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  Topic: The "wedge" at work in Ohio, Ohio Board of Education problems< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Wesley R. Elsberry

Posts: 4966
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 16 2004,23:30   

Situation Alert for Ohio Public Education

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Phillip Johnson's "Wedge" strategy for the "intelligent design" movement can be seen at work now in Ohio. Johnson's strategy is designed to attack evolutionary biology as the first step in making science safe for the sort of theism Johnson prefers. The bluntest expression of the "Wedge" strategy appeared in promotional material for the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. (See for the text of the "Wedge Document" and Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross's new book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design" (Oxford, 2003), for a minutely detailed critique. The Discovery Institute attempts damage control in As with magicians, one needs to get past the patter and watch for the action.  It is in the actions and not the words that one can most clearly see that the dictates of the "Wedge" strategy are fully ascendant.

In 2002, the Ohio State Board of Education approved new science standards that mandated the teaching of evolution in science classes. At the urging of antievolutionists, the Ohio State Board of Education also included a statement calling for teaching how evolutionary theory was the subject of "critical analysis" by scientists.


23. Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)


This sort of language was suggested by Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells (both Fellows of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, since renamed as the Center for Science and Culture) in a presentation before the Ohio Board of Education on March 11, 2002.  The apparently innocuous wording was deceptive, though, because rather than teach students about actual hot topics in evolutionary biology (e.g., allopatric versus sympatric speciation, punctuated equilibria in the fossil record, the evolution of sex, theories of eusociality, etc.), "Wedge" advocates took the wording as code for their own set of discredited objections to mainstream science.  While Meyer and Wells had originally sought to push for the specific inclusion of "intelligent design" in science classes, they decided instead to ask for a "compromise." The "compromise" suggested by Meyer and Wells was to "teach the controversy." See and

Although the adopted standards specifically stated that "intelligent design" was not to be part of the curricula (see quoted text above), the "Wedge" advocates got what they wanted with the above language: a hole large enough to attempt to drive a big antievolutionary semi straight into science classrooms. See:

Over the past several months, the ID advocates on the Ohio Board of Education have loaded their truck. Model curricula comprised of lesson plans had to be generated to fulfill all the indicators of the science standards.  These new lesson plans were kept out of the public's reach, preventing scientists from reviewing these materials until shortly before official consideration for adoption.  (The embargo on access apparently did not extend to "Wedge" advocates; see

In particular, a lesson plan based upon indicator 23 of the science standards for Grade 10 (the "critical analysis" guideline quoted above) presented several items from Jonathan Wells's "Icons of Evolution", included "Icons" in its bibliography, included a non-existent reference in its bibliography whose citation only existed on creationist web sites, and directed students to antievolutionary web sites (including and This attempt to insert "trash science" (as it was called by cognitive scientist Richard Hoppe in a Board of Education meeting on January 13) or "junk science" (as it was called by Sam Fulwood in a column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on February 8) into science classrooms should be viewed as the expected outcome of the "compromise" language inserted into the standards.  This was no compromise, but rather the "Wedge" Trojan Horse in action.  Various cosmetic changes have been made to the lesson plan, but the blatantly deceptive content and many of the antievolution web resources remain. See or for Fulwood's column.  See for the lesson plan and for a critique of it.

A red herring being used by "Wedge" advocates is to say that "intelligent design" is not present in the lesson plan being critiqued, therefore there is no problem. For example:


"I think it's going to be great for science. This lesson, in my opinion, has been misunderstood. I am very familiar with intelligent design and it just is not in there," said Robert Lattimer, an intelligent design proponent and a scientist who was on the standards writing team from two years ago.


Although the phrase "intelligent design" may indeed be absent from the lesson plan, the content is easily recognizable, despite Lattimer's disavowal.  The content derives most notably from Jonathan Wells's "Icons of Evolution", which was hailed as a "Wedge Book" of the year 2000, and even now heads the poster-style ad on "ID Books" at  "Intelligent design," having failed to develop any positive scientific research program of its own, consists entirely of often-rebutted negative argumentation against evolutionary biology, fully deserving the moniker of "trash science."  The material in the "critical analysis" lesson plan demonstrably is the content of "intelligent design" advocacy. Its role in the "Wedge" is clear (see, especially "Phase III: Cultural Confrontation and Renewal").

