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What NOVA Won’t Tell You about Dover

The Truth about "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial"

When John E. Jones decided in 2005 to “traipse into” the controversial area of evolution and science education, deciding the scientific merit of intelligent design as a federal court judge in Dover, PA, he may have only dreamed of the day when he would see himself on the silver screen.

As the author of the 139-page verdict in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Jones gained national notoriety (and much acclaim from certain fashionable quarters) for ruling that intelligent design is not science but religion. That more than 90% of the section on intelligent design was copied nearly verbatim from the ACLU didn’t diminish his standing as a “great thinker” in the mainstream press. Neither did the fact that the Judge ignored the testimony of two scientists currently conducting intelligent design research.

Now PBS and NOVA are teaming up to produce what may be Judge Jones’ dream come true. “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” is a special 2-hour program devoted to the Dover trial as Judge Jones saw it. While they promise to deliver the true story behind this dramatic trial, this program instead provides a lopsided, incomplete portrayal of the Dover trial based largely on Judge John E. Jones’ poorly argued and scientifically inaccurate ruling. By reproducing the errors made in the judge’s ruling, NOVA is perpetuating a mythological story about Dover and intelligent design.

Discovery Institute scientists Michael Behe and Scott Minnich testified at the Dover trial, presenting their scientific research into intelligent design as evidence of the theory’s scientific credibility. While Michael Behe took the time to explain the distinctions between the scientific theory of intelligent design and its implications, Judge Jones ignored his testimony in favor of the mischaracterization of ID put forth by the plaintiffs. Judge Jones uncritically accepted these caricatures of intelligent design, even going so far as to wrongly claim that there are no peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting intelligent design, with complete disregard for the opinion of the defendants’ experts.

Even though Scott Minnich shared the experiments he ran in his University of Idaho lab in his courtroom testimony, spending days explaining his tests on the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, Judge Jones falsely declared intelligent design untestable, and therefore not scientific. Again, Judge Jones ignored the testimony of an intelligent design researcher in favor of the demonstrably false story from attorneys working with the ACLU.

In fact, it was the section on whether intelligent design is science, where Jones might have been expected to consider the testimony of the scientists actively pursuing the theory of intelligent design, where he copied the ACLU verbatim or near-verbatim, even including typographical errors. This is the tragic truth about Dover, as even critics of intelligent design like Boston University law professor Jay Wexler agrees that “[t]he part of Kitzmiller that finds ID not to be science is unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous to both science and freedom of religion.”

Now NOVA’s producers are attempting to present Judge Jones’ decision as a science lesson. Since the judge did not address the scientific evidence for intelligent design in his ruling, it likely will not be addressed in NOVA’s “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.”

This is not the first time PBS has exhibited an anti-intelligent design bias. In 2001, a leaked memo from PBS’s marketing department exposed their agenda to use the Evolution miniseries as a political campaign to influence how evolution is taught in schools. Six years later, the same organization is working to marginalize intelligent design and turn public opinion against the scientists and scholars researching the theory.

NOVA senior executive producer Paula Apsell is committed to promoting Darwinian evolution and attacking intelligent design. In an interview on the companion website for “Judgment Day,” she stated that “the trial had great potential for altering science education . . . if the decision had gone the other way, it would have had dire consequences for science education in this country.” (emphasis added)

Given the known bias of PBS and NOVA against intelligent design, Discovery Institute was careful when first approached by the documentary’s producers in 2006. According to Rob Crowther, director of communications for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, “Going into negotiation with NOVA’s producers, we were initially cautious but hopeful for a chance to tell our side of the story. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work with us.”

Past experience with the media teaches that intelligent design is often misrepresented, especially through the editing process. Quotes taken out of context are used to mislead the viewer, often with effective results. Because of this, Discovery Institute has a policy that all interviews be recorded for the protection of its speakers. While NOVA at first agreed to these common-sense measures, they later changed their mind and would not allow Discovery Institute scientists to be interviewed with these protections.

While intelligent design scientists will not be represented fairly in “Judgment Day,” viewers who want to know what they have to say and the true story behind Dover and Judge Jones’ ruling can visit, where Discovery Institute has posted a web page that will correct the many errors in NOVA’s program.