Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) just posted Matzke’s Kitzmas tree!, which says:
In a new paper (PDF; subscription required) forthcoming in Science, Nick Matzke shows that even though creationism is getting stealthier in the wake of legal defeats such as Kitzmiller v. Dover, techniques from modern evolutionary biology reveal how creationist legislation is evolving. Using data collected by NCSE and state-of-the-art phylogenetic analysis, Matzke constructed a phylogenetic tree of seventy-five distinct antievolution bills and policies, reconstructing their genealogical relationships with a high degree of confidence.
“The Evolution of Antievolution Policies after Kitzmiller v. Dover” identifies the common ancestor of the bills as a series of bills proposed in Alabama in 2004 and 2005. It also discerns two main lineages, the “academic freedom act” lineage and the “science education act” lineage, which resulted when “academic freedom acts” began to target not only evolution but also global warming and human cloning. The latter lineage thrived, with the passage of such bills in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012.
Matzke’s study has been getting a lot of press attention. For example, this recently appeared in the Washington Post: How have anti-evolution tactics evolved over time? They’ve gotten sneakier.
What Matzke reveals isn’t news to us. We’ve been reporting on creationist legislation attempts in various states from year to year. While doing so, we often point out that they’re versions of the Discovery Institute’s Academic Freedom bill, often modified slightly from year to year to include variations presented in other states, and that some of them are modeled after the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act, which itself was inspired by the Discoveroids’ model act.
Although Matzke and NCSE refer to this as showing how “creationist legislation is evolving,” that’s not an accurate characterization of what’s going on. Yes, the bills presented by creationist legislators are gradually changing over time, but the process isn’t analogous to evolution, which is the result of unplanned mutations that give an advantage to the organisms possessing them. Rather, what’s happening is that the sponsors of creationist bills are consciously mimicking what they see happening in other states. It’s actually a form of decentralized design — but because this is creationist activity, we can’t really call it “intelligent” design.
As you could have predicted, Matzke’s study has drawn the ire of the Discovery Institute. Their creationist blog has a new article by written by John West,whom we affectionately call “Westie.” Westie’s article is Did Nick Matzke Misuse National Science Foundation Money Intended to Fund Science Research? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Former National Center for Science Education activist Nick Matzke has just published an utterly inane article in Science about academic freedom bills. In the article, he constructs a “phylogenetic tree” to show that various academic freedom bills are related to one another.
[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] Matzke is described as an “activist” and Westie says his article is “utterly inane.” Let’s read on:
If the intention was to show that Discovery Institute has supported academic freedom legislation in various states, or that many of those bills have similar language, Matzke didn’t need to construct a phylogenetic tree. He simply could have followed the reporting here at Evolution News [the Discoveroids’ creationist blog].
Yes, that’s true. Matzke is merely pointing out what’s going on — for those who never heard of the Discoveroids, or who don’t pay any attention to them. Westie continues:
If I were a Darwinist, I would be more careful: Publishing something like this might lead people to think that phylogenetics is only good for producing trivialities.
No, a “Darwinist” wouldn’t think that, but Westie and the Discoveroids apparently do. Here’s more:
A more serious issue is whether Matzke misappropriated taxpayer funds in order to write his article. Matzke discloses in the article’s acknowledgements that his research was funded by two National Science Foundation grants. But if you look up those grants, they appear to have nothing to do with the article he published.
[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh — a scandal! [*End Drool Mode*] Actually, we very much doubt that Matzke spent much of his grant money on this study. It was probably something he did in his spare time, so we’re not worried that the taxpayers were fleeced.
Westie concludes his post with this:
If Matzke used taxpayer funds intended to underwrite serious scientific research to produce this silly piece about the politics of the evolution debate, then the National Science Foundation should consider asking for some of its grant money back.
Wow — that was a powerful exposé! But why is Westie so angry? Would he prefer that Matzke spend 100% of his time on evolution research? No, that can’t be it. Oh — perhaps Westie is upset that the role of his “think tank” in orchestrating creationist legislation has been made known to an audience wider than the patrons who fund the Discoveroids. What do you think, dear reader?
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