When you're in a hole, stop digging
How the BCSE changed its story about its lobbying of MPs - and gave itself more problems
(This story was originally published on the 24th of October 2006).
To set the context for this post, I want to remind you of the previous investigation into the BCSE's lobbying of MPs. There we saw seemingly irrefutable evidence that the BCSE deliberately mislead MPs, by asking them to condemn certain materials as being "full of errors" even though it had never seen them.
In The Beginning
The first post on this subject noted that another group had spotted two facts:
Shortly afterwards, Roger Stanyard, BCSE leader, added a new note to their website, explaining that in fact someone called Chris Hyland (apparently a 23-year old student and member of a similar group to the BCSE) had received the material on the 21st of September
"For the record, Chris Hyland received the Truth in Science material on 21st September and provided a preliminary outline before we, and Science Just Science members, wrote to our MPs and the national press"
We picked up from there in our second post. There, we documented from Mr. Stanyard and Mr. Hyland's own statements, published (and still available to see) on the Internet, that Hyland did not even receive the material until the 29th (not the 21st) of September - by which time Stanyard had already posted his condemnation of it to at least 10 MPs.
In this post, I will examine further information that has come to light since then.
Now, I know that the BCSE read this blog. I have also received information that it is a topic on their password-protected "Special Research" page.
55 minutes after I posted the second article, Roger Stanyard added another clarifying note immediately after the one quoted above. Though purportedly addressed towards the group "Truth in Science", the timing and content point towards it being a message for readers of my research. It reads as follows: Chris Hyland found that he had already seen the DVD material as far back as March 2006. It is therefore palpably dishonest of Truth in Science to suggest that the nature of the content of the DVDs sent to teachers was not understood by us before either SJS or BCSE members followed up with letters to the national press and MPs.
Chris Hyland found that he had already seen the DVD material as far back as March 2006. It is therefore palpably dishonest of Truth in Science to suggest that the nature of the content of the DVDs sent to teachers was not understood by us before either SJS or BCSE members followed up with letters to the national press and MPs.
(If comparing timings, note that the BCSE's website runs on GMT-3).
Taking a step back...
Now, let me ask you to do something. Cast your mind back to your childhood. Remember getting caught by your mum in a tricky situation. You've made a real hash of something! Your mum would ask you for an explanation. Let's suppose that what you told your mother wasn't the truth - but you thought she wouldn't know anyway. But, don't mothers just have some way of knowing things you didn't think they could! So, your mother asks you a really tricky question. This makes you stop and think. You realise that your story isn't holding up. So you tell her a different one - this time, a really watertight one! That'll fix it!
If you ever tried doing that then you'll know that far from making things easier, in fact things would now get more difficult. Not only did your mother want to question you about new holes she'd seen in the new story - she also wanted to know why you hadn't told the new story the first time!
Now we want to know this too...
You'll see from the above that Stanyard is trying to provide a reason why it was not dishonest for him to write to MPs condemning material when he didn't yet know the contents. His reason is "actually, we saw those contents in March". But, just like your mum, any critical investigator of the BCSE's credibility is now going to have a new load of questions:
If Stanyard knew what Truth in Science would be sending to schools back in March, then why does his own blog host an article from June in which he announces that he has just discovered that the organisation called "Truth in Science" exists? (http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-679QwMkib6enGIsUE2Z09ARZQczZ?p=50 - since deleted by Stanyard).
And just why, in any case, did Stanyard say the 21st of September instead of the real date of the 29th? The obvious answer is that Stanyard deliberately told an untruth because the 21st is before he wrote the letters to the MPs, whereas the 29th is afterwards. Is there another explanation?
Looking more carefully...
However, if you read Stanyard's statement more carefully, you'll see that actually it's a "switcheroo". It's a statement of a fact, but not a relevant fact - not a fact that answers the question at hand. Rather, it diverts your attention away from that. What Stanyard is actually saying is that "When, in late September, Chris Hyland received the material, he discovered that contained a lot in common with material he'd previously seen in March."
Did you spot that? Stanyard is throwing in "March" to try to make it sound as if his knowledge of the material goes back to March. But it's a distraction. The truth is that they had no knowledge until the 29th of September - but when the 29th of September came (and the letters to MPs were already sent), they began to discover that the material was like something they'd already seen back in March.
How about Chris Hyland? How does he feel about Stanyard involving him in this deception? (Is there another word to describe it?). Is he offended? Chris Hyland appears to be a real student (a PhD candidate) at Leeds University. Is he disturbed that he's going to have his own future reputation as a scientist brought down by the BCSE's activities? Is he concerned that anything he says in the origins debate in the future is going to be tainted by the suspicion that he has difficulties with straightforward honesty?
Well, it seems not, because our research has found another website. Here, Chris himself is being questioned about the facts picked up in my report - and pushing the same line:
The problem with that post is that the material that is mentioned is ‘Unlocking the mystery of life’, which I first saw when someone posted a link to it on this blog several months ago. People at the BCSE were aware of this a long time before any letters were sent.
Do you notice the same features as in Stanyard's comment? Namely: Hyland asserts that he'd seen the material in March.
But he carefully avoids saying that he knew before the 29th of September that Truth in Science's material was this same material. Were he to do so, he would be making it hard for himself to provide any credible explanation as to why, on the 26th of September, he was still stating on the Internet that he hadn't yet seen the material.
In other words, he avoids explicitly saying that he knew what was in the material at the time that the MPs were being asked to condemn it. Instead, he draws attention away from the issue with a non-relevant fact. Hyland answers the question "had you seen this material before the lobbying of MPs?" rather than the really relevant question "did you know that you'd already seen the material before the lobbying of MPs?"
Now, let's take a step back from all this, and get some perspective.
Let us consider two different science/education/lobbying organisations. One is serious, qualified, and credible. The second isn't - it is a bunch of unqualified activists who want to mislead you. Now let us imagine that some serious happening comes to light which shows that one or more important members of these organisations have been misleading the public and the legislators.
Let us imagine two different kinds of response to such a situation. One organisation's leadership is horrified about what its members have been doing. It takes appropriate action against them, puts procedures in place to make sure it never happens again, and makes a full public apology. The other organisation, though, has an internal conversation and says "Ooops - we've been caught red-handed! What kind of story can we tell to try to cover our tracks and hope that nobody notices that we've been hoodwinking them?".
Now, let me ask you. Which kind of organisation, will make which kind of response?
And now let us see where that leads us. The point of this website is, after all, to shine the spotlight on the question of credibility. You are the jury...
Which kind of response has the "British Centre for Science Education" made?
What kind of organisation, then, do you conclude that the "British Centre for Science Education" is?