Richard B. Hoppe posted Entry 2542 on August 31, 2006 12:00 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2537

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Jonathan Wells has recently written The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Wells’s book is stuffed full of misrepresentations, distortions, and plain falsehoods. My Thumb colleagues are reviewing whole chapters, but my purpose here is to focus in some detail on just one of Wells’s claims to illustrate his scurrilous tactics.

The claim I focus on is from Chapter 16, “American Lysenkoism”. Mark Perakh has already documented how Wells manipulated partial quotations from Perakh’s earlier essay on Lysenkoism to create misrepresentations of what Perakh actually wrote. Here I will describe Wells’s dishonesty about a specific episode in Ohio last year.

In chapter 16 Wells wrote

… some Darwinist professors at Ohio State University (OSU)—a public institution—are now trying to destroy another student’s career by preventing him from getting his doctorate.

(p. 189)

This is the infamous Bryan Leonard affair that I described on the Thumb as it was happening; see “ID vs. Academic Integrity: Gaming the System in Ohio” for the full story. Wells accuses three Ohio State University professors of torpedoing Leonard, saying

Although Leonard had gone through normal procedures and received proper approval to conduct his research … [the three professors] accuse Leonard of “unethical” conduct primarily on the grounds that his research was predicated on “a fundamental flaw: there are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution”.

(p. 189)

The next sentence in the letter was “Mr. Leonard has been misinforming his students if he teaches them otherwise”. As noted below, what Leonard was teaching was Wells’s Icons of Evolution trash, so he was indeed misinforming his students.

Furthermore, Wells claimed

The OSU Darwinists then invoked some procedural techicalities—widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates—to demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed.

(p. 190)

Like all creationists, Wells stuffs his screed with false claims (a tactic immortalized as the Gish Gallop, each claim expressed in a sentence but requiring paragraphs to rebut). With respect to the Leonard affair, Wells makes two specific claims, that the professors accused Leonard of unethical behavior and that he failed to follow some “procedural technicalities” that are allegedly widely disregarded at Ohio State. Both of Wells’s claims are misrepresentations, and in making them he also produces some peripheral garbage that requires examination.

As background one must know that the three professors—an evolutionary biologist, a paleoanthropologist, and a mathematician—all have appointments as Members of the Graduate Faculty of the Ohio State University. As such, they have specific responsibilities with respect to that university (for the ‘umbrella’ University policy governing those responsibilities see here, especially 3335-5-30 (B)). If they have reason to believe that the regulations of the graduate school are not being followed, as part of their affirmative duty to their employer they must bring that to the attention of the Graduate School. Just as a police officer has the affirmative duty to enforce the law and a physician has the affirmative duty to treat a patient with the patient’s best interests in mind, the members of the graduate faculty have an affirmative duty to ensure that the policies and regulations of the Graduate School are followed. When they become aware of a violation of those policies and regulations they are bound to report it. Failure to do so would violate the terms of their appointment to the graduate faculty.

The Ethics Question

Now consider the ethics question regarding Leonard’s research. 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. When Leonard drew public attention to his work at the Kansas creationist hearings, the three OSU professors, aware of Leonard’s status as a graduate student, asked whether Leonard’s dissertation research had been properly reviewed and approved by OSU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Operating under federal laws and regulations, IRBs are charged with ensuring that research performed with human subjects are ethical and meet legal requirements for informed consent, among other things. Failure to conform to requirements can have substantial negative effects on a university. IRBs are particularly vigilant about the use of minors as subjects of research. 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.

The “Procedural Technicalities” Question

As noted, Wells claimed that in addition to the IRB question, the three OSU professors “invoked some procedural technicalities—widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates—to demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed” (p. 190).

What “procedural technicalities” did the professors raise? Simple: They pointed out that contrary to Graduate School requirements, Leonard’s dissertation defense committee had no members from the program in which he was seeking a degree. That is, while Leonard was seeking a degree from the program in science education, no one from that program was on his committee. Instead, there was a member from the technology education program (his advisor), one from entomology, one from human nutrition, and a “graduate school representative” from the Department of French & Italian! It’s as though Leonard were seeking certification in neurosurgery before an examining committee consisting of a dermatologist, a ob/gyn, a chiropracter, and a truck driver. Not even Leonard’s advisor is in the program from which he sought a degree! As one commenter on my earlier post remarked, looking just at that committeee one has no idea where Leonard was supposedly seeking a degree.

Two of the members of Leonard’s committee have one property in common: they are “intelligent design” activists. Glenn Needham and Robert Disilvestro are publicly self-identified with the “intelligent design” movement. DiSilvestro testified (note his denial of common descent) in the Kansas creationism hearings with Leonard (who also denied common descent), and Needham testified to the validity of Leonard’s lesson plan at the Ohio State Board of Education. In addition, until the brouhaha erupted Leonard’s advisor, Paul E. Post, had links to a variety of Christian sites, including at least one “intelligent design” site, on his personal OSU web site, When the fiasco became public those links immediately disappeared. The fourth member of Leonard’s committee, an assistant professor of French & Italian, had never before served as graduate school representative on a defense committee and had no qualifications appropriate to Leonard’s area of research.

