Covering Science and the Continuing Battle over Evolution
September 25, 2009
Steve Mirsky, science editor of Scientific American, delivered the annual Sweeny Lecture at Lehman in Fall 2008.
44 Minutes 46 Seconds
"Inspiring Talks" features faculty, guest speakers, and experts discussing their own stories of adversity and success, as well as hopeful new developments, in a variety of fields.
This is Christina Dumitrescu, a student at Lehman College. Steve Mirsky, science editor of Scientific American, delivered the annual Sweeny Lecture at Lehman in Fall 2008. He talked about his own journey into science writing and then focused on one of the major stories he has covered—the Dover Evolution Trial—since graduating as a Lehman chemistry major in 1985.
It's really a pleasure and an honor to give this talk today. So-- I spent two years at Cornell, actually, not doing a lot of chemistry. Because what I discovered was the wonderful library there had this complete collection of Scientific Americans. And I would go into the library when I should have been studying and read Scientific American all day, you know, articles about everything.
So, this was not really conducive to being a stellar chemistry student. But it wound up being excellent training for what I do now. So, I left with my master's. I got the AAAS Fellowship and that was a really important step in changing my whole career trajectory.
And years later, here, when Roald Hoffmann was here to deliver the Sweeny lecture then, Professor Lazarus attempted to introduce me to Roald, not knowing that we knew each other very well. Roald was my adviser for my first year at Cornell. And he said to Hoffman, "Do you know Steve Mirsky?" And Hoffman said, "Oh, yes, he's one of our most successful failures." (LAUGHTER)
So as you've heard, I left Cornell. I got the AAAS Fellowship. And I wound up working a little bit in radio, a little bit in television. And then I wanted to live back in New York City and it's just, in fact, easier to get print work in New York City, so I just gravitated toward print.
And early on in my-- in my writing career, I was given this terrific book called You've Got to Play Hurt by Dan Jenkins. And-- if any of you are golfers, you've heard of Dan Jenkins, great golf writer. Worked for Sports Illustrated for many years. I just want to read a passage from Dan Jenkins. And this is about the writer/editor relationship.
He's covering the British Open. And he's in England and he's filing his stories back to New York where the magazine is based. This is his lead for his coverage of the British Open. "As long as a man has to go for a walk on a golf course, there is hardly a better place than straight up the last fairway at St. Andrew's, where one is surrounded by 500 years of history and embraced by the buildings of the old town itself."
"It looks as if it might be even more fun the way Seve Ballesteros does it occasionally. Seve made the walk again last Sunday, winning another British Open with 40,000 warmly sentimental Scots creating enough noise to have drowned out the war of a squall howling in off the North Sea. That's not what ran in the magazine, however. Not after a particular editor that he particularly doesn't like got his grimy, little paws on it."
"It was around midnight when Charlotte Murray called me in my room from New York. She's a fact-checker at the magazine. Charlotte first asked some of the standard researcher questions. What was a four-iron? What was heather? How many times a year was the British Open played? I didn't become flushed with anger until she casually mentioned that the word 'conquistador' was in my lead."
"'Wait a minute,' I said. 'What the bleep is conquistador doing in my lead?' 'You didn't have it in there?' Charlotte asked. 'No, do I look like a guy who would put conquistador in his lead?' 'Lindsey did say,' she said, 'that he did a couple of things to pep it up.' 'Read me the lead,' I said, lighting a cigarette."
"She read it to me. My story now began, "Guess what, amigos? Severiano Ballesteros, Spain's swashbuckling conquistador, is once again the big tamale in pro golf. Last week in a taco-flavored British Open at St. Andrew's, Ballesteros (who was from Santander, Spain) ate the whole enchilada, and it was adios, muchachos, to his nearest challengers."
"'Blank, blank, that blankety-blank blank blank!' I yelled into the phone. 'The Big Tamale, the whole enchilada with my name on it? Are you blanking kidding me?' I knocked over a chair. 'Charlotte, tell that chinless blankety-blank something from me. I mean it. Tell him when I get back to New York, I'm gonna get a glass-bottom car, so I can see the look on his blankin' face when I run him over!' I slammed down the phone. It was like that in journalism sometimes."
