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Barbara Forrest Exposes Her Intolerance, Misrepresents Darwin-Doubting Scientist

Barbara Forrest has issued a press release protesting good rules adopted in September, 2009 by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) for implementing Louisiana’s Science Education Act (LSEA). The LSEA is an academic freedom bill passed into law in Louisiana last year. Dr. Forrest seems to think that by frequently inserting the word “creationist” into her press release and falsely labeling people like Darwin-doubting biologist Dr. Don Ewert as “creationists,” she can logically argue that the rules are “pro-creationist.” The reality is that BESE’s new rules are fair and pro-academic freedom, not “pro-creationist.” But as will be seen, fairness and academic freedom are exactly what evolution lobbyists like Dr. Forrest fear the most.

Blatant Misrepresentations of Don Ewert
Last year’s Louisiana academic freedom bill was premised upon the idea that students should be able to hear an objective, non-dogmatic, and diverse presentation of credible scientific viewpoints when studying controversial scientific theories. It was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature, and now holds the force of law.

The LSEA includes a strong requirement of religious neutrality in public schools, stating that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” All the law does is sanction the use of supplementary curricular materials to create an educational atmosphere that “promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The LSEA does not protect or allow the advocacy of religion, so my guess is it’s the “logical analysis and open and objective discussion” about “evolution [and] the origins of life” that has Barbara Forrest worried.

In a press release attacking BESE’s newly adopted rules, Forrest rails against the half-dozen or so LSEA supporters who testified before BESE at the hearing in mid-September. She repeatedly calls them “creationists,” as an epithet, as if the label “creationist” undercuts their very humanity and any viewpoint they might have. Here’s a little taste of how Forrest’s 3500+ word press release attempts to impugn one of those scientists:

Oklahoma creationist Donald Ewert was brought in from out of state to testify. Ewert is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”; his name appears on a list of “Intellectual Doubters of Darwinism” at the creationist IDEA Center website. In Oklahoma, Ewert promoted “academic freedom” legislation similar to the LSEA (SSPS audiotape, 9/16/09). He was involved in the creationist effort to influence state science standards in Texas in March 2009 (see below).” … At a hearing in March, Ewert presented pro-creationist testimony before the Texas Board of Education, just as he did at the SSPS Committee hearing on September 16 (SSPS Committee audiotape, 9/16/09).

That’s 4 uses of the word “creationist” in three sentences about Don Ewert. In fact, Dr. Forrest’s press release uses the word “creationist” and its cognates no fewer than 34 times! Barbara Forrest’s apparent predilection for the descriptor “creationist” raised my eyebrows, so I decided to interview Dr. Ewert about Forrest’s press release and the claims she made about him. Here’s the brief interview:

Casey: Dr. Ewert, are you a creationist?

Dr. Donald Ewert: Not in the popularly understood meaning of that term. A creationist starts with a dogmatic view and tries to fit their findings with Genesis. I arrived at my conclusions by looking at the scientific data, and as a scientist my view is that the evidence for Darwinian evolution is not adequate. That’s why I signed the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism list.

Casey: Are you a young earth creationist?”

Dr. Donald Ewert: No. Based on everything that I’ve studied, I accept the findings of modern dating methods that show the earth is very old.

Casey: Do you think creationism should be taught in public schools?

Dr. Donald Ewert: No, absolutely not, because it’s primarily a religious position.

Casey: How do you feel about Barbara Forrest calling you a “creationist”?

Dr. Donald Ewert: I don’t know how she claims to know so much about me even though she’s never spoken to me. By calling me a creationist, she is misrepresenting who I am and obviously has never spoken to me.

If you want to know some facts, and not misrepresentations, about Dr. Ewert, here’s a good place to start: Don Ewert earned his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Georgia in 1976, and did his post doc under the father of evolutionary immunology, Max Cooper, at the University of Alabama. This led to him publishing several papers in leading scientific journals comparing aspects of the chicken’s immune system to that of humans. Later in his career, Ewert operated a basic research lab at the prestigious Wistar Institute in Philadelphia for almost 20 years. Supported by the NIH, NSF, and Dept. of Agriculture, his research has involved the evolution of bacterial populations, comparative and developmental studies of the immune system, molecular and structural analysis of viruses, and the genetic regulation of cancer and cell death. Ewert has also been a section editor of the journal Developmental and Comparative Immunology.