The three professors who brought the anomalies to the attention of the graduate school did not “… demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed”, as Wells falsely claims, but rather requested that the Graduate School look into very serious questions surrounding the conduct of Leonard’s research and the composition of his defense committee. [See erratum below.] An administrator in the Graduate School and the head of the program from which Leonard was seeking a Ph.D. began inquiries regarding the anomalous composition of Leonard’s committee. At that, the graduate school representative (the assistant professor of French & Italian) withdrew, and a replacement—the Dean of the College of Biological Sciences, who was qualified to evaluate a dissertation on the teaching of evolution—was appointed. Within 24 hours of that replacement, Leonard’s defense was postponed at the request of his advisor. The graduate school did not postpone Leonard’s defense, his advisor did so when a qualified person was appointed to the defense committee.

Finally, Wells’s claims that this “procedural technicality”—not having any qualified examiners on a dissertation defense committee—is “… widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates …”. Wells is here claiming that the Ohio State University routinely awards Ph.D.s to students whose committees are unqualified to assess the students’s work! That is a breathtaking accusation to make about the Graduate School of the Ohio State University. Wells provides no evidence whatsoever for this extraordinary claim. It merely stands in unsupported thin air. Wells flatly libels a distinguished research university in aid of his sectarian agenda.

Conclusion

I have to say it must be easy to write as Wells does. Need a “fact”? Make it up. Find an inconvenient fact? Ignore it. Need a quotation? Quotemine a genuine scientist, pasting together bits and pieces from pages apart in the original to make it say something the original wouldn’t recognize. Wells has no shred of intellectual honesty, and has a true soulmate in Salvador Cordova, who was quoted in Nature as saying

The critical thinking and precision of science began to really affect my ability to just believe something without any tangible evidence.

Wells hasn’t been affected one whit by the precision and critical thinking of science. He blatantly misrepresents an episode for which documentation exists in the public domain that flatly contradicts his distortions. He wholly ignores that documentation in favor of a tissue of misrepresentations and plain falsehoods, and libels a distinguished university to boot. But Wells can’t be bothered with that. He has an agenda: to destroy Darwinism for purely religious reasons, and the facts—and the Ohio State University—be damned.

Did You Know?

The Ohio State University requires that faculty members on dissertation defense committees be qualified in the subject matter of the dissertation? Wells calls that requirement a “procedural technicality”. Did Wells have anyone qualified on his committee?

Erratum added 9/1/06: One of the three OSU professors contacted me this evening and sent me the partial text of the letter he and the other two sent the Graduate School. The letter did in fact refer to a postponement, saying “We believe that the integrity of OSU’s graduate program may be compromised should Mr. Leonard’s examination proceed as scheduled. We are requesting that it be postponed until these issues can be resolved.” So, they requested a postponement, rather than demanded as Wells claims. Neverthelessit was Leonard’s advisor who actually postponed the defense, not the graduate school.

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Comment #124699

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on August 31, 2006 2:16 PM (e)

A graduate school representative need not have a field of study in common with the candidate. At least, that wasn’t my experience. My GSR was from Accounting. Their job is to monitor the procedural aspects of the candidate’s defense, both making sure that the candidate is not getting a free ride and that the candidate is not being given a raw deal.

Comment #124702

Posted by Tyrannosaurus on August 31, 2006 2:39 PM (e)

IT is obvious that Wells is nothing but a liar and a slanderer of the worst kind. I graduated from William and Mary and my dissertation committee was composed of professors with ample experience and a track record of publications in the subject matter of my dissertation. In addition the committee was composed of faculty members from at least on other department different from the one granting the degree and a member from another institution (college or university).

We all work hard to obtain a doctoral degree and we must be vigilant for the integrity of such a degree. That is why there are a series of procedures that are so inconvenient for the likes of Wells and Leonard. They want the prestige of the degree but without the rigor needed to obtain it.

Comment #124706

Posted by Flint on August 31, 2006 2:55 PM (e)

Finally, Wells’s claims that this “procedural technicality”—not having any qualified examiners on a dissertation defense committee…

What RBH makes very clear, repeatedly, is that Leonard had gone to a great deal of effort to select qualified examiners. Just as clearly, the qualifications required were entirely religious qualifications. Academic knowledge of the nominal subject matter was an evidently fatal DISqualification. From what has been posted here previously, there is some circumstantial evidence that Leonard, Needham and Disilvestro (and possibly Post) were involved from the very beginning, and designated both the candidate (Leonard) and the dissertation topic as part of a campaign ultimately aimed toward enlisting the unwitting weight of OSU as an academic institution, as endorsing creationism. The dissertation committee put itself together with this as the goal.