So, I read that. Then I started writing for a living. One of my first pieces was for a magazine published by the Weekly Reader people, a kid's science magazine called Current Science. And here was the lead that I wrote. Very, very straight newsy lead. "A protein found in coral is being used as a scaffold on which new human bone can grow." Here's what ran in the magazine. "Imagine your rib cage replaced by a coral reef, complete with darting red and blue electric fish. Well, it's really happening, except for the fish."
Since then, I've gotten into a position where I always have the last look at the copy before it gets published. At Scientific American, things were not so bad, but I did want to tell a couple of stories about questions that editors had raised or things that they attempted to do that were a little less egregious but still kind of interesting.
I led one story this way. "As Julius Caesar might have put it, all of the galling things that can happen to the human body can be divided into three parts." So, the news editor, a physics major, by the way, a Cornell physics major. The news editor e-mails me back and says, "I don't understand this. I'm not up on my Greek history."
And I write back to him, I say, "Listen, I'm gonna cut you some slack. I know you must be tired or something. I know that you know that Julius Caesar was Roman." And he writes back, he says, "Of course, Caesar made me think of salad, and salad made me think of Greek."
The other-- the other good story-- from Scientific American that I wanted to tell you was we were publishing a special issue on bionics. "Your Bionic Future," it was called. And I was asked to write the last page, a light look at, you know, since we were gonna be predicting the future, a light look at predictions that have not panned out. And the story began, "Welcome to the last page unless you mistook this magazine for a Passover Haggadah, in which case, welcome to the first page." Either way, we may ask how is this issue of the magazine different from all other issues? And it was different because instead of reporting on research already done, we would be predicting the future.
And the-- the first set of page proofs comes back to me with the editors having inserted after the Haggadah line, "For those of you who aren't Jewish, this is funny because..." So I told them, "No, we don't explain the jokes. We let the jokes ride or we take the jokes out."
By the way, the second paragraph of that story might be of interest. I'm gonna read it just 'cause we're here in the Bronx. "Mark Bradley knows the dangers of prophecy better than most. The Atlantic Constitution columnist wrote the following after his town's Braves roughed up the Yankees in the first two games of the '96 World Series:"
"'It's doubtful the Yankees can take so much as one game. We are no longer watching a competition, we are witnessing a coronation.' Prince Charles may get a coronation before the Braves, who lost the next four in a row. And actually, another four in a row after that in 1999."
Anyway, there's some interesting stuff that working at Scientific American, speaking of predictions, there's some interesting stuff that you can find. We have issues dating back to 1845. So, sometimes it's fun just to scrounge around in the library. And I thought you might be interested in this that I found in an 1846 issue. We wrote, "We were coming out in favor of the paddle wheel to screw propellers."
We didn't think that screw propellers were gonna catch on or be a good idea. And we wrote, "It is truly astonishing that men of capital in England persist in keeping themselves so totally ignorant of the plain philosophical principles of mechanics as to suppose that a propeller of any form on the screw principle can compete with the simple Fultonian paddle wheel."
Well, the reality is that besides being incredibly slow, the paddle ships have another problem. Whenever the bob at all, there's more force being exerted on one side of the paddle than the other. These are incredibly bad for trying to make Trans-Atlantic crossings.
And more recently, I found this great piece from an 1883 issue of Scientific American where we talk about the fact that, well, I don't want to give it away. I'll just tell you that the telegraph was very popular at the time. And here's what we wrote. "Despite the fact that recent experiments have demonstrated the possibility of telephoning over long circuits, it is to be doubted if the instrument will be used otherwise than locally. It is too sensitive to induction, to atmospheric electricity, and to grounds, for circuits exceeding a few miles in length. The experiments have been tried under the best, not under the worst, conditions. It is hardly possible for the telegraph business of two large cities to be conducted by telephone by the senders of messages themselves for 500 wires might not suffice to prevent a block in busy hours, and merchants could not and would not wait."
