Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The DI Keeps Topping Itself

Update June 16, 2005: I corrected some typos and grammatical errors from the original version.

Every once in a while even I need a reminder of just how utterly devoid of shame and conscience the Discovery Institute is.

In this press release the DI comes to the rescue of Bryan Leonard. For those who have not been following this story, Leonard is a graduate student at The Ohio State University, hoping to receive his PhD in Science Education. He has apparently written his dissertation about using ID as a tool for teaching evolution. Leonard is also known for having testified for the creationists in the recent Kansas hearings.

The recent dust-up has revolved around the make-up of Leonard's committee. It seems that he tried to hand pick the two OSU faculty members who were sympathetic to ID. In doing so, he seems to have violated OSU's clearly stated guidelines for the make-up of a thesis committee. On top of that, there are some unanswered questions concerning Leonard's use of human subjects in his research.

The basic facts of the situation are laid out by Richard Hoppe here and here. Go read his posts to get the basic facts of the situation.

To repeat, there are two issues here. One involves violations of OSU policies concerning the make-up of a thesis committee in order to avoid a serious evaluation of Leonard's dissertation, the other involves possible violations of the guidelines for using human subjects in research.

So, of course, the DI completely avoids those issues.

An effort by three professors at Ohio State University (OSU) to publicly damage the academic future of a graduate student, Bryan Leonard, because of his support for teaching about the controversy over evolution is “an attack on academic freedom and a violation of professional ethics,” said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman.

“Bryan Leonard has not even had a chance to defend his dissertation through the university process and they have gone to the press to try to discredit him in public,” said Chapman.

“It seems to me that the graduate student's real crime in this group’s eyes is that he represents the science teaching policy recently adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education,” added Chapman. “Having failed to win their way with the state board, they are taking it out on an unusually promising graduate student who was consulted by the board in its deliberations. The professors apparently have not even read the dissertation they are denouncing.”

Not a word of this is true of course, as Hoppe explains in the blog entries linked to above. And at no point do they address the main issue, which is the make-up of Leonard's thesis committee.

They do include this paragraph:

According to the Dispatch, the professors admit that they haven't read Leonard's dissertation. But that hasn't stopped them from asserting that Leonard's research is flawed because it “may have involved unethical human-subject experimentation.” But the supposed unethical problem with human subjects is nothing more than teaching high school students the scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the theory. That kind of teaching is an approach endorsed by Ohio's official science standards and also the conference report appended to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

This is more nonsense, as Hoppe points out:

While it has been mentioned in comments to my earlier posting, it bears repeating that Leonard’s dissertation is not a public document (yet), and the three professors did not have access to it. Leonard himself called attention to it in his testimony to the Kansas BOE hearings, attempting to influence public policy on the basis of undefended and unpublished research. The three did not attempt to “discredit” the dissertation; their concerns are with the integrity of the academic programs of the University.

Furthermore, Leonard’s testimony in Kansas also raised the ethics question. Knowing of that testimony and of the illegitimate composition of Leonard’s committee, had the three professors not acted then they themselves would have been guilty of an ethical violation for failing to call the graduate school’s attention to the issue. The content of Leonard’s dissertation is irrelevant to the core issue, which is the subversion of the university’s degree-granting process by Mr. Leonard and his IDC mentors.

And later:

In fact, the question here is whether Leonard’s research as performed was vetted by the Institutional Review Board. Once again, the question arises from Leonard’s testimony in Kansas. IRB review and approval is not a minor bit of red tape. Violating IRB requirements can cost a university dearly. Failure to properly submit to, and receive approval from the local IRB of any research protocol involving human subjects (if this is what happened in Leonard’s case) is not only a matter of administrative red tape, it is in itself a violation of ethical guidelines, and could result in major penalties for the Institution and involved investigators, including the partial or complete loss of federal funding.

The DI cares nothing about things like academic integrity or simple truth-telling. They only care about finding things they can spin to their advantage in front of audiences unwilling to obtain the facts for themselves. So they go hunting around for a loophole in the Smithsonian's policies to allow them to imply that the Smithsonian is backing ID by cosponsoring a DI event. They are willing to completely subvert the processes by which academic degrees are awarded in a desperate attempt to produce credible people to make their case. They seek out sympathetic editors of obscure journals to make a mockery of peer-review and publish ID garbage.

The only thing they do not do is play by the same rules professional scientists and serious scholars agree to live by. That is because they have no good argument to make, and no conscience to get in the way of making their bad ones.


At 6:43 AM, Anonymous David Heddle said...

On this post PZ Myers writes, in the comment section:

[Leonard is] doing sub-standard work, and he's going to get stopped in his tracks.

Meyers has given no indication that he has read Leonard’s thesis, but he has judged it as substandard.

And on the Inside Higher Ed article that PZ linked,

we find that some champions of academic freedom on the OSU faculty "objected both to the idea that Ohio State appeared to be on the verge of awarding a Ph.D. for work questioning evolution." No, we can't have any questioning of evolution.

The point is, Leonard may have violated the rules in determining his committee. (I seriously doubt that the composition of any committee has ever been scrutinized as closely as Leonard's.) But I ask you: what if you were faced with the dilemma of having to choose fundamentalists like Myers or the OSU yahoos, dogmatists who had prejudged your thesis based not on the work but on the topic?

Would you stick to the rules knowing that you would end up with committee members who would fail you without reading page one?

Most are spinning Leonard's motives as trying to stack the deck. I think the opposite is true; he was forced to break the rules in order to avoid a rubber-stamp failure.

At 6:47 AM, Anonymous David Heddle said...


In my previous comment, this is the correct link to PZ's post.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heddle wrote

"... we find that some champions of academic freedom on the OSU faculty "objected both to the idea that Ohio State appeared to be on the verge of awarding a Ph.D. for work questioning evolution." No, we can't have any questioning of evolution."

Unfortunately for Heddle, the Inside Higher Ed claim is false. First, the graduate school became involved in the Leonard affair _before_ the three professors (Rissing, McEnnis, and McKee) wrote their letter. Leonard himself precipitated that sequence of events by trekking off to Kansas in a public attempt to influence public policy on the basis of his unpublished and undefended research.

Second, none of the three, nor anyone else to my knowledge, have objected to the possibility of OSU awarding the degree because it concerns ID. The objection is that the integrity of the degree-granting process at OSU has been subverted by the ID troops. But of course, academic integrity and responsibility are foreign concepts to the ID spinners.


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