Monday, October 10, 2005

Lies the Discovery Institute told me.


Given that I'm in a kind of cranky mood, I might devote the next few posts to demonstrating the complete lack of intellectual integrity at the Discovery Institute. And, trust me, it won't be hard to do that. How about a single example to whet your appetite?

On this page, the DI folks want to draw your attention to the poor, martyred proponents of Intelligent Design who have been so shabbily treated by, well, people who actually know science. Consider this alleged example:

Chemistry professor Nancy Bryson lost her job at a state university after she gave a lecture on scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory to a group of honors students.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty severe punishment. What a shame it's total bullshit. Quick, Boy Wonder, to the videotape, where we find the transcript of Bryson's testimony at the recent Kansas evolution hearings. First, let's set the stage with an explanation of Bryson's academic position:

Q. And what was your position at Mississippi University then?

A. I was the head of the Division of Science and Mathematics.

OK, fair enough, she was not only an associate professor there, she was the head of that department. So ... what was the upshot of her presentation on ID? Once again, to the videotape:

Q. What happened the next day?

A. The next day was a Friday, and about five o'clock that afternoon I was in my office and my boss, the vice president of Academic Affairs came in and told me that I would not be serving as division head the next year. And he suggested that - he did not say directly - that I might not be on the campus at all the next year.

Q. Did he explain why?

A. He did not. And I asked repeatedly why he made this decision at this time. I never heard anything like that. And he just simply didn't answer. He said, "Well, I'm not required to give you any sort of an answer."

Oooooh ... that's not quite the same thing, is it? Bryson did not "lose her job" -- rather, she was told that she would not be re-appointed to the position of head of that department. And there was no mention of her being fired outright from her position as a professor. So (unless there are subsequent developments that I haven't noticed), the DI's claim is an outright lie. But wait -- it gets so much better during the cross-examination, where we learn that Bryson is a complete scientific illiterate:

Q. I have a few questions for you that I'd like to place on the record first, please. The first thing I'd like to ask you is what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. I'm undecided.

Q. What is your best guess?

A. I'm totally undecided.

Q. Give me your best range.

A.
Anywhere from 4.5 billion years to ten thousand years.

Q. And, of course, you have reached that conclusion based on the best scientific evidence available?

A.
Yes.

Delightful, isn't it? You have the former head of the Division of Science and Mathematics, unable to venture even a remote guess as to the age of the earth, despite the overwhelming evidence for its antiquity. To which one can justifiably respond, why was this moron hired in the first place? And why wasn't she truly fired much sooner?

AFTERSNARK: There's so much more to be said about this incident so why stop now? Recall that the claim from the DI was that Bryson "lost her job." I've already pointed out how this is an exaggeration but, hey, let's not take my word for it. How about this news report:

The day after Bryson spoke at the forum, MUW Vice President for Academic Affairs Vagn Hansen asked her to resign as head of science and mathematics but didn't give a reason.

Ooooooooh ... how about that? Again, Bryson wasn't "fired" from her job; rather, she was "asked" to resign as the head of that department. Yes, there's a significant difference, especially if you bother to read the very first paragraph of that article:

A Mississippi University for Women educator who believed she was removed as a division head after voicing alternative views on evolution is back at her post.

Well, isn't that special? Whatever happened in the early stages of this brouhaha, Bryson was in fact re-instated. And wouldn't it have served the truth for the DI to have mentioned that little detail in their dishonest little claim? But it gets so much better, oh, yes, it does.

Review once again the DI's claim that "Nancy Bryson lost her job at a state university after she gave a lecture on scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory to a group of honors students." This strongly suggests that she was fired simply for giving the lecture. As in, just for being fair, open-minded, wanting to present both sides of the argument, "teaching the controversy" and so on.

But let's again look at Bryson's testimony from the Kansas trial (emphasis added):

Q. Do you accept the general principle of common descent, that all of life was biologically related to the beginning of life, yes or no?

A. No.

Q. Do you accept that human beings are related by common descent to prehominid ancestors, yes or no?

A. No.

Q. What is your alternative explanation for how the human species came into being if not from a common descent from prehominids?

