This is the second installment of the review of Ben Stein’s Expelled video. It was previously posted on the Skeptical Analysis site.
– John Blanton
This is the second in a series reviewing Ben Stein’s Expelled video. The first was sort of an introduction—introducing some of the players and giving readers a feel for what this production is all about. I also dipped into the first of six people who were supposedly expelled for speaking out against Darwinian evolution or even seeming to support the concept of Intelligent Design.
The first personality was Dr. Richard von Sternberg, who supposedly (watch the video) lost his position at the Smithsonian Institution because he published a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, of which he was the unpaid editor.
In the video Ben Stein interviews Sternberg, and they discuss the terrible consequences of Sternberg’s actions. His “life was nearly ruined.” That, I find interesting. His life was not ruined. It was nearly ruined. Without outright fabrication the video conveys the idea that Sternberg’s life was ruined when, in fact, it is never stated that his life was ruined. Only nearly ruined. Speaking as a person whose life has been nearly ruined many times, I am eternally grateful it was only nearly ruined and not actually ruined.
Such is the art of propaganda, which this video is all about.
There is something else curious about Stein’s interview with Sternberg. They discuss what is supposed to be a grievous injustice perpetrated on an honest man, but no details are revealed.
Sternberg tells us that he lost his office (at the Smithsonian), but he does not describe the scene. He had to turn in the keys to his laboratory space. How did this happen? Did the lab manager come to him and say, “Dr. Sternberg, you can no longer work here. Hand over your keys and never set foot here again?” If that’s what happened, then why doesn’t Sternberg in the interview provide the circumstances, name names and dates?
To me the answer is clear. Sternberg and Stein are not being straight forward with viewers. They both know the details, and they know that revealing the details would be detrimental to their argument, their argument being that Sternberg suffered a terrible injustice. The conclusion from the known facts is that Stein and Sternberg are not honorable men. I will extend that to saying that Intelligent Design is not a worthy cause, because it requires dishonorable tactics to promote itself.
Here are the facts not mentioned in the video, reprinted from my previous post:
Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.
By the time Ben Stein concludes his interview with Richard Sternberg, he has become completely disillusioned. Never had he thought our country’s liberties could be forsaken over a matter such as posing challenging questions about science. He did not have far to go to find another example. The video shows a clip extolling the virtues of George Mason University, a short distance from where he was standing.
Now he relates the sad tale of Dr. Caroline Crocker:
Caroline Crocker (b 1958) is an American immunopharmacologist who taught a biology class at George Mason University in 2005, while employed in a non-tenure track contract position as “contingent faculty”. She also held another teaching position at Northern Virginia Community College. After her contract at George Mason University was not renewed, as is common with such positions, she claimed that she lost her job there “for teaching the problems with evolution” in a lecture which she repeated in a class at Northern Virginia Community College in the presence of a Washington Post reporter on November 2, 2005.
A GMU spokesman told the reporter that the university let her go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. In January 2006 she began a postdoctorate year at the Uniformed Services University. Her case has been presented in a Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign and features in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
[Some links removed]
I have previously covered the Caroline Crocker story in the September 2010 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. What I will do here is just plagiarize myself and paste the main body of that story:
I feel sure that Crocker never actually taught creationism to her students. She apparently did much more than that. As Crocker has demonstrated, it’s possible to create a lot of mischief without actually teaching creationism. Some have noted that Crocker is not so much the victim that is painted in Expelled. But she is still worth a book.
Free to Think is Crocker’s story of her ordeal with GMU, and more. The following is from the publisher’s Web site.3
The heart of the book covers how she impartially presented the students with the scientific evidence for and against evolution and the scandalous reprisals that resulted. It continues with the saga of the attempted lawsuit and ends, triumphantly with a call to action.
After you have read the book you are invited to return and to post a comment. Being over-eager, I posted a comment before I even received a copy:
I reviewed the Washington Post item from 5 February 2006 that included an interview with Crocker. It appears she freely admits to promoting what are distorted and incorrect views about the science behind biological evolution. Only a single example here: She repeated claims by Jonathan Wells about the peppered moth experiments:
“The experiment was falsified. He glued his moths to the trees.”
