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Monday, August 01, 2005

While we're at it, let's also fire the math teachers who can't do algebra

I'm on the Discovery Institute's enemies list now. They have this thing called "the free speech on evolution campaign", and it looks like they've made me their poster boy for intolerance. Here's their general statement of concern:

Across America, the freedom of scientists, teachers, and students to question Darwin is coming under increasing attack by what can only be called Darwinian fundamentalists. These self-appointed defenders of the theory of evolution are waging a malicious campaign to demonize and blacklist anyone who disagrees with them.

They have a few martyrs to their cause, Roger DeHart and Nancy DeBryson, creationists who have been rebuked for their ignorance, and I'm their example of wickedness!

Biology professor P.Z. Myers at the University of Minnesota, for example, has called for "the public firing and humiliation of some teachers" because they question Darwin.

Isn't it cute how they lie and distort? I question Darwin; some of my favorite evolutionary biologists make a career of arguing against narrow Darwinian positions. I don't think I want to be fired and humiliated. The source of that quote is a comment I made on the Panda's Thumb, which I do stand behind completely. Here is the full text:

Yeah, I’m afraid the “civilized academic debate” was settled about a century ago. Scientists have been engaging in that ideal, non-militaristic fashion for quite some time, and still are — those discussions go on in the pages of the journals. Unfortunately, while we have been doing everything in the proper civilized way, the forces of ignorance have not; they have lied their way into considerable power.

Here I am, a biologist living in the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the two biology teachers in my kids’ high school is a creationist. Last year, the education commissioner in my state tried to subvert the recommendations for the state science standards by packing a hand-picked ‘minority report’ committee to push for required instruction in intelligent design creationism in our schools. All across the country, we have these lunatics trying to stuff pseudoscientific religious garbage into our schools and museums and zoos.

This is insane.

Please don’t try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

Yes, I do think that teachers who are incompetent and ignorant should be fired. Not for criticizing Darwin, but for failing to grasp even the basics of the discipline they are supposed to be teaching. I demand that our teachers should meet some minimal standards and should explicitly avoid teaching our kids lies and confusion, the stock in trade of the Discovery Institute. What they call intolerance, I call rigor.

They aren't asking for freedom of speech, they are asking for the right of teachers to lie to our children in school.

(Thanks to Steven Thomas Smith for bringing the DI's tripe to my attention, and he also recommends that the creationists try reading Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District to learn a little about free speech in this kind of situation.)

Trackback url:

#33381: Mike Travers — 08/01  at  12:58 PM
Congratulations, it's a badge of honor.

#33386: — 08/01  at  01:09 PM
for the right of teachers to lie to our children in school
... and the right to hire teachers so ignorant of the subject they are supposed to be teaching that they wouldn't even know they were passing on false information from the chief creationist/ID liars.

#33389: — 08/01  at  01:26 PM
Does anyone else find it just a little bit Orwellian that the camaign called "Free Speech on Evolution" includes an enemies list? Or that a so-called campaign for "free speech" includes a criticism of something that PZ said? Kind of ironic to campaign for freedom of speech by attacking the comments of others.

#33393: Arun — 08/01  at  01:35 PM
Apparently you're threatening the free speech rights of biology teachers in school by demanding that they know some biology!

Hey, if that makes one an enemy of free speech, then I want to join the club.

#33398: Les Lane — 08/01  at  01:54 PM
They're notoriously insensitive to the scientific perspective. It's a major accomplishment to have gotten under their skin. Make sure you stay there. The rest of us can only strive for the distinction.

#33400: — 08/01  at  02:03 PM
I would also hasten to add that we all have a strong interest in securing the maximum reasonable freedom of expression for everyone, especially when fighting the sort of ignorance that the Discovery Institute wishes to spread. As Anna Quindlen put it,

Ignorant free speech often works against the speaker. That is one of several reasons why it must be given rein instead of suppressed.

