Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Letter to the Editor, York Dispatch

I don't bother responding to individual letters to the editors, but I do respond to lengthier opinion pieces, especially when they are misleading, disingenuous, or dishonest. And especially if they are written by people running around with their pants in flames. Thus, I had to submit the following in response to Casey Luskin's opinion piece that appeared in the York Dispatch, complaining that the media misunderstood the Discombobulatory Institute's recent smear campaign against Federal judge John E. Jones III, accusing him of doing what judges normally do (the DI called it "plagiarism").

To the Editor,

In an opinion published December 19th in the Dispatch, Casey Luskin, spokesman for the Discovery Institute (an intelligent design creationism propaganda house), complained the media misrepresent and misunderstand the Institute's recent smear campaign against Judge John E. Jones III, who decided against proponents of teaching intelligent design in Kitzmiller v. Dover one year ago.

The Discovery Institute's charge of plagiarism has been refuted in detail (see, for example, and among many). What Judge Jones did is recognized as common and accepted judicial practice; Luskin attempted to show this practice meets with disapproval by citing cases that differed significantly from Kitzmiller v. Dover.

But what Luskin did not say is equally as significant as what he did say. In his opinion piece, Luskin cited testimony of Discovery Institute Fellow Scott Minnich as evidence that peer-reviewed articles supporting intelligent design have appeared in the scientific literature, pointing to a particular article. But he failed to mention that that article appeared in an esoteric journal that covers the field of taxonomy (classification), not evolution or the causes of biodiversity. Luskin also neglected to mention that the article was shepherded covertly through the review process (or lack thereof) by an avowed Creationist editor. And tellingly, Luskin decided not to mention that once the rest of the editorial board discovered the paper had been published, they retracted it.

Luskin engaged in common practices of the Discovery Institute--he commits factual errors and selectively quotes sources out of context, and relies on most readers not being sufficiently informed to realize what he is doing or motivated enough to check sources. Fortunately, I noticed in several reports of the Discovery Institute's press release that the reporters sought out other, real, expert opinion. It appears that the media do indeed understand the Discovery Institute's tactics.

UPDATE: My letter was printed 29 December 2006, here. The URLs linking to refutations were edited out (probably because I misread the LTE requirements and exceeded 300 words).


Anonymous Mustafa Mond, FCD said...

What's this about a paper by Minnich? The details sound very similar to those surounding a paper by Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Do you have the name wrong, or did a very silimar thing happen to Minnich?

12:53 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

The details sound very similar to those surounding a paper by Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

You're absolutely right. Luskin wrote about the trial. Scott Minnich testified about the paper by Stephen Meyer that appeared in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Meyer did not testify about the paper himself, because he had withdrawn from being an expert witness prior to deposition. The Discovery Institute attempted to sneak what would have been his "testimony" into the case via an amicus brief, but Judge Jones wouldn't allow it.

6:14 PM  

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