And we go on for a while and then we finish. "All in all, there seems to be but little prospect of the present series of experiments, resulting in a practical good (talking about the cell phone now), however gratifying they may be from a scientific viewpoint." So, just something to keep in mind when you prognosticate, especially in print.
One of the things that I got very involved with as a science journalist was the evolution, creationism controversy in education. And that's what it was when I first started in the mid-Eighties. It has metamorphosized into a whole different thing now.
But the first published article I had in 1987 had to do with the Supreme Court decision that banned the teaching of creationism in public schools. And that decision is called Edwards v. Aguillard. And the vote was seven to two, by the way.
I just find the subject incredibly fascinating. You have the science, you have politics, you have popular culture, you have religion. It's all smashing together, and incredible stuff comes out.
I should say that I started writing about evolution here when I took the only writing course I ever took with Professor Carol Sicherman. And she told me, after I turned in my first paper, that I wrote like a combination of Stephen J. Gould and James Joyce. And I was like, "Wow, that's, well, thank you." And she said, "Yeah, you write about evolution, and you don't know how to punctuate." (LAUGHTER)
So, I took that to heart and tried to learn. Anyway, so, there was the '87 case and it keeps cropping up all over the place because we have decentralized education in America. Every local area has its own little school board. And so, any school board can do anything it wants with its curriculum. And so, you never know what's gonna happen.
And by 2005, I was now a columnist at the magazine. Columnist, not Communist. A lot of readers confuse it and think that I am the latter. And I always write back and say, "No, no, I'm at best a Socialist." And there was this case that you might have heard of in Cobb County, Georgia, where there was a warning sticker in the biology textbook.
And let me read part of this column to you. This is called, "Sticker Shock," and it ran in February of 2005. In the subhead-- in the beginning was the cautionary advisory. "Brush fires are raging all across America over the teaching of evolution as various anti-evolution interests attempt to give religiously based views equal footing in science classes. These fires are fueled by so-called creation scientists, who allege that they have scientific evidence against evolution. They don't."
"Their co-conspirators, the intelligent design crowd, go with the full-blown intellectual surrender strategy. They say that life on earth is so complex that the only way to explain it is through the intercession of an intelligent super-being." They don't mention you-know-who by name as the designer, but you-know-who, you know who is. And isn't Brahma.
"One little blaze can be found in Cobb County, Georgia. As this issue of Scientific American went to press, a federal judge in Atlanta was in the process of deciding whether biology textbooks in the county could continue to sport a warning sticker that read, 'This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.'"
Which might not be a bad thing to put in pretty much any textbook. Or any other kind of book, actually. So-- the rest of this column is devoted to coming up with warning stickers for textbooks in other disciplines. And rather than read the whole thing to you, I'll just, I'll skip right to chemistry.
"Sticker in the book, Collegiate Chemistry. 'Electrons. They're like little-tiny ball bearings that fly around the atomic nucleus like planets orbit the sun. Except that they're actually waves. Only what they really are, are probability waves. But they do make your .mp3 player run. Seriously.'"
So, the next entry would be, "The sticker in the astronomy book, Our Solar System. 'Remember, they said in chemistry class that electrons fly around the nucleus like planets orbit the sun? Some people think the sun and other planets go around the earth. You'll have a much easier time with the math if you just let everybody go around the sun. Trust me.'" (LAUGHTER)
And-- I'll skip to the last entry in here. "Sticker in the book, Modern Optics. 'Caution, Dark Ages in mirror may be closer than they appear.'" That was early in 2005. Then late in 2005, this incredible gift comes my way. I'm asked to interview for a profile, Eugenie Scott.
And she is the director of an organization called The National Center for Science Education, based in Oakland. And for 25 years, she has been fighting the creationists wherever they crop up across the country. The National Center for Science Education has that name because they thought when they were starting that once they got that case that eventually became Edwards v. Aguillard out of the way, they could move on to just promoting science education in general.
