If Only This Article in <i>Congressional Quarterly</i> Had Been an April Fools' Day Joke - Evolution News & Views

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If Only This Article in Congressional Quarterly Had Been an April Fools' Day Joke

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Near the start of this month, I received in the mail a copy of an article from Congressional Quarterly that included comments I had made in an interview with "researcher" Tom Price. CQ is a journal that aims to provide information for lawmakers and others involved in public policy in Washington, D.C.

Before going further, let me say I don't object to the fact that the piece quotes extensively from ID critics. It would have been nice if the author had noted some of the rebuttals to objections to ID that I mentioned during the interview, instead of favoring our critics by allowing them lengthy unrebutted attacks on ID. The anti-ID bias is evident, but that's not my main concern. The article was, after all, policy-related and so I suppose the writer, Mr. Price, is allowed to have an opinion -- even if it ignores contrary evidence and arguments. What's most troubling about the piece is the false and unsubstantiated information it provides about the public policy positions of the ID movement, and the false stereotypes it promotes -- all in a journal that purports to offer "research."

Inaccurate Scholarship About the Public Policy Positions of the ID Movement

The article is titled "Science and Religion: Can Their Conflicts Be Resolved?" It opens by framing various extreme positions in the debate -- young earth creationists who calls the Big Bang theory "lies straight from the pit of hell" and New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, who call the God of the Bible "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction," or PZ Myers who calls religion "fundamentally a poison for the mind." (Mr. Price even gives PZ Myers a half-page mini-editorial later in the article.)

Price identifies religious scientists who accept evolution, like Francis Collins, as occupying the "ground between" the extremes in the debate -- even though Collins's scientific views are essentially indistinguishable from those of Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and other New Atheists. Price quotes Dr. Collins as saying, "God's plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet."

On a positive note, in seeking out and praising the "middle ground," Price mentions ID. On the negative side, he misrepresents the public policy positions of the ID movement:

Stephen Meyer, head of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle and a leader of the [ID] movement, has convinced some educational policymakers to "teach the controversy" by offering intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution.12
Tom Price is simply wrong to claim that Stephen Meyer has been pushing policymakers to teach intelligent design in public schools. In speaking with Mr. Price, I'm pretty sure I explained that Discovery Institute opposes attempts to introduce ID into public schools, as our Science Education Policy Page states:
As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.
Somehow Mr. Price never cited our education policy page when explaining our education policy. But there are plenty of other similar sources he could have cited (but didn't).

For example, in a 2002 op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer -- in the context of the first major evolution-education policy battle that Discovery Institute got involved with -- Meyer wrote the following:

Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin, and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum.

First, I suggested -- speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design -- that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet.

Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view.

Meyer expressed a similar position in a 2005 op-ed in USA Today regarding the Kansas State Board of Education's debate on the same subject: "Because intelligent design is a new theory, we, like Kansas' board, don't think students should be required to learn it."

Mr. Price didn't cite to these articles either. But curiously, to bolster his point about Steve Meyer pushing public schools to include ID, Mr. Price included an endnote -- number 12 -- at the end of his paragraph.

So what is Mr. Price's endnote 12? Does it cite an article or statement by Dr. Meyer where he's asking a school board to include ID? No. Does it even refer to an article by Dr. Meyer? No. Does it even refer to an article by an ID-proponent? No. Instead, it refers the reader to an op-ed by New Atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss, also about the 2002 debate in Ohio. So apparently Congressional Quarterly now permits Lawrence Krauss to speak for Stephen Meyer and the ID movement on what we think should be taught in public schools.

