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Chris Comer’s Actual Email

Chris Comer’s firing was briefly discussed on this blog here. Today the Dallas Morning News had a front page (above the fold) about her case (go here). Below is the offending email that got her fired. As you read it, keep in mind that The Center for Inquiry is a virulently atheistic organization (see here for a conference they did in November). In reading the email below, ask yourself: What if someone in the same position as Chris Comer forwarded an email about a forthcoming talk by Ken Ham at a “fundamentalist church” in which he would recommend teaching creationism in public schools?

Comer Email

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26 Responses to Chris Comer’s Actual Email

  1. William Dembski said,

    As you read it, keep in mind that The Center for Inquiry is a virulently atheistic organization

    The Center for Inquiry is not a well-known organization and so I think that the sponsorship by that organization was not a big part of the problem. IMO the big parts of the problem are that Forrest’s lecture was not about science and was about (1) a theory that Intelligent Design is part of a fundy conspiracy to take over the USA and (2) the idea that critics of Darwinism who are not part of that alleged conspiracy are guilty by association with it. The bigotry of Forrest’s views is not evident in the media reports about Comer’s ouster.

    Her agency was supposed to be neutral about the upcoming science standards review and she was not supposed to send out anything about it but the forwarded email did not directly express her own views but was just an “FYI” notice and so maybe she deserved a pass (at least for a first offense). Did she know in advance about the “Darwin vs. Design” conference earlier this year at Southern Methodist Univ. in Dallas and if she did, did she send out an “FYI” notice about it? I strongly suspect that there was an overall bias; if she had sent out “FYI” notices about anti-Darwinist and/or neutral public events, she could have pointed that out in her defense.

    I have a cartoon about Chris Comer at —
    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....rtoon.html

  2. Someone in Comer’s situation simply shouldn’t promote any presentations or materials with a particular ideological slant.

    It’s the responsibility of her role to enhance education in science: tested, published, repeatable science. Not philosophy. Not politics. Not religion (or a-religion).

    When you blend any ideology with hard science it’s a non-starter with respect to public education.

    This is what caused the decision in Dover, wasn’t it? The school board couldn’t separate ideology from the science curriculum. Ideologies don’t battle in the realm of science, they battle in the realm of politics, philosophy, and mass-media.

  3. What if someone in the same position as Chris Comer forwarded an email about a forthcoming talk by Ken Ham at a “fundamentalist church” in which he would recommend teaching creationism in public schools?

    i’m sure that example would be similar to Uri Geller advocating spoon-bending in Physics class. thing is, creationism isn’t on the science curriculum. genuine science is.
    in Forrest’s case, to continue the analogy, it’s more comparable to James Randi exposing Geller’s techniques and explaining why Geller shouldn’t be peddling his dressed-up pseudoscientific crap in schools.

  4. Comer should not be fired for simply forwarding an email, unless it specifically violated work policy. If there is a policy at her place of employment against forwarding such emails, then she knowingly violated it and should face the consequences.

    alext said: “in Forrest’s case, to continue the analogy, it’s more comparable to James Randi exposing [Uri] Geller’s techniques.”

    Yeah, it’s a good thing we have people like Forrest to expose the secret Wedge strategy of creationsists. Those sneaky creationists; publishing their Wedge strategy in a book available to the international public by the Emeritus Professor of Law at UC-Berkeley. How sly and stealth. If Forrest hadn’t brought it to light, Darwinists may never have found out about it.

  5. Yeah, it’s a good thing we have people like Forrest to expose the secret Wedge strategy of creationsists. Those sneaky creationists; publishing their Wedge strategy in a book available to the international public by the Emeritus Professor of Law at UC-Berkeley. How sly and stealth. If Forrest hadn’t brought it to light, Darwinists may never have found out about it.

    Then why did they bother marking it “Top Secret” and “Not For Distribution”? Why did the DI not immediately confirm its veracity?

    Frankly, its the inability to stand proudly and say we have an alternative to materialism — outside of science — that is hindering our efforts. Being up front about this, early, would have taken the wind out of Forrest’s sails. “Top Secret” documents and waffling only helped her.