A. From science, I have no alternative explanation.

Q. In your personal opinion?

A. In my personal opinion, I believe there was an intelligent designer.

Q. And when did that intelligent designer create the human species?

A. I'm not sure.

Q. Now, that opinion that you have about intelligent design, that's not based on science, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. That's based upon your theistic views?

A. Correct.

Q. And you would agree with me that religion has no place in science?

A. Yes.

Q. And you would agree with me that in a science curriculum religion should not be included, correct?

A. Correct.

Make sure you appreciate what just happened here: Bryson, the former head of a math and science department, has just testified that she does not accept biological evolution. At all. If you think about it, it's quite possible that this is what got her removed from her position as head. While we can't know for sure, it's possible that Bryson wasn't just presenting both sides of the argument.

Rather, she may have very publicly expressed just these sentiments -- that she rejects biological evolution, the very underpinning of all of biology. In what reasonable sense can someone who dismisses biological evolution maintain the right to be the head of any half-assed science department at an American university? Puhleeze. But just when you think it can't get worse, of course it does.

Remember Bryson's earlier testimony?

Q. I have a few questions for you that I'd like to place on the record first, please. The first thing I'd like to ask you is what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. I'm undecided.

Q. What is your best guess?

A. I'm totally undecided.

Q. Give me your best range.

A. Anywhere from 4.5 billion years to ten thousand years.

Q. And, of course, you have reached that conclusion based on the best scientific evidence available?

A. Yes.

So, having established that Bryson is a total idiot when it comes to biological evolution, she then makes it clear that she's just as much of a moron with respect to geology and physics, the foundations for geological dating techniques. How in God's name can someone that fucking stupid think she's qualified to head a science department?

(It's a shame the cross-examiner didn't ask Bryson her opinion of the age of the universe, since we might now have on the record that Bryson also wholeheartedly rejects modern astronomy and cosmology. Pity.)

Seriously, it's a shame that MUW buckled and gave Bryson that headship back. With her unspeakable ignorance of basic scientific knowledge, she should not only have been terminated on the spot, but her alma mater should have started proceedings to revoke all of her degrees.

In short, Nancy Bryson is exactly the kind of academic who qualifies for PZ Myers' suggestion that some teachers should be publicly fired and humiliated for their stupidity. In Bryson's case, the firing would have been adequate. She had already sufficiently humiliated herself.

Oh, and the folks at the Discovery Institute are lying sacks of weasel crap. That, too.

DOUBLE PLUS AFTERSNARK: You know, Bryson's Kansas testimony really is the gift that keeps on giving. It just occurred to me what the cross-examiner could have done with this gem:

Q. I have a few questions for you that I'd like to place on the record first, please. The first thing I'd like to ask you is what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. I'm undecided.

Q. What is your best guess?

A. I'm totally undecided.

Q. Give me your best range.

A. Anywhere from 4.5 billion years to ten thousand years.

Q. And, of course, you have reached that conclusion based on the best scientific evidence available?

A. Yes.

Now, from where would Bryson have got those two limits on her age range for the earth? Well, that larger value is clearly the age accepted by mainstream science so she would have had no trouble defending that value scientifically.

But that smaller value? That value is so obviously the upper bound used by the strict scientific creationists. Why didn't the examiner ask her where that value came from, and how she defended it, as she claimed, "based on the best scientific evidence available"? What a glorious lost opportunity. Damn.

In the end, it's not a scandal that the university tried to remove Bryson from her position as division head. It's a scandal that someone that ignorant was ever hired in the first place.

AND THERE'S MORE
: It's hard to believe you can keep teasing stupidity out of the same short exchange, but it's amusing how Bryson claims she is "totally" undecided on the age of the earth yet, in her very next sentence, she has somehow decided that she can at least put a bound on it.

1 comment:

dAVE said...

Ha! Not only that, but the Creationist young earth goes as recent as 6000 years. So, she didn't even get that right. I guess she thought that 6000 sounded silly, but 10000 sounded plausible.