I’d be disturbed that Needham and Disilvestro would be willing to trash the reputation of their own employer, in the process ignoring the rules they live by because those rules act to prevent this very dishonesty, except that (of course) they are creationists. Their longer-range goal was to turn our children into people just like themselves!

Comment #124714

Posted by Dave Carlson on August 31, 2006 3:26 PM (e)

Nice job, Richard!

Do you know if the requirement that faculty members on dissertation defense committees by qualified in the subject matter is specific to OSU, or is that typical for most schools?

Comment #124715

Posted by stevaroni on August 31, 2006 3:28 PM (e)

Granted, I have little firsthand knowledge of any of the individuals involved here. Most of what I read about the incident comes to me from the web, and it sometimes degenerates badly into a he-said / she-said fight.

That being said, as an outside observer, this looks like just another ID/creation advocate pissed off because the world wants him to play by the same rules the rest of us use.

Hovind is still expected to pay taxes, Behe is still expected to explain questions arising from his published work, and Leonard is expected to furnish a graduate dissertation that has some actual information in it.

These requirements are simple, they apply to any and all of us without bias, and people seem to manage them just fine every day. If they’re so onerous that the ID proponents cannot rise meet them, I have no sympathy, nor will I entertain the charge of official oppression.

Comment #124720

Posted by Coin on August 31, 2006 3:53 PM (e)

Wesley R. Elsberry wrote:

A graduate school representative need not have a field of study in common with the candidate. At least, that wasn’t my experience. My GSR was from Accounting. Their job is to monitor the procedural aspects of the candidate’s defense, both making sure that the candidate is not getting a free ride and that the candidate is not being given a raw deal.

All right, that makes sense. What about the rest of the dissertation defense committee, though?

Comment #124726

Posted by Doc Bill on August 31, 2006 4:00 PM (e)

It’s been a year. That seems ample time to correct “procedural technicalities,” even if Leonard had been required to rewrite his thesis, for example.

What is the current status of Leonard’s research and dissertation?

Comment #124749

Posted by David B. Benson on August 31, 2006 4:24 PM (e)

Coin — I don’t know of a university or academy anywhere in the world which does not require all the committee members be qualified in the general area of the dissertation with but two exceptions: The student might have a minor so a representative of the minor area needs be present; a graduate school representative, if any.

Comment #124757

Posted by Gerard Harbison on August 31, 2006 4:47 PM (e)

Here at UNL, the supervisory committee is the defense committee. It includes four faculty from the primary department or program of the student, and one external member. It is anomalous in the extreme to have nobody from the degree program involved on the defense committee.

In addition, the supervisory committee would have to be approved by the grad. chair of the student’s degree program , and also the grad. school.

Wells, as usual, is talking through the wrong orifice.

Gerry Harbison, outgoing Graduate Chair, Chemistry, University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Comment #124759

Posted by Flint on August 31, 2006 4:48 PM (e)

Doc Bill:

It’s been a year. That seems ample time to correct “procedural technicalities,” even if Leonard had been required to rewrite his thesis

It’s probably not quite that simple. The procedural technicalities, let’s face it, entail OSU hiring a few devout creationists in Leonard’s specialty, who are willing to trash OSU’s reputation (perhaps this goes without saying if they are creationists?). Then these new hires have to somehow get placed on Leonard’s committee despite intense and suspicious scrutiny by an aroused academic community. As RBH said in his original post, the original committee’s actions made it obvious they were trying to game the system by staying under the radar.

Complicating the issue is the sheer difficulty of *finding* suitable candidates. They may not exist. And I have gathered the impression that Leonard’s “thesis” wasn’t so much a discussion of a research project, so much as an attempt to provide a political blueprint to the state BOE. Which I understand has now been reconstited by a politically endangered governor who now claims he had “no idea” that every single BOE member he appointed was a creationist!

Comment #124767

Posted by RBH on August 31, 2006 5:09 PM (e)

Wesley wrote

A graduate school representative need not have a field of study in common with the candidate. At least, that wasn’t my experience. My GSR was from Accounting. Their job is to monitor the procedural aspects of the candidate’s defense, both making sure that the candidate is not getting a free ride and that the candidate is not being given a raw deal.

