Witt in the Seattle Times

In an opinion piece in the Seattle Times, Jonathan Witt is in high dudgeon over those intolerant "Darwinists" who want to suppress the Truth. Sadly, his piece is one half-truth after another, all misleadingly twisted to give an overwhelmingly fraudulent impression. You would think that someone who honestly wants to address a scientific issue would not resort to such distortions and propaganda…but that's the Discovery Institute for you.

He begins with the outrageous action by certain Dover citizens to hold their school board accountable for diluting the science content of the classroom.

In short order, the School District was dragged into court by a group insisting the school policy constituted an establishment of religion, this despite the fact that the unmentionable book bases its argument on strictly scientific evidence, without appealing to religious authority or attempting to identify the source of design.

What don't they mention? Well, that the Discovery Institute abandoned Dover and would not help with the defense of the book, and the book itself (strangely unmentionable in Witt's article, for reasons I don't understand; are they ashamed of it?) is Of Pandas and People. As has been amply demonstrated by the testimony of its publisher and any examination of its contents, it is not based on scientific evidence, but is creationism warmed over, plain and simple. I'm afraid all of Witt's claims of scientific legitimacy for the book are false, and I suspect that he knows it, or he wouldn't have been reluctant to mention the title.

Witt also singles out a comment I made on the Panda's Thumb (I have to mention, since Witt names me in my home town newspaper, an important message: Hi, Mom!):

Our only problem is that we aren't martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

Of course, he excludes all the context to claim that it's all about defending dogma. I've already discussed this ID claim in a post titled, "While we're at it, let's also fire the math teachers who can't do algebra"—it's not about dogma, it's about competence. Witt wants to pretend it's a sign of a "growing controversy," but it's not. If we fire math teachers who can't do basic algebra, does that mean that algebra is a concept under attack from a growing body of educated critics, or that we've got standards that teachers are expected to meet?

Witt's next complaint is to bring up the "martyrdom" of Richard Sternberg, who apparently was under attack by the PZ Myers Playbook.

The most prominent victim in the story was Richard Sternberg, a scientist with two Ph.D.s in evolutionary biology and former editor of a journal published out of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. He sent out for peer review, then published, a paper arguing that intelligent design was the best explanation for the geologically sudden appearance of new animal forms 530 million years ago.

Sternberg promoted the publication of an exceptionally poor paper and rightly enough elicited the disgust of competent scientists. Witt recites the complaints received by the US Office of the Special Counsel from Sternberg, but doesn't bother to mention that the OSC dismissed his complaints, and that he's still working at the Smithsonian…some martyr!

He also neglects to mention how the NCSE recommended handling the issue:

However, one particularly entertaining part of the opinion occurs when NCSE's advice to Smithsonian staff is discussed. Among the Smithsonian staff, there was evidently a fair bit of outraged email discussion of Sternberg's actions --- Sternberg had, after all, just involved the PBSW and the Smithsonian in an internationally-noticed scientific scandal, and had guaranteed that the PBSW and Smithsonian would now have their good names put on Discovery Institute bibliographies and talking points for the foreseeable future. In NCSE's limited contact with individuals at the Smithsonian, we gave our usual advice (also found in the PT critique of Meyer's paper), namely: don't overreact, and instead focus on criticizing the scientific problems with Meyer's article and Sternberg's editorial decisions. In the OSC complaint, this gets portrayed as some kind of scandal.

This can't be emphasized enough: Meyer's paper was shoddy work, and Sternberg shepherded it through peer review in a shifty manner. What Witt actually wants us to do is shut up when his fellow travelers try to publish bad science; it's not about some mythical Darwinian dogma at all.

Witt dives into the quote mines, again.

One cause for their insecurity may be the theory's largely metaphysical foundations. As evolutionary biologist A.S. Wilkins conceded, "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."

If anyone is familiar with A.S. Wilkins work, they'd know that this was a very peculiar comment, one that perhaps must have had something more to it. Yes, it did, as the rest of the paragraph shows:

Yet, the marginality of evolutionary biology may be changing. More and more issues in biology, from diverse questions about human nature to the vulnerability of ecosystems, are increasingly seen as reflecting evolutionary events. A spate of popular books on evolution testifies to the development. If we are to fully understand these matters, however, we need to understand the processes of evolution that, ultimately, underlie them.

That was from the Panda's Thumb, in August. Here it is in November, and the DI is still shamelessly promoting this dishonest partial quote. And he compounds it this time!

And in the September issue of The Scientist, National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell argued that his extensive investigations into the matter corroborated Wilkins' view.

Philip Skell is not a credible source. This is a guy who argues that discoveries of hominid fossils are not informed by or contribute to our understanding of evolution. His whole obsessive schtick is to claim that biologists (he is not one) do not use evolutionary concepts at all, and that the whole field would be unchanged if we abandoned it. Need I add that this is not in corroboration of any view held by A.S. Wilkins?

It's all more fireworks and smoke from the Discovery Institute, a recycling of tired old lies into yet another press release that a gullible media will print without verifying anything in it. John Lynch also finds Witt's article appalling—isn't it about time for newspapers to realize that the Discovery Institute is all spin and no substance, and to start roundfiling their submissions in the same way they would press releases from the Flat Earth Society?