I am a photographer, and if somebody wanted photographs of moths for a book or a magazine or a paper, this is exactly what I would have done. I would have glued the moths to the trees. Students hearing Crocker’s explanation would be left with the conclusion that real scientists are lying to them in this case. That was obviously the point Crocker was trying to get over. She was, in effect, deliberately lying to the students.How can a teacher who does this expect to keep her job?
After posting my comment I received a response from Kevin Wirth. He reminded me that comments were solicited only from people who had read the book and wanted to discuss the book. He said he was going to move my comment to the blog section.
That started a nice dialog with Kevin Wirth. Besides being the CEO of Leafcutter Press, Crocker’s publisher, he appears to support Crocker’s cause and also to oppose the science behind biological evolution. His position is not surprising. A little Internet research reveals that Kevin Wirth is also the name of the Director of Product Development for Access Research Network (ARN). From the ARN Web site:4
Seattle area resident Kevin Wirth is a founding member of Students for Origins Research (now known as Access Research Network) and is the CEO of a micro-publishing firm called Leafcutter Press. He has been conducting research on viewpoint discrimination against students, educators, and scientists who are Darwin skeptics for over 25 years, and just recently collaborated with Dr. Jerry Bergman in the publication of a groundbreaking book on this topic titled Slaughter of the Dissidents. Kevin seeks to create greater public awareness of not only the plight of dissenters who have been discriminated against for harboring doubts about Darwinism, but also provides access to vital information supporting a rationale for skepticism about evolution-related issues.
Kevin wanted to make an issue of the pepper moths glued to trees, but there was no basis for his argument. Bernard Kettlewell did glue moths to tree trunks for various reasons, one being perhaps to take photographs. No secret was made of this, and if any experimenting was falsified (using Crocker’s language), this was not it. Crocker was wrong to make this statement in class, either through design or ignorance. Neither instance would be commendable.
A single case could be excused, but this was a pattern with Crocker. Her statements in the Washington Post story, plus other data, point to a deeper problem. The Post story is informative beyond the peppered moth remarks:5
But this highly trained biologist wanted students to know what she herself deeply believed: that the scientific establishment was perpetrating fraud, hunting down critics of evolution to ruin them and disguising an atheistic view of life in the garb of science.
Before the class, Crocker had told me that she was going to teach “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” Afterward, I asked her whether she was going to discuss the evidence for evolution in another class. She said no.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has put up a Web site in response to the Expelled video, and this includes a section devoted to Crocker.6
The late D. James Kennedy produced a video featuring Caroline Crocker. The video is posted on the Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM) Web site, and it contains samples from Crocker’s classroom presentation at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).
One slide says this:7
Scientists are Confused
Scientists have differing opinions on this issue; intelligent design model is gaining ground.
Gould and Eldridge [sic] (evolutionists) “There is no validation of the position that speciation causes significant morphological change.”
Werner von Braun (rocket scientist), “It is unscientific to teach evolution only.”
Another slide features Archaeopteryx and Eohippus:8
Presumed Transitional Forms
Birds there in same layer.
Is a bird (like an ostrich), not a reptobird.
Only one complete fossil and has been questioned as a fraud.
Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.
Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax.
I am certainly confused. “Scientists having differing opinions” is a standard part of main stream science and is not peculiar to biological evolution. Also Crocker’s statement “intelligent design model is gaining ground” is overly optimistic on her part. The modern Intelligent Design conjecture has been kicking around since about 1990, and in this time no serious research has come out supporting it. Science magazine is the premier American professional science journal. What mention I have found of Intelligent Design (disregarding letters to the editor) in Science has been derogatory.