    “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”
    (Proverbs 26:12)

  6. Barbara Forrest’s lecture had no more scientific content than a “Darwin-to-Hitler” lecture.

  7. p.noyola said: “Then why did they bother marking it “Top Secret” and “Not For Distribution”? Why did the DI not immediately confirm its veracity?”

    Oh, the books “Mere Creation” and “The Wedge of Truth” were in the “Top Secret” section at Barnes and Noble? I missed that. Look, why did the DI not immediately claim the document? I have no idea. I agree with you that they should have. But this talk that there was some secret conspiracy going on is just nonsense. It only adds to the sensationalist fever that drives the prejudice against Darwin-doubters. The strategy of the Wedge had been published in various books, stated publicly at conferences, and proudly admitted by Phil Johnson et al. long before the “secret document” was leaked. Forrest didn’t “expose” anything. She simply made known to her colleagues something that was already known to a vast number of people.

  8. Sorry, this is off subject but I have to ask.

    Dr. Dembski, were you misquoted when you said:

    “I believe God created the world for a purpose. The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.

    The focus of my writings is not to try to understand the Christian doctrine of creation; it’s to try to develop intelligent design as a scientific program.”

    or do you feel that ID is really a Christian science?

  9. Sorry, I forgot to say where I got this in case you were misquoted and wanted to fix this.

    here is the address:

    http://www.citizenlink.org/content/A000006139.cfm

  10. An excerpt from an article called “The Wedge at Work” on infidels.org, written by the wedge expert herself, Barbara Forrest:

    “By 1997, Johnson was talking openly about the wedge strategy in his book, ‘Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds’…Johnson devotes Chapter 6 to ‘The Wedge: A Strategy for Truth.’”

    The wedge strategy was also talked about openly at the “Mere Creation” conference at Biola University in 1996 and published in a book by the same name in 1998. As Forrest points out in the article, “the [Wedge Document] surfaced anonymously and was posted on the Internet in March 1999.”

    So by Forrest’s own admission, the wedge strategy was being talked about openly, published in books, and discussed publicly at conferences years before the wedge document “surfaced.”

    There has never been a secret agenda, no matter what wikipedia tells you.

  11. jdd 8
    I am copying your query to the following post:
    Dembski interviewed over the Design of Life

  12. 12

    Clumsy Brute said,

    There has never been a secret agenda, no matter what wikipedia tells you.

    Wickedpedia sucks. A public school district even went so far as to block Wickedpedia on all of the district’s computers — see

    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....ricts.html

  13. All:

    I think we need to look at his email in the wider context that was already raised in the earlier Texas neutrality thread, e.g. at no 5:

    _____________

    Observe, for instance, the following Nature blog article excerpt from a TEA memo [with my added emphases]:

    “Ms Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

    It also seems to be highly significant that the Board earlier had to instruct Ms Comer to cite the relevant exact language of the standard, instead of her usual statement.

    Does anyone else find that something does not add up in her favour, when she is enthusiastically FYI-ing about a talk by a notoriously dishonest atheistical advocate against Design Theory [who “belongs to the New Orleans Secular Humanist Society and has been a member of the ACLU since 1971?] hiding in academic robes, but who cannot even/ refuses to get the basic history on the origin of the design movement straight, much less its difference from Biblical Creationism or even the definition of ID, while she has to be instructed to [tone down and only] cite the following language?

    Namely:

    “The student knows the theory of biological evolution,” the standards read, and is expected to “identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities and embryology,” as well as to “illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior and extinction.”

    This language sounds rather like the standard pro-evolution, NDT-only [without “teach the controversy”!] that evo mat advocates say they want in education standards.

    So why is an obvious evo mat enthusiast being instructed to in effect tone DOWN to this?
    __________

    So, I am not so sure that this is a matter of an over-reaction to an isolated incident. There seems to be a pattern there, of advocacy for an extreme position and a long since publicly exposed dishonest advocate while wearing the robes of a TEA science education administrator.

