Kansas Kangaroo Court transcripts are up

The transcripts from the Kansas Kangaroo Court of May 2005 are finally up (unfortunately labeled, “Science Standards Expert Testimony” – someone should count how many times the witnesses said something like “I’m not an expert” on relevant scientific questions). Briefs, presented materials, etc., are also available on the KSDE website.

The transcripts run to 308 pages total, if I count correctly. Still, it’s far better than trying to listen to the recordings and write down the shocking bits. I planned to do this one weekend, but it took me most of the day just to get through Bill Harris’s opening presentation.

Hear is one random bit of bogusness from Harris’s talk:

4 If a Coke bottle fell out of the sky into 5 an African desert and I was a native – you 6 know, the movie I’m talking about “The Gods 7 Must Be Crazy.” Those people knew that that 8 Coke bottle was a design, but they had no idea 9 what it was.

10 There’s an entire wing in one of the 11 museums in DC that’s dedicated to objects that 12 we don’t know what they are, but we know 13 they’re objects made by humans. I mean, you 14 don’t have to know where it comes from, you 15 don’t have to know who did it, you don’t have 16 to know where it was done, you don’t have to 17 know when it was done to come to the conclusion 18 that something was designed.

IDNet’s Bill Harris, May 5 Kansas Hearings

The claim that there is an “entire wing” at a museum in DC devoted to designed objects of unknown function is a mutant version of a virulent creationist meme that has been flitting about in ID discourse for over 5 years. Jeff Shallit traced the origin and evolution of this notion in 2002 – see Anatomy of a Creationist Tall Tale – and showed it was almost entirely false. Here is the evolutionary series:

“The Smithsonian Institution has a collection of obviously designed human artifacts, concerning the purposes of which no one has a clue.” (Del Ratzsch, essay in Mere Creation, 1998)

“There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with objects that are obviously designed but whose specific purpose anthropologists do not understand.” (William Dembski, 1998)

“For example, the Smithsonian contains thousands of intelligently-designed objects whose function, or intended function, is unknown to us.” (Steve Renner, 2002 – Note: this page has been corrected)

“There’s an entire wing in one of the museums in DC that’s dedicated to objects that we don’t know what they are, but we know they’re objects made by humans.” (Bill Harris, May 2005 Kansas Hearings)

Jeff Shallit, however, managed to track down the original source. He contacted the Smithsonian, and they wrote back,

“The Smithsonian has no room such as described in William Dembski’s book. He may be referring to a section of an exhibition called Nation’s Attic which was displayed at the National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History, Behring Center) from April 1, 1980 through February 8, 1981. We have enclosed a photocopy of a short article concerning the exhibition from Smithsonian magazine, April 1980. In one showcase in the exhibition a number of unindentified articles were displayed, but there was never a whole room devoted to them.”

Shallit, quoting the SmithsonianAnatomy of a Creationist Tall Tale

Shallit summarizes the Smithsonian Magazine article:

The April 1980 issue of Smithsonian reveals that the entire exhibit consisted of 125 objects; for nearly all of these objects the purpose was well-known. The only reference to objects whose purpose is unknown consists of a single line:

“The final category, Unidentified Objects, consists of several items that no one can figure out.” [emphasis in bold added]

In other words, “several items” exhibited once in 1980-1, in one showcase of an exhibit, have become in true creationist fashion, an entire room devoted to the artifacts.

Shallit, Anatomy of a Creationist Tall Tale

Anyway, the transcripts are full of this kind of stuff. I’m not even sure Bill Harris got the bit about the movie The Gods Must be Crazy right. I don’t specifically remember if the design of the bottle was discussed by the natives or not. I do vaguely remember that the main character, the Junt-wasi tribesman Xi, comes across tire tracks at one point, but rather than seeing them as designed, interprets them as some kind of strange animal tracks. This would be a counterexample (well, a fictional counterexample to Harris’s fictional example; we much remember that the Baez Crackpot Index gives out “20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.”)

I have a question for PT denzens. We have all of this data on ID and “Teach the Controversy” proponents, in text form. What kind of analysis should we do? Obviously, we should count how many ID witnesses are Young Earthers, how many wouldn’t or couldn’t answer that question, etc. But there are many additional possibilities. Post your ideas here.

PS: Hat-tip to Wes Elsberry for beating me to Harris’s “entire wing” remark.