The contrapositive of this fact is that the ignorant fear free speech, which is undoubtedly why so many people associated with the Discovery Institute censor criticism directed at them.

Why is the speech of teachers curtailed? The Court in Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District explains:

… Peloza is not just any ordinary citizen. He is a teacher. He is one of those especially respected persons chosen to teach in the high school's classroom. He is clothed with the mantle of one who imparts knowledge and wisdom. His expressions of opinion are all the more believable because he is a teacher. The likelihood of high school students equating his views with those of the school is substantial. To permit him to discuss his religious beliefs with students during school time on school grounds would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Such speech would not have a secular purpose, would have the primary effect of advancing religion, and would entangle the school with religion. In sum, it would flunk all three parts of the test articulated in Lemon V. Kurtzman.

#33406: — 08/01  at  02:45 PM
Congratulations - I would consider it a badge of honour being on such a list.

#33412: Ron Zeno — 08/01  at  03:35 PM
Otherwise known as the campaign for "free speech for intelligent design creationists to lie and delude, no speech for anyone else". Also known as the campaign to "demonize and blacklist those who disagree with intelligent design creationism". ;)

Oh the irony of groups that in their call for support against their critics, use the very tactics that they claim are being used against them.

#33414: — 08/01  at  03:46 PM
I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that the Discovery Institute speaks so harshly against high academic standards!

(Well, isn't that the case?)

#33419: — 08/01  at  04:28 PM
PZ, I've personally learned quite a bit, (and hope to continue to do so), by your straightforward, common sense, no bull commentaries. PLEASE keep it up!
And congrat's, you have gotten under their skins.....

Trackback: The Difference Between Being Tolerant of Incompetence and Supporting Free Speech Tracked on: Abnormal Interests ( at 2005 08 01 16:37:22
Brian Leiter of the Leiter Reports has a blog category called "The less they know, the less they know it." I don't want to steal Leiter's category or for that matter PZ Myers whole post on free speech, incompetent teachers...

#33423: — 08/01  at  04:59 PM
As always, the creationists are very confused. To them, there is no such thing as evolution as a science, it is "Darwinism." So criticism of Darwin is a denial of evolution, never mind that this is complete nonsence. Keep up the good work.

#33428: — 08/01  at  05:23 PM
You were on the enemies list a long time ago, PZ. Congratulations!

You know that you do not need to worry.

Nevertheless, I am happy to report that I have some information re the Discovery Institute that does not bode well for the charlatans employed there.

#33431: — 08/01  at  06:02 PM
I notice that all manner of irrational people, from scientologits to creationists, from "Therapeutic Touch" quacks to holocaust deniers, will bleat about censorship whenever they are criticized.

PZ, to the best of my knowledge, you've never so much as told one of these clowns to shut up, let alone tried to use the power of the state to make them do so.

#33436: — 08/01  at  06:12 PM
I just remembered an incident that happened to me in high school. I had a physics teacher who couldn't add vectors. In fact, he couldn't add directly opposed vectors of equal magnitude.

So, we were going over our homework answers in class, and he gave his wrong answer. Naturally, I objected, but he shouted me down, and my classmates all wrote down the wrong answer.

Later that day I showed the problem to Mr. Hale, my computer science teacher. He agreed that I was right, and then asked me: "So, what did you learn from this?" I said: "I learned that Mr. Dew is an idiot." Mr Hale said: "No, John. What you learned is what Gallileo was up against."


#33440: Orac — 08/01  at  06:55 PM
John's right. I've dealt with all manner of cranks, including creationists, "New World Order conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, and alternative medicine quacks. They thrive on claiming the mantle of victimhood as being "persecuted" by the mainstream, and whenever you criticize them they are very quick to take that criticism as an attempt to "silence" them. They also all have in common a tendency to conspiracy-mongering, and sometimes these conspiracies cross over. For example, I've run into alternative medicine advocates who also have anti-Semitic tendencies and blame "doctors" (most of whom, they hint darkly, are Jews) for "suppressing their favorite therapies.