The Gould and Eldredge quote is addressed on NCSE’s Exposed site:9
Gould actually said “But continuing unhappiness, justified this time, focuses upon claims that speciation causes significant morphological change, for no validation of such a position has emerged.” (Gould, SJ and Eldredge, N, “Punctuated equilibrium comes of age” Nature 366, 223-227, 1993). In other words, there is a question of the order in which speciation and physical diversification take place, not “confusion” over whether any link exists between such diversification and speciation. Crocker’s erroneous quotation and mischaracterization of the author’s intent show poor scholarship, and encourage her students to misunderstand key concepts.
I am glad that Crocker mentioned von Braun’s disdain for teaching only evolution. That pretty much settles the issue, because we all know the great rocket engineer held the ultimate truth on all other matters under his consideration. No, seriously, this is not an argument from science. It’s an amateurish attempt at argument from authority.
I don’t know what a reptobird is, but Archaeopteryx had features common with some dinosaurs that modern birds do not. I will go Crocker one better on the “one complete fossil” claim. A review of the ten known Archaeopteryx fossils indicates every one of them is missing at least some small part (or much more). Too bad for Crocker; after she made her wild claims about Archaeopteryx in 2004-2005 another fossil was assigned to Archaeopteryx siemensii in 2007. It is the “the most complete and well preserved” yet.10
It was easy for Crocker to make the claim “has been questioned as a fraud.” All she has to do is to assert that Archaeopteryx is a fraud, and the foregoing statement becomes true. In fact, astronomer Fred Hoyle and physicist Lee Spetner also made this assertion. What Crocker failed to mention is that these claims were refuted by scientists familiar with archaeological research and not so familiar with cosmology.11
I could find no research that backs up Crocker’s statement that “Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.” A FAQ entry on the Talk Origins site gives the following possible origin:12
…Eohippus fossils have been found in surface strata, along side two modern horses, Equus nevadensis and Equus occidentalis.
The quote is from The Neck of the Giraffe by Francis Hitching, who does not provide a justification for the statement. Talk Origins traces the statement back to a book by creationist R.L. Wysong. Crocker appears to have lifted a bit of myth from creationist literature and used it in class with no attempt at confirmation.
The statement that “Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax” is amateurish and unbecoming of someone holding a Ph.D. in the life sciences. Eohippus is not the same as a hyrax. The rock hyrax is the closest living relative to the modern elephant.
Crocker has another interesting slide in the CRM video:13
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Failed at medical school (could not dissect).
Had some training as a clergyman.
Rich kid who enjoyed partying, drinking, and gambling.
Went to Galapagos Islands.
Father was not pleased.
That settles it for me. If Darwin was such a slacker, then the whole science of biological evolution is worthless trash. Anyhow, this seems to be Crocker’s argument, and it lacks a certain amount of scientific and scholastic rigor.
A closer look at the Kettlewell research story finds little actual controversy within the scientific community, Crocker and Wells notwithstanding.
Laurence Cook has posted his lecture on The Rise and Fall of the Peppered Moth. I have copied his text for you to read, but you can follow the link to see the complete presentation.14
Michael Majerus wrote Melanism: Evolution in Action, and biologist Jerry Coyne reviewed the book in Nature. Coyne’s review was critical of Kettlewell’s experimental technique, but Majerus disputes Coyne’s interpretation and has emphasized support for Kettlewell’s conclusions. Others have been critical of Kettlewell and the peppered moth research, including a book by journalist Judith Hooper titled Of Moths and Men. Regardless, all critiques of moth research have been refuted by those scientists who actually do the research. See the Wikipedia page for the whole story.15
What has not happened is that Jonathan Wells and others critical of peppered moth research have not gone into the field and done their own research and published the results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It has become apparent that the science of Intelligent Design does not involve any actual scientific research.
If arguing against Darwinian evolution is what Crocker was paid to do for NVCC (and possibly GMU), then they should have hired me for the job, because I could have done it better. Had GMU hired me to disparage Darwinism I would have pulled up the work of someone like Michael Behe. Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity has some semblance of a scientific basis. If there is no Darwinian pathway leading from an ancestral feature to a modern feature, then something else must account for the modern feature besides Darwinism.
Behe has been pitching this argument for about fifteen years, but he has not been making any headway. So far irreducible complexity exists only as a conjecture with no scientific research to back it up. Unlike the arguments put forward by Crocker, irreducible complexity more closely resembles real science. If Crocker had wanted to argue against Darwinism in her GMU class, she could have cited Behe, but she also would have had to note that irreducible complexity has not in any way been demonstrated. Obviously she did not bother to do any of this.
I may have been the first to post a comment about Free to Think, but the first comment to stick was posted by Ray Bohlin.16
Great Read! As is usually the case, the full story is even worse than the abbreviated version in Expelled. Her book will not only help you see how unseemly academia can be, but also inspire you with personal stories of Caroline’s impact on students.
Of course, Ray Bohlin is our own Ray Bohlin. He has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas and currently heads up Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas. Probe Ministries was co-founded by Jon Buell, founder and president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), also in Richardson. FTE is the publisher of the book Of Pandas and People, the original “text” book geared toward Intelligent Design. Despite having a Ph.D. in biology, Bohlin has a curious view of biological evolution. At the Texas Faith Network conference on 3 November 2003 in Dallas he addressed those in attendance and stated he believes all modern life forms have a common ancestor. All except humans, he said. We do not share ancestry with those other creatures. Bohlin is a fellow of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the principal organization promoting Intelligent Design in the United States.
Both Expelled and the CRM video feature some glowing testimonials by students. Crocker also mentions these in the book. So, why was such a popular teacher expelled? GMU stated that student complaints kicked off the process. Who is to know? I don’t have an official poll of Crocker’s popularity with students at GMU, but there is an on-line survey from NVCC students. Some of them gave her good reviews. Others, not so good. Readers should be wary of any negative comments posted by students, even assuming the posts are by actual students. A failing student can use such a vehicle to even the score with a teacher.17
There is another Web site called N.C.S.E. Exposed that purports to correct “errors in the National Center for Science Education’s fact-free attack on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” The section pertaining to Caroline Crocker emphasizes the high praise she received as a teacher but does not dispute that she taught creationism or even Intelligent Design. The page contains several links to external material. A linked page discusses the Washington Post story, and it quotes text favorable to Crocker. However, it omits Crocker’s incriminating remarks, previously mentioned. There is a link to a page attempting to refute the Miller-Urey experiment (one of the Jonathan Wells icons). Another linked page tells of rave reviews for Icons of Evolution. Crocker has written her own rebuttal to the “false claims” about her, but the link to that page is broken.18
Besides Free to Think, Crocker has written Guide to Cell Structure and Function (2005) and has authored a chapter in The Immunopharmacology of Allergic Diseases (1996). In addition to a number of peer-reviewed papers, the page claims she has contributed magazine articles to SalvoMagazine, including “What Exactly is the Problem with Evolutionary Theory” and “Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy?” The first is nowhere to be found but the second is in the 4-2008 issue. She has contributed “Intellectual Freedom Must Include Conservative Professors, Scientists” in Washington Examiner, 30 June 2008.19
You can view the video that started the whole expelled business back in 2008. It runs about an hour and 38 minutes, and the screen is small, but it’s free. Get some popcorn.20
Leafcutter Press has a press kit for Free to Think. Besides a rundown on the book, the kit provides extensive biographical information on Crocker.21
Pages are archived here at the following links:
The broken link points to this domain: http://intellectualhonesty.info/
Resuming fresh material
For readers’ convenience and before I forget to do it, I’m linking to duplicate copies of pertinent documents:
The above mentions images—screen shots—from the Web site of Coral Ridge Ministries. I have no evidence these are actual copies of Crocker’s classroom presentations (at NVCC, not at GMU). We have only the Coral Ridge Ministries reference to them as Crocker’s material. Here are the images.
With the assistance of Kevin Wirth I was able to contact Caroline Crocker by e-mail. I asked about these presentation slides. She told me that what I needed to know was in the book.
With that in mind I purchased a copy of Free to Think. Contrary to what I had hoped, based on my correspondence with Crocker, the book does not give any details about what she taught in her classes (about evolution or creationism). The pertinent details are on page 89. “Dr. Carter” was her new boss in 2004.
‘The meeting went quite amicably at first, talking about the past semester
and the TAC project, bur then it turned in an unexpected direction. I was alrcady
standing, ready to leave, when without preamble, Dr. Carter announced, ”I’ve
been told by several students and faculty that you’re teaching ‘creationism.’ I am
going to have to discipline you. You won’t be allowed to teach lectures this coming
semester, but will fulfill your hours by teaching labs.” He stood up as he spoke.
The best I can make of that is that one or more people complained that Crocker was running down Darwinian evolution, and this got reported as teaching creationism. We will have to take her word that she did not teach creationism or even Intelligent Design.
It would not be surprising if Crocker never actually taught creationism. Creationists do not have to do that. Creationists will accomplish their core goal if they can dismiss the vast body of science behind Darwinian evolution. They believe, and in many cases rightly so, that doing damage to mainstream science will leave students with the idea that alternatives such as Intelligent Design have merit.
As I mentioned in my NTS piece, Crocker received both good and bad reviews from her students. Regarding whether she taught Intelligent Design, here is one that says she did:
Interesting class, but she teach ID and use a bunch of inaccurate propaganda to do it. She also plays favorites if
you don’t toe the line. You’ll still get credit, but just keep in mind she’s teaching a bunch of BS.
Crocker’s culpability in the matter becomes additionally apparent with events following her 2004 encounter with “Dr. Carter.”
At the same time Crocker taught at GMU, she was also an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). On November 2, 2005, she gave a lecture which she told a reporter was the lecture that had led to her losing her job at a previous university. She said “I lost my job at George Mason University for teaching the problems with evolution. Lots of scientists question evolution, but they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.” Crocker had described the lecture beforehand as teaching “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution”, and when asked afterwards if she would be discussing the evidence for evolution in another class, said that she would not as “There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution.” Myers remarked that this statement was grounds for her dismissal.
Subsequently, she resigned from NVCC and began work for the Department of Defense in cancer research.
Crocker became the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center in early 2008. She left the Center in the summer of 2008 to pursue other endeavors. She appeared in a Coral Ridge Ministries video entitled The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education and in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The claims she made in the Coral Ridge video about transitional fossils (and specifically Archaeopteryx and the evolution of the horse) were criticised by PZ Myers as being factually incorrect. Crocker currently runs a promotional website advertising her public speaking. According to the website topics include: The Censorship of Science, Evolution: Fact, Science, or Religion, along with an Alpha course.
[Slight edits (misplaced period) and some links deleted. The first reference to “Myers” is presumably biologist and noted atheist PZ Myers.]
This bit puts to tests Ben Stein’s statement in the video that not only did Crocker lose her job at GMU, “she suddenly found herself blacklisted, unable to find a job anywhere.” I guess by that he means anywhere but the United States Department of Defense and the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center.
Lest we delude ourselves that Ben Stein is just performing a scripted role in a video production, there is ample evidence he is a supporter of creationism. I will just mention here his endorsement of Crocker’s book. In the Forward, he praises Crocker’s courage and forthrightness, which is laudable. He also displays the complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter and the disregard for scientific integrity that so exemplifies creationist thinking.
Despite lack of clear evidence that Darwinism explains everything it purports to, no one is allowed to question that the evidence had to be “Darwinist”, that is, accidental. Despite the truth that no life could exist without the basic laws of gravity and physics and thermodynamics, and despite the absence of any evidence that these laws came into being accidentally, one cannot question that they must have come about by chance.
Despite the fact of the incredible, mind boggling complexity of the cell, despite the truth that no one has ever been able to explain how a cell could have hundreds of thousands of interlocking parts that repair and reproduce themselves, no one is allowed to question that the cell happened by accident.
Expelled features four additional people of courage who have been expelled. Next up is Guillermo Gonzalez.