    So, I am highly dubious also on Alex T’s dismissive reference to Geller and Randi. In fact, if anything, the problem runs the opposite way: the NCSE and their ilk — notice how Forrest is plainly a NCSE spokesperson in the Comer email — are seeking to suppress reasonable discussion of the evidential challenges of evolutionary materialist accounts of origins that IMHCO simply cannot stand up to such fair scrutiny. [Cf my always linked for the considerations on which I base why I say that.]

    CB’s response to PN is also quite cogent.

    GEM of TKI

  14. PS: In re Wikipedia, the problem is that while there is a lot of quite good information there, on certain topics there has been in effect an agenda driven censorship that subverts neutrality, objectivity and credibility.

    To make it worse, there is now a brewing scandal over the use of secret lists of banned emails etc to effect such censorship:

    Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia’s core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site’s top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.

    Many suspected that such a list was in use, as the Wikipedia “ruling clique” grew increasingly concerned with banning editors for the most petty of reasons. But now that the list’s existence is confirmed, the rank and file are on the verge of revolt . . . . Kelly Martin, a former member of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, leaves no doubt that this sort of surreptitious communication has gone on for ages. “This particular list is new, but the strategy is old,” Martin told us via phone, from outside Chicago. “It’s certainly not consistent with the public principles of the site. But in reality, it’s standard practice.” . . . . the site’s top administrators seem more concerned with petty site politics than with building a trustworthy encyclopedia. “The problem with Wikipedia is that, for so many in the project, it’s no longer about the encyclopedia,” Martin wrote in a recent blog post. “The problem is that Wikipedia’s community has defined itself not in terms of the encyclopedia it is supposedly producing, but instead of the people it venerates and the people it abhors.”

    While this is in the specific case focussed on contributor “Bang Bang” [That is: "!!"], it holds with double force for Wiki’s treatment of the ID issue.

    So, onlookers, lurkers, contributors and challengers should know that on ID related issues, Wikipedia is just as too often unreliable as the other usual suspect sites like: Talk Origins, Panda’s Thumb, Pharyngula, too much of what is at infidels.org, etc, etc.

    [A good test: do such sites get the basic definition of key ID-related terms correct, e.g ID itself, CSI, IC, EF etc. Also, do the presenters of information conflate ID with Biblical Creationism? If they do not get such basic, easily accessible matters straight and fair, do not trust anything else on the site. It is inexcusably careless and/or playing deceptive spin games with your mind. (Kindly cf here on de-spinning.)]

    For shame!

    Wikipedia, heal thyself — please!

    (Lest thou self-destructeth.)

    GEM of TKI

  15. 15

    The press only reported that she added the initials “FYI” to the forwarded email, and I thought that her email address was the only indication that the forwarded email came from her. The above copy of the email shows that she added more than just “FYI” — she also added her name, position, and TEA address –

    FYI

    Chris Castillo Comer
    Director of Science
    Texas Education Agency
    1701 N. Congress Ave.
    Austin TX 78701-1494

    Needless to say, adding her name, position, and TEA address greatly enhanced the appearance of endorsement.

    Ding Elsberry’s copy of the forwarded email does not show this additional information that she added — see
    http://austringer.net/wp/index.....a-forrest/

  16. 16

    kairosfocus said,

    Wikipedia, heal thyself — please!

    I don’t think that Wikipedia can heal itself — I think it has passed the point of no return. Probably most people with any integrity have already left that organization. Most Wikipedia administrators and contributors are volunteers and they are not paid to put up with that crap.

  17. Larry:

    On the ball as usual!

    1] The above copy of the email shows that she added more than just “FYI” — she also added her name, position, and TEA address . . . . adding her name, position, and TEA address greatly enhanced the appearance of endorsement.

    Plainly.

    And it is fair comment that the TEA needed to be reasonable, fair minded and credibly objective; which is what I think “neutrality” means here.

    Howbeit, if this were an isolated incident, it would be quesrtionable that so harsh a measure seems to have been in train over it, leading to resignation under pressure. But ont he other side of the equation we must reckon wiht the reports that this was the last straw.

    I wish the TEA were a bit more forthcoming on the case’s details; never mind the usual “say nothing” advice by the lawyers.

