The courage to stand up for what is right

It takes enormous courage to stand up and oppose one’s peers when they are doing something wrong, especially so when it is in the middle of a war and you have to make a snap judgment. Hugh Thompson Jr. was a person who had that kind of rare courage. He was a young 24-year old helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War who came across fellow American soldiers in the process of massacring Vietnamese civilians during the infamous My Lai massacre in March 1968. The events that immediately preceded his arrival were described this way:
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Fighting the fear-mongers

Glenn Greenwald is guest blogging over at Digby and has an excellent piece titled Attacking Bush’s only weapon: Fear that extends what I wrote two days ago. He quotes a Bush speech delivered on October 6, 2005 where Bush says:

“The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.

“Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zarqawi has vowed, ‘We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life.’ And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.

“The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century


“With the rise of a deadly enemy and the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history will be remembered for new challenges and unprecedented dangers.

Greenwald then analyzes the speech and others like it by Bush and Cheney and the rest of the administration and what they are trying to achieve. He really nails it.

Islamic terrorists here, as always, are depicted as omnipotent villains with quite attainable dreams of world domination, genocide, and the obliteration of the United States. They are trying to take over the world and murder us all. And this is not merely a threat we face. It is much more than that. It is the predominant issue facing the United States — more important than all others. Everything pales in comparison to fighting off this danger. We face not merely a danger, but, in Bush’s words, an “unprecedented danger” — the worst, scariest, most threatening danger ever.

And literally for four years, this is what Americans have heard over and over and over from their Government – that we face a mortal and incomparably powerful enemy on the precipice of destroying us, and only the most extreme measures taken by our Government can save us. We are a nation engaged in a War of Civilizations whose very existence is in imminent jeopardy. All of those plans for the future, dreams for your children, career aspirations, life goals – it’s all subordinate, it’s all for naught, unless, first and foremost, we stand loyally behind George Bush as he invokes extreme and unprecedented measures necessary to protect us from this extreme and unprecedented threat.

It is that deeply irrational, fear-driven view of the world which has to be undermined in order to make headway in convincing Americans that this Administration is engaged in intolerable excesses and abuses of its power. The argument which needs to be made is the one that we have seen starting to arise in the blogosphere and elsewhere: that living in irrational fear of terrorists and sacrificing our liberties and all of our other national goals in their name is the approach of hysterics and cowards, not of a strong, courageous and resolute nation.

Greenwald goes on to say what must be done to counter this fear-mongering and the paralysis that it induces:

What must be emphasized is that one can protect against the threat of terrorism with courage, calm and resolve – the attributes which have always defined our nation as it has confronted other threats. Hysteria and fear-mongering are the opposite of strength. The strong remain rational and unafraid.

In a rational world, the basic principle of risk is that it equals impact times probability: “In professional risk assessments, risk combines the probability of a negative event occurring with how harmful that event would be.” But the Administration has spent four years urging Americans to ignore that way of thinking and instead assent to any Government measure, no matter the costs or comparative harms, as long as they are pursued in the name of fighting this Ultimate Evil.

In fact, it is now essentially prohibited in good company to even raise the prospect that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated. It is an inviolable piety that there is no such thing as overstating the terrorism risk. One is compelled to genuflect to, and tremble before, the paramounce of this Ultimate Threat upon pain of being cast aside as some sort of anti-American, terrorist-loving loon.

The Administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian depiction of fear as being the hallmark of courage, and conversely, depicting a rational and calm approach as being a mark of cowardice.

In order to persuade the population that George Bush must not be allowed to claim the powers of a King, literally including the power to break the law, Bush opponents must attack that fear as the by-product of weakness and cowardice which it is. A strong nation does not give up its freedoms or sacrifice its national character in the name of fear and panic.

It is a great article. You should read the whole thing.

For those who are worried about being killed in a terrorist attack, you should see this site which gives you the statistics of all the other ways we can be killed. The point of this is not to frighten people more but to help them keep things in proportion. There are about 15,000 murders in the US per year, five times the number killed on 9/11, (and this happens every year) yet most people do not get paralyzed with fear at the thought of being murdered by criminals. We just go on with our lives.

POST SCRIPT: Combating obfuscation

One of the things that have puzzled me about the Bush Administration’s decision to wiretap people without warrants is “why”? The law allows for emergency situations since the government can wiretap first without a warrant and ask for retroactive approval from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court within 72 hours. The court has shown a great deal of deference for administration requests for wiretaps. From 1979 through 2004, the FISA court has approved 18,742 warrants and rejected only four! So why did the administration not apply for warrants?

My suspicion is that they wanted to wiretap people that they suspected that even this highly compliant court would find objectionable. Who could such people be? Here are my guesses:

1. Journalists
2. Political dissidents (antiwar activists, peace and justice movements, etc.)
3. Politicians

There have been some attempts at obfuscation about the seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping program by the NSA. For a good list of the baseless arguments that are being made (such as “Bush did not violate the law” and “Every President did it”) and the actual facts of the case that rebut them, see here.

Frightening people to subvert the Constitution

Those who justify giving the government sweeping powers of spying, arrest, detention, torture, and even killing usually resort to three kinds of arguments.

td051224.jpg The first is the extreme hypothetical: concocting some bizarre scenario (“A nuclear bomb is going to explode in New York City in one hour and only a captured terrorist knows where it is and how to defuse it.”) in which the only options seem to be torture or worse. The second is scaremongering, using inflammatory language to exaggerate beyond recognition either the powers of terrorists in general or some specific threat that was supposedly foiled by the authorities (Remember that Jose Padilla was originally supposed to have plans to detonate a ‘dirty bomb.’ That charge has been quietly dropped.) The third is to argue from the negative (“We don’t know, or can’t tell you, how many dastardly plots have been foiled or deterred by these government actions so we should fall on our knees in thanks to the government for carrying out these illegal actions that may have saved our lives.”)

It is curious how these apologists for government abuses display a kind of whimpering, fearful attitude that requires them to view the President as their protector, rather than finding strength within themselves, and in their neighbors, the legal system, and the Constitution.

As examples of the above points, see this exchange between former Republican Congressman Bob Barr and current Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher on the CNN program Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on December 16, 2005. (You can see the video here.) I have highlighted some key portions and corrected some obvious misattributions to some of the statements.

Barr forcefully makes the case far better than I can why the government wiretapping story is a scandal. Rohrbacher, on the other hand, weaves all those three strands of arguments into his responses, falling back on the usual hypotheticals, scaremongering, and distortions to essentially argue that the President can do whatever he wants, irrespective what the laws and the Constitution says. Notice how often Rohrbacher brings up the foiled plot to “blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.” Barr gives him his comeuppance on this right at the end.

BLITZER: Americans spying on Americans. In a story first reported today by the “New York Times” and confirmed by our own sources here at CNN, President Bush is said to have authorized the super secret National Security Agency to conduct electronic eavesdropping here at home. The president is saying only that he won’t discuss ongoing intelligence operations. 

Joining us now are two conservative Republicans who have very different views on this issue. From Atlanta, the former Congressman and CNN contributor, Bob Barr, and from Capitol Hill, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Congressman Barr, what’s wrong with what the president has decided to do?

BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What’s wrong with it is several-fold. One, it’s bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order. 

So it’s bad all around, and we need to get to the bottom of this.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Congressman Rohrabacher — I suspect you don’t.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R) CALIFORNIA: No. What’s really bad is the fact that we have an evil opponent who wants to blow us up and that six months after 3,000 of our American citizens were slaughtered right in front of our eyes, that we were confronted with this challenge. I’m really sorry that we have this kind of evil enemy that wants to slaughter us, but I’m very happy that we have a president that, six months after they slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens, he decided to follow up on a lead that was given to our people by breaking up an al Qaeda cell in Pakistan, and followed through on that to make sure that there wasn’t another imminent attack, and thus probably saving many thousands of American lives. We can be proud of President Bush for protecting us. 

BLITZER: Congressman Barr, what do you say? 

BARR: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Constitution is the Constitution, and I took an oath to abide by it. My good friend, my former colleague, Dana Rohrabacher, did and the president did. And I don’t really care very much whether or not it can be justified based on some hypothetical. The fact of the matter is that, if you have any government official who deliberately orders that federal law be violated despite the best of motives, that certainly ought to be of concern to us. 

ROHRABACHER: 9/11 is not a hypothetical. We are at war.

BARR: No, but the hypothetical is the — the other cases you were talking about. 

