Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Revisiting Dover: How Brilliant Was Judge Jones' Decision?

As a Pennsylvanian, I had great interest in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania, which was ruled upon by Judge John E. Jones III about one year ago. Judge Jones’ decision was greatly praised throughout the nation.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called it “historic” and “truly a victory for the constitution.” The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) referred to Jones’ opinion as “comprehensive and detailed” and called it a “must read.” The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) said “Judge Jones clearly understands that evolution is strong, powerfully documented science….” You can read the praise given by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and other groups here, all praising Jones for his outstanding and masterful ruling.

The media also praised Judge Jones. The New York Times called Jones’ decision “striking” and praised him for his “integrity and intellect.” The York Daily Record said that Jones’ decision was “exactly right.”

All that praise is enough for any student with an interest in government to marvel at such an outstanding judge with hopes of one day being like him—making such an important ruling and receiving the praise and respect of a nation for saving science education. But then the story takes a turn. It appears that Judge Jones’ brilliant, “comprehensive and detailed” opinion is not his own. The ideas that he so brilliantly put forth are not his either.

A report released this morning shows that 90.9% of Jones’ opinion on whether intelligent design is a science is copied verbatim from the ACLU’s “Finding of Facts and Conclusions of Law,” submitted to the judge a month before his ruling. No wonder the ACLU praised Jones so marvelously. It wasn’t because they saw Jones’ ideas so brilliantly presented. Rather, they saw their own ideas so meticulously copied.

As a student, I’m required to submit nearly all my papers to a website called Turnitin.com. Turnitin.com helps professors check for plagiarism in papers by reporting how much of a particular paper was derived from other sources (books, other papers, websites, etc.). Professors typically allow up to 10%—nicer professors, 15% —of verbatim copying, because Turnitin.com doesn’t account for properly cited quotations. Typically, a paper of which 20% or 25% and above is not original receives a failing grade, either for plagiarism or for simply not using one’s own ideas. We are always told that a paper should be our ideas and analysis of a certain topic, with proper guidance by others (the sources). A paper should not be someone else’s ideas and analysis guided by us.

In more than 6,000 words, only 546 were Jones’ own. Quite frankly, Judge Jones would have failed out of Baylor University with that opinion. Jones said in his the ACLU’s decision that “the students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserve better….” I agree, Judge Jones isn’t much of a judge as shown in this decision. He would, however, make a great office assistant copying papers for someone.