    If you lose in the court of spin-driven public opinion, these days, you are even likely to lose in trial court too. [That happened with ID at Dover.]

    2] I don’t think that Wikipedia can heal itself

    You may very well be right.

    And that would be a pity on the side where it has provided a much needed general purpose first level reference resource.

    Maybe, some public-spirited entity can step up and do some culling and sorting out to create a sound alternative.

    Sadly, ours is not an era that respects the widely informed, Solomonic, wise generalist. And yet, our problems are so wide-ranging that we NEED people who can sort through a broad spectrum of issues and come to a sensible actionable conclusion, fast.

    A reformed Wiki would be a great help on that.

    If it can be done. (Maybe if some entity can do a sort of 101 level programme across a broad spectrum of Freshman or so level primer courses using reformed Wiki as a reference base? I don’t know.)

    For, our times are ideological times, where people play games with truth and pretend that agenda-driven pseudo-consensus is “knowledge.” [Not only on ID too . . .]

    GEM of TKI

  18. As dubious as I am of Forrest, it’s a little extreme to fire somebody over that email. I don’t see the subordination in it either.

    My guess is that anybody who thinks there’s a smoking gun in the Wedge Document really does not know how to read critically. The arguments I’ve seen on the talk pages on the above-mentioned wikipedia show a willful misreading of it. But anybody–in a less emotional context–can probably tell that “consonant to” does not mean “embedded in”.

  19. I’m a fan of Wiki. I find it to be much, much, much more credible than the traditional authorities — think NY Times/Washington Post/ABCNNBCBS or BBC (can’t ignore non-Americans) or just about any major textbook publisher.

    BUT one way to rectify Wiki’s undeniable problems is to support the competition and conservapedia.com is trying to provide some.

  20. 20

    Also, Comer added her phone, fax, and something else that was blacked out, probably her email address. I don’t know why some things are blacked out in this copy, because this email was distributed to members of the public.

  21. The problem with the internet is that it is a free-speech free-for-all. The joy of the internet is that it is a free-speech free-for-all. If wikipedia is biased in its editing, then a parallel site needs to be set up such as wikidissent.com, where dissenting poinions are presented on any wikipedia topic. This would produce a general solution to wikipedia’s over-editing, and by being general, it would get more notice.

    That said, it is absolutely essential to maintain a “blocked contributors” list. I provided moderation services for a couple of years at the much less controversial planetsourcecode.com, and found that some contributors were so full of babble about their own psychological issues, or so lost in their own adjendas or angers that moderation was essential.

    Yet the balance of moderation is tricky. This site has certainly been criticized, validly in many cases, for being too quick to block dissenting voices. Just search the less controlling telicthoughts.com to see examples.

  22. 22

    bFast said,

    If wikipedia is biased in its editing, then a parallel site needs to be set up such as wikidissent.com, where dissenting poinions are presented on any wikipedia topic.

    I have a much better solution — when a proposed entry is disputed, just enter a brief description of the item along with a note that the item is disputed and links to external websites where the dispute is discussed or debated. I suggested this solution and the Wickedpedians rejected it.

    That said, it is absolutely essential to maintain a “blocked contributors” list.

    I disagree — IMO each submission should be considered on a case-by-case basis. And IMO comments should not be censored except for the most extreme improprieties, e.g., invasion of privacy, disparagement of people’s race, color, sex, etc.. Attempted blocks of individuals are often ineffective, anyway.

    It is ironic that censorship is such a big problem on the Internet. The Internet had the potential of making a gargantuan improvement in people’s ability to disseminate their ideas.

  23. Larry:

    Re:

    I have a much better solution — when a proposed entry is disputed, just enter a brief description of the item along with a note that the item is disputed and links to external websites where the dispute is discussed or debated. I suggested this solution and the Wickedpedians rejected it.

    Why did the Wikipedia folks reject such a sensible solution? — or even, just add a section on Controversies and Debates [maybe with a note on minor debates or schools of thought]?

    GEM of TKI

  24. 24

    kairosfocus said,

    Why did the Wikipedia folks reject such a sensible solution?