ROHRABACHER: Bob, now that we are at war, that is not hypothetical. We have an enemy that has decided that they’re going to terrorize the American population by committing mass murder. That is not hypothetical. We are at war, and sometimes at war you — 

BARR: No, what you were saying, Dana, is that there were other case — those are hypothetical — 

ROHRABACHER: No, that’s not — Bob, you haven’t read this. No, that’s not hypothetical at all. One of the cases that was involved in this, was someone who was attempting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and because of these wire taps, we were able to stop that. 

BARR: No, you’re wrong there, Dana. First of all –

ROHRABACHER: And by the way, how do we know who wasn’t deterred from blowing up other targets. The fact is –

BARR: Well, gee, I guess then the president should be able to ignore whatever provision in the Constitution as long as there’s something after the fact that justifies it. 

ROHRABACHER: Bob, during wartime, you give some powers to the presidency you wouldn’t give in peace time.

BARR: Do we have a declaration of war, Dana? 

ROHRABACHER: You don’t have to do that. 

BARR: We don’t? That makes it even much easier for a president.

ROHRABACHER: No, you just have to make sure that the people of the United States understand that we are at war. They understand that al Qaeda slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens — more people than the Japanese slaughtered at Pearl Harbor. 

BLITZER: Congressman — let me interject for a second, Congressman Rohrabacher. 


BLITZER: Everything you say is true, but why not go through the process of either getting new legislation authorizing this or let the court orders be fully implemented? In other words, before the NSA goes and eavesdrops on Americans, get a court order? 

ROHRABACHER: First of all, let us note that all this eavesdropping on Americans were that, there were some people living in the United States, whether they’re American citizens or not — we don’t know how many are American citizens — that were involved with contacts overseas. This is eavesdropping on people who were doing international calls and the list that we got, came from what — came from an al Qaeda cell that we broke up in Pakistan. 

I am very pleased that our president didn’t wait around but, instead, ran right forward immediately to try to follow up on this and find out what they were planning. I believe he probably thwarted several major attacks by doing that.

BLITZER: Congressman Barr, do you want to respond to that? 

BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it’s okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war. 

The fact of the matter is the law prohibits — specifically prohibits — what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn’t matter, I’m proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

ROHRABACHER: Not only proud, we can be grateful to this president. You know, I’ll have to tell you, if it was up to Mr. Schumer, Senator Schumer, they probably would have blown up the Brooklyn Bridge. The bottom line is this: in wartime we expect our leaders, yes, to exercise more authority. 

Now, I have led the fight to making sure there were sunset provisions in the Patriot Act, for example. So after the war, we go back to recognizing the limits of government. But we want to put the full authority that we have and our technology to use immediately to try to thwart terrorists who are going to — how about have a nuclear weapon in our cities?

BARR: And the Constitution be damned, Dana?

ROHRABACHER: Well, I’ll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, DC, or New York or Los Angeles, it’ll burn the Constitution as it does. So I’m very happy we have a president that’s going to wiretap people’s communication with people overseas to make sure that they’re not plotting to blow up one of our cities. 

BLITZER: We’re out of time, but Bob Barr, I’ll give you the last word. 

BARR: Well, first of all, or last of all, this so-called plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was bogus because it had to do with a group of idiots who were planning to dismantle it with blow torches.

Rohrbacher has to know full well that there was no plot to “blow up” the Brooklyn Bridge but keeps saying it because of the scary image it produces in people minds, especially when coupled with repeated mentions of nuclear weapons. The plot that was supposedly uncovered was a plan to use blow torches to bring it down, a harebrained scheme is there ever was one. Note that in the original news story on this on June 15, 2004, this was relegated to a passing mention near the end of the article, which indicates how insignificant this threat was viewed then. It is only later that people like Rohrbacher, in their efforts to support unbridled presidential power, have elevated this to a major plan to “blow up” the bridge.

People like Rohrbacher know that if you repeat a falsehood long enough, it becomes part of the public consciousness. This is why you need journalists who know the facts and can (and more importantly will) challenge such falsehoods as soon as they are uttered. Unfortunately not many do. It tends to be the bloggers who are keeping track of the details.

As Atrios points out:

“They keep reminding us that Bush’s illegal wiretap plan uncovered a dastardly plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Said plot involved bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge with blow torches. It’s rather like busting me for my evil plot to blackmail the world’s governments for ONE MILLION DOLLARS by threatening to send the moon crashing into the Earth.

But, either way, that isn’t the issue. The president broke the law. Repeatedly.”

2006: The Year to Say “Enough is Enough!”

The past decade has seen the systematic whittling away of civil liberties, the bypassing of judicial due process, and even the condoning of torture, all in the name of fighting the war on terrorism. It is time to fight back, to say that these actions are setting a dangerous precedent, by giving the government almost unlimited power over the lives of ordinary people. These creeping encroachments on rights long taken for granted lay the groundwork for an authoritarian system of government.

We need to start exposing these actions, so that people become increasingly aware of how far down this dangerous road we have gone. As a start, we can begin by examining a lesser known story (at least in the US) of how the Tony Blair government in England and the US government have been complicit in the torture that has been going on in Uzbekistan.

Craig Murray was once the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. His complaints about the Blair government’s complicity with the Uzbek government in torture got too much for the British government, which set about unsuccessfully trying to smear him, but they did manage to remove him from office.

He has now written a book that the British government has tried to suppress because it contains incriminating evidence about how the CIA passed on to England information received from torturing prisoners in Uzbekistan.

In a preemptive response to this attempt at suppression, Murray has released those documents to bloggers so that the news will be out and impossible to suppress. You can read the story and the documents, which also reports on the US government’s strong support for the brutal and repressive Karimov government in Uzbekistan, at the Blairwatch website. Thanks to the internet, the documents have now been mirrored on so many sites around the world that the British government will be unable to suppress them though they will undoubtedly try to punish Murray severely to deter future whistleblowers.

As the Blairwatch website says: “Craig Murray stood up for what many of us believe, and it cost him his Job, his health, and his professional reputation. The least we can do his stand by him as he defies the UK government’s attempts at censorship, and possible prosecution.”

The Memory Hole website (which performs an invaluable service on keeping track of documents and photos that become politically embarrassing and the government would like us to forget) has the documentation about the US government’s cozying up to the Karimov government, as well as that government’s acts of torture and repression.

Why are the UK and US governments so cozy with Uzbekistan and Karimov, despite its appalling reputation? Here’s a clue: Uzbekistan currently possesses about 600 million barrels of proven oil reserves, but this is soon expected to increase.” It also “has estimated natural gas reserves of 66.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).” While not making the top 10 rankings in either oil or gas reserves, these are sizeable.

(Note: There are also calls in England for a parliamentary inquiry into another allegation of torture by British secret agents, in Greece this time. England seems to be also rapidly using ‘anti-terror’ legislation to justify giving its security forces extraordinary powers over its citizens.)

Greg Saunders has more on this that is well worth reading.

POST SCRIPT: Talk on the Collapse of Intelligent Design

Case’s Department of Biology is pleased to present:

The Collapse of “Intelligent-Design”: Will the next MONKEY TRIAL be in OHIO?

A talk by Ken Miller, Brown University

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Strosacker Auditorium
Case Campus
7 pm


Kenneth R. Miller PhD was the star witness in the recent Dover “Panda Trial” in Pennsylvania where Judge John E Jones found “intelligent-design” to be a religious view, not science. He is the author of a bestselling high school biology textbook that was subject to the Cobb County, GA disclaimer sticker that warned students that evolution was “a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were removed by court order in 2005. Miller is also author of the bestseller, Finding Darwin’s God.

Questions from the audience will be entertained and the event will be webcast.

Free and open to the public

Contact: Patricia Princehouse 216-368-8585,

My new year’s resolutions: I want to be on ALL the naughty lists

A long time ago, President Nixon, descending into paranoia, maintained an “enemies list” that was leaked to the press. But Nixon had by then become so unpopular that being on Nixon’s enemies list was actually seen as a badge of honor. Humorist Art Buchwald expressed his outrage at not making the list, despite all the articles he had written making fun of Nixon. Buchwald said that as a result of this omission his wife was being snubbed by society and he could not get the best tables in restaurants, which were being reserved only for people on the list. “What kind of government is this” he fumed “that does not even know who its real enemies are?”
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The Danger of Apathy

In a series of recent posts (most recently The Loyal Citizen’s Contract with the American Government, I have been sounding the alarm about the dangerous encroachment on civil liberties and traditional concepts of the rule of law by the current administration. Many people do not seem to be alarmed so why am I? Once again, we have to look at history and learn from it to see where this road might lead.

In a recent article, Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, shows how far the current administration has gone in emulating the kinds of regimes that were once routinely condemned for their human rights violations. He bases his article on three books: Our Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005) by former President Jimmy Carter; Nikolaus Wachsmann’s Hitler’s Prisons (Yale University Press 2004); and Robert Higgs in Resurgence of the Warfare State (Independent Institute 2005).
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The Loyal Citizen’s Contract with the American Government

It seems like not a day passes without a new allegation of the Bush administration trampling on civil liberties, violating the law, and disregarding the constitution. I had been collecting links to write about my concerns about all this but the list kept expanding too rapidly for me to keep up, with fresh allegations appearing while I was still pondering what to say about the earlier ones.

One of the things that concerns me is the willingness of so many people to give up cherished and bitterly won freedoms and constitutional protections in return from some vague assertion from the government that these measures were taken to ‘protect them.’ It seemed like they take the position that there is nothing that the government can do in the name of security that they would oppose. David Brooks’ op-ed column in the New York Times on December 22, 2005 plumbs new depths in finding rationales for the president to do almost anything in the name of national security, and to pooh-pooh any quaint notions of judicial oversight. (Sorry, this article is not available online.) The Wall Street Journal reports that some observers say this willingness to give up all pretence to civil liberties has its roots in the decision to attack Iraq.
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Due to the holiday season and to the fact that I need to write some articles for publication, this blog will be updated only sporadically over the next two weeks. The regular schedule of weekday postings will resume after the New Year, on Tuesday, January 3rd.

Today, here are some short items.

New member of the family

baxter1.JPG On the right is Baxter, the latest addition to our family. We brought him home on Monday, December 19. He was born on September 14, which makes him just 3 months old.

My op-ed published

The Plain Dealer has today published an op-ed by me titled Has the intelligent design movement passed its peak? dealing with the Dover IDC case. Thanks to the fact that I have been writing about these things on this blog, it only took me an hour or two to collect all the information together and write the piece. This was one of the benefits I foresaw in maintaining this blog, that it could serve as a repository for ideas that could serve as a first draft for publications.

What was strange is that when I write for online posting, I put in links to the original sources of quotes, facts, etc. I had to strip all those out for the op-ed piece, so newspaper readers have to take my word for it that I was not making stuff up. So although online material is still viewed with skepticism in some quarters, the printed stuff actually has less information.

Cheap laptops for the world

Read about the new $100 laptops that can be powered by a hand crank and can be used in poor areas where there is little electricity. The machines will run open-source software.

You can see an image of the laptop here.

This strikes me as a wonderful gift to the poor areas of the world, because the machines will be given free to poor schoolchildren. The inventors (MIT’s Media Lab) should be credited for making their devices freely available. I think it is terrific when scientists, engineers, inventors, and universities use their tremendous skills for the benefit of those who do not have access to this kind of advanced knowledge.

Mona Lisa smile

From the BBC we learn that:

A computer has been used to decipher the enigmatic smile of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, concluding that she was mainly happy.

The painting was analysed by a University of Amsterdam computer using “emotion recognition” software.

It concluded that the subject was 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry, journal New Scientist was told.”

When I read that I was 64% intrigued, 25% amused, and 11% surprised.


The always helpful and tech-savvy people at Case are slowly nudging me into the 21st century. First Jeremy Smith got me started on blogging and now Aaron Shaffer (Manager of the Freedman Center) interviewed me for my first podcast.

A podcast, which has just been declared 2005’s Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, is defined as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the internet for downloading to a personal audio player”. The word is derived from a combination of “broadcast” and “iPod”. The chief benefit of a podcast is that once downloaded, it can be listened to at your convenience.

Aaron and I spoke about blogging and a lot of other things, lasting for about an hour, just so that I could get a sense of how podcasting works. I will try my hand at it some time in the future, if I can think of something that would benefit more from the spoken rather than the written word.

If you are curious about what Aaron and I spoke about, or are curious to hear what I sound like on radio (hint: terrible), the podcast has been posted on the Freedman Center blog here.

I am not sure what I would use a podcast for, at the moment. It would have to be for something where actual sounds were preferable or easier to create than the written word. A dramatic reading of a speech of the kind done by Harold Pinter or an interview would be appropriate, as would be anything involving music. But do not fear. There will be no podcasts of me singing.

Looking back on 2005

One of the things I dislike about the end of the year are the dreary “year in review” features in the media. But I will make an exception for Tom Tomorrow.

End of the Road for Intelligent Design?

