Discovery Institute still spinning Bryan Leonard

Long-time readers of PT will recall the Bryan Leonard affair in Ohio. Now Casey Luskin harks back to that to criticize one of the Ohio State professors who called attention to anomalies in Leonard’s quest for a Ph.D. in science education from the Ohio State University.

To recap, in 2005 I wrote

Bryan Leonard is a recently visible figure in the intelligent design creationism movement. Leonard is a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus. As an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, he was the author of the IDC-oriented “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education last year, and he recently testified at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings. The credential that endears him to the IDC movement is that he is a doctoral candidate in science education at the Ohio State University, and his dissertation research is on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Leonard was scheduled to defend his dissertation yesterday, June 6, but we learned late last week that his defense has been postponed.

Briefly, the composition of Leonard’s committee did not meet the requirements of the program from which he sought the degree, and further, there was no indication that he had sought or received Institutional Review Board or parental permission to conduct his research, using misleading material about evolution, on public school students. As I wrote in 2005,

Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements. It was composed of his advisor, Paul Post from the technology education program area of the section for Math, Science and Technology; Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology in the College of Biological Sciences; and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. For the final defense an Assistant Professor from the department of French & Italian in the College of Humanities was also assigned to the committee to monitor the procedure. Thus, there were no members from the science education program area on Leonard’s final dissertation committee.

That lack was pointed out to the University by three senior members of the University’s graduate faculty, evolutionary biologist Steve Rissing, paleoanthropologist Jeff McKee, and mathematician Brian McEnnis, in a letter to the appropriate administrators of OSU. (Full disclosure: all three are friends of mine.) All three were (and still are) full professors on the OSU graduate faculty. Excerpts from that letter are quoted in an excellent summary in the OSU newspaper.

Not only did Leonard’s committee not meet the requirements of his program, two of four members were prominent ID proponents. Needham and DiSilvestro were active in Ohio ID circles, and both signed the DI’s “Dissent from Darwin” statement. Along with Leonard, DiSilvestro testified in the Kansas Kangaroo Court. Leonard described his (unpublished) work in that hearing.

After biologist and Dean of the School of Biological Sciences Joan Herbers was added to Leonard’s committee, replacing the Assistant Professor of French and Italian, Leonard’s defense was postponed at the request of his advisor, and as far as I know it was never rescheduled.

The Discovery Institute predictably threw a fit about OSU’s treatment of Leonard. See here and here for examples. According to the DI, it was a manifestation of the oppressive Darwinist conspiracy. See here for my take on the DI’s spinning then.

Now the Discovery Institute, in the person of Casey Luskin, has revived its falsehoods about the Leonard affair in the context of a critique of Steve Rissing’s recent paper about the undue emphasis in college biology programs on MCAT preparation to the neglect of other audiences–students preparing for biology and related science majors, and students completing general education graduation requirements.

In his current screed, Luskin wrote

Leonard, who had a master’s degree in biology, also taught public high school biology and used a state-approved lesson plan to teach his students about the evidence for and against neo-Darwinian theory. His doctoral thesis analyzed the pedagogical benefits of teaching Darwinian evolution in this objective manner.

When some evolutionary biologists on the OSU campus caught wind of it, they wrote a letter protesting Leonard’s thesis defense, claiming that “there are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution” and therefore his teaching about problems with neo-Darwinism was “unethical” and “deliberate miseducation.”

You read that right: in their view, merely teaching students that there are scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinian theory amounted to a form of “unethical” human research experimentation.

That was one of the concerns Rissing, et al., raised, but it was not the only concern. Casey missed another: that Leonard had failed to obtain Institutional Review Board and/or parental permission to subject his students to his research. And though Casey claims that “…Bryan Leonard was ultimately cleared of Rissing’s repugnant and contrived charges, …”, to my knowledge there’s no evidence that Leonard had either Institutional Review Board or parental permission to mislead his students about evolution in the course of his teaching in a public school. According to his testimony in the Kansas Kangaroo court, Leonard had been teaching that way for “five or six years” as of 2005, meaning he started well before the State BOE adopted the ‘critical analysis’ model lesson plan in 2004 and before the ‘critical analysis’ language in the State standards (Benchmark H-23) was adopted in 2002. I wrote about that topic seven years ago:

Given that Leonard’s lesson plan draft contained a series of falsehoods about evolutionary biology, and given that in Kansas Leonard testified about his (as yet unpublished) research, the question arose as to whether Leonard had appropriately informed the IRB and the parents of his students that he was teaching scientific trash in order to assess its effects on their children and whether he had received appropriate permissions to do so. To my knowledge that question has still not been answered.

That question still hasn’t been answered seven years later. And as far as I can tell, Leonard’s dissertation defense was never rescheduled. So much for his having been cleared.

Casey, of course, doesn’t even hint at the violation of requirements concerning the composition of dissertation committees in Leonard’s program or the IRB issue. He’s carrying on in the tradition of the Disco ‘Tute’s misrepresentations about that case that were also made by Jonathan Wells here. I discussed Leonard’s behavior there, too:

As a graduate student, Leonard had already thrust himself into a policy-making environment as a member of a committee writing lesson plans to instantiate the new state science standards in Ohio, in particular 10th grade biology. He drafted a lesson plan that contained classic creationist objections to evolutionary theory (the misnamed “critical analysis of evolution”). As originally submitted to the State Board of Education the lesson plan contained nine “aspects of evolution” to be “critically analysed”. Eight of the nine came straight out of Wells’s Icons of Evolution, a collection of misrepresentations, distortions, and flat falsehoods. The lesson plan also contained irrelevant “web resources”, including a number of creationist web sites, and at least one outright fake reference, a paper allegedly in Nature that has no existence outside creationist web sites. It was a shoddy piece of creationist propaganda masquerading as a lesson plan.

In the Kansas creationism hearings Leonard claimed to have been teaching that creationist trash for years and that his doctoral research focused on whether doing so influenced students’s learning about evolution.

Casey is oblivious to all that, though. Institutional Review Board? We don’t need no steenkin’ Institutional Review Board.