Don Ewert is a credible scientist if there ever was one, and he holds serious scientific doubts about neo-Darwinian evolution. Forrest’s tactic of response is to just smile big and friendly like they do in the South and call him a “creationist,” pretending that therefore his opinions on evolution hold no merit.

Who Is Creating a “Kangaroo Court”? Forrest Misrepresents the History of BESE’s LSEA Rules
Forrest ends her tedious 3500+ word press release by calling the rules adopted by BESE a “pro-creationist complaint procedure” that creates a “kangaroo court” for hearing complaints about supplemental materials that challenge Darwinism used under the LSEA. Once again, Forrest is badly misrepresenting the situation:

  • The truth is that the rules adopted by BESE rejected provisions pushed by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) that would have allowed the DOE to grab power and obstruct due process when hearing challenges to instructional materials.
  • The truth is that BESE’s rules create fairness. In fact, before Forrest used the “kangaroo court” line, this is the precise language that the pro-LSEA advocates were using to describe the effect of the DOE’s proposed rules.
  • The truth is that the DOE is a bureaucracy filled with ardent evolutionists who have tried to avoid their legal duty to fairly implement the intent of the legislature in the LSEA. Want proof? Here it is:

Fact 1: The LSEA was intended to foster a climate of academic freedom in the science classroom by allowing students to hear about legitimate scientific viewpoints that might disagree about controversial scientific theories. The LSEA is premised upon the view that when students are taught one scientific viewpoint on controversial topics (like evolution) in a monolithic fashion, students miss opportunities for critical thinking and credible minority scientific viewpoints may be censored from their learning environment.

Fact 2: When the DOE previously selected a panel of experts to help it craft guidelines for teachers implementing the LSEA, the DOE selected a panel of “experts” comprised entirely of Louisiana evolution lobbyists, and the DOE intentionally excluded from the panel qualified Ph.D. scientists and professors from Louisiana who doubt Darwin and testified in favor of the LSEA. In a subtle attempt to scuttle the legislature’s intent in passing the LSEA, the DOE appointed individuals who opposed the LSEA to craft guidelines for implementing the LSEA!

Fact 3: The DOE’s proposed rules this September were basically an attempt to grab power for the Louisiana evolution lobby. The proposed rules would have granted the DOE effective authority to play both judge and jury for any challenges to supplemental materials used under the LSEA. Thus, the DOE’s proposed rules said “the DOE will select three reviewers” and “the DOE may elect to support, reject or modify the recommendations of the reviewers or may substitute its own recommendation.” When a government body gives itself authority to pick the jury and then throw out the jury’s decisions if it doesn’t like them, we call this unchecked and arbitrary authority and a potential abuse of power.

Because the DOE’s proposed rules would have given the DOE complete authority to appoint pro-Darwin-only reviewers who would reject anything that challenges Darwinism, Barbara Forrest lauded them. She claims in her press release that “DOE professionals, exercising their professional judgment, would do their jobs properly and preserve the integrity of Louisiana’s science curriculum.” The reality is that the DOE’s rules would have resulted in evolutionists being handpicked to scuttle the intent of the legislature by rejecting the use of any supplemental materials that scientifically challenge evolution. No wonder Forrest liked them so much.

Fact 4: Knowing the DOE’s history of picking “experts” who were evolutionists that opposed the LSEA, this past June I spoke with DOE staff member Nancy Beben, who helped draft the DOE’s proposed rules. I raised these concerns with Ms. Beben that the DOE’s proposed additions to the rules lacked express provisions giving due process to certain parties, like the publisher or the local school district, to defend the materials being challenged, and allowed the DOE to have arbitrary power to scuttle the decisions of the reviewers. Beben’s response to me told me everything I needed to know:

She snapped that “there are no parties in science,” just “facts.”
The implications of that comment are profound: Ms. Beben and the DOE apparently view science simplistically (and inaccurately) as a monolithic enterprise without credible dissenting minority viewpoints. This means their view is directly inimical to the premise underlying the LSEA, which is that there can be credible minority scientific viewpoints worth disclosing to students when instructing them about controversial scientific topics.

