Bookmark and Share

By Barbara Forrest

Readers who saw the December 2, 2010, post here about Louisiana creationist John Oller no doubt recall the abundant evidence that Oller is a young-earth creationist — or “YEC” in creationist-watching parlance. Serving on the Technical Advisory Board of the Institute for Creation Research and writing creationist articles over a period of thirty years, writing an article for Answers in Genesis (AIG) in which he invokes the biblical Tower of Babel story to explain the diversity of human languages, and attending an AIG conference as a “creation scientist” at the infamous “Creation Museum” (see Ken Ham, “The Definition of ‘Information,’”) — somehow that all just seems to point in the YEC direction. Our December 2 post was the first analysis of Oller’s identity as a creationist. Although he is an integral player in the Louisiana Family Forum’s creationist game plan, Oller has flown under the radar, having been overshadowed in the media coverage by LFF executive director, Rev. Gene Mills, and LFF operative Darrell White.

After the December 2 post was published, Oller did not respond to attempts by Independent Weekly journalist Walter Pierce to contact him for Pierce’s own December 8 article. (See “Devolve,” Independent Weekly, Lafayette, LA, December 8, 2010.) The IW is published in Lafayette, LA, where Oller lives and works. According to Pierce, “The Ind reached out to Professor Oller for comment on his views on these topics via phone and email. He didn’t respond to our overtures.” According to a January 3, 2011, article in the Acadiana Gazette (about which there is more below), Oller “didn’t return their calls because it was finals week and he felt that his students had to come first.” It is interesting that final exams [pdf] at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette did not keep him from spending the entire day of December 7 (the second day of ULL exams) in Baton Rouge at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting, where he testified against the adoption of new biology textbooks for other teachers’ students.

Oller’s pre-BESE-meeting unresponsiveness to the Independent Weekly was understandable. He had to try to preserve his façade of scientific authenticity for his testimony against the textbooks; no other “scientists” showed up on the Louisiana Family Forum’s behalf at that meeting. And after getting the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) passed in 2008 and then getting control of BESE policies implementing the LSEA in 2009, the LFF’s winning streak was at stake. But, as they say, that was then, and this is now. After the LFF lost its December 7 battle against the textbooks, Oller fessed up only three days later.

Oller’s Involvement in the Textbook Attack

Prior to the BESE meeting, Oller had submitted an e-mail with an attachment of his public comment form [pdf] on September 13, 2010, to the Louisiana Department of Education requesting inclusion in the public testimony concerning the textbooks. He wrote that he would comment on “all of the books in the key areas of my expertise language (linguistics) and genetics as they relate to the orthodox biological theory, much of which is now known to be factually incorrect or incomplete.” In his comment form (above link), his written objections to the textbooks include recognizable, shopworn creationist complaints about the fossil record (“inadequately represented, e.g., Archaeopteryx – is a bird not transition from reptile”) and vestigial organs (“not vestiges but functional organs”). He also refers to charts that were submitted to the department by YEC Charles Voss, who wrote the creationist textbook addenda that the LFF has been hawking for use in public schools since passage of the LSEA.

Oller had also submitted a letter dated November 8, 2010 [pdf], to the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council in lieu of his public testimony at its November 12 meeting. In this letter, he asserted that the textbooks take “a doctrinaire, everything-is-solved attitude” and “are extremely out of date.” Referring to the “death knell of evolutionary dogma,” he blamed the “nonsense” associated with evolutionary theory for “the rampant crime and deterioration of our social and economic systems.” Anyone with even a cursory acquaintance with creationist nonsense could have recognized Oller as a creationist merely from these two documents.

On-Air Admission to Being a Creationist: “That’s a fair label.”

In the aftermath of the BESE meeting, I was interviewed on December 10, along with Lennie Ditoro of the LFF, on Jeff Crouere’s Ringside Politics radio program (podcast here (downloadable mp3 for iTunes); interview segment begins at 2:13:32). After Ditoro invoked Oller as a “scientist” who had testified on December 7 about the “multitude of objections” concerning “outdated elements” in the new textbooks (2:21:52), I pointed out (2:24:33) that Oller is a young-earth creationist with no scientific credentials at all. Just as I had anticipated prior to the interview, Oller phoned in.

Unlike with Walter Pierce at the Independent Weekly, Oller was quite talkative. What is notable about his comments (perhaps “confessions” is a better word) is his forthrightness about not having the credentials in the fields about which he pontificates. Readers may find this information enlightening, so below are some selected transcriptions of Oller’s on-air comments (with emphasis added in relevant places and additional information in end notes).

Jeff Crouere began the interchange by welcoming Oller’s call [2:38:16]: “This gentleman, uh, we had talked about earlier, and he has now called in from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. John Oller is with us. And, uh, Dr. Oller, thanks for calling in. . . . Your thoughts?” Oller had quite a few thoughts [2:38:38].

Oller: Well, if I may be permitted to make a few comments, I’d like to just correct one or two points and then address the issues that have been raised on both sides. . . . I’m not the head of the department [of Communicative Disorders] at my university. [1] I was at one time and came here to build a Ph.D. program in communication sciences and disorders, which also, for the record, is a field in which I don’t have a degree.


[1] Lennie Ditoro had stated earlier in the program that Oller was chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders at UL-Lafayette. According to his curriculum vitae (http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~jxo1721/CV.html), Oller was chair from 1997-2004 but no longer holds that position.
 

 

This was the first of Oller’s two admissions that he lacks formal credentials for work on which he claims to have expertise. As he did repeatedly during his December 7 BESE testimony, Oller referred to his April 2010 article in the journal Entropy, “The Antithesis of Entropy: Biosemiotic Communication from Genetics to Human Language with Special Emphasis on the Immune Systems,” which, according to him, is relevant to the textbook issue.

Oller’s references to this article have become something of a mantra. He is apparently invoking it to divert attention from the fact that he is a creationist. His repeated references to this article might create the impression among people whom he knows are not familiar with the relevant science that he is scientifically qualified to make pronouncements on the work of the credentialed biologists who actually do real science and write the textbooks. But what is so astounding is that, in the Crouere interview, he both invoked his article and, in the next breath, admitted having no earned expertise in the areas about which he had written [2:39:52 ].

Oller: The basic point I tried to make in reference to the biology textbooks — and by the way, this is something that I been working on since uh, since I first started out as a professor at UCLA — and I have been working in the sciences for that whole time. Dr., uh, Dr. Forrest, I know, is looking at the record from the point of view of, uh, of a cursory examination of titles [BF: 'The record' I consulted is Oller's own curriculum vitae]. I would like to ask her if she had actually read, for example, the recent paper in Entropy, which is a peer-viewed science journal, which I was invited to contribute to on the subject of genetics and immunology and some of these other areas in which, it’s true, I don’t have professional, formal training.

Jeff Crouere then gave me a chance to respond to Oller’s invoking his article [2:40:39]:

Forrest: I think it’s more important to look at information about Dr. Oller’s scientific judgment. You know, it’s kind of a red herring for him to toss out a paper in a journal that he knows that very few people will ever have the opportunity to read. I think it’s more important to point out