Scientists in Ohio and across the nation took notice.  For an account of the recommendations of the Ohio Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, see More detail can be seen in the Cleveland Plain Dealer article:


The nation's most prestigious science organization added its voice Monday to criticism of model science lesson plans that the state school board is expected to vote on today.

Scientists are "rightfully concerned about attempts to introduce tenets of intelligent design into your state's science curriculum and instruction," Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a letter Monday to Jennifer Sheets, president of the Ohio Board of Education.


The letter from NAS can be seen at or

Despite the strong recommendations from Ohio state and national scientific organizations to reject this and other "Wedge" lesson plans, the Ohio Board of Education voted an "intent to adopt" the lesson plans, including the one on "critical analysis," at its February 13 meeting. It was a date that proved unlucky for good science education.

An editorial appeared in the Dayton Daily News offering timely advice:


Citizens who are not in a position to read all the documentation -- or interpret all the buzz words that only the fully initiated understand -- might wonder where to turn.

Best to turn to the scientists. And not just individual scientists, but the organizations that are representative of scientists and that have people who have responsibility for looking into these matters fully.


The editorial calls for Ohio Governor Bob Taft to weigh in on this issue. So far, the governor has chosen to let the Board of Education move the discussion along -- and take the political heat.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has also called upon Governor Taft to take responsibility and an active role in the process:


JEERS . . .

to Gov. Bob Taft for taking a walk on the debate over the state's proposed science education standards. He must figure enough people are arguing that they'll eventually drift to a solution. That's not leadership.


Jeffrey McKee had an instructive opinion letter which appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on February 20:


Can scientists comprehend a simple lesson plan? According to State Board of Education member Deborah Owens-Fink, "Some of these scientists are so paranoid, they don't understand it."

The truth is that scientists understand it all too well: The proposed lesson plan on evolution is a thinly disguised attempt to promote creationism in Ohio's science classrooms. But the lesson is one of politics, not science. One need not be a scientist to connect the dots, as board members should know.

Did she really think that we would not notice the highly misleading statements on the fossil record of evolution, fraudulent claims about today's evolution of bacteria and direct references to creationist literature?

The proposed lesson plan must be replaced by an honest and serious portrayal of contemporary biology.

Owens-Fink's cavalier attitude is characteristic of certain board members who would rather play political games than ensure a quality science education for Ohio's young scholars. Along with board member Michael Cochran, the other main perpetrator of this fraud, Owens-Fink is pushing a desperation agenda instead of fostering understanding.

The "standards committee" of the State Board of Education needs a new chairperson with higher standards. Owens-Fink and Cochran should resign.

Ohio State University


The next meeting of the Board of Education and final vote on the lesson plans is scheduled for March 8-9, which does not leave much time for feedback.  The leadership in Ohio needs to hear from you. When contacting them, brevity and courtesy are virtues to keep in mind. Also, if you have scientific training or credentials, please do mention those. Please also consider putting a copy of your comments in a public forum, where they may be referred to as a resource and inform the commentary of others. A thread suitable for this purpose is located at

Those who wish to make their views known to Governor Taft -- especially if you live in Ohio or know someone there -- can contact him at the following address:

Governor Bob Taft
30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Phone 614-466-3555 or 614-644-HELP

Members of the State Board of Education of Ohio

Members are grouped by how they voted on the intent to adopt the model curriculum. A "for" vote does not necessarily mean that the member is sympathetic to the "Wedge" advocates; several members are likely to have voted "for" simply to move the process forward, knowing that another vote would be taken in March.