If you read Krauss's article carefully, however, you find that he didn't even say that Steve Meyer was pushing for the mandatory inclusion of intelligent design in Ohio public schools. Here's what Krauss wrote:

Everyone expected Meyer to get up and say, "We want ID to be taught in schools." Instead he declared, "You know what? We're not dogmatic. We want to compromise. Let's just teach the controversy."
So Krauss denies (correctly) that Meyer said "We want ID to be taught in schools." In fact, Krauss went on to correctly state that Meyer's "teach the controversy" strategy was adopted in Ohio:
When the Board of Education finished the new science standards, we saw how effective Meyer's teach-the-controversy strategy had been. Tacked on at the very end of the science standards was a phrase that required students to learn "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."
That's all true. But the "teach the controversy" approach doesn't entail requiring intelligent design. In fact, Krauss left out one important part of the standard that Ohio adopted. Here's the full Ohio standard:
Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)
The words I've represented in bold above are policy language that Kraus neglected to mention -- language that we at Discovery Institute supported, and that was adopted in Ohio. That language explicitly says that ID was not required in Ohio. Which again shows that in 2002, neither Meyer nor Discovery Institute was pushing for Ohio to require the teaching of intelligent design.

So why does Mr. Price cite Krauss's op-ed? Well, Krauss goes on to decry the "dishonesty of ID lies" and the supposed "disingenuous effort to introduce ID as a scientific theory in schools." Krauss falsely insinuates -- but only through typical Darwin-activist accusations of "lies" and "dishonesty" -- that somehow Discovery Institute is trying to push ID into public schools, even though the public record shows the opposite. I suppose Mr. Price believed these that personal attacks somehow thought they counted as scholarship, since this was the best citation he could find to bolster his false claim that Discovery Institute is pushing ID into public schools.

Krauss (and Price) must think that when we endorse policies that state, "The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design," that actually means "Go out and teach intelligent design." And apparently Mr. Price thinks that New Atheist activists who accuse us of "lies" and "dishonesty" have the right to speak for the policy positions of the ID Movement. Is this good scholarship?

If you're beginning to suspect that Mr. Price's article had an agenda to misrepresent ID, you might be on to something. Keep reading.

Free Association Arguments to Conflate ID with Geocentrism

Tom Price's misstatements about ID's public policy positions are far from the most inaccurate and biased part of the article. First, some background.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and the de facto leader of the Darwin Lobby, sometimes gives talks that come off like military intelligence briefings. She presents slides identifying the leaders of the ID movement, mixed with slides of leading young earth creationists, and throwing in mentions of a couple of geocentrists or flat-earthers. I truly don't know where she finds some of these people.

The intent of her argument by free association is, in any event, to mix up all these views in the minds of the audience until they think that ID is no different from young earth creationism, which together are no better than geocentrism or other wacky views. Tom Price must have taken some rhetorical cues from the people he interviewed at the NCSE.

Toward the end his article is a bold subheading, "Intelligent Design." This leads you to expect that in that section, Mr. Price will have something to say about intelligent design. Instead, the first paragraph following the subhead focuses on young earth creationism and geocentrism. Here's the paragraph in its entirety:

Several organizations claim to conduct scientific research that disproves such mainstream science as evolution, a 4.5 billion year old Earth, a 13.7 billion-year-old universe and even that the Earth revolves around the sun.
Nowhere does Price explain that the vast majority of leaders of the ID movement accept the conventional age of the Earth and the universe. He also never makes clear that ID proponents do not, in fact, reject "evolution" in all the meanings of that word, that we accept that life has changed over time. Some leading ID proponents support common ancestry, and of course we acknowledge that natural selection can do some things.

But his association, and lumping, of ID with geocentrism is beyond the pale. Price never actually quotes anyone who defends geocentrism -- so it's not clear where he got that idea from. Could it have been the folks at the NCSE he interviewed? The rest of his "Intelligent Design" section is devoted to discussing young earth creationists -- some of whom even oppose intelligent design. The reader, in short, is left with a false caricature of what ID is.

At What Price, Tom?

Many readers of Congressional Quarterly are policy wonks or lawmakers who are trying to get a handle on various ideas relevant to their work. Unfortunately, the stereotype they'll take away from this article is that ID is a "pseudoscientific" view that's as fringe as geocentrism, and that its main goal is to force intelligent design into public schools. If this is the caricature Tom Price wanted policymakers to hear, then he may very well have succeeded in his efforts. But he's done so at a price: that of fair, accurate and well-documented scholarship and reporting. And they call this "research"?

Image: Kevin Burkett/Fickr.


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