Biologist Ken Miller Flunks Political Science on Santorum

Press Release

The expertise of Brown University biologist Ken Miller apparently knows no bounds. Perhaps tired of being just a biologist, Miller in recent weeks has taken to moonlighting as a legal scholar and political scientist. The focus of Miller’s newfound expert knowledge is what has come to be called the “Santorum Amendment” adopted by Congress last year, which encourages coverage of a diversity of scientific views when evolution is taught. In typically restrained fashion, Miller accuses supporters of the Santorum Amendment of “mislead[ing] the public,” “making fraudulent claims,” and “spreading falsehoods about the law of the land.” (See “The Truth about the ‘Santorum Amendment’ Language on Evolution” on Miller’s website.)

However, before Prof. Miller quits his day job and signs up to teach American Government 101, he may want to pursue further studies. As with many other claims raised by Miller, these new charges turn out to be based more on bluster than fact:

  • Miller wrongly claims that the Santorum Amendment’s supporters are trying to mislead the public about the relationship of the Santorum statement to the No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress in 2001. In fact, supporters of Santorum have consistently pointed out that the Santorum statement is contained in the conference report language attached to this landmark education law.
  • Miller wrongly implies that the Santorum Amendment is essentially meaningless because it was adopted by Congress as report language rather than as statutory language. In fact, report language adopted by Congress provides authoritative guidance for how the No Child Left Behind Act should be interpreted and applied.
  • Miller erroneously asserts that the original version of the Santorum Amendment was “watered-down” by the Conference Committee, when in fact the Conference Committee strengthened the original statement.

Detailed corrections to Prof. Miller’s latest round of misrepresentations are presented below, following a brief summary of the background of the Santorum statement.

Background of the “Santorum Amendment”

In December 2001, Congress adopted a statement declaring that “where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.” Commonly called the “Santorum amendment” (because Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania offered the original version of the wording), this declaration was included as part of House Report 107-334, the document Congress voted on when it approved the final version of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. House Report 107-334 contains both the final statutory language of the No Child Left Behind Act and the conference report language giving Congress’s authoritative view of how the act should be interpreted and applied. Both houses of Congress voted to approve House Report 107-334. Thus, the full Congress adopted the Santorum statement included in that document. Documentation of these facts can be found at the following official U.S. government websites:

Now for detailed corrections to Miller’s various misrepresentations.

Miller Misrepresentation #1: Supporters of the Santorum statement falsely claim that it resides in the statutory language of the No Child Left Behind Act, when in fact it resides in the report language of the Conference Report.

Miller is attacking a straw man. While he is correct that the Santorum statement was adopted as part of the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act, he is wrong to charge that supporters of the Santorum statement are somehow trying to deny this fact. To the contrary, they have consistently pointed out that the Santorum statement is located in the Conference Report language of the act. On December 24, 2001, shortly after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman issued a statement explaining that “what began as the ‘Santorum Amendment’… now resides in report language” of the act. On December 28, Discovery Institute issued a press release about how the Santorum statement was “adopted by Congress as part of the Conference Committee report on the landmark education reform bill.” In early January, 2002, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow John West wrote an op-edfor which pointed out again that the Santorum statement resided “in the Conference Report attached to the education reform bill.” Congressional Record comments by Senator Santorum and Congressman Thomas Petri reiterating the same point were posted on Discovery Institute’s website on January 31, 2002.

So how does Miller justify his charges of lies and deception? Only by resorting to exaggeration and selective quotation. On his website, Miller hotly insists that Stephen Meyer of Discovery Institute was “caught in a lie” by Miller at a meeting of the Ohio State Board of Education in March. According to Miller, Meyer’s “lie” was a claim that the Santorum statement is part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Miller, however, provides a selective presentation of what Meyer said. Here is Meyer’s actual statement: “Santorum was adopted in the report language of the federal education act. As such, it is part of the act. The report language is part of the law, and interprets federal education policy.” In his statement, Meyer expressly declared that the Santorum statement is located in the act’s “report language” and that it “interprets federal education policy.” It was in this sense — as part of the report language that interprets the education act — that Meyer said the Santorum language could be regarded as “part of the act.” Meyer quoted congressional officials who support this view.

While Meyer’s oral remarks may have held some ambiguity, they certainly were not a “lie.” Moreover, in a subsequent editorial published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Meyer provided a more detailed discussion of the Santorum language in order to erase any potential for misunderstanding: “Some have dismissed this [Santorum] language as irrelevant to Ohio’s deliberations because it appears in the report accompanying the federal education act, not in the act itself. But report language typically articulates Congress’s interpretation of law and guides its implementation. As such, report language expresses federal policy and has the effect of law.”