Orac “A statement of fact cannot be insolent.”

#33444: — 08/01  at  07:16 PM
I went to the website link, and gosh, it looks to me like this is a fundraising letter transferred to the web. It would not surprise me in the least to find out this had been sent out as an email to try and get people to sign up as members and buy the DVD.

The Discovery Institute people annoy the %$&^* out of me because they lie. We all know that they claim that intelligent design is non-religious, but if they're quizzed with a blowtorch we find out differently. Most of these people belong to religions that officially look rather dimly upon lying. But to the DI people and their fellow travellers, it's much more important that they get their pigswill version of creationism taught in the schools than to tell the truth. They'd rather commit the sin, I guess.

#33445: — 08/01  at  07:18 PM
John, I nearly posted about my high school physics teacher earlier. So I will now. :-D

At the end of the 2 years of 'O'-level (usually studied at ages 14-16), during which I'd ended up pretty much been supplying the model answers for marking the homework questions for the rest of the class because the physics teacher was so hopeless at the maths, he confessed that he'd failed his own 'O'-level maths. NB These were the end-of-education school-leaving exams for most people (only about 20% being fit to go on to study 'A'-level or being determined to retake failed subjects). So it is not exactly ideal to have a physics teacher lacking in the ability to teach much of his subject matter. I sometimes wonder what happened to all the other classes/years he taught.

Since unlike you I had managed to persuade the rest of them that my methods did at least have the merit of making sense and consistently matching the official answers in the master textbook, I suppose I was more assertive than you were. Or the locals, including the teacher himself, had a slightly better grasp of reality-based testing.

#33449: dread pirate roberts — 08/01  at  08:42 PM
please, brer b'ar, don't throw me in that briar patch of the discovery institute's enemies list with that rascal pz myers.

#33451: ThomH — 08/01  at  09:19 PM
This seems part of the new push, beginning with their 22 July re-issue of "Over 400 Emiment Scientists Dissent From Darwinism."

Nearly all mainstream biologists caricatured as "Darwinists."

The wedge tactic, again. Begin with the split between the popular misunderstanding of Darwinism and the current state of evolutionary theory. Drive the two apart in such a way to make the victory--the hard work of many scientists--seem yours.

Since the science has clearly advanced since 1859 or even 1955, "dogmatic Darwinism" gets disproved and the Discovery Institute claims a victory.

Something to show all their backers--and the creationists who have placed their trust in ID as a silver bullet.

We'll see how it plays with the general public, and the IDers base.

's avatar #33463: — 08/01  at  11:22 PM
Congratulations! You made it!

No stopping for you now. You have to advance on The List till you reach higher ranks and then the coveted title of Enemy Number One, Summa Cum Laude, in Fighting Ignorance and Superstition. You can do it!

Quod natura non sunt turpia

's avatar #33470: — 08/02  at  02:06 AM
I've got to confess to amusement. Not that I am trvialising anything you do PZ (because I am a great supporter of your efforts both scientific and "activist"), but the ID people are getting bent out of shape by comments made on a personal blog! This is their great source of "censorship" and "dogma"? Oh my. If nothing else, they are simply showing AGAIN how vacuous and idiotic their case really is. They are responding to the opinion of ostensibly one guy, albeit an important one guy, by wringing their hands, bleating about faux "censorship", and naming him public enemy number one to all intents and purposes.

Stupid. Very Stupid. Aargh, I have become enraged at the arse quaking stupidity and ceased to be amused. I'm off to punch a homeopath.....

#33477: ¡El Gato Negro! — 08/02  at  04:56 AM
¡Despida la Creaciónistas!


#33573: — 08/02  at  11:57 PM
These charlatans can't even tell the difference between phenomenon and mechanism - Darwinism and "macroevolution" are not synonymous.

#33574: — 08/02  at  11:58 PM
These charlatans can't even tell the difference between phenomenon and mechanism - "Darwinism" and "evolution" are not synonymous.

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