But it never happened. They've been doing this the whole time because it's always cropping up someplace. If you go to their website, National Center of Science Education, they have an ongoing tracking of where things are cropping up around the country.
So I was going to have to go to Oakland to interview her, and then I found out that this case was happening in eastern Pennsylvania. It was gonna be heard in Harrisburg, the Dover case, which many of you have probably heard of. And Eugenie was gonna be there as an expert, adviser to the plaintiff's side. And so I said, "Well, you know, I can go to Dover and interview Eugenie and also actually go to this trial."
I mean, I got to actually go to a Scopes trial in the 21st Century. I'm sure you've seen Inherit the Wind and there's Clarence Darrow is played by Spencer Tracy. And then you have the H.L. Mencken character is played by Gene Kelly. And I get to actually be the H.L. Mencken character. It's just unbelievable.
So, I head out to Harrisburg with my little bag, and I meet her there. And we do our interviews. And I then I go to the trial. And I was there for opening arguments and for some of the early testimony. And let me give you a little background of the trial.
And one of the really important things I learned at the trial, and I had suspected this from watching sports. You've all had the experience probably if you follow sports of having your local commentators be pushed aside when the national people come in. And you have to listen to the national guys, and they don't know what they're talkin' about.
They just showed up the night before. And they're gonna tell you that so-and-so-'s threat to steal because he's got 68 stolen bases already this year. But with this guy, what Rick Sutcliffe doesn't know, is what your local guys know, which is that he pulled a muscle in his leg two weeks ago and he's still not a threat to steal.
So in this case, the local reporters, they had been doing all the ground work on this. And there's some wonderful stuff at the websites of the York Dispatch and the other little papers out there. Because they had gone to the school board meetings a year earlier where all this stuff started up.
And then there's the trial and, you know, the national press swoops in, me among them. But I spoke to a lot of the local people and stayed in touch with them after the trial via e-mail. And they were still doing terrific work afterwards.
This town of Dover was really torn apart. Alan Bonsell is the president of the school board. Now, he believes that the earth is 4,000 years old. Which means that the creationists say, "That guy's crazy." Because they believe the earth is 6,000 years old. Now, how he got the 4,000 number, I don't know. I think he was looking at Bishop Usher's calculations that, you know, there was an actual calculation by Bishop Usher. And he determined that the earth was created on October 4th, four-- I think it was the fourth. But it was 4004 B.C. I think it was about 9:15 in the morning.
William Buckingham was on the school board. He was in charge of the curriculum committee. And he was very upset. The biology teachers were about to purchase a new book written by a very well-known evolutionary biologist at Brown University named Ken Miller, who's written some popular books as well. And Ken Miller was the first witness in the Dover trial.
He was upset with the Ken Miller biology textbook because he said it was "laced with Darwinism." Which I would hope it would be because it's a high school biology textbook. So it should be.
So, these guys did everything they could to make sure that they would lose this case. One of the things they did was contact all the members of the community to let them know what they were up to, which became part of the case, actually. If you read the entire judge's decision. Once you go past the school and make outreach to the community, that becomes part of what goes into the decision-making process about whether this is an effort to merely change the curriculum, or to go past that into the entire cultural milieu of the community.
These two guys basically hold the biology teachers hostage. And they say that you can't have your new textbooks unless we get something in return. And what we want is for you to teach creation science. And one of the biology teachers says, "We can't teach creation science. We are not qualified. We are certified to teach biology. We are not certified to teach this other thing, so it would be unethical for us to teach it."
They want to get things rolling. They want to get the books bought so that school can begin. The kids can have new books. So there's a compromise, and these two guys get the board to approve the fact that they will-- there will be a statement that has to be read on the first day of class in the biology classes.
And the statement. I'm not gonna read the whole statement, but it begins. "The Pennsylvania academic standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution. And eventually, to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered."
"The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."
