Intelligent design advocates bank on ignorance

In the later years of his life, after he was elected a Member of Congress from Florida in 1963, Claude Pepper’s appearances on Capitol Hill always generated memories from politicos attending, of the 1950 campaign that took away his U.S. Senate seat a decade earlier. It was a nasty campaign. Because he had actually met Joseph Stalin, Pepper, a Democrat, was called “Red Pepper” by his opponent George Smathers, a moniker designed to produce a particular reaction in Florida’s conservative but uneducated voters. Smathers never hesitated to point out that Harvard-educated Pepper had learned “under the Harvard Crimson.” But that was just the start.

There are a few recordings of the breathless claims against Pepper by campaign stumpers, and they are fantastic. Pepper’s family morality was impugned — the speaker notes that Pepper’s sister was a “well-known thespian” as if it were some sort of a sin to be an actor. Pepper himself was accused of “matriculating in public” all through his college career. It would seem normal that a college student would enroll for classes, no?

Of course, the speaker was hoping the audience wouldn’t know the meaning of those large words, and might confuse them for something else less savory. Pepper’s opponent banked on the ignorance of a large portion of voters — and won.

Do campaigns on ignorance work today?

The Discovery Institute comes now with a press release that announces, in rather breathless fashion, that Judge John Jones used the plaintiff’s suggested findings of fact in his decision against intelligent design in schools, in Pennsylvania a year ago. Stopping just short of accusing the judge of plagiarism (not short enough, though), DI compares the findings submitted by attorneys for Tammy Kitzmiller, the named plaintiff, word-for-word with phrases in Jones’ decision, and then arrives at the astounding conclusion:

However, a new analysis of the text of the Kitzmiller decision seriously undercuts the idea that Judge Jones’ decision was “a masterpiece… of scholarship” produced by “an outstanding thinker.” It reveals that nearly all of Judge Jones’ lengthy examination of whether ID is science” came not from his own efforts or analysis but from wording written for him by ACLU attorneys.

Non-lawyers might be unaware that judges ask for proposed findings from parties at trial, prior to the conclusion of the trial. DI appears to be banking on that little bit of ignorance to cast Judge Jones’ wise trial actions as somehow scurrilous. This is shameful behavior in a press release. The release is based on a paper by John West and David DeWolf. West, a Ph.D. in government who should know better, is DI’s vice president for public policy and legal affairs; DeWolf, who certainly knows better, is a Yale-educated law professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane. It’s a shameful claim in a paper advertised as a scholarly work, shameful in its misleading cast. DI is attempting to rewrite history with a voodoo history version.

But, since most reporters are now wise to the misleading ways of the Discovery Institute, the story has so far been ignored by major media. It’s only coverage is in the off-the-wall Worldnet Daily, in the outlets DI pays to carry their releases, in hopefully-biased religious papers, and in the local papers in Seattle and York, Pennsylvania.

Watch that story, though. Bloggers are on it: Pharyngula, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Panda’s Thumb. Ed Brayton at Dispatches promises a more thorough commentary today.

I am flattered. This blog is cited in the report, and quoted in Worldnet Daily. While most of the time these guys do everything they can to bury my credentials, now I’m a lawyer to them, but a “pro-Darwin” lawyer.

Lawyers have a duty to clients to steer clients out of trouble when possible, and to offer good legal advice, even when offering it for free. The Dover school board was woefully ill-advised to adopt an intelligent design claim, and David DeWolf is the author of papers used to persuade otherwise good-thinking school boards to take such silly actions. One wishes the DI would pay more attention to serious ethical issues of bad legal advice, rather than trying to stir up a tempest where there should be none now.

Judge Jones did a fine job. His decision was well-written, masterfully crafted. That galls pro-ID people no end. They should get over it, and move on to serious issues.

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