At the Ohio State University, the GSR has a vote on the substance of the dissertation, not merely on procedural questions. From the Graduate School Handbook:

II.6.10.5 Representative. Once the Final Oral Examination is scheduled, the Dean of the Graduate School appoints the Graduate Faculty Representative. The Graduate Faculty Representative is a Category P Graduate Faculty member who is neither a Graduate Faculty member in the student’s graduate program nor a member of the Dissertation Committee. No less than one week before the Final Oral Examination, a complete, typed dissertation or D.M.A. document draft must be presented to the Graduate Faculty Representative. In addition to being a full voting member of the Final Oral Examination Committee, the Graduate Faculty Representative reports a judgment of the quality of the examination, of the dissertation or document, and of the student’s performance to the Graduate School. (Bolding added)

That clearly means the GSR is required to judge the substance of the dissertation and oral. One hopes that means the GSR has some competence in the substance. Further

II.6.10.6 Negative Judgment of GFR. If the Graduate Faculty Representative judges the dissertation or D.M.A. document unsatisfactory, the student’s adviser and the Dean of the Graduate School are to be informed no later than one day prior to the Final Oral Examination. After consulting the student and the Dissertation Committee members, the adviser may elect to hold the examination as scheduled or postpone it until the situation is resolved.

Again, clearly an issue of substance.

Finally, contra Wells’ blather, only the advisor may postpone an oral defense:

II.6.10.7 Postponement. The Final Oral Examination is expected to be held as scheduled; however, circumstances may prompt the adviser to postpone it. Before taking such action, the adviser must consult the student and the other members of the Dissertation or D.M.A. Document Committee, which does not include the Graduate Faculty Representative (ref. II.6.9.2). Prior to the examination, the adviser must notify the Dean of the Graduate School of the postponement. (Italics original)

Doc Bill asked

It’s been a year. That seems ample time to correct “procedural technicalities,” even if Leonard had been required to rewrite his thesis, for example.

What is the current status of Leonard’s research and dissertation?

I don’t know. Leonard is still listed as a graduate student in the OSU directory.

Flint commented

I’d be disturbed that Needham and Disilvestro would be willing to trash the reputation of their own employer, in the process ignoring the rules they live by because those rules act to prevent this very dishonesty, except that (of course) they are creationists.

I fully agree. They attempted to participate in subverting the degree-granting process and in doing so betrayed their employer and their profession.

RBH

Comment #124772

Posted by Coin on August 31, 2006 5:21 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

Doc Bill wrote:

It’s been a year. That seems ample time to correct “procedural technicalities,” even if Leonard had been required to rewrite his thesis

It’s probably not quite that simple. The procedural technicalities, let’s face it, entail OSU hiring a few devout creationists in Leonard’s specialty, who are willing to trash OSU’s reputation (perhaps this goes without saying if they are creationists?). Then these new hires have to somehow get placed on Leonard’s committee despite intense and suspicious scrutiny by an aroused academic community. As RBH said in his original post, the original committee’s actions made it obvious they were trying to game the system by staying under the radar.

Complicating the issue is the sheer difficulty of *finding* suitable candidates…

Yeah… I think what Doc Bill was originally getting at was that if the problems had been procedural difficulties, then a year would have been ample time to correct them.

But as you observe, the problems here are not “procedural difficulties” at all…

Darth Robo wrote:

You really have been ignoring every critique of Well’s book, haven’t you?

I really think we could just replace this guy with a computer program that automatically generates random strings of text based around key words found in the posts it is responding to, such as “Lysenko” or “religion”. Since sentences within his posts seem to rarely, if ever, have any obvious connection to either the thing he is responding to or other parts of the post in which they appear, we likely would not be able to tell the difference.

Comment #124879

Posted by stevaroni on August 31, 2006 8:16 PM (e)

By the way, What exactly was Leonard’s thesis?

I can find plenty of information about the circumstances surrounding the incident (on Pharyngula et al), but I can’t find the actual thing itself, just summaries that talk about him wanting to teach evolution to high school kids via an ID versus Darwin lesson plan.

Did he actually do this? Did he write it up? Can I read it anywhere?

A Google search gives lots of comments about the controversy but few details about the thesis.

(Unless, of course, he’s the J Leonard who earned his masters from OSU with “Pipelined A/D Converter for Multi-standard Wireless Receiver: Modeling, Simulation, and Design”, but somehow, that doesn’t seem appropriately controversial unless you’re really into data conversion.)

Comment #124892

Posted by RBH on August 31, 2006 9:08 PM (e)

stevearoni asked

By the way, What exactly was Leonard’s thesis?

I can find plenty of information about the circumstances surrounding the incident (on Pharyngula et al), but I can’t find the actual thing itself, just summaries that talk about him wanting to teach evolution to high school kids via an ID versus Darwin lesson plan.

Did he actually do this? Did he write it up? Can I read it anywhere?

Until it’s successfully defended it’s not public info. That’s part of what roused interest when Leonard testified about it at the Kansas hearings. He was describing research to which no one else had access.

RBH

Comment #124895

Posted by Scott on August 31, 2006 9:52 PM (e)

Not only does Leonard deny common descent, by his evasive remarks he appears to be a YEC as well! Though in truth that is only a “theory”. ;-)

Comment #124913

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on August 31, 2006 11:03 PM (e)

All right, that makes sense. What about the rest of the dissertation defense committee, though?