As readers are probably aware, the federal judge in the Dover, PA case ruled yesterday (Monday, December 19, 2005) that the school board’s action in trying to introduce intelligent design creationism (IDC) ideas into its science curriculum violates the Establishment Clause and is thus unconstitutional. In a previous posting where I discussed the constitutional issues, I said that I had expected this result. What I had not expected was that the judge’s ruling would be so sweeping and comprehensive. It went in detail through the history, the science, and the philosophy of science issues involved

Although it was written using judicial terminology, in essence it was the equivalent of a slap upside the head to the board that adopted the pro-IDC policy, saying in effect “How could you do such a stupid thing? Any idiot can see that intelligent design is a religious and not scientific notion. And you are liars, too!”

To recapitulate the key features of the case on which the judge based his ruling, the Dover school board had adopted a policy that, commencing January 2005, required teachers to read the following statement to students in the ninth grade biology class at Dover High School:

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 for 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. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

The science teachers refused to read this statement, saying:

You have indicated that students may ‘opt-out’ of this portion [the statement read to students at the beginning of the biology evolution unit] of the class and that they will be excused and monitored by an administrator. We respectfully exercise our right to ‘opt-out’ of the statement portion of the class. We will relinquish the classroom to an administrator and we will monitor our own students. This request is based upon our considered opinion that reading the statement violates our responsibilities as professional educators as set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators[.]


I believe that if I as the classroom teacher read the required statement, my students will inevitably (and understandably) believe that Intelligent Design is a valid scientific theory, perhaps on par with the theory of evolution. That is not true. To refer the students to ‘Of Pandas and People’ as if it is a scientific resource breaches my ethical obligation to provide them with scientific knowledge that is supported by recognized scientific proof or theory.

In light of the teachers’ refusal, school administrators became the ones to read the statement to students.

The concluding section of Judge Jones’ verdict is below, with the emphases added by me. I will comment on other aspects of the ruling later. (The plaintiffs are the parents who challenged the school board policy and the defendants are the school board.)

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.

In later postings I will explore other features of the judge’s 139-page ruling. It provides a good history and analysis of the legal history of religious challenges to the teaching of evolution. Many of the issues he discusses will be familiar to readers of this blog because I have discussed them in the past. But the judge’s ruling brings a lot of that content together in one narrative.

Lesser known culture wars

The so-called ‘war on Christmas’ not making you angry enough? Here are some other culture wars that might be more appealing to you.

Wikipedia as good as the Encyclopedia Brittanica?

In my seminar courses, students are expected to research and write papers on topics related to science. Invariably, many of them will submit papers that cite Wikipedia as a source for some assertion. I tell them that Wikipedia is not a credible source for authoritative information and should never be used when submitting any paper.

The reason for this is that wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia where absolutely anyone can edit and update entries and the submissions are largely anonymous. Since there is no identifiable and authoritative person behind the information, there is no way to judge the credibility of the information. This contrasts with things like the Encyclopedia Brittanica which solicits articles from experts in the fields and the resulting articles are then peer-reviewed and vetted by editors to ensure quality in both the content and the writing.

So my message to students has been quite simple: no to Wikipedia and yes to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

My anti-Wikipedia stance received some support from the recent disclosure of a hoax by an author who wrote a scurrilous biography of someone that contained palpable untruths. The person whose ‘biography’ was faked discovered its existence and was justifiably incensed, and his actions subsequently led to the unmasking of the hoaxer.

But then comes along another study that compared the accuracy of entries in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Brittanica and found them to be comparable. Aaron Shaffer has a nice entry on this that compares the two and finds that on some measures, Wikipedia may be even better.

So should I change my advice to students and allow Wikipedia? The answer is no. As long as the articles are anonymous, they remain a no-no for academic publications. Academia has no use for anonymous information. Much of our work is based on trusting the work of our peers. The assumption is that someone who has a responsible position in an academic institution has too much at stake to willfully mislead or even be sloppy in their work. Signing their name and giving their institutional affiliation means that the institution now also has a stake in the information being correct.

Having said all that, I must add that I like Wikipedia and am impressed with the whole concept and with the quality of the information that it provides. I often use it myself to learn about things quickly. It is an interesting example of ‘the wisdom of crowds,’ how when a large enough number of people are actively involved in something, the resulting quality of the finished product can be quite high. It is a highly intriguing experiment in information democracy.

So my advice to students is to use it to get a quick overview of something and to get started on learning about it. But then to go to some authored source for substantiation and citation. Because although Wikipedia may be right most of the time, in academic discourses, who said it is sometimes as important as what is said.