    That is because the Wickedpedia administrators are not sensible — they are control freaks.

    There was a dispute over whether to list Of Pandas and People — the book that Judge Jones ruled could not even be mentioned in Dover classrooms — in the Wikipedia list of “banned books.” In an attempt to resolve the dispute, I proposed just listing the book along with a note that the listing was disputed and links to external websites that discussed or debated the dispute. The Wickedpedians insisted on demanding their pound of flesh — a “reliable non-partisan source” that expressly stated that the book was “banned.” Anything else was “original research,” which Wickedpedia does not allow. The Wickedpedians completely rewrote the whole banned books article to avoid listing the book.

    or even, just add a section on Controversies and Debates [maybe with a note on minor debates or schools of thought]?

    The Wikipedia articles do have separate discussion pages, but the Wickedpedian administrators arbitrarily censored my entries even there.

    Most readers do not read the discussion pages, which tend to be long. The article itself really needs to have disputed items entered along with a note that the item is disputed and links to external websites or Wikipedia discussion page sections where the item is discussed or debated.

  25. 25

    Bill, have you changed your mind on whether Chris Comer should have been ousted? That is not clear. A blogger wrote,

    recently, there was a flap about the director of Texas’ science curriculum was fired for forwarding an announcement of a talk by Barbara Forrest. William Dembski responded with a bet-hedging post, claiming the details of the case weren’t clear, but agreeing that if the the director (Chris Comer) had been fired “solely for supporting Forrest,” it would have been wrong. . . . . . But then yesterday, he came up with a post with the eye-catching title Chris Comer’s Actual Email, revealing the shocking fact that… the Center for Inquiry (“a virulently atheistic organization”) sponsored the talk. So, it’s wrong to fire someone just for telling people about a talk by someone you disagree with, but okay to fire someone for telling people about a talk sponsored by an organization you disagree with?

    crossposted here –
    http://uncrediblehallq.blogspo.....-over.html

    and here –

    http://gods4suckers.net/archiv.....ris-comer/

    As I said before, IMO the sponsorship by the Center for Inquiry is not a big deal because IMO it is not a well-known organization.

  26. Hi Larry:

    What a sadly revealing — but on this sort of topic not unexpected — pattern of behaviour by the controllers of Wikipedia!

    Your solution would obviously work, if they were only concerned to be truthful, balanced and fair:

    The article itself really needs to have disputed items entered along with a note that the item is disputed and links to external websites or Wikipedia discussion page sections where the item is discussed or debated.

    H’mm: Let’s do the straight or spin test for Wiki, here.

    My score across categories a – d, for Wiki’s main ID page:

    (a) headline and lead: At least gives a fair definition but then spoils it by IMMEDIATELY conflating an empirical, scientific investigation on causes of observed phenomena with with the philosophical inference to God based on appearances of design. The false accusation “Advocates of intelligent design claim it is a scientific theory,[9] and seek to fundamentally redefine science to accept supernatural explanations.” is decisive. 0/4

    (b) Story and/or views: begins with unjustified denunciations, then proceeds to the Forrest slander on ID’s history: “Intelligent design” originated in response to the 1987 United States Supreme Court Edwards v. Aguilard ruling involving separation of church and state. 0/4.

    (c) Characterisation of people and/or institutions: Blatantly inaccurate, unfair, unkind [the context intends to affect public policy and does harm by appearing to support career busting] and unbalanced. 0/4

    (d) context: Based on just the above, already we know this is 0/4. But, this failure to give the context on Jones’ ACLU distortion and misrepresentation copycat tactics is ever so revealing: U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science, that it “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents”, and concluded that the school district’s promotion of it therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    My verdict, on a score 0/16:

    F: Consistent Score 7 or less: Do not trust this source, period. Warn others about the evident distortion, bias, deception and agenda. If the source has significant institutional power and is unwilling to be corrected, make the creation of an alternative that will consistently correct and expose the errors and agenda a top priority.

    Wikipedia, are you listening?

    Plainly, we too, need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a serious alternative.

    GEM of TKI

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