Richard is perfectly correct to say that the composition of the dissertation committee, minus the graduate school representative, was a sham.

I got my Ph.D. at Texas A&M’s Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences (WFSC) Department. The actual committee should know something about the dissertation topic. My committee was assembled with several of the foremost experts in the field I was researching. Having my work pass their scrutiny means something. This would not have been the case for the Leonard committee as it was constituted.

Comment #124923

Posted by admin on August 31, 2006 11:30 PM (e)

Off-topic comments moved to the Bathroom Wall.

Collin, this is your second warning. Your posting privileges will be removed at the next off-topic comment you leave on a thread here.

Anyone noticing Collin posting off-topic is invited to notify us by email, admin at pandasthumb dot org.

Comment #124928

Posted by ninewands on August 31, 2006 11:39 PM (e)

Ah, yes, RBH … but is it utter rubbish?

Comment #125015

Posted by Frank J on September 1, 2006 6:07 AM (e)

Scott wrote:

Not only does Leonard deny common descent, by his evasive remarks he appears to be a YEC as well! Though in truth that is only a “theory”. ;-)

…per the ID definition of being “unfalsifiable and probably false.”

If Leonard “is” a YEC he would have no problem saying unequivocally under oath that the Earth is only thousands of years old. I’ll grant only that he promotes YEC by making it easier for others to infer it.

I doubt that Leonard even denies common descent in private – has he ever challenged Behe on it? While he didn’t evade that question, he still evaded the request to provide an alternative hypothesis. If common descent were not true, abiogenesis must have occurred at least twice; most anti-evolutionists in fact suggest millions or more times. Evolution accommodates the possibility that abiogenesis is a unique event in the Universe, so if anything, the urgency lies with the “common descent denier” to at least speculate in detail how and when those separate events occurred. Yet astonishingly they are all well-trained at slipping out of that, because they know that their bogus calculations of how abiogenesis is “impossible” would promote more doubt toward their “multiple abiogenesis” scenario than it would about evolution. Designer(s) or not, the job of science is to investigate how things happen, not play bait-and-switch games.

So why would Leonard and other IDers pretend to doubt common descent and even try to placate YECs when they seem to be fully aware that YEC and OEC have more holes than their “Darwinism” caricature? Time to dust this off.

Comment #125018

Posted by Shalini, BBWAD on September 1, 2006 6:47 AM (e)

[the job of science is to investigate how things happen, not play bait-and-switch games.]

NOW we knonw why the IDiots get all hot and heavy about the whole ‘redefining science’ shebang.

Comment #125028

Posted by Roy on September 1, 2006 8:28 AM (e)

Instead, there was a member from the technology education program (his advisor), one from entomology, one from human nutrition, and a “graduate school representative” from the Department of French & Italian! … As one commenter on my earlier post remarked, looking just at that committeee[sic] one has no idea where Leonard was supposedly seeking a degree.

Ethnic food science and technology, of course. The subject of his thesis may have been something like: ‘How to teach the proper techniques for locust chocolate-coating equipment.’

Roy

Comment #125045

Posted by Flint on September 1, 2006 8:58 AM (e)

Having my work pass their scrutiny means something. This would not have been the case for the Leonard committee as it was constituted.

Once again, the qualifications were religious, not academic. A creationist “thesis” passing the scrutiny of a committee composed of creationists, set up because they WERE creationists, for the purpose of granting a doctorate to creationism doctrine, indeed means a great deal. It would have been a MAJOR PR coup for the creationists, who could have leveraged it at a thousand websites and who knows how many state school boards.

(And let’s note that the creationists’ behavior in this instance indicates their concession that Leonard’s efforts would NOT have passed the scrutiny of any committee lacking proper religious qualifications. The makeup of the committee matters a great deal.)

Comment #125062

Posted by Edward Braun on September 1, 2006 10:14 AM (e)

Interesting post…

One minor point to build on Wesley Elsberry’s post - as a former post-doc at OSU, my recollection is that the grad school requires a “grad school representative” from outside the student’s home department. I can’t remember all of the details (which were mostly gleaned from conversations over beer with students I interacted with) but I think that representative may have been appointed rather than chosen by the student. The “grad school rep” is there to have an outside voice that can bring a distinct perspective and help keep everything above board (e.g., this might be helpful if personality conflicts with an advisor have grown over the students career). I strongly suspect that was the role that the Asst. Prof. of French and Italian was playing.

Regarding the parts of the OSU grad handbook that RBH quoted. I did remember that the grad school rep was a full voting member of the committee. But I don’t think that person was expected to judge the defense as if they were an expert in the area. I think they were expected to provide a more general evaluation of the scholarship and evaluate the student’s ability to communicate his or her work to a general audience. Thus, the grad school rep has a role that is somewhat more than merely procedural - but not necessarily identical to the other committee members (who are expected to be experts).