Apparently Ms. Beben and the DOE not only don’t understand how science works, but their view is directly inimical to the intent of the LSEA. To put it bluntly, the DOE was trying to bureaucratically muzzle the intent of the Louisiana legislature and skirt state law by proposing rules that would effectively gut the LSEA.

Thankfully, BESE members saw potential for the DOE’s abuse of power, and adopted rules that prevented the DOE from selecting all of the reviewers, and that prevent the DOE from scuttling the decisions of the reviewers if the DOE doesn’t like them. There are now 5 reviewers, and DOE still gets to select more reviewers–2–than any other party, but there are guarantees that the challenger, the local school district, and the publisher can also appoint credible experts to review the supplemental materials. And the final decision rests with BESE, who can consider expert opinions from multiple viewpoints before making their final choice.

If there is any doubt that the DOE’s rules would have obfuscated the intent of the law, consider Forrest’s attack on the adopted rules:

There is no guarantee that the three non-DOE reviewers, especially the school district’s and the publisher’s appointees, will have the requisite expertise to evaluate contested materials.

Forrest’s assertion here is not true because the adopted rules still retain all of the original requirements that reviewers have the necessary expertise, stating: “The reviewers should be experts who are capable of determining if the materials are grade-level appropriate, if the materials are scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence, and if the materials do not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

So what exactly does Forrest mean by “will have the requisite expertise”? You might be able to guess, but it becomes explicitly clear in her next sentences, where Forrest rails against the possibility that Darwin-skeptics might have some influence in decisions about permissible supplemental materials (and realize that when she says “creationist,” she includes people like Don Ewert, extremely well-credentialed scientists who doubt Darwin):

A school district that permits the use of creationist materials is likely to choose a creationist reviewer. The publisher of creationist materials is virtually certain to choose a creationist. … BESE’s amended complaint procedure guarantees that a creationist … will be allowed to review their own materials. … The same holds for reviewers appointed by publishers of materials such as the Discovery Institute’s stealth creationist textbook, Explore Evolution, and its creationist DVDs … Such reviewers would be manifestly unqualified to render judgments concerning materials for use in Louisiana’s public schools.

Now we see what Forrest means by “requisite expertise” — they can’t be a “creationist,” which in Forrest’s misguided world means they also can’t be highly credentialed Ph.D. scientists who doubt Darwin but aren’t “creationists” in any meaningful sense. In other words, if you doubt Darwin, then according to Forrest’s intolerant view, you are “manifestly unqualified.”

The reality is that the rules adopted by BESE create fairness by guaranteeing that all of the reviewers will be experts, but won’t be handpicked by the DOE to stifle the intent of the Louisiana legislature and the LSEA. The rules adopted by BESE guarantee that both the pro-Darwin DOE and Darwin-skeptics can have a voice at the table, as multiple parties can appoint reviewers. That means the adopted rules promote fairness.

The contrast with Forrest’s preferred rules is stark: Forrest wants all the reviewers to be anti-LSEA Darwin lobbyists, while proponents of the LSEA want credible viewpoints on both sides to have a place at the table. Do you see the difference? Simply put, we don’t want our viewpoint to be the only game in town, but we do want it to be heard; Barbara Forrest wants her viewpoint to be the only game in town, and she wants other viewpoints to be silenced because they are deemed “manifestly unqualified.”

Forrest’s last complaint about the adopted rules says it all:

DOE staff will not be allowed to independently assess the reviewers’ reports but must instead transfer the reports directly to BESE for evaluation.

Yes, that’s right Dr. Forrest. Now the pro-Darwin-only DOE doesn’t have arbitrary authority to scuttle viewpoints and decisions it doesn’t like. It must pass each of the reviewers’ opinions on to BESE so BESE can be fully informed when making the final decision. Other credible scientific viewpoints may be heard in addition to your own. You can’t define viewpoints you disagree with as “manifestly unqualified” just because they dissent from the majority. What you’re promoting is called dogmatism and intolerance. What we’re promoting is called academic freedom.

The final rules aren’t perfect, but fairness, due process, and academic freedom permeate the final rules that were adopted by BESE, which is why exactly Barbara Forrest and the Louisiana evolution lobby are so upset. The fact that Forrest doesn’t like these rules speaks volumes about her non-commitment to fairness and her intolerance for other viewpoints.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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