Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Panda Trial Update

The transcripts were recently posted on the internet for days 11 and 12, which were the direct and cross examinations of the defense's expert witness Michael Behe. Some background on Behe: He is a professor of Biology at the Lehigh University who specializes in the evolution of protein structures. He is also a leading scholar in the intelligent design movement. The book at the heart of the trial, Of Pandas and People, contains a section he wrote on blood clotting. In the acknowledgment section of Pandas, Behe is credited as a "Critical Reviewer" of the book. This is only relevant because he is critical of some portions of the book, portions which, if he reviewed the book before it was published, he would have told the authors about and perhaps the may have altered the book. Which brings us to this dialogue between Plaintiff's attorney Eric Rothschild and Behe on cross-examination:

Q What did you review and comment on, Professor Behe?
A I reviewed the literature concerning blood clotting, and worked with the editor on the section that became the blood clotting system. So I was principally responsible for that section.
Q So you were reviewing your own work?
A I was helping review or helping edit or helping write the section on blood clotting.
Q Which was your own contribution?
A That s -- yes, that s correct.

In other words, the only portion of Pandas Behe was responsible for reviewing was his own work. Now this really isn't that big of a deal and seems more relevant for discrediting the author of Pandas for dishonestly trying to add scholarly cred to his book. This is clear a few lines later:

Q Telling the readers of Pandas that you were a critical reviewer of that book is misleading, isn t it?
A I disagree. As I said, that s not the typical way that the term "critical reviewer" is used, but nonetheless, in my opinion I don t think it is misleading.

Now none of this is ground breaking or all that scandalous. In fact, its probative value in the trial seems very small. But I did find the interchange entertaining. It also illustrates a feature (flaw?)of the adversarial system: cross-examinations are so competitive in nature that the witness is unwilling to agree with the questioner on minor, insignificant points. Furthermore, the advocate is unwilling to let minor discrepancies go. Both sides work against each other to unnecessarily drag out the trial. On the positive side, it makes for a good read.

On a side note, podcasts of the trial are available here.


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