In that context, I suspect what went on with the grad school representative is that he or she was planning to play that role, but realized they were out of his or her depth when the nature of the problems with Leonard became apparent. If my interpretation (and memory of the OSU rules) is correct, that person behaved very ethically - they were prepared to serve the university, and when they realized they could not do so effectively they withdrew so somebody who could better serve the university could step in.

The absence of any other experts on the committee is troubling and would be very unusual (e.g., I was in Plant Biology, and students in that department mostly had committee members from their home department, Hort. and Crop Sciences, Biochemistry, and similar departments)

Comment #125090

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 1, 2006 12:04 PM (e)

What is the current status of Leonard’s research and dissertation?

ID got killed in court and is illegal to teach.

So there’s no longer any reason for Leonard to proceed, is there.

Comment #125108

Posted by Peter on September 1, 2006 12:52 PM (e)

Edward Braun wrote:
Regarding the parts of the OSU grad handbook that RBH quoted. I did remember that the grad school rep was a full voting member of the committee. But I don’t think that person was expected to judge the defense as if they were an expert in the area. I think they were expected to provide a more general evaluation of the scholarship and evaluate the student’s ability to communicate his or her work to a general audience. Thus, the grad school rep has a role that is somewhat more than merely procedural - but not necessarily identical to the other committee members (who are expected to be experts).

This would make lots of sense because it ensures that the universtity has an advocate who can enforce procedure and ethics AND the student and the committee have a moderator who is uninvested in the actual content of the defended dissertation. S/he is invested in its quality.

I’m thinking about my graduate school oral exams right now and imagining an analogous committee to the one formed for Leonard. It would have been baffling and absolutely unheard of.
As someone who works at a university, I’m absolutely appalled that a group of academics like those on Leonard’s committee would jeopardize their positions and the status of their employer in such a fashion. It is remarkably unethical. Some kind of sanctions should be meted out to them but I don’t know what those might be at OSU as I couldn’t find anything about it on their website or in a skim of the handbook. I suppose that a faculty senate ethics committee might review them and could probably terminate or suspend their status as graduate faculty or take some other appropriate sanction though it might be difficult to actually prove anything as the process was halted before it got into truly dangerous territory. Imagine OSU’s embarassment if this had gone through.
Anyway, these shenanigans shouldn’t be tolerated in the least and Wells is like so many other IDers and Creationists who want to play both sides and cry foul when it’s convenient. How juvenile.

Comment #125120

Posted by scott on September 1, 2006 1:54 PM (e)

Frank J wrote:

…per the ID definition of being “unfalsifiable and probably false.”

If Leonard “is” a YEC he would have no problem saying unequivocally under oath that the Earth is only thousands of years old. I’ll grant only that he promotes YEC by making it easier for others to infer it.

I’ll grant you the “unfalsifiable” part, and I clearly have no proof. But why “probably false”? Why would someone promote YEC if he didn’t believe in it? Except, perhaps, for the politically expedient “big tent”. Is that what you’re getting at?

He’s not here (in this context) before a trial judge. He’s before a Board of Education, favorable to his position. It’s one thing to merely question before such a board the validity of common descent. It’s quite another to question the age of the earth. First, he needs to overthrow dogma one step at a time. Second, his “expertise” is supposedly in biology, not geology, and so his personal opinion might be called suspect.

To me this waffling on the age of the earth looks just like other IDists who deny that ID has anything to do with religion or God. Maybe Leonard has a shread of decency left and isn’t prepared to lie about his personal beliefs, unlike other IDists.

Comment #125149

Posted by RBH on September 1, 2006 3:54 PM (e)

Grad School Rep Qualifications

I’ve checked informally with OSU sources, and I am told that the general custom is for the Grad School Rep to be from a discipline allied with or related to that in which the candidate is seeking a degree. So GSRs tend to have some competence in the substantive field. But that’s not required, and hence it can happen that the GSR may be from an unrelated discipline.

None of that mitigates the fact that Leonard’s committee contained no one from the program in which he was seeking a degree, nor does it mitigate the fact that two senior members of the faculty, DiSilvestro and Needham, participated (or is it colluded?) in that attempted charade.

RBH

Comment #125200

Posted by Frank J on September 1, 2006 6:03 PM (e)

Scott wrote:

I’ll grant you the “unfalsifiable” part, and I clearly have no proof. But why “probably false”? Why would someone promote YEC if he didn’t believe in it? Except, perhaps, for the politically expedient “big tent”. Is that what you’re getting at?

With the caveat that we an never truly know other’s innermost thoughts (hence the “unfalsifiable”):

YEC is America’s favorite fairy tale. Even most major religions (official position per the leaders) take it allegorically, and accept evolution to boot. Yet at least half of the congregation clings to literalist beliefs.

Ronald Bailey, in the link I provided, made a good case at why educated, intellligent people with an extreme political agenda would want “the masses” to keep their fairy tales, even though they personally accept evolution.

Aside from the Constitutionally necessary tactic of avoiding the designer’s identity, the scientific failures of YEC and OEC - plus the contradictions that would exist even if one were true - have forced many anti-evolution activists into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy. They are the ones who fear that promoting YEC directly would expose the flaws and contradictions, and thus make their efforts backfire. There are still many promoters of classic YEC and OEC who don’t have such a fear. If any anti-evolution activists actually find YEC or OEC personally convincing, a good guess would be that they are mostly among those who promote it more directly.

Comment #125250

Posted by Z. Vicklund on September 1, 2006 8:36 PM (e)

RBH wrote:

Operating under federal laws and regulations, IRBs are charged with ensuring that research performed with human subjects are ethical and meet legal requirements for informed consent, among other things. Failure to conform to requirements can have substantial negative effects on a university. IRBs are particularly vigilant about the use of minors as subjects of research. 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.

I think it is interesting that there have not been more comments on this issue, and I wish I knew whether or not he had, in fact, received IRB approval. IRB boards are required at all federally funded universities, and must review all research involving human subjects, both directly (such as videotaping public activity, conducting interviews and surveys, and conducting drug studies) and indirectly, such as examining medical records, to make sure that the research is conducted in such a way that 1) participants are fully aware of the nature of the research, 2) that their participation is voluntary and 3) that precautionary measures are implemented to reduce or remove risk to the people involved. Depending on the potential of risk for the research subjects, the review board at my university has different levels of review, varying the length of the review process and the number of reviewers. I am currently conducting fieldwork for my dissertation, and twice I have made changes to my research–the first time, shortly before I entered the field, I had revised my interview questions, and the second time to expand my population from people in a given town to the people in the town and the area immediately around it. Each time I made a change, I had to submit these changes as well for review, and wait until I had approval before I could implement them. It can be very frustrating, I confess, because the approval is not at all flexible and it is frustrating to have to wait 4 to 6 weeks for approval so that your research better matches the actual, in field conditions. At the same time, I understand and respect the importance of what they are doing–protecting the rights of the people I am working with, and making sure that I am thinking proactively about limiting and removing potential risk before I ever talk to a single person.

As RBH points out, they are particularly careful with minors, and in fact discourage research with minors unless there is no other way for that research to be conducted. Even then, the research has to be considered valuable enough a contribution to justify working with minors. If Leonard had failed to do so, this is a grievous breach, and as RBH points out, failure to meet the IRB requirements can have seriously negative effects on the university–including loss of federal funding for the whole university. It’s a serious accusation, as important to the credibility of the university as having qualified members of the committee, and is as important for insuring that research is conducted ethically and with integrity.

Comment #125270

Posted by Doc Bill on September 1, 2006 11:32 PM (e)

From Bryan Leonard’s own testimony at the Kansas “hearings” in 2005, it appears that he had been conducting his research on high school students for 5-6 years. One presumes he would have to get new release forms for each year and he makes no mention of a control. It’s my hunch that what he did was teach the classes first, with no authorization to conduct research on human subjects, and wrote it up later as a half-assed dissertation. Thus my guess is that Leonard has nothing, scientific anyway, and that lack of research is the real cause of his delay, not a technicality. This would be obvious to any objective graduate advisor.

Here’s the link to the transcript and an exerpt:

http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05062005.pdf

Mr Calvert. And could you tell us a bit about that?
12 Bryan Leonard. I’m working on basically my doctoral
13 dissertation deals with the area of evolution
14 education, and specifically I’m looking at
15 basically students reactions how– how students
16 react, how students believe and so and so forth
17 when they’re taught the scientific information
18 both in terms of supporting and challenging
19 macroevolution.
20 Q. Have you been involved in applying that
21 knowledge to lesson plans for a while?
22 A. Yes. I was able to be a part of the science
23 writing committee for the State of Ohio in
24 which each of the members on the science
25 writing committee, we had to write exemplar
0004
1 curriculum lessons plans that were in line with
2 the Ohio State standards. And I serve on– on
3 that committee for those– (reporter
4 interruption). Writing science curriculum for
5 our 10th graders.
6 Q. And in your high school you’re teaching 10th
7 grade biology?
8 A. Yes, I am.
9 Q. Teaching it how?
10 A. Well, the way in which I teach it is similar in
11 a way in which basically we wrote the lesson
12 plan that was– that– that serves as the
13 curriculum mono lesson, entitled Critical
14 Analysis of Evolution. So that particular
15 lesson plan, I was the original drafter,
16 however I had a number of people who were
17 involved in generation, shaping and the molding
18 of that particular lesson. Went through an
19 extensive peer review process. And the way in
20 which I teach evolution in my high school
21 biology class is that I teach the scientific
22 information, or in other words, the scientific
23 interpretations both supporting and challenging
24 macroevolution.
25 Q. How long have you been doing it?
0005
1 A. I’ve been doing it for about– I think this is
2 probably about my fifth year. About five or
3 six years now.

