“Critical Analysis”—or Critical Deception?

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner
AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner

Writing in the Akron Beacon-Journal, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner urged voters in this fall’s Ohio state Board of Education races to be wary of the intelligent design movement’s misleading “critical analysis” campaign.

In a commentary published Monday 11 September, Leshner said that efforts by intelligent design advocates to promote “critical analysis” of evolution and other controversial science issues put Ohio’s economy and the future of its children at risk.

Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science, wrote that true critical analysis is at the heart of the scientific method.

“But critical analysis, as a slogan embraced by the intelligent design movement, turns the scientific method upside-down,” he said. “Proponents start with their conclusion that evolution alone cannot explain the origins of humanity and then construct an argument to undermine evolution. They do no formal experiments to test their hypothesis, and so they have no findings to publish in scientific journals. They produce no hard evidence. They discover nothing.”

Leshner’s commentary was published on the day that a committee of the Ohio state Board of Education was to consider a “Controversial Issues template” advanced by ID advocates. It would subject evolution and issues such as stem cell research and climate change to “critical analysis” in the state’s public school science classes. The committee adjourned Monday without discussing the template. The full Board of Education, meeting Tuesday, also did not address the template.

Ohio has been a national leader in the “critical analysis” campaign. In 2002, it was the first state to adopt standards that called for critical analysis of evolution. Last year, however, Ohio science leaders offered evidence that grossly inaccurate elements of the state’s critical analysis lesson plan were drawn directly from intelligent design resources. And U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design could not be taught alongside science in Dover, Pa., schools; the judge called the critical analysis argument a “sham.”

The Ohio school board, divided and under national scrutiny, then took critical analysis out of its lesson plan.

But the issue is expected to be a prominent theme in this fall’s campaigns for the Board of Education.

The effort by ID proponents “divides us at a time when we should be united behind efforts to preserve our status as a global powerhouse of innovation,” Leshner concluded in his commentary. “Rather than confuse students with misleading attacks on evolution and other issues, we need to teach science better than ever to inspire a new generation and secure America’s future.”

To read Leshner’s full commentary, click here.

To see past AAAS op-eds and an extensive file of resources on intelligent design and evolution in public education, see “Evolution on the Front Line.”