"The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available to students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind." Etcetera.
And this interesting thing happened. Fifty copies of this book, Of Pandas and People, the intelligent design text, appeared in the high school library. Where did they come from? Well, we'll get to that. So they're obviously touting this book. They want the kids to check it out and be persuaded.
Now, the teachers refused to read this statement because they say it would be a violation of their ethical standards. And a couple of the administrators read the statement while the teachers went outside the classroom along with any students who didn't want to be present when the statement was read. So the administrators read it.
And basically, that was it. That was the extent of the interference in the curriculum. But what happened in the community, it was like those two guys were putting on a production of The Crucible using Dover as their cast. People who would, were getting along fine with each other, were suddenly pointing at each other across the street, calling each other names. It got very ugly, very heated.
So, because of that statement, finally, 11 parents sued the school board. It was called the Kitzmiller case. Tammy Kitzmiller was the first name, the lead plaintiff. And what they wanted to do was have that statement revoked as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. That it was a clear violation of the separation of church and state because this is a religious viewpoint, not a scientific viewpoint.
The school board is the defendants. The parents are the plaintiffs. And here is where the case is really over before, before it even begins. Because the defendants get to represent them pro bono the Thomas More Law Center out of Chicago, whose mission according to their website is, "To be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge, to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square."
So, what you have is a group saying, "No, this is science. This is not a religious construct. We're trying to introduce valid alternative scientific viewpoints into the classroom. And to defend us in that effort is this group that has as its sole mission to fight for persecuted religious people."
So there's this incredible cognitive dissonance from before day one in this trial. Once the trial is, the trial date is set, and this is a federal court now. Federal District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania. Once the trial is set, then the politicians get involved.
Bush is asked about it, and he says, "Well, you know, they should teach the controversy." Of course, within the scientific community, there is no controversy. And I'll let George Bush slide because I'm sure he doesn't know that much about... (LAUGHTER) Well, and I don't need to finish it.
But you did also have Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader of the Senate at the time, who also said, "Teach the controversy." And he knew better. This is a Harvard Medical School graduate. And he knew that this is nonsense. But he was pandering, I think, he still thought he could be president at that time. I think the Terri Schiavo case hadn't happened yet. So, he was, he had not yet shot himself in both feet, as opposed to Plaxico Burress.
This brings up another thing. You know, we saw it again in the Republican debates. There was one debate where there, there was still 10 Republican candidates, and they were asked, "Who here does not believe in evolution?" And three of them raised their hands.
And first of all, that's the wrong question. Even within that kind of a construct, because it should be phrased, "Who here does not accept evolution?" There's nothing to believe in. You accept it or you don't accept it, because it's reality.
The right question to ask these politicians, if you're going to, is, "Can you tell me what evolution is? Can you tell me what intelligent design is? Can you tell me why you would prefer that one be taught versus another, or over another, in public school classrooms?" Because then you would find out that they don't know anything.
They just know that evolution is this thing that's supposed to be anti-religious, which it's not, it's like saying that astronomy is anti-religious. Of course, you know, 400 years ago, it was. But, you know, hopefully, we've moved on since then. So, it's not a religious issue.
So, this column's called, "The Trial of Life," came out in December of 2005, which means I had to file it at the end of September 2005. So I filed it shortly after returning from the opening arguments at the Dover trial. Which, by the way, were fascinating because when you watch a court case on television, a fictional court case, usually the lawyers look like they are absolutely in control of the proceedings. They're all smart. They're all fast.
At this trial, the witnesses were in control of the proceedings. Ken Miller eviscerated the defendants' attorney from the Thomas More Law Center. He was literally back on his heels whenever Ken Miller would respond and clear things up that were incorrectly stated or invalid assumptions that the lawyer had made. It was just great.
The entire trial transcript is available online. Next time you go to the Caribbean, just bring it with you and enjoy a week on the beach with it 'cause it's hilarious. It's really fascinating.