Comment #125403

Posted by Todd on September 2, 2006 11:37 AM (e)

I am looking at my Graduate Student Handbook. My prospectus committee, which basically approves my thesis topic, must have two who are full-time academic faculty from my department (biomedical engineering), one must be full-time academic faculty from my college (college of engineering) by not my department, and one must be from a different department or institution. This is before I even start my research. I then need one additional faculty member for my actual defense committee (which must also include my prospectus committee). So that is at least two people in my deparment, probably three. Also, the committee must be approved by the graduate chair of the department, so this sort of thing shouldn’t even be possible theoretically. Plus the academic programs manager would kill me if I tried something like that.

As for IRB approval, I wonder if he even went through the course. Theoretically before you can do research on human subjects you have to take a course on the history and rules regarding research on human subjects, and the repurcussions if you fail to follow these rules. Besides issues with minors, there are also issues with captive groups that are cannot easily leave and groups where the weight of a respected authority figure is placed behind the research. Both of these categories apply to this, since he is acting as the students’ teacher and students are, in many cases, taught to respect and obey teachers. It is possible to keep the research topic a secret from subjects if it is essential to the purpose of the research, which it may be in this case since parental involvement would skew the results (parents getting involved in the learning and possibly pro-science parents pulling their students out of the class and skewing the sample set). However, it would seem that any IRB would be very wary of research on a captive group of minors with the weight of an authority figure placed upon it and possibly done without full disclosure of the research to the parents. But if this isn’t done I can’t see how the results are valid since parental involvement would wreck the controls.

So the fact that the IRB issue doesn’t seem to have been resolved is worrying, since this research hits most the marks I was taught IRBs are particularly concerned about (the only other on springing to mind is research on inmates or soldiers). I expect IRB oversight committees would come down extremely hard on this sort of research if it wasn’t approved, and rightly so. Research on minors, research without approval, research supported by an authority figure, and research on a captive audience are all frowned upon because they are situations where abuse is far easier and truly independent and informed consent are extremely difficult if not impossible to obtain.

Comment #125947

Posted by lmf3b on September 4, 2006 2:13 PM (e)

One note: Many IRB’s (including my own institution) exempt educational studies from formal review, provided the researcher can show 1) no deception is involved and 2) the research carries no risk of harm to the student. Specifically, research may be exempt if:

“The research will be conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings and will involve normal educational practices (e.g., research on regular and special education instructional strategies, research on instructional techniques, curricula, or classroom management methods).”

This “exemption” does not relieve the researcher of the obligation to report the work to the IRB, but could mean an expedited review process. The process is analogous to tax returns… even if you owe no taxes you still have to send the form in to assure the IRS you are exempt.

If Leonard applied for an exemption from OSU’s IRB on these grounds, it should be on record. Of course, one would hope an on-the-ball IRB would recognize that the creationist teachings are not “normal educational practices” and that teaching high school science students that evolution is seriously doubted by mainstream science is potentially deceptive and harmful. But I could see how the study could have escaped full review.

Comment #126041

Posted by Anton Mates on September 5, 2006 12:11 AM (e)

Doc Bill wrote:

From Bryan Leonard’s own testimony at the Kansas “hearings” in 2005, it appears that he had been conducting his research on high school students for 5-6 years. One presumes he would have to get new release forms for each year and he makes no mention of a control. It’s my hunch that what he did was teach the classes first, with no authorization to conduct research on human subjects, and wrote it up later as a half-assed dissertation.

Exactly. Leonard was, and still is, a high school teacher in the area. He just hoped to call it “research” for a while so he could win a Ph.D. by teaching the kids bad science.

I can’t imagine that he ever told the IRB anything about what he was planning–they’d never have approved it. My wife has to jump through dozens of documentational hoops just to get permission to observe a nonhuman species at a distance. Somehow getting entire classes of high school students, and their students, to sign a waiver saying “Sure, teach me crap science for a year and I won’t ever blame OSU”? Please.

Comment #128606

Posted by slpage on September 12, 2006 12:45 PM (e)

For what it is worth, my graduate alma mater, Wayne State University,
has the following requirements - 3 tenured/full-time members of your department (or a closely related one - 2 of mine were from the anatomy and cell bio. dept., one from molecular biology, both in the school of medicine) and an external examiner from the grad school (mine was from the dept. of nutrition and pharmacology, if I remember correctly), whose role was to ensure adherence to the rules and also to cast a vote.

So, yeah, from where I sit, having nobody in your actual program on your committee is, at the very least, highly unorthodox.

Comment #131331

Posted by jonny on September 18, 2006 4:19 PM (e)

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