If one wishes to pick apart the technical accuracy of someone’s oral remarks, Miller’s own comments before the Ohio Board about the Santorum statement leave considerable room for improvement. Although Miller now seems to acknowledge that the Santorum statement is contained in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act, in front of the Ohio Board he appeared to suggest otherwise, asserting that “when the Conference Committee got together, Santorum and the other people on the Conference Committee asked the Committee to re-insert the language in the Conference Report. The Committee refused — all that they allowed Senator Santorum to do was to put his amendment in the explanatory notes as to how it’s reconciled.” Listeners to Miller’s remarks probably did not realize that the “explanatory notes” Miller mentioned so dismissively are in fact printed as part of the “Conference Report” and they contain the official “report language” explaining the meaning of the act’s provisions. Thus, contrary to Miller’s oral statement to the Ohio Board, the Conference Committee did put the Santorum statement into the Conference Report.

Miller Misrepresentation #2: Critics of Darwin’s theory are misleading the public because the Santorum statement does not have the “force of law” and “the new Education Act simply not does not require the teaching of ‘Intelligent Design.’”

Here Miller resorts to another straw man. No one claims that the Santorum statement has “the force of law” or that it legally “requires the teaching of ‘Intelligent Design.” As far back as December 24, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman clearly stated that “there are no penalties in the new [education] bill for failure to observe the Santorum Amendment recommendations.”

While the Santorum statement may not have the “force of law,” it is a powerful statement of federal education policy, and it provides authoritative guidance on how the statutory provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (such as state-wide science assessments) are to be carried out. Through the Santorum language, a bipartisan majority of Congress has made clear its intent that the science assessment provisions of the new education act should not be used to promote one-sided curricula on controversial scientific topics such as evolution.

Contrary to Miller’s apparent view that congressional report language is irrelevant, Congress typically provides substantive policy guidance through the language of conference reports, including detailed instructions on how the money appropriated in in bills should be spent. Report language is considered so important that the President may choose to veto or approve bills based on their report language. In 1995, President Clinton vetoed a bill dealing with securities litigation primarily because he objected to the bill’s report language. In 1996, President Clinton notified Congress of his intention to veto another bill in part because of its report language. And in 1998, President Clinton signed a bill after noting that his approval hinged on a statement inserted in the bill’s report language.

“Only someone who doesn’t know how the federal lawmaking process works would imply that report language doesn’t matter,” says Discovery Institute Senior Fellow John West, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University. “Far from being irrelevant or meaningless, report language often contains detailed instructions on how a bill is supposed to be applied. While report language does not have the ‘force of law’ it might be said that it has the ‘effect of law,’ because Congress expects it to be obeyed, and federal agencies know this fact and act accordingly.”

Miller Misrepresentation #3: The Santorum language ultimately adopted by Congress in the Conference Report was a “watered-down version” of the proposal originally offered by Senator Santorum.

Miller offers no evidence for this assertion, apparently relying on spurious claims made by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). The NCSE first made this allegation in December, 2001. At that time the NCSE not only claimed that the final Santorum wording was “watered-down” from the original proposal, it actually tried to insist that under the revised Santorum language “teachers are discouraged from presenting” ideas such as “intelligent design theory.” (See “Santorum Amendment Stripped from Education Bill,”at the NCSE’s website.) The NCSE’s absurd re-interpretation of the final Santorum statement has since been refuted by several members of Congress involved in negotiating the final report language, including Senator Santorum and Congressman Petri, and Congressmen Boehner and Chabot. As members of Congress have made clear, the final Santorum language encompasses both scientific evidence critical of Darwin’s theory and scientific alternatives to Darwinian evolution like intelligent design.

It is true that attempts were made by Darwinists to get the Conference Committee to weaken the Santorum language. For example, some urged the deletion of any mention of “biological evolution” from the statement. However, that proposal was rejected. The most significant change that was made to the Santorum language actually strengthened the statement. The final Santorum statement says science “curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.” This language directly counters claims by groups like the NCSE that students should only be exposed to the majority view on controversial scientific issues. Congress wanted to make clear that students have the right to learn about dissenting scientific views on topics like evolution. Thus, far from being “watered down,” the Santorum language was actually strengthened by the Conference Committee.

Will American students learn all the facts about evolution or not?

What is especially revealing about the effort by Prof. Miller and fellow Darwinists to deny, dismiss, and downplay the Santorum statement is their apparent reluctance to engage in open debate over the substance of the statement. Darwinists may not like it, but a bipartisan majority of Congress has urged that students be able to learn the whole story about evolution. If Prof. Miller and fellow Darwinists think that Congress is wrong, they should argue that point instead of trying to reinterpret the Santorum statement out of existence. Perhaps Darwinists are reluctant to debate the Santorum statement on its merits because they think such a debate could eventually expose the Darwinists’ disregard for free speech in science education. On that point, at least, they’re right.

The Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture advances the understanding that human beings and nature are the result of intelligent design rather than a blind and undirected process. We seek long-term scientific and cultural change through cutting-edge scientific research and scholarship; education and training of young leaders; communication to the general public; and advocacy of academic freedom and free speech for scientists, teachers, and students.