Again, this column's called, "The Trial of Lif-- The Trials of Life," and the subhead is "Because eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, we have to talk about intelligent design again, sorry. Let's review. First, there was the oxymoronic creation science, which says that biblical creation, not evolution, accounts for all life on earth."
"Creation science begat the more subtle Intelligent Design, I.D., which holds that life is too complex to have evolved naturally. An intelligent designer, identity is secret but it rhymes with Todd, must have done it, producing wonders of nature like the flagellum, that whippy tail some bacteria have, and other wonders such as Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. Brad Pitt has to pick, but nobody else does."
"On September 13th, the New York Times ran an article that discussed how the documentary March of the Penguins was a big hit among some groups because of the lessons it imparted. A reviewer in World Magazine thought that the fact that any fragile penguin egg survived the Antarctic climate made a 'strong case for intelligent design.'"
"Conservative commentator Michael Medved thought the movie, 'Passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing.' Coincidentally, I had seen the movie just a few days before on a blisteringly hot day in South Florida. I intelligently designed my afternoon to be in an air-conditioned theater watching penguins. So perhaps I can be of some help."
"Penguins are not people. Despite their natty appearance and upright ambulation. Their traditional norms include waddling around naked and regurgitating the kids' lunch. But it would be as absurd to castigate them for those activities as it is to congratulate them for their monogamy. Besides, the movie clearly states that the penguins are seasonally monogamous. Like other movie stars, the penguins take a different mate each year."
"And there are problems with them as evidence of intelligent design. While caring for the egg, the penguins balance it on their feet against their warm bodies. If the egg slips to the ground for even a few seconds, it freezes and cracks open. A truly intelligent design might have included internal development or thicker eggshells or Miami. Finally, penguin parents take turns walking 70 miles to the sea for take-out meals. The birds have to walk."
"From tribulations to trials, on September 26th, I sat in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where a lawyer said for almost certainly the first time ever, 'Can I have the bacterial flagellum, please?' As a piece of evidence. This groundbreaking moment in legal history came on day one of the trial that will determine if the Dover, Pennsylvania school board violated the First Amendment."
Dubbed Scopes II by some, the case is really Scopes III. The 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case, Edwards v. Aguillard, was often dubbed Scopes II, and you can't have two Scopes II's, at least not until the forces of irrationality begin futzing with the math curriculum, too. Members of the Dover School Board, who want I.D. taught, are free to consult the opening paragraph of this story for an explanation of I.D.
The curriculum chair, I.D. proponent William Buckingham could have used some crib notes when he was asked in a deposition last January, 'Do you have an understanding in very simple terms of what intelligent design stands for? What does it teach?' Buckingham responded, 'Other than what I expressed, that's scientists, a lot of scientists, don't ask me the names, I can't tell you where it came from. A lot of scientists believe that back through time, something, molecules, amoeba, whatever, evolved into the complexities of life we have now.' 'Is our children learning?'"
Anyway, the trial was only about half over when this issue of Scientific American went to press, so we'll have to revisit it at a later date. Nobody said eternal vigilance was going to be easy. So, this fellow, all he knew really was that intelligent design was somehow part of a religious construct that he supported.
It also came out that he was very severely addicted to Oxycodone at the time that all this was going on, which is sad, but nevertheless, true and might have had something to do with his behavior.
The trial goes on for six weeks. And no big surprise. The judge, well, it might have been a surprise to some people because the judge was a George W. Bush appointee, a conservative, church-going Republican. But he was also very open-minded and really wanted to make this case a comprehensive look at the whole subject because his jurisdiction is only the eastern half of Pennsylvania.
And so, his ruling only applies to the eastern half of Pennsylvania as precedent. But he wanted to have this be such an incredibly strong decision, based on having heard all this evidence, that it would be available to serve as a decision for other judges around the country to use as precedent. And they have already. There have been other cases. There have been other school boards around the country. There was a case in California the next year, where the mere threat of applying the Jones decision stopped this school board from doing what they wanted to do.
