be careful what he wishes for.

Nope.  I’ve deleted no comments at all.

RBH

What? No contrary opinions here? How boring. Don’t you guys get tired of just reassuring one another. You oughta quit banning the dissenters and liven things up a little.

puzzled wrote

He [RBH] should be careful what he wishes for.

Well, depending on how things go in that inquiry into the composition of Leonard’s committee at Ohio State, the boys may well have a whole lot more to be concerned about than having been (accurately) called creationists on a blog. One doesn’t “wish” anything in that respect, but merely observes.

I made my wish clear in my first post on this topic:

One hopes that in the end, Leonard gets an appropriately constituted committee, one that not only satisfies OSU’s requirements but also has the expertise to help Leonard correct any errors introduced by the old committee and that can knowledgeably evaluate his dissertation so his degree is not tainted and he has contributed something of value to science education.

RBH

The lying liar and lying lies he tells. It’s enough to make One’s tongue catch fire!

What? No contrary opinions here? How boring.

Um, why don’t you give us some?

Or aren’t you that bright?

Comment #38582: Posted by puzzled on July 18, 2005 11:56 PM

Don’t you guys get tired of just reassuring one another. You oughta quit banning the dissenters and liven things up a little.

If only we could see email addies again. That has davison written all over it.

Philip wrote

The lying liar and lying lies he tells. It’s enough to make One’s tongue catch fire!

Does the pronoun in the first sentence have any particular antecedent?

RBH

That has davison written all over it.

Except he’s lost his weird obsession with the produce department.

Still a fruit, though.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on July 14, 2005 4:47 PM.

Dinosaur Lungs was the previous entry in this blog.

Gradual Evolution or Intelligent Design? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter