30 December 2005

Desparate, pathetic, and disgusting - DI's West on Judge Jones

John West of the Discovery Institute has been critiquing Judge Jones' decision in the Dover ID lawsuit over at the DI Media Complaints Division blog. I haven't, for the most part, addressed these posts, since other Pandas' Thumb regulars have more relevant expertise and have been doing a better job at it than I could. His latest post, however, is so far from the bounds of decency and civility that I can't leave it be. One part in particular, mentioned in passing by PvM in another PT post, hits a new low. In a relatively short passage, West manages to combine a gratuitous personal attack with a view of both what it should mean to be a conservative and on what a lawyer should be proud of that is twisted beyond all recognition.

Here's the passage:
In addition, Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty:
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy. It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case... I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.

In a sick and twisted sort of way, I almost admire West. He must have put a hell of a lot of time into learning how to be a slippery, lying, son-of-a--. Unless the man was born without a shred of human decency, he would have had to learn how to override those instincts, and that's (fortunately) not something that just anyone is capable of.

For those who haven't figured out exactly where the lie is in that excerpt, I'll highlight it in boldface and mark it with ** at the start and end of the suspect area:
He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case**...** I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
What a surprise, the lie is in the ellipsis.

What West did was to selectively omit material, resulting in a passage that looks like it means something a bit different from what the author actually said. Remember, West's take on the quote is that it demonstrates that, "Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment." The quote is placed in support of that statement, and is clearly intended to imply that Jones was proud of what he did because of his views on crime and punishment. If the quote is examined in context, however, it paints a slightly different question. Let's start by looking at the question that Jones was answering:
Senator Cantwell. Without objection.
I have one last question for actually all of you, a panel question. Some of our most beloved judges in history have been judges who made decisions that were against popular sentiment, or stood up to protect the rights of minorities or people's whose views made them outcasts.

Can you tell me of an instance in your career where you have stood up, took an unpopular stand, or fought for something, maybe a client, and how you stood up to those pressures?
If nothing else, this indicates that Jones was not responding to a question about his views on punishment in general or on the death penalty in particular. Now, let's look at his whole response, not just the part that paints the picture that West wants people to see. I'll use boldface to indicate the material quoted by West, and I will use italics to indicate the material that is contained within West's ellipsis.
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy.

It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case.

But I learned perhaps more than anything else that I ever did as an attorney about the obligation that we have as attorneys to take on occasionally unpopular cases, and that at that time was the most unpopular case that I could possibly have chosen to have undertaken. And so that stands out amongst all the cases that I ever handled, or matters that I have handled as the most unpopular, but I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
Wow. Is it just me, or does the material that West cut from the passage change the meaning just a mite? Jones' isn't saying that he's proud that he kept the guy off of death row, he's saying that he was proud to take on an unpopular case because that was his duty as a public defender.

And it was his duty, and he should be proud of that. This country was not founded with the sort of "fry 'em all and let God sort it out mentality" that seems to be promoted by some these days. The founders of this country deliberately decided to use a justice system based on an assumption of innocence, and to make sure that anyone accused of a crime was entitled to a proper defense. Supporting that powerful principle should not be a mark of "liberalism," or indicate that someone doesn't have the "right" view of crime and punishment. Supporting the right of anyone accused of a crime to an adequate defense should be - is - an American Value.

A lawyer who is providing the defense for an accused criminal has the same obligation to the client whether he or she was hired by the accused or assigned the case as a public defender. That obligation is simple and clear: the lawyer must defend the client to the best of their abilities. Nothing less should be acceptable.

John West has become so desparate for ammunition to use to attack the decision and the judge that he is apparently willing to resort to dishonesty and false witness. In this case, he has overstepped the bounds of human decency. He has tried to take a lawyer's account of doing the right thing for a client - a lawyer demonstrating the ideals of the American justice system - and twist it into a "soft on crime" attack.

If West has any remaining hint of human decency, he will apologize and retract that portion of his attack. If he has something that serves as an occasional substitute for human decency, he will at least clarify his post to show why Jones was proud of what he did. I'm not holding my breath waiting for either.

Evolution in Action

As I mentioned before, Science named evolution as the breakthrough of the year for 2005. There is a good video presentation on the discoveries available on the journal's website. It's definitely worth a look.

29 December 2005

Another round with Krauze

Krauze has replied to my last post in our continuing discussion of some of the finer points of the definition of science used by Judge Jones in the Dover decision. If you haven't been following the discussion so far, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what's going on. If you want to go back and look at the earlier posts, I linked to all of them in my previous reply.

The series of posts has gotten to be a bit on the long side, and I don't think we've covered too much ground, mostly (I think) because we're talking past each other just a bit. I'll try again to clear up where I think the biggest areas of confusion lie.

Let's start with the passage from the decision that's at the center of our little debate:
We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. (Decision, p.64)

I think it's reasonable to say that the core of the original dispute stems from the difference between Krauze's opinion that it is unreasonable to exclude the supernatural from science versus my own belief that the judge acted entirely reasonably. The most recent posts in this debate center, at least for me, around the reasons for the exclusion of the supernatural from science.

Before I get into that in more detail, I'm going to address a criticism Krauze raises in his latest reply. Krauze points out that the designer is not necessarily supernatural, but could be some sort of extraterrestrial being. That's certainly a point worth raising. After all, if ID doesn't actually require a supernatural designer, then the whole question might be moot. The judge considered, and discarded, that possibility. I think he made the right call:
Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. (20:102-03 (Behe)). In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas’ rhetorical statement, “what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]” and answer: “On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy.” (P-11 at 7; 9:13-14 (Haught)). (Decision, pp.25-6)
It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that ID requires a supernatural explanation, particularly for the judge, when all three of the defense expert witnesses said that it does:
Defendants’ expert witness ID proponents confirmed that the existence of a supernatural designer is a hallmark of ID. First, Professor Behe has written that by ID he means “not designed by the laws of nature,” and that it is “implausible that the designer is a natural entity.” (P-647 at 193; P-718 at 696, 700). Second, Professor Minnich testified that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered. (38:97 (Minnich)). Third, Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural. (Trial Tr. vol. 28, Fuller Test., 20-24, Oct. 24, 2005). Decision, pp.29-30

Moving on, Krauze seems to misunderstand one of the main points that I was trying to make last post:
For TQA, Jones was simply concerned about testability, and supernatural concepts are characterized by a lack of testability.
I do not think that the supernatural is arbitrarily excluded from science. I believe that supernatural explanations are excluded from science primarily because they are not testable. [...].
At this point, however, I sense that TQA is simply substituting his own view of things for that of Judge Jones. Consider the text of the ruling:
We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; [...]As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
Does anyone reading this come away with the conclusion that the last part of the “additionally important” factiods is really the justification for item number one on Judge Jones’ laundry list of “levels”? Indeed, how can supernaturalness by itself be “sufficient” to rule that intelligent design is unscientific, independent of the criterion that supposedly provides its justification?
([...] indicates material I've trimmed from the quotes due to length concerns.)

When I raised those points about testability and the supernatural, I was not trying to substitute my own reasoning for that of the judge. I was attempting to explain why there is a "centuries-old ground rule" against invoking the supernatural in science. To put it as plainly and simply as possible, nobody has been able to conduct an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it," nobody has been able to design an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it," and nobody has been able to conceive of an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it."

This line of reasoning was available to the judge when he wrote his opinion. Two different experts testified on this during the plaintiff's case. You can find it in Ken Miller's testimony and in Robert Pennock's testimony.

Noting as an "additionally important" fact the lack of positive tests of ID is also relevant. This does not simply restate the untestable nature of supernatural causes; it also provides a strong indication that ID proponents have not been successful in their attempts at overcoming this limitation. To put it another way, in the absence of a method of positively testing for a supernatural cause, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to reassess the "centuries-old ground rules of science."

In an attempt to move the discussion into more pragmatic grounds, Krauze presents me with a hypothetical:
Let’s say that Dr. Smith has formulated a hypothesis about intelligent design that causes him to form some quite specific expectations, and which he now intends to test. To get his experiment funded, he sends an application to the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds a considerable amount of research. Imagine, then, the reply:

“Your proposal sounds interesting, and we would like to fund your research. However, you cannot make the link to intelligent design explicit when you publish the results. The NSF only supports scientific research, and as a judge in Dover recently found, intelligent design is inherently unscientific.”

I tried to put a little effort into answering this, but, to put it bluntly, I don't find it to be either interesting or realistic. Yes, I think that such a demand from the NSF would be unreasonable, and I think that a scientist in such a situation should strenuously object. I also think that I'll carry an open umbrella with me at all times outdoors if pigs learn how to fly. In both cases, there's something really, really big between the hypothetical that has been posed and current reality.

If you want me to seriously question whether excluding the supernatural is a good ground rule, you are going to need to give me a real reason to reconsider the situation. Come up with a remotely reasonable test, and I'll get interested quick. Until you have that, all of these complaints about how unfair it is to exclude these things are nothing more than sour grapes.

26 December 2005

More follow-up on naturalism versus supernaturalism

It would appear that I've wound up in an open and vigorous exchange of views with Krauze on the topic of supernaturalism as it relates to Judge Jones' decision on the Intelligent Design issue.

Here's the sequence of posts, if anyone wants to review earlier events:
I started with a post about misrepresentation of the decision by ID proponents.
Krauze pointed out that I had failed to discuss the judge's comments on the supernatural nature of ID.
I attempted to clarify my position on supernaturalism.
Krauze has responded to my response.
The remainder of this post constitutes my response to his response to my response to his response to my initial post. We're a very responsible pair. (Bonus points to anyone outside my immediate family who figures out what movie I'm watching right now.)

Actually, I think these chains of responses can be good, and not just because they let me toss out incredibly weak pop-culture references. For starters, they let you see where the differences of opinion really sit, and where the differences really seem to be more the result of people just talking at cross-purposes to one another. In this case, I think we might be talking past each other more than anything else.

Krauze writes:
TQA raises an interesting point. You see, the reaction he describes as stubborn and unpragmatic [discarding a specific positively tested ID hypothesis because it is supernaturalistic] is actually the one that Judge Jones’ ruling would have us choose. Remember that any one of the items on Jones’ laundry list was by itself sufficient to declare intelligent design unscientific. So in the hypothetical situation that TQA describes, Judge Jones would still demand that we label intelligent design as an unscientific conjecture, “pragmatic grounds” be damned.

Let me see if I can be a bit clearer in response to this than I was last time. I do not think that the supernatural is arbitrarily excluded from science. I believe that supernatural explanations are excluded from science primarily because they are not testable. To the best of our knowledge, based on a long history of scientific investigation, it is quite simply not possible to scientifically test for supernatural causation.

For the moment, I think that the supernatural nature of ID represents perfectly reasonable grounds for ruling it unscientific. It's a fairly quick test to apply, it doesn't seem to yield ambiguous results, and it has very worked well so far. However, things can change, if only in theory. I do not believe that any of the ID proponents will be able to devise a positive test for Intelligent Design. If a positive test is devised, I think that a reasonable argument could be made that ID is no longer a supernatural explanation. But if a positive test is devised for design and if design is still felt by most to be a supernatural explanation, then (and only then) I think it would be reasonable to revisit the question of whether or not supernatural explanations should be excluded from science.

Krauze either misunderstood me the first time, or he thinks that this indicates that I have reservations about the decision:
What is interesting is that the Dover ruling has been touted as a huge victory for reason and science, and less than a week after, we find TQA - a scientist by his own testimony - having to distance himself from the logic of the court’s findings.
I am not in any way distancing myself from the logic in the decision. I merely acknowledge that there is a possibility - a very slim possibility - that at some point in time in the future the ID proponents might be able to come up with a discovery that would invalidate some of the reasoning. Of course, a great deal would have to happen before that point is reached. Not least, the ID folks need to do science.

A follow-up to my Christmas Wish post

I posted a very brief message late Christmas Eve. The message consisted of three words ("Dona nobis pacem"), linked to the Iraq casualties page. There are only two responses to this message on the blog, both from my brothers. Off the blog, I have received a few more responses sent via email. These were much less pleasant.

That one post was apparently enough to brand me a "trator" in the eyes of some. Suggesting that there is a real reason to wish for peace makes me a coward, willing to "sell out our brave troops to score a petty little political point." Wow. I had no idea that hoping that people stop dying is an act of such cowardice.

I suppose I'd better apologize to my wife, my brother Ben, my brother-in-law Ricky, every household in my neighborhood, and countless other people I know for "selling out." Guys, I'm real sorry that I dared to publicly wish that you won't need to put your lives on the line in a combat zone during the new year.

People who think that wishing for peace sells out the troops are probably the single greatest argument I can think of in favor of restoring the draft, because those people are almost definitely the ones who don't know anyone in the service.

I'm sure that they haven't had to deal with the knowledge that someone in a loved one's unit has died, and notifications will be taking place shortly. I'm sure that they haven't had to remember that on a day like that you make sure to phone your next door neighbor before going over, just to make sure that they aren't startled by your knock. (The casualty notifications come as a knock without prior warning.) I'm sure that they haven't felt the blessed mixture of relief and guilt when their prayers that it was someone else's loved one are answered.

Wishing for peace is not a sign of fear or weakness. Wishing for peace is simply a symptom of humanity.

24 December 2005

A Christmas Wish

A quick Christmas Thought.

Looking over things that I am wrapping today and will be helping with tomorrow, I've reached the conclusion that the six most obscene words in the English language are, "some assembly required, batteries not included."

23 December 2005

Naturalism and Supernaturalism

Krauze, over at Telic Thoughts, takes me out to the woodshed over yesterday's post about why Intelligent Design is not scientific. Krauze rightly points out that I failed to mention the supernatural nature of intelligent design, which was identified by the judge as one of the reasons that ID is unscientific.

I hope that my failure to discuss supernaturalism was not misleading, and if you feel mislead I apologize. I actually skipped supernaturalism intentionally, for two reasons. The first is that I personally don't think that the lack of naturalism is the biggest strike against ID. The second is that under certain circumstances the question of whether or not an ID explanation is naturalistic or not could get quite confusing.

I am a scientist, and like many scientists I am pragmatic when it comes to what I am willing to accept as science. If you show me experimenal tests that provide positive support for Intelligent Design, I will be more than willing to consider them. I might initially be skeptical, and it might take a lot to convince me, but if someone manages to successfully devise and conduct a positive test of Intelligent Design, it is possible that I might be convinced that they have a point. Absent positive tests of specific hypotheses, there is no chance that they will convince me that they are working within the realm of science.

Since the ID proponents don't have any testable hypotheses at the moment, I don't really see a need to go beyond that. Testability is the sine qua non of science. To me, worrying about whether or not people will be concerned about the supernatural nature of your hypothesis before you actually construct and test it is just plain silly. If you show me some science, I'll start to worry about the philosophy. Until then, don't waste my time.

From a slightly more philosophical perspective, there is a reason that supernatural explanations are excluded from science. It's not like scientists sat down and just arbitrarily decided to take natural explanations and exclude supernatural ones. Natural explanations can be tested using empirical evidence from the world around us. Supernatural explanations are excluded from science because- wait for it- they can't be tested.

I imagine that in the unlikely event that ID proponents manage to come up with a successful positive test for ID, there will be a hellacious philosophical debate over the implications. One the one hand, there will be some who will argue that the test has demonstrated that supernatural explanations can be incorporated into science. On the other, some will argue that the test only shows that the ID proponents have managed to show that ID is actually a naturalistic explanation. It's possible that a stubborn few might argue, as Krauze fears, that ID is still supernatural and would have to still be excluded from science based on those grounds, but I rather suspect that the holdouts would be few and far between, and would be shouted down on pragmatic grounds.

Worrying about that is a bit premature just yet, though. I can't think of any ID proposal so far that comes close to being a positive test of design, and I haven't heard anything that would lead me to believe that this is likely to change in the immediate future. If I'm wrong about that, feel free to let me know.

22 December 2005

The Science Breakthrough of the Year

If I called Science's "Breakthrough of the Year" the science world's equivalent of Time Magazine's Person of the Year I'd be exaggerating just a bit. Still, it is noteworthy.

This year, the Breakthrough of the Year is, wait for it, evolution. This might seem strange, since we are approaching the 150th anniversary of the big breakthrough in the field. It really isn't, though. Scientific theories only become static when they are disproven. The initial breakthrough in a subject area is virtually never the final word on things. Darwin provided the initial push, but thousands and thousands of scientists have been working toward a better, clearer, more accurate understanding ever since.

This year, as Science noted, has been a very good one in that respect. The article is, I believe, available for free. Give it a read. It's a good one.

21 December 2005

On your mark, get set, lie (some more)

I once heard somewhere or another that the hardest thing to do in sports is to walk into the locker room at halftime during the Superbowl and change the strategy that got you there because it isn't working anymore. I think the fine folks at the Discovery Institute might be seeing the truth in that right about now. Their strategy of trying to pretend that ID is science was seen for what it is - a sham - by a Federal judge yesterday.

After a couple of initial missteps (such as being the first to meet the judge's prediction that his opponents would call him an "activist judge" because of the decision) the pro-IDers seem to be starting to settle on a talking point. This one is honest, yes, honest as the day is long. Or at least is was yesterday. In Alaska. Northern Alaska. And I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my pagan friends a very slightly belated happy Solstice.

Sorry. I just had to get that one out of my system.

Now where was I...ah, yes. With the same commitment to the principles of truth, honesty, and forthrightness that they have displayed to date, the proponents of Intelligent Design have decided to claim that the judge ruled that ID is unscientific because many of its proponents have religious beliefs that are supported by Intelligent Design.

I'm not going to try to place these in any sort of chronological order, but here's what a number of pro-IDers have said on the topic:
From Angus Menuge:
My main concerns are that Judge Jones uses throughout an argument from motive of the form:
*(P1) Person A has a religious motive in proposing educational policy P
(C) P is a religious policy, and so allowing P in the public schools would be an establishment of religion.

David Klinghoffer at National Review Online:
Tuesday's ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself?

Lawrence Selden:
Are you kidding me? You cannot treat macroevolutionary theory as a theory because that is consistent with what religious people think?

John Mark Reynolds:
Once again a court has decided that religious motivations of supporters are enough to ban an idea (that is not essentially religious) from tax payer funded schools.

Jonathan Witt:
No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, "It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can't believe this could happen in America."
(Witt attributes the quote to a "legal scholar" without naming names, and a Google on the passage brings up no hits, so I am unclear as to whether or not the scholar in question exists as an independent entity or is merely Witt inflating his own credentials.)

That's just a quick sampling. Others have made that argument, and there have also been some posts that have responded to this, at least in part. (For example, Timothy Sandefur and Brian Leiter both touch on the issue.)

I have to wonder whether these folks read the same decision I did. If they did, they either did not understand it or they understood it but decided to misrepresent it. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether the ID proponents are being incompetent or dishonest this time.

The court spent a great deal of time in the decision explaining the "reasonable observer" standard that would be used to evaluate the conduct in this case. This standard, according to the judge,
...consists of the reviewing court determining what message a challenged governmental policy or enactment conveys to a reasonable, objective observer who knows the policy’s language, origins, and legislative history, as well as the history of the community and the broader socialand historical context in which the policy arose. McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU, 125 S. Ct. 2722, 2736-37, 2005 U.S. LEXIS 5211 at *41 (2005) (objective observer “presumed to be familiar with the history of the government’s actions and competent to learn what history has to show”); Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 308 (objective observer familiar with “implementation of” governmental action); Selman, 390 F. Supp. 2d at 1306 (objective observer “familiar with the origins and context of the government-sponsored message at issue and the history of the community where the message is displayed”).

A reasonable observer in this case would know a number of things about the Intelligent Design Movement. One of the things that they would know is, of course, that the IDers claim that their position is science, not religion. However, any objective observer willing to look even slightly beyond those claims would know that the leaders of the ID Movement spend a lot more time talking to religious groups about how wonderful ID is than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the IDers spend more time denigrating evolution than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the leading ID proponents spend more time lobbying school boards than they do doing scientific research. In short, an objective observer would reach the same conclusion as the judge: the ID proponents don't want evolution taught well because of their religious objections to evolution, and the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is just a sham to try to slip by the Constitution.

Judge Jones concluded, rightly, that Intelligent Design is not science. The religious motivations of ID proponents were only one of many pieces of evidence leading to that conclusion. The most compelling evidence for this conclusion is actually totally unrelated to the motivations, religious or otherwise, of ID proponents: the ID people, according to the testimony of pro-ID defense witnesses, haven't done science. They have not been able to devise or conduct any experiment that would be a positive test of Intelligent Design. That is why ID is not science. The motivations of the ID proponents explain why they are pushing their nonscientific nonsense into public school classrooms.

20 December 2005


UPDATED: 21 December 2005, 10:30 am. I did miss a couple of articles last night, and there have been a few good articles posted since then. I've added a section at the end with both.

As most of you are undoubtedly aware, Judge Jones has handed down his anxiously-awaited decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit. This post is (I hope) a one-stop for those interested in commentary on the ruling. I've done my best to incorporate a wide range of blog posts and some more conventional news articles. I received a number of email submissions, and did some searching on my own. If I missed anyone, I'm sorry. It's gotten late, and it's entirely possible that I lost your email somewhere. If so, please feel free to leave the link in the comments.

General Resources:
For those who are just picking up the story now, there are a few good resources for those interested in more of the background involved in the case. There is an overview page at Panda's Thumb that links to extensive commentary. The links to events are in reverse chronological order, so scroll down and work your way back up if you want to read things as they occurred. Overviews are also available at the websites of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union (both the National Organization and Pennsylvania Chapter have sites, and the PA Chapter has a blog) and at the National Center for Science Education. Moving to resources not directly tied to the plaintiffs in the case, the District Court has a page that contains links to some of the documents in the case. There is an overview of the case available at Wikipedia, and the transcripts of the testimony in the case are available in html format at the TalkOrigins Archive (along with other documents related to the case). The two hometown papers for the Dover area both have covered the case extensively. The York Dispatch's coverage is quite good, and the York Daily Record's is truly excellent. The New York Times website has a decent section on evolution in general. For those of you who are looking for coverage unburdened by connection to reality, (or who are looking for a more pro-defense perspective) the Discovery Institute also has a set of resources on the case.

The Decision:

The full text of the decision is available online at a number of different places right now. The court, MSNBC, York Dispatch, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Americans United are all hosting copies of the .pdf file of the decision (as are other websites). I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to download and read the entire decision. There are sections of legaleese to wade through in there, but the decision also contains one of the clearest, most coherent and readable descriptions of the problem that I have ever read. But don't just take my word for it - Neil Gaiman thinks you should read the whole thing, too, and he's written popular books and stuff. For those looking for a Cliff Notes version, Florida Citizens for Science has a detailed summary of the decision.

Something that is worth noting at this point is just how acutely the eloquence of the judge's decision brings into focus the deficit we have when it comes to communicating our position. The objective scientific evidence favors us, but public opinion does not. In part, this is because of the strong religious objections that so many people have to evolution, but it is also due in part, I think, to a lack of the skills needed to communicate with people from outside the scientific community. This is noted in a Washington Post article on today's decision:
When evolution's defenders find themselves tongue-tied and seemingly bested by neo-creationists -- when they believe they have the facts on their side but do not know where to find them -- this 139-page document may be the thing they turn to.
Wesley Elsberry also touches on this in some brief comments about a bit of fairly public criticism his public speaking skills recently received. I haven't met Wes, but I've seen some webcasts of presentations that he's given. Personally, I'd say that his presentation skills are above average for a scientist. And there, as the bard said, is the rub.

In the initial period of glee following the release of the decision, several bloggers posted quotes from the decision that they particularly liked. I suspect that if you read through enough of these, you'll see most of the decision - Judge Jones is definitely someone who knows how to make the most of the language. Be warned that I've made no attempt to weed out duplicates. The only blog posts I've skipped were those that were explicitly quoting from another one of the blogs listed here. If you click through all of the links, you will read a lot of duplicates.

Here's a selection from those:
Paul Myers has a couple at Pharyngula (here and here).
Carl Zimmer lists a few of his favorite moments.
Afarensis' selections are available here.
Dispatches From the Culture Wars picks a couple of favorites.
Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble has picked a few favorites as well - here, here, here, and here.
I tossed in my own 2 cents here. (By the way, I was wrong. There are even better quotes later on in the decision. That judge can write.
Orac has also pulled a few gems.
Buridan's Ass picked some too, as did Hit and Run.
So did Thoughts From Kansas.
Evolutionblog comments on a couple of passages.
John Rennie over at Scientific American also has problems picking just one. (It's such a nice ruling.)

General Commentary on the Ruling:
Darksyde has some brief commentary over at Daily Kos. Doctor FreeRide also weighs in on the issue, as does A Concerned Scientist. Cosmic Variance notes that the battle may be won this time, but the fight is far from over. John Hawkes has a couple of comments on the issue, as does Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly. The Art of Teaching Science has a nice piece.

Nathan Schnieider has some interesting things to say about evolution and religion. Wesley Elsberry has a post that gets tossed into the general section because he covered so much ground. He discusses a number of things, including the relevance of this decision to the Teach the Controversy smokescreen that the anti-evolutionists have been trying to throw up, mentions a conversation he had with an ID proponent about the constitutionality of ID, a wager that Dembski might have to pay, and a few other things.

Ed Fitzgerald briefly commented on today's ruling. He's also had some interesting things to say during the course of the trial that I'd somehow managed to miss before now.

There's a good behind the scenes type commentary at eSkeptic written by a couple of Panda's Thumb regulars. It's a very good article, and well worth reading.

From a more traditional news perspective, there is a good overview available at the Guardian (UK) Newsblog site. MSNBC, The New York Times, and the AP all have articles available that are more or less unremarkable. Time Magazine has a rather better article, and a nice commentary piece. There's also decent WaPo coverage.

Lies and Liars:
WataugaWatch and the Bad Astronomy Blogger both comment on the judge's powers of observation in figuring out that he was being lied to, and Steven Frug discusses some of the lies in depth. The judge clearly has extrordinarily keen observational tal...OK, let's be honest. The lies were so bloody obvious that figuring out that someone was lying really didn't require much more than a pulse. But Judge Jones still gets credit for speaking truth about this in his decision.

Legal Analysis:
Some general legal analysis was presented (here and here) on Panda's Thumb earlier today by Timothy Sandefur. For those who aren't familiar with the crew of the Thumb, Tim is a lawyer specializing in Constitutional law.

Thoughts From Kansas also weighs in with some legal analysis. The analysis is relatively general, but it does view the case through the focus of the current situation in Kansas. Ann Althouse also has some comments on the decision. The American Constitution Society has also commented, as has the law blog Scrivener's Error.

Applying This Decision To Other Areas:
In addition to other posts cited earlier, Josh Rosenau of Thoughts From Kansas also weighs in with a detailed discussion of the potential effects of the Dover case on the anti-evolution science standards in Kansas.

Over at She Flies With Her Own Wings, there's some commentary on how this decision could impact the latest mutant in the anti-evolutionist strategy: teach the controversy. (A detailed post on that topic will appear here in the next couple of days.)

NPR has a commentary piece (audio) by Case Western Reserve University Professor Lawrence Krauss. Professor Krauss discusses, among othe things, the educational challenges we still must overcome. It's well-worth listening to.

Brian Ogilvie has a piece up that looks at the situation from a historical perspective. Interesting read.

Psychics and Gamblers:
There are a few people out there who attempted to predict the outcome of the trial. Both Nick Matzke and Chris Mooney seem to have done a pretty good job at it. Remind me not to play poker with either of them.

Hitting the Wrong Net:
From reading the decision, it would appear that some of the witnesses called by the defense did their own side more harm than good. The question of who gave the best performance for the wrong team is still quite open. PZ thinks that Behe deserves some credit. Matt Brauer and John Wilkins both think that Fuller is in the running. Personally, I'm just glad that neither of them was on our side.

Look, the Wingnuts Are Imploding! Somebody Get the Popcorn:
Predictably, the anti-evolution forces are going somewhat bonkers over the decision. The first reaction came from the Discovery Institute, which has been trying to flee the sinking ship in Dover for some time. I'd guess that the folks who put the press release together didn't read all (or most) of the decision before putting their response out there. Toward the end of the decision, Judge Jones predicted that people who didn't like his decision would try to brand him as an "activist judge." That was a safe bet, and the DI folks did it twice in their press release, without noting that the judge had predicted and preempted that response. This little bit of irony has been remarked on, noted, commented, and laughed at.

Jonathan Witt also weighed in with some distortions of comments about on the judge's ruling. Unlike the first attempt by the DI, it's clear that Witt read the ruling. There's no way he could have managed to misrepresent it so egregiously if he hadn't. There's a solid fisking of Witt's response over at Heaven Is Not The Sky. There's another post by Witt going after the judge's treatment of the history of the ID movement. The best rebuttal to that one is really the decision itself.

ARN has a predictably misleading response up as well. Let's be clear, shall we? Neither ID nor criticism of evolution has been outlawed in general. The judge has simply made it clear that it is constitutionally unacceptable to do these things in the classroom. Religiously motivated nonsense has no place in the public schools.

The Federalist Blog takes the opportunity of the Dover decision to rant against the use of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the First Amendment to the states, insisting that the states have the right to regulate religion. The author apparently missed the part of the decision where Judge Jones pointed out that the Dover policy also violated the PA State Constitution.

Penraker totally misses the boat in his rant, claiming that "A scientific theory has been declared unconstitutional." Dude, like, read the decision. ID is NOT SCIENTIFIC. If it actually were a scientific theory, it wouldn't be unconstitutional.

The editors of the American Federalist Journal also manage to miss the point. That's a bit scary, actually, since the ruling was pretty clearly written and quite blunt. They say, "Whatever one thinks about the issue of teaching intelligent design in school, it clearly isn’t something for the federal government to decide for every school in the nation." I wonder what decision they read, because it pretty clearly wasn't the one that Jones wrote. This case isn't about the federal government dictating school curricula. This is about the federal judiciary taking appropriate steps to ensure that all Americans can enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.

A Lighter Note:
ScrappleFace has already gotten some satire out.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due:
The Dover case was the product of a lot of work that was done by a lot of people. Ed Brayton and I both posted some lists of people who deserve a great deal of credit for their efforts.

In closing, I'd like to give a huge tip of the hat to both Milkriverblog and Science and Politics. Both of these blogs also put up link collections about the Dover case earlier in the day, and being able to poach from them made my life much easier tonight. Paul Myers used Kitzcarnival in an email subject line when he sent me his submissions, and I liked it so much that I'm stealing it, so a hat tip to Paul as well. Thanks, all!

I'm hoping that these are all original, but things have been coming quickly and I may have already hit a couple of these.

In addition to the quotes I mentioned above, Buridan also weighed in yesterday with some more substantive comments about the decision. It's a good take on things, and well worth a read. Tara Smith over at Aetiology has a couple of things up. One is mostly an overview of the decision, with some quotes. The second is a more in-depth (and less optimistic) view of what we have left to do, and why we need to remain focused. Ontogeny has an overview of the decision, with commentary on some of the reaction from ID proponents. Christopher Heard comments on some of the commentary, including this post, which takes us a bit into the realm of decadant self-reference, but what the hell.

Carl Zimmer joins the ranks of those who have gotten over the sheer giddyness of the decision enough to jot down some more detailed comments on the case. Michael Berube weighs in with some good comments, too. The Commissar has weighed in a bit, too, as has Steve Verdon of Outside the Beltway. My Shades of Grey also has a couple of things up. Mike Argento has some comments over at his blog. Alun also had a bunch of good comments at his blog.

For a more amusing look at things, hit Pandagon.

There's also been some more nonsense from the pro-ID folks. I'll get into some of that in a different post later on.

Announcement: Dover Blog and News Carnival

A couple of times during the trial (see here and here) I posted roundups of news articles about what had been going on with the case. I will be doing the same thing tonight, and will be including blog articles. Basically, this will be a one shot blog carnival. Anyone wishing to submit links is welcome to. Please send them to mdunford@hawaii.rr.com no later than 2200H, HST (GMT -10:00) tonight.

I will be accepting and linking to pro-ID articles, but if you choose to submit a pro-ID link be warned that I will be commenting on the links I include, and I do not promise neutrality.

A bold prediction:

I haven't yet finished reading the entire Kitzmiller ruling, but I've got a strong feeling that I've found the best quote from it:
Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.

Victory In Dover!

The decision in the Kitzmiller v Dover lawsuit has just been released, and is available on the court's website. The decision is 139 pages long, and appears to be a full and complete victory for the plaintiffs. Commentary will undoubtedly be forthcoming throughout the day on Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula, here, and other places as we get time to read and fully digest the decision. As might be expected, traffic is heavy on the court's website, so expect a slow download.

As I said, it will take me some time to get through the whole decision, but I've always been an impatient reader, so I skipped right to the end. I liked the ending so much that I thought I'd share it with you:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the
theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions. Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

It is unclear what is going to happen next, given the outcome of the school board elections in Dover, and no matter what happens this decision is unlikely to mark the end of efforts to dilute the teaching of science in this country. But it sure is good to see that the federal courts are still willing to step in and protect our rights. Regardless of what happens next, thanks are due to a whole lot of people who put in a whole lot of time and effort on this case.

The expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, Barbara Forrest, Kenneth Miller, Kevin Padian, Robert Pennock, John Haught, Brian Alters, and Kevin Padian, worked as volunteers on this case. The lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton put in an enormous amount of time, effort, and energy. Genie Scott, Wesley Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Susan Spath, and the rest of the staff at the National Center for Science Education worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Thanks are particularly due to Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christie Rehm, Deborah Feinmore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Barrie Callahan, and Frederick Callahan - the plaintiffs in the case. They, and the partially overlapping group of parents who took back the school board, have demonstrated once again that a small group of committed people really can change things for the better.

(Hat Tip: NCSE)

18 December 2005


I just finished watching CNN's special on the annual selection of Time Magazine's Person of the Year. This year, three people share the honor. Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Bono have been named in tribute to the work that they have done fighting against poverty and fighting for health care in the third world.

This is a good choice for two equally good but very different reasons. The first is that they have done extrordinarily good work. Over the past couple of years, Bono has managed to take debt relief from a concept that only a truly diehard policy wonk could love and turned it into a popular cause. This year, at least in part due to his efforts, forty billion dollars of third-world debt was forgiven. Bill and Melinda Gates have made it their mission to build health care, and save lives, in poverty-stricken nations. They have put the drive that put Microsoft in its position of dominance into trying to fight malaria and other diseases that kill few or none in the first world and many in the third - because they can't afford preventative medication.

The second reason that this is a good choice is because this has not, for most Americans, been a year that was about third-world poverty. It's been a year that is about problems in Iraq, and problems at home. Aside from a couple of awful natural disasters, the world beyond Southwest Asia hasn't really been in view for most Americans this year. The everyday disaster that is life in far too much of the world certainly hasn't been on the scope. Putting international poverty front and center on the cover of Time is a much-needed reminder that there are problems beyond the ones we have here, and the ones we have created abroad. It is a much-needed reminder that just because these problems have existed beyond human memory does not mean that they are unsolvable. It is also a reminder that nations are not the only force that can fix problems like this. Active, committed indivivuals can do good on a massive scale.


It's nice to know that I can still count on Doonesbury to make my Sunday a little brighter. I think today's goes on my office door.

12 December 2005

Long Time, no post

Sorry for the lack of activity. I've been mired-down by a massive amount of end-of-the semester writing. For some strange reason, after writing for seven or eight hours for my classwork, I just can't muster up the enthusiasm to plug anything in here.

05 December 2005

The Discovery Institute and publications

In responding to a recent New York Times article (already discussed in detail here and here), the Discovery Institute's John West once again points to the Discovery Institute's list of "peer-reviewed and peer-edited publications" as evidence that the Discovery Institute really does do science.

That document, like so much that the Discovery Institute puts out, does not paint an accurate picture of what is actually going on. The list has been available in one form or another for quite a while now, and individual entries on the list have been critiqued in a number of locations. I'm going to address the list as a whole here. I will briefly comment on some of the individual entries in the process, but I am not going to take the time to address all of them. For the most part, I will assume, FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT ONLY, that the articles are more or less what they claim to be.

The list contains, by my count, 34 entries. However, upon closer examination it turns out that some of the publications listed in the "Featured Articles" section at the top are duplicated in other places on the list, bringing the number of unique entries down to 31. An additional three books are listed in a section titled, "Books Supportive of Intelligent Design Published by Prominent Trade Presses." These three are neither peer-reviewed nor peer-edited, and therefore should not have been included in the list. This reduces the total to 28.

At this point, it is probably worth discussing the "peer-edited" component of the list. "Peer-edited" is not a term that is in common usage in the sciences. Nobody that I know of considers "peer-editing" to be a meaningful distinction, and it is certainly not viewed as equivalent to peer-review. The use of "peer-edited" serves only to give the Discovery Institute an excuse to increase the number of listed publications slightly.

We will ignore, for the moment, the distinction between peer-reviewed and "peer-edited." We will ignore the fact that the compilers of the list decided to further inflate their numbers by first listing Campbell and Meyer's book Darwinism, Design, and Public Education as a "peer-reviewed book" and then listing each of the book's five chapters as a separate listing. We will even ignore the fact that five of the articles are listed as appearing in "peer-reviewed philosophy journals," rather than in science journals, and that two of those actually appear in books, not journals.

If we do in fact ignore all of the major complaints with the list, and assume that the Discovery Institute folks can actually claim 28 legitimate publications, what does that say for their academic status?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is not much.

To put that figure into perspective, I took a look at the publication lists for two members of my department's graduate faculty: Rob Toonen and Brian Bowen. Both are relatively new faculty, and have been in the department for less than five years. Between the two of them, they have authored 26 peer-reviewed articles since 2000. That's just two fewer articles than the entire body of "peer-reviewed and peer-edited" work claimed as supporting Intelligent Design, and it is five more articles than the ID folks claim for that period of time.

That figure of 26 articles doesn't count book chapters or popular publications. It doesn't count "peer-edited" material. That's just what's appeared in peer-reviewed journals. I didn't pick these two professors because they have authored an unusually high number of articles, either. I picked them because I happened to still have their lab homepage up in a browser tab when I started writing this. In fact, these particular professors had to get their lab set up and running over the last couple of years, which probably reduced their output a bit.

To sum up, the Discovery Institute's list of articles supporting Intelligent Design can best be described as pitiful by any measure. The list includes things that don't belong there, lists some entries twice, inflates the number of publications, adds philosophical articles to the scientific ones, and still fails to match the output from two professors over a five year period. That's why nobody considers them to be serious scientists. If they want scientific respect, they need to set up labs, do research, and get serious about producing and publishing real results.

But at what price?

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addressed European leaders today, and told them that they should keep in mind the fact that interrogations of terrorist suspects have produced information that has "saved European lives" before complaining about little things like the possibility that the US was running secret prisons in former Soviet Bloc nations.

I think that most people do understand that it is much, much easier to get information out of people who have been removed from the criminal justice system, cut off from access to lawyers, and given no contact at all with anyone other than their captors. Given enough time and effort, you can convince pretty much anyone that they, too, love Big Brother.

The question at hand is whether or not the price of safety is worth the cost. There is a cost involved here, and it is steep. I'm not talking about the financial, although the Administration is doing its damndest to bankrupt the government. I'm not talking about the cost in respect either, although Bush and his people have taken us as a nation to our lowest international approval ratings ever. What I'm talking about is the cost to our values.

"Freedom Is Not Free" is a slogan that I see on lots of bumper stickers. That's not much of a surprise, of course, since I live on an Army base. The risk and the sacrifice should not be restricted to those in uniform, however. There are radicals out there who do want to see Americans die, and they have proven that they are willing to strike at innocent civilians within the United States. These people do act without support from any one nation, and they are much harder to fight than a conventional enemy would be. If we do everything that we can as a nation to protect ourselves - if we seek to protect ourselves by using secret prisons and coercive interrogation techniques - we sacrifice our commitment to human rights. If we do not, innocent civilians may die.

The American people have been denied the opportunity to have any substantial national discussion about the way that Bush has chosen to fight. The Administration, aided by an inert congress, has managed to dodge any domestic debate on the issue. The European community apparently has not decided to let Bush, Chaney, Rumsfield, and Rice make those decisions on their behalf without putting up a fight.

More power to them.

01 December 2005

A Letter to the Editor

Today's (1 December 2005) edition of USA Today included a column on Intelligent Design written by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. The entire column is objectionable, but Thomas' conclusion was by far the worst part. The rest of this post, which also appears at The Panda's Thumb, has been submitted in response as a letter to the editor.

Dear Sir:

On June 30, 1860 a famous (and perhaps fictional) encounter took place between the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. The occasion was a discussion of Darwin’s recently published book Origin of Species, and according to legend Wilberforce concluded his remarks by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father’s side or his mother’s. This bit of ancient history popped into my mind when I read Cal Thomas’ remark at the end of the column that he and Bob Beckel wrote on Intelligent Design in yesterday’s paper.

Unlike our understanding of evolution itself, which has advanced tremendously in the last century and a half, Thomas’ idea of a clever response seems to be on a par with the good bishop. Thomas’ remark, “Maybe we can offer [scientists] some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage,” does not have any more of a place in a reasonable discussion than did Wilberforce’s.

My reply to Thomas is more or less the same as Huxley’s reply to Wilberforce: if I had a choice between having a monkey as a grandfather or having as a grandfather someone who has great intellectual gifts and influence, but uses those gifts and that influence merely to inject ridicule into a serious debate, I would, without hesitation, choose the monkey.

Michael Dunford
Graduate Student,
Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Wow. That's all I can say. Just, Wow.

This guy's morning definitely falls into the "truth stranger than fiction" category.

Carnie Barking

Arrrghh!!!! A new Tangled Bank and a new Circus of the Spineless are up. They are both fantastic, and I forgot to submit links for both of them again! Oh, well. Enjoy them anyway.

30 November 2005

The "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Quotes, and Scholarship

The president made a speech today outlining what the White House calls a "strategy for victory in Iraq." Personally, I call it "more of the same," but hey, you say potato and all that.

In this speech, the president urged Americans to read a new document posted on The White House website. The document is titled, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," and was described by the president as, "an unclassified version of the strategy we've been pursuing in Iraq." Since he urged Americans to read it, I did.

OK, actually, I skimmed it. I might read the thing in more detail later, but as it stands the document struck me as being basically just a stump speech with a pretty red, white, and blue cover and the National Security Council imprimatur. Most of the document seems to be essentially content-less. ("Our comprehensive strategy will help Iraqis overcome remaining challenges, but defeating the multiheaded enemy in Iraq – and ensuring that it cannot threaten Iraq’s democratic gains once we leave – requires persistent effort across many fronts.") Other statements appear to be questionable (I think the boat's probably sailed on, "Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region – a historic opportunity lost.")

One of the things that struck me about this document is the way that it is sprinkled with quotes, mostly from the president. The point to these quotes is not entirely clear, but they seem designed to leave the impression that we have been following the same, successful strategy in Iraq the whole time. (Most people would agree with that statement, I suspect, if I eliminated one word.)

Quotes like that tend to catch my interest. They get me to wondering about things like why they were selected, whether or not they have been taken out of context, and if they are accurate. The quotes aren't part of the document per se, of course, but I think that looking at things like that can give you an idea about the overall quality of the scholarship that went into the document.

I decided that it might be fun to take a look at those quotes in more detail. Here's what I found:
First, all of the quotes themselves are in fact accurate. That is, the actual words were used in the same order on a previous occasion, by the person listed as the source.

Second, the dates given for the quotes are not all accurate. Two of the thirteen quotes have incorrect dates. In one case, a quote from a 2005 speech by the president is attributed to 2003:
"Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren."
In another case, a quote attributed to a general in the new Iraqi forces is dated August 14, 2005:
“My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now.
Saddam . . . it’s finished. He’s broken. Now is the new Iraq.”
This same quote, however, turns up in a news article dated March 21st.

Some may accuse me of being overly nit-picky with this - after all, they were able to successfully attribute 86% of their quotes, and a B is a very respectable grade - but I think there are a couple of things that make this worth noting. First, if you are drafting a document that the president is going to "urge all Americans to read," you should probably make sure it is entirely accurate. Second, if you can't figure out what year a quote about the war effort is from, it might be a sign that you aren't making dramatic progress.

The third thing that I noticed is that reading the full context for some of the earlier quotes can be quite interesting.

The leadoff quote for the document is from a speech that the president made on 26 February 2003, at the American Enterprise Institute. This was prior to the start of the conflict.
The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected. (Applause.)

Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.
That was the quote that was used. The speech continued:
America has made and kept this kind of commitment before -- in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom. In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home.

In this same speech, the president made a number of other statements that he's probably hoping wouldn't get too much attention right now:
And we are opposing the greatest danger in the war on terror: outlaw regimes arming with weapons of mass destruction.

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it. (Applause.) This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed. (Applause.)

The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East.

