Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Pat Hayes on Barbara Forrest

Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble has written a nice post about Barbara Forrest that is partly a biographical sketch and partly an analysis of the sometimes ridiculously over the top reaction to her from the ID crowd. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Barbara for many years now and Hayes is certainly correct to say that this tiny little southern belle is about the last person you would expect, based solely on appearance, to become public enemy #1 to the ID movement. Pat writes:

Despite her tiny physical stature, personal warmth, and old-fashioned Southern manners, Forrest seems to bring out the worst in those who say they want to restore traditional values to a society they fear is fast going to hell in a handbasket.

He goes on to describe the frantic attempts by the ID movement to discredit her and prevent her from testifying at the Dover trial:

Richard Thompson, the lead attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself the sword and shield for people of faith, went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the soft-spoken Forrest, a professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, from testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover intelligent design trial last fall…

In September, as the Dover trial got underway, Thomas filed a highly unusual motion to exclude Forrest’s testimony, expert reports, and the data they were based on. The motion described Forrest as “little more than a conspiracy theorist and a web-surfing cyber-stalker.”

At the trial, Thomas’ questioning of Forrest’s credentials centered on her membership in the American Civil Liberties Union, American United for Separation of Church and State, and the New Orleans Secular Humanist Organization, which, he hinted darkly, made her unfit to be an expert witness.

The hostility of Richard Thompson’s defense team was more than matched by activists in the intelligent design movement. John West of the Seattle-based intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute, for example, described Forrest’s expert witness report as “innuendos and conspiracy-mongering” a “potpourri of smears and overheated rhetoric.” He went on to predict, wrongly as it turned out, that Judge Jones would rule Forrest’s expert report and testimony inadmissible in court.

That blog post by John West really was one of the funniest moments in the whole situation, in retrospect. Essentially, West took part of the transcript of the hearing at which the two sides debated how Dr. Forrest’s testimony would be handled completely out of context and claimed that the judge had “skewered” her during those hearings and had concluded that her testimony was going to be nothing but “inadmissable hearsay”. But as I pointed out the day after he wrote that, he was completely wrong.

The issue being discussed by the judge and the attorneys at the time was how to handle second-hand quotations during testimony. Much of Barbara’s research on the views and claims of the ID movement involved quotations from speeches, interviews or articles about them, but there is a question about how to handle that kind of testimony. If you offer a quote from someone, it might be out of context and it might be the case that the quote is being misinterpreted. So if you offer a quote from someone who isn’t available to be cross-examined, is that sort of thing admissable in court? Well, the judge handled it in the logical manner: he ordered the plaintiffs to have the full text of all speeches and interviews out of which quotes would be taken available for the defense to read. If they felt that any of the quotations was inaccurately interpreted, they could look at the context and challenge it during cross examination. All of that is the proper thing to do under the evidentiary rules for Federal courts.

But West took the judge’s statements that some types of testimony would fall under such hearsay rules as evidence that her testimony would be inadmissable and also mistook his questions on the subject as a “dresssing down” of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. And frankly, West looked pretty foolish when none of that turned out to be true and when Barbara’s testimony ended up being the single most important factor in the judge’s ruling. There’s much more detail in Hayes’ long essay and it’s worth reading in its entirety.

Comments

  1. #1 Roger Tang
    April 24, 2006

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere…Dr. Forest is akin to Kyra Sedgewick’s character on THE CLOSER.

  2. #2 Mike Heath
    April 24, 2006

    Having read the Dover trial transcripts I must say that Dr. Forrest’s testimony was one of the most impressive displays of critical thinking I ever encountered. She had the perfect response to every cross challenge thrown at her – perfect in the sense she just shot down the innuendo by opposing counsel with crystal-clear, rhetoric-free logic coupled with empirical evidence supplied by the plaintiffs themselves. Her performance caused me to buy a book on critical thinking to hone my own skills. I thought I was pretty good in this area until witnessing her performance in Dover; what an inspiration she was. Unfortunately I rarely see the side of superstition so clearly shot-down in a public forum so her performance became an especially sweet experience.

    I must say I also believed the judge was also incredible given the technical nature of the case, there was very little the ID lawyers could do stacked up against such a strong, prepared team of expert witnesses and a judge who was clearly the master of his domain.

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