Voted AGAINST intent to adopt on February 13:

Robin C. Hovis, Millersburg (330) 674-5000

Cy B. Richardson, Jr., Bethel (513) 734-6700

G. R. (Sam) Schloemer, Cincinnati (513) 821-4145

Jennifer H. Stewart, Zanesville (740) 452-4558

ABSENT during vote on February 13:

Martha W. Wise, Avon (440) 934-4935

Virginia E. Jacobs, Lima (419) 999-4219

Voted FOR intent to adopt on February 13:

Jennifer L. Sheets, Pomeroy, President (740) 992-2151

Richard E. Baker, Hollansburg, Vice President (937) 997-2101

Virgil E. Brown, Jr., Shaker Heights (216) 851-3304

Michael Cochran, Blacklick (614) 863-0045

Jim Craig, Canton (330) 492-5533

John W. Griffin, West Carrollton (937) 866-1210

Stephen M. Millett, Columbus (614) 424-5335

Deborah Owens Fink, Richfield (330) 972-8079

Emerson J. Ross, Jr., Toledo (419) 537-1562

Jo Ann Thatcher, McDermott (740) 858-3300

James L. Turner, Cincinnati (513) 287-3232

Sue Westendorf, Bowling Green (419) 352-2908

Carl Wick, Centerville (937) 433-1352

Ex Officio Members

Senator Robert Gardner, Madison (614) 644-7718
Representative Arlene Setzer, Vandalia (614) 644-8051

For further information regarding upcoming Board meetings or general information about the State Board of Education, contact

Ohio Department of Education
Board Relations
25 South Front Street, 7th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215-4183

Phone: (614) 466-4838 Fax: (614) 466-0599
Department Information Line: 1-877-644-6338
Catherine Clark-Eich, Executive Director
Clayton D. Cormany, Editor

The Ohio State Board of Education page is at

Please copy whatever you send to Ohio representatives to the thread here.

This will make it easy for those in Ohio to reference your opinions.


Edited by Wesley R. Elsberry on Feb. 20 2004,21:28

"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

rafe gutman

Posts: 27
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 19 2004,20:11   

here is the body of an email i sent to several board of education members on 2/13/04:

I am a recent graduate of the Ph.D. Biology program at the University of California, San Diego, and have been following the Intelligent Design (ID) movement for several years now.  I’ve watched the advocates of ID go from state to state, trying to insert their ideology into high school science classrooms, and held my breath each time.  As someone who has spent the last six years completely engrossed in biology, I’m always amazed at how bad their arguments are against evolution or for intelligent design.  Their writings display a lack of understanding of biology, and of the nature of evidence. However, I realize now that they are not trying to convince me, or the scientific community, that evolution is indeed a theory in crisis.  They only have to convince you.  Ultimately, it is not the scientific community that holds the power over what high school students are taught, you do.  So ID dvocates start with an innocuous proposal, that students should learn both the scientific evidence for and against evolution.  Then they present distortions and half-truths and claim it as "scientific" evidence against evolution.  They know that it doesn’t have to be accurate, or based on sound logic.  It doesn’t actually have to *be* scientific evidence, it just has to look like it.  It doesn’t even matter if members of the scientific community challenge them and expose the flaws in their arguments.  If the public doesn’t understand the evidence, then how do they know who’s right?  I guess that’s the big question here.  How do non-biologists gauge biological evidence?  To me, the answer is simple.  If it’s an issue of science, then listen to the scientific community.  When asked whether they thought there was any scientific evidence that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution, 93% of Ohio scientists said no [1].  When asked whether they thought students should be tested on Intelligent Design, 90% of Ohio scientists said no [1].  What I’ve found most disturbing in these latest incidents is not the actions of the IDists, but in the lack of trust displayed by boards of education toward their state’s own university scientists.  Examining the lesson plan entitled “Critical Analysis of Evolution”, in the “five aspects of evolution” in attachment A, the brief challenging sample answers read just like stock creationist responses [2].  By adopting such material, the board is tacitly endorsing such fallacious arguments.  Surely the Board must have seen the letter signed by the Presidents of Ohio's public universities. Surely the board must have seen the poll of Ohio scientists demonstrating their resounding support for the teaching of evolution.  If any of the board members do not understand why those “challenging” sample answers are erroneous, then please, ask one of your own scientists to explain it.  It all comes down to an issue of trust.  Who can the Ohio board of education trust if not the consensus of Ohio’s own scientists?

[2] (pages 326-328)

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