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Darwinists Continue Smear Campaign against Ohio Grad Student

Just in time for the anniversary of the Scopes trial, the folks over at Panda’s Thumb are continuing their unseemly crusade against Ohio State doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard. Even though these Darwinian fundamentalists don’t support academic freedom for teachers and scientists who are skeptical of Darwin, you’d think they might draw the line at going after students. Apparently, however, their bigotry and intolerance knows no bounds. Unhappy that Leonard’s dissertation committee has effectively refuted the misinformation spread by Panda’s Thumb and others, blogger Richard Hoppe has responded with even more smears. Here are replies to some of the new disinformation put out by Hoppe:

The Statement by Bryan Leonard’s Dissertation Committee

Last week, Discovery Institute (DI) posted a document from two members of Bryan Leonard’s dissertation committee. We posted it exactly as we received it. The title it came with was “STATEMENT BY BRYAN LEONARD’S DISSERTATION COMMITTEE,” and it was signed by two of the three members of the dissertation committee, Glen Needham and Robert DiSilvestro. Hoppe complains:

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.

Mr. Hoppe doth protest too much.

First, as just noted, the title of the statement Hoppe cites is not “Discovery Institute’s title.” DI merely printed what it received from the two members of Leonard’s dissertation committee. Presumably those members of the committee know better than Mr. Hoppe whether they are speaking for the committee as a whole.

Second, Hoppe inaccurately claims that Dr. Joan Herbers is a member of the dissertation committee. In fact, Dr. Herbers was “appointed” to the “Final Oral Examination Committee.” The “Final Oral Examination Committee” is not the same thing as the dissertation committee. (If you don’t believe me, check for yourself on p. 34 of the Ohio State University Graduate Handbook, 2004-05, available as a PDF document here. Or check Hoppe himself, who earlier quoted a section of the Handbook that makes clear the distinction.) (Special side note: I put “appointed” in quote marks because Dr. Herbers was inserted at the last minute in a highly irregular manner. The graduate school—for reasons that are still unclear—removed the original Graduate School Representative from the Final Oral Examination Committee and replaced her with Dr. Herbers. All of this was done without any consultation with Leonard’s graduate advisor or anyone else on his dissertation committee. It certainly looks as if Dr. Herbers (an evolutionary biologist) was added at the last minute because of political pressures exerted by Darwinists who are determined to prevent Leonard from obtaining his doctorate. If Dr. Herbers was appointed because of Darwinsts political pressure, and if Leonard was subjected to differential treatment simply because of his views about evolution, the university may have violated Leonard’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.)

Third, Mr. Hoppe falsely claims that Professors Glen Needham and Robert DiSilvestro are “creationists.” Prof. DiSilvestro (a biochemist) supports intelligent design, and Prof. Needham (an entomologist) has expressed skepticism toward neo-Darwinism on scientific grounds. That doesn’t make them creationists. Hoppe adopts the slimy tactic of labeling anyone who disagrees with Darwinism as a creationist.

The Darwinists’ Media Blitz against Leonard

The dissertation committee statement cited by Hoppe criticizes members of the OSU community for campaigning against Bryan Leonard in the media and on the internet rather than through appropriate university channels. Hoppe offers an utterly unconvincing protest against this serious charge:

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.

Hmm. And just how did Mr. Hoppe learn about internal complaints against Bryan Leonard? Perhaps he will tell us the names of the people from which he gleaned his original information? If they were professors or staff at OSU, then they certainly were guilty of trying to instigate a public campaign against Leonard. And just how did the Columbus Dispatch know to ask for the supposedly internal letter of complaint filed by Dr. Rissing, et. al. against Leonard?

Hoppe didn’t mention Rissing’s letter in his original blog post, so how did this info. get to the reporter? Hoppe can’t get around the fact that someone who works for the university had to leak info. about the letter to bloggers and/or the newsmedia. Otherwise, reporters wouldn’t have known to ask for the document. Moreover, one of the professors who wrote the letter also gave an interview to the Columbus Dispatch. So despite Hoppe’s protestations, one or more employees at OSU have certainly been spreading this information into the public arena. Frankly, I think it’s outrageous that university employees would help publicly smear a student at their own university.

Hoppe should come clean and tell us about his own role in this sordid affair. What did he know and when did he know it? And from whom did he get his information?

Leonard’s Dissertation and Ohio’s Science Standards

Leonard’s dissertation committee noted that Leonard’s approach of teaching students about scientific criticisms of modern evolutionary theory merely follows the approach called for in Ohio’s official science standards. Hoppe charges that the committee has mixed up its chronology, and points out that Bryan Leonard taught students criticisms of evolution before Ohio adopted its science standards in 2002:

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… 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.

It’s Hoppe who needs a lesson in chronology, not the members of Leonard’s dissertation committee. As the dissertation committee members point out in their statement, Leonard’s dissertation proposal WAS NOT APPROVED UNTIL 2003. Presumably, Leonard’s dissertation research took place after his dissertation proposal was approved. Thus, Leonard’s research for the dissertation occurred after 2002, when the science standards were adopted. The point made by the dissertation committee stands.

Fair-minded defenders of Darwin’s theory should disown this latest crusade against academic freedom by Darwinian fundamentalists. Not content with blacklisting biology professors and science teachers, now the Darwin fundamentalists are going after students as well!

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the conviction of John Scopes for teaching evolution contrary to state law. Squandering the moral high ground, today’s Darwinists seem all but determined to assume the role played by Scope’s opponents. Instead, they ought to relearn the value of free speech for everyone. They can start by pondering the following words from Mr. Scopes himself: “By respecting the other man’s views and by protecting his liberties, we gain respect for our own views and we protect our own liberties.”

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



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