Thursday, December 11, 2008

An interview with Judge Jones

The Public Library of Science—Genetics has an interview with Judge John E. Jones, III, the judge responsible for the Dover-Kitzmiller ruling against Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania. It is an interesting interview and along the way, he sheds light on how our rule of law works:

Gitschier: So now it's on your docket, and you must have been curious. Did you Google intelligent design?

Jones: No. I got what I needed in the context of the case. And it was the monster on my docket.

To your question: I think laypersons apprehend that when we get a case, it's incumbent upon us to go into an intensive study mode to learn everything about it. Actually that is the wrong thing to do. The analogy is that when I have a jury trial in front of me, I always instruct jurors, particularly in this day and age when you can Google anything, not to do that. I don't want you to do any research or investigation. Everything you need to decide this case you'll get within the corners of this courtroom.

So it is with me. And I knew that by the time the case went to trial and during the trial, that I would get expert reports.

Gitschier: From whom?

Jones: Everybody. The way expert opinion works is that I get a summary of their testimony first, and that I can read in advance. So I have a flavor for it. So then the question is, why also have them testify? That is because they are subject to cross examination and everything they say may not hold up that well. And, as it turned out, some of it didn't during the trial.

In any event, I was taken to school. From the earliest point in the litigation to the time the briefs were filed, it was the equivalent of a degree in this area. Folks who disagree with my opinion will tell you I never got it right, but I'm confident that I did.

Go back to your last question. It's very critical. I have to decide cases on the facts that are before me. I can't decide a case based on my own opinion, gleaned from outside the courtroom. That's why I don't engage in my own independent investigation. If you look at other systems in other countries throughout the world, they do that. But in our system of justice in the US, we let the parties try their cases and we find the facts from what is presented to us in the courtroom. And the law, presumably we know and we apply the law. That's our job. But the facts that we apply the law to are covered at that time.

He also says something absolutely damning about the witnesses for ID:

In the realm of the lay witnesses, if you will, some of the school board witnesses were dreadful witnesses and hence the description “breathtaking inanity” and “mendacity.” In my view, they clearly lied under oath. They made a very poor account of themselves. They could not explain why they did what they did. They really didn't even know what intelligent design was. It was quite clear to me that they viewed intelligent design as a method to get creationism into the public school classroom. They were unfortunate and troublesome witnesses. Simply remarkable, in that sense.

That seems to be clear with regard to the "academic freedom" bills as well. As I have noted in other posts, the people promoting those bills don't give a dang about other theoretical science disciplines. They focus only on evolution. The fact that they come about it from a creationist perspective was badly disguised during the "cdesignproponentsists" error in the drafts of Of Pandas and People, the truly dreadful ID textbook. About the effect the decision had on the nation as a whole, he states:

Kansas at that time was having [state-wide] school board elections. And this became an issue in Kansas, and Kansans did not elect proponents of ID, utilizing my decision I think, saying that it was improvident to do this. In Ohio, they had begun steps that would have allowed the teaching of ID, and the school board ruled the policy back because of my decision, not because they had to, but they thought it was persuasive. Florida had a debate last year, into this year about changing some of their standards or adopting new standards of science, again citing my decision.

A finger in the dike, I sometimes think. Read the whole interview. It is very enlightening. Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.


  1. Yup, that was a good interview. What I found most interesting about it is that the interviewer, Gitschier, who is a scientist, was surprised when Jones mentioned that around half of U.S. citizens think that creationism should be taught in public schools.

    That a scientist in the U.S. is so unaware of the breadth of anti-science feeling in the U.S. is discouraging.

  2. Well, she is from the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics, which may explain some of it but, yes it is discouraging. The really depressing thing to me was his reaction to the testimony of the ID supporters. Having read the accounts of Barbara Forrest and the local reporter at Dover County (name escapes me), it is discouraging that Christians would attempt to deceive. Yet that is also what the board did when they trucked in Of Pandas and People in the dead of night in the hopes that no one would notice.