"The 'book wall' in the library of Ohio State University" by Emases @flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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A High School Biology Teacher and PhD. Student

Bryan Leonard

“The idea is to increase students’ knowledge of evolution,” Leonard said to Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. “Showing them the controversies of evolution can help us achieve this goal. I’ve often found that students are more interested in the controversy.”

Outside Professors Derail Dissertation

Bryan Leonard is a public high school biology teacher in Ohio who holds a Master of Science in Microbiology from Ohio State University (OSU). Leonard helped draft a model lesson plan on the critical analysis of evolution that was approved by the Ohio State Board of Education in 2004. In 2005, Leonard was about to complete his PhD in science education at OSU, but shortly before his dissertation defense three pro-Darwin professors lodged a complaint against Leonard and smeared him with false accusations in the media. As a result, Leonard’s dissertation defense was stopped, his reputation was sullied, and he never received his degree.

Leonard had passed the written and oral examinations for his PhD program in 2002. He later successfully defended his dissertation proposal, and in the spring of 2005 his dissertation committee approved his draft dissertation. All that remained was his final oral defense of the dissertation. But a few days before the defense was to take place, three OSU professors not on Leonard’s committee lodged an internal complaint, which was then released and publicized in the media.

The three professors were known for their support of Darwinian evolution, and they admitted they had not read Leonard’s dissertation. They nevertheless suggested that Leonard’s dissertation research involved “unethical human subject experimentation.” Leonard’s dissertation examined the impact of teaching “scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution” on student beliefs. The complaining professors alleged that such teaching was “unethical” because there are no scientific weaknesses of macroevolution and to teach that there are such weaknesses “involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical.”

Members of Leonard’s dissertation committee issued a detailed statement defending Leonard. Their statement argued that the real ethical violation in the situation came not from Leonard but from OSU faculty and staff who were trying to smear him in the media: “Rather than first contact his dissertation committee or dissertation advisor directly with any concerns they might have had, they have campaigned against Mr. Leonard in the news media and on blog sites. We regard this public effort to defame a currently enrolled graduate student to be a serious breach of professional ethics.”

As for the claim that that Leonard’s research project involved “unethical human subject experimentation,” members of Leonard’s committee responded:

Mr. Leonard followed all university guidelines in obtaining appropriate student and parental consent for his research. Not only was Mr. Leonard’s research proposal approved by OSU’s Institutional Review Board, but Mr. Leonard received permission by all parties necessary for him to conduct the educational research in his high school. Claims that Mr. Leonard’s research was unethical are without any basis in fact.

Members of Leonard’s committee further pointed out that Leonard had been following existing state science standards when he taught students the evidence for and against macroevolution:

It is important to note that the professors’ argument is not with Mr. Leonard but with the Ohio State Board of Education, which, contrary to their views, adopted both a science standard and a model curriculum last year encouraging teachers to teach about “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” (Ohio Standards, Life Sciences, Benchmark H)” It is absurd to claim that Mr. Leonard is being unethical merely for following the state’s official policy in this area.

Despite the fact that the complaining professors played no role in supervising Leonard as a student, and that they had not even read his dissertation, their accusations resulted in Leonard not being able to complete his degree.