There are several quotes in the document taken from a speech the president made at Fort Bragg on June 28th of this year. Looking at the speech, the president says that we have a two part strategy for victory in Iraq:
So our strategy going forward has both a military track and a political track.
Yet the "National Strategy" document, which purports to articulate, "the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003," says that we are persuing a three-part strategy:
To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations.
Have we only just recently figured out that we need to have an economic plan for Iraq, or does the president think that he can say whatever he wants about our strategy in Iraq, whether or not it is actually accurate, when speaking to the American people? ("Both" is probably a valid answer here, too.)

A May 24, 2004 speech that the "National Strategy" quotes also explains what we are doing in Iraq: "There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom..." Let's see: five steps, two steps, three steps...yep. We've definitely been working from a single broad strategy since 2003. You know, it's not that I mind it when a politician lies to me. I just hate it when they do it so stupidly.

More from the May speech:
In the city of Fallujah there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force.

Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.
As I recall, we finally wound up using overwhelming force in Fallujah, which alienated the local population and increased support for the insurgency.


This document that the president wants us all to read doesn't appear to be worth the bandwith that it takes to send it. It is obvious and atrocious propaganda. It is another attempt to convince the public that the president has been in control of the situation the whole time, and that no serious mistakes have been made.

If the president wants to convince people that he has a clue, he is going to need to grow the f--k up and take some responsibility for his actions and inctions. Until that happens, he can expect support for his efforts to continue to wane.

29 November 2005

It's been a few days

since I've posted. Sorry about that. I'm in the middle of the end-of-semester rush. I've discovered one of the true joys of being a graduate student. Not only do I get to go absolutely bonkers trying to write several papers for my own courses, I also find myself submerged under a mass of papers that I have to grade.

And then there's my own research, which has ground to a screeching halt while I finish the rest of the academic stuff.

I think, more than anything else in the whole world, I'd like a 25th hour in the day.

24 November 2005

Holiday Traditions, old and new

It's been an interesting day. This morning, we went out and had Thanksgiving dinner at the Wheeler Army Air Field dining hall, along with quite a number of other people from my wife's unit. On Thanksgiving, the meal in the dining hall is served by the unit commanders and the senior NCOs, which is a nice tradition, even if it did feel a little strange to ask a full colonel wearing dress blues for a second helping of the cornbread dressing.

Right now we're sitting on the sofa watching a great old holiday show - Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving. I've seen it so many times that I can almost recite the script, and I'm finding my mind wandering onto topics that it never used to - like the cannibalistic implications in Woodstock tucking in to a big old turkey dinner - but the kids love the corny old show almost as much as I used to. And, truth be told, still do.

There's a lot to be said for Thanksgiving and for family traditions.

I hope all of you have enjoyed yours.

21 November 2005

Biden on Iraq

Joe Biden is not my favorite senator, Democrat or Republican. He tends to strike me as being a bit too focused on public opinion, and not quite focused enough on his own opinions. Today, however, I think he got it right.

Biden's summary of the dilemma we face in Iraq is on the money: whether or not we like it, we do have vital national interests to protect in Iraq. To quote Biden, "We must ensure Iraq does not become what it wasn’t before the war: a haven for terrorists. And we must do what we can to prevent a full-blown civil war that turns into a regional war."

It is worth pointing out something here that Biden did not emphasize as much as he might have: we are in real danger of losing on both those fronts.

The recent suicide bombings in hotels in Jordan were mastermined by al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and carried out by Iraqis who were dispatched from Iraq to Jordan to carry out the attack. Iraq has in fact become a training ground for terrorists, and Iraq has become an exporter of terrorism.

It was neither before the invasion, administration claims notwithstanding. Saddam was a domestic terrorist of the worst kind, and may have given financial support to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Both of those acts are reprehensible, but neither is an automatic trigger for US intervention. Saddam, bad as he was, was mostly a problem for the Iraqis, not the world as a whole.

The recent discovery of a Shiite-run secret prison in Baghdad, where Sunni prisoners were allegedly tortured, does not bode well for the long-term domestic tranquility of Iraq. This, again, is a situation that did not exist prior to the US invasion.

Biden sums up what this means for the US presence in Iraq nicely: "The hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is both necessary… and increasingly counter-productive." He is clearly right on both counts. At the moment, it appears that our troops may well be the only thing that stands in the way of a full-out, three-way civil war. Our troops are also the main barrier (semi-porous though it may be) keeping the terrorists within Iraq from spreading out beyond the borders on a more regular basis.

The situation that has been described looks increasingly similar to a classic no-win scenario - one that is almost entirely of the administration's making.

18 November 2005

A nice Op-Ed on evolution.

There are very few conservative commentators that I can stand to read regularly. Charles Krauthammer is one of them. I usually don't agree with him when it comes to the issues (his recent article on gas prices was an exeception), but his presentation is usually reasonable in tone and his arguments well-presented. That is much, much more than I can say for the bulk of the right-wing echo chamber.

His most recent column addressed the topic of Intelligent Design. The conclusion of the article is an absolutely beautiful description of why evolution is compatible with a theistic worldview:
How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.

17 November 2005

The laws of peer review:

Law Number One: For any manuscript or proposal subjected to peer-review, the minimum number of comments (C) can be determined using the following equation:
C = NR+1

where N is equal to the number of paragraphs in your manuscript, and R is equal to the number of reviewers.

Law Number Two: The only point of agreement shared by all of the reviewers will be that you are somehow wrong.

16 November 2005

Plan B, the FDA, and "controversial"

As many of you probably know, the Government Accountability Office released a report yesterday outlining their conclusions following an investigation into the FDA's initial decision to deny Over-The-Counter (OTC) status to the emergency contraceptive "Plan B". The GAO concluded that the decision to deny approval for OTC sales of the drug was unusual for several different reasons. The involvement of high-level FDA officials was unusual, as were reports that the decision to deny approval was made prior to the conclusion of the review process. The decision to overrule lower-level FDA offices was unusual, and the justification that was used in denying approval was "novel and did not follow FDA's traditional practices" (GAO report, page 1).

All of those things are troubling, all of them indicate a level of political involvement in a medical decision that is totally unacceptable, and all of them demand further investigation, particularly in light of the foot dragging that is still going on at the FDA.

Here's the part of the GAO report that I find most troubling:
In its comments on a draft of this report, FDA disagreed with three of our findings. First, FDA disagreed with our finding that the involvement of high-level management in the Plan B decision was unusual because their involvement is likely in high-profile and controversial regulatory decisions. (p.6)

The Plan B OTC request was controversial - politically controversial. It was not scientifically controversial. The joint advisory committee and lower ranking FDA officials from three offices that normally would have had the final say on approving the application were all in agreement that the application should be approved. In such cases, it is the job of the FDA management to insulate the approval process from political pressure. It is not their job to bow to it.