There was this terrific expert witness who really made a compelling case in the trial by getting all these various incarnations of the book, Pandas and People, and going through each version and simply counting up the words.
Now, it was originally called Creation Biology. Then Biology and Creation. You see Pandas 1987 version one and version two. Those were unpublished, but the publishing house still had them. And under subpoena, the plaintiffs got their hands on them.
I mean, it's so ironic 'cause it's evolution in action. And they're clearly responding to the selection pressure that the courts are putting on them to change, what, their phenotype.
So, this is really wonderful. This next little thing that Barbara Forrest uncovered in one of the unpublished versions. The author says, "Just because of descent from a common ancestor or because the pathways sustain life. Evolutionists think the former is correct. Creationists accept the latter view."
In one of the unpublished versions, Barbara Forest found this. All exactly the same, except where they did a global replace, and "creationists" was going to be replaced by "design proponents," but it didn't quite happen all the way.
When the Supreme Court outlawed or banned the teaching of creationism, they didn't go back to find some kind of other philosophical viewpoint. They just decided, let's change what we call it and try again. And that's exactly what's going on now. Intelligent design because of the Dover case, is kind of on the outs.
What you should look for next is "irreducible complexity." And "sudden emergence." That's the other thing that you will see replacing "intelligent design." Sudden emergence, which is really special creation.
The judge on December 20th, about three weeks before it was due, comes out with his decision. And it's really an amazing piece of writing. I will just read to you part of the conclusion. He says, "The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the board who voted for the I.D. 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 I.D. policy."
"With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of I.D. have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that I.D. should continue to be studied, debated and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach I.D 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." Which they did. Phyllis Schafly just tore this guy apart to a reporter, basically saying, "The-- right-wing got him his job, how dare he turn on us." The judge continues, "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 I.D., who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."
"The breathtaking inanity" ... that's the judge ... "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 deserve better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."
So, that was the decision, but the judge did take some time in the decision to specifically rip these two guys violently. Because they lied on the stand. They were never charged with perjury. But they lied on the stand. And the judge knew it, and he was ticked.
And what they lied about was, remember the 50 copies of this book in the library? They were asked how did the 50 copies of the book get there? And they both said, "We don't know." Until, again, under subpoena, they found the cancelled check. What had happened was, Buckingham goes to church and pleads with everybody in church to contribute to the fund to buy the books.
He raises $750. He then deposits the $750 in his personal checking account. He then writes a check for $750 to Bonsell's father. Bonsell's father takes the money, buys the books and donates them to the library. By the way, in the memo portion of the check, it says, "For Pandas and People."
How they put this together without the RICO FBI team, I'll never know. I mean, you know, you don't have to be Columbo to figure this one out, kids. They clearly were perjuring themselves on the stand. The judge has some wonderful comments about that which are in here somewhere. But basically, he says, it's ironic that these people who touted themselves as being, you know, such upstanding citizens, and being so concerned about the moral fiber of the community, would do this.
I just want to-- tell you that-- the entire-- story that I've told you, I've given you a little, a few little things that aren't in this wonderful episode of Nova that was produced after I did the research on this and after I had been at the trial, obviously, because it's about the trial. But Nova did a two-hour episode about this that is available for streaming for free at the PBS website, and I highly recommend it.
Eugenie Scott just wants everybody to know, and this may touch on some of you, that it's not just the biologists who they're coming for. She went to a meeting in 2005 of the American Astronomical Society. And she said, "I couldn't get five yards without somebody coming up to me and saying, 'Let me tell you about the problems I'm having teaching the Big Bang. Let me tell you about the problems I'm having teaching the formation of the solar system.'"
That's what's going on around the country in-- in some places. I mean, here in New York City it looks like some tragedy being played out on faraway shores. Because I heard somebody refer to it, "The People's Republic of the Bronx." We don't really have these kinds of problems cropping up.
But, any local school board could see this happen at any time. Which is why it would be a great thing to be on your local school board. You can all run for local school board. You don't need to have kids to be on the school board. And you can help to protect the curriculum.
What you've been seeing in Kansas for the last few years, is this flip-flopping of the majority on the school board between people advocating teaching of intelligent design creationism and people advocating evolution education. And interestingly, between the time that the trial concluded and the time that the judge laid down his decision in Dover, the entire school board was voted out of office and replaced by a full slate of people who supported the teaching of evolution in the classrooms. So that was a positive development.
Of course, what it did lead to was, our friend, Pat Robertson telling the people of Dover. He said that the people of Dover have cast God out of their city, and they should not turn to him for help, if should they run into any problems in the future.
And I just want you all to know that evolution is alive and well. It's probably never been in-- in the research field as a research subject, it has never been more exciting to see what's going on in evolution between Evo-Devo, the relationship between evolution and development. Researchers finding out that there seem to be constrained patterns of evolution. So that not just anything can happen.
And that if you put organisms under the same sets of conditions, in different parts of the world, you will not just see convergent evolution where different genetic sequences wind up leading to morphologies that are similar. You will see exactly the same genetic mutations occur and then be selected for. It's really remarkable.
And let me finish by telling you about Project Steve which is something that the National Center for Science Education came up with a few years ago. Project Steve was a reaction. One of the techniques that the intelligent design creationist people like to use is they'll find a couple hundred Ph.D's or 50 Ph.D.'s.
A lot of times they're engineers. Engineers really like the idea of design a lot more than, you know, we regular science guys, we're comfortable with chaos. But engineers really like to lock stuff up. So they'll find Ph.D.'s, and they'll get them to sign a statement, some kind of a statement like, "We, the undersigned, all having completed our," you know, "lots of education in our fields, believe that evolution is a deeply flawed construct and intelligent design is much more realistic, etcetera."
And then they will pass out these statements with the long list of signatories, and it looks very impressive. So what the National Center for Science Education did was they wrote a statement that said, you know, evolution is excellent science. Intelligent design is not science at all. Stuff like that.
And then they got, initially, 200 signatories. All Ph.D.'s in the sciences. All named Steve. Or variations on Steve, like Stefan, Stephanie. Steve Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in Physics. Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate in Physics, signed the statement. And their point was, it was in honor of Stephen J. Gould, actually, who had just passed away.
And their point was, you guys can get, you know, your 50, your 200 Ph.D.'s. We can get 200 guys just named Steve. Steve represents about one-half of one percent of the population as a name, on average. So if we extrapolate, and now the number is up, they've continued to keep this open on the website, so you can sign up. There are close to a thousand.
So you do the math. You're up, we can get 200,000 Ph.D.'s to sign our statement, if we wanted to. Acknowledging that signed statements have nothing to do with the reality of science. But it's still a nice, little, kind of, you know, elbow in the ribs over there. It's yeah, yeah, you got your people. We have plenty more people.
The vast majority of real scientists know that there is no controversy in this field. And the vast majority of real science journalists know it, as well. And I'll close just by saying that sometimes I get into trouble with other journalists because they say, "Well, you have to be objective. So you just say what, you know, folks on this side say. And then you just report what the folks on that side say. And you let the reader or the listener make up their mind."
To which my response is, that's just stupid. Because I think it's part of the journalist's job, sure, I'll say, "Well, these folks say that, you know, the earth is 6,000 years old and these folk say that the earth is five billion years old. The universe is 13 billion years old. That happens to be true, by the way. So you have both sides, and then there's the truth. And these guys have the truth, as best as we understand it right now. And we'll be the first ones to acknowledge if some new data comes in that changes that."
And that's why being a science undergraduate major is actually educational, is a great background for being a journalist. Because you do the same kind of thing all the time. You're evaluating data and trying to make some sense of it. And the nice thing is that, as a journalist you get to make some sense of it and share it with a lot of people who ordinarily might not be exposed to this stuff at all.
Visit us at www.lehman.edu. This is a production of the Lehman College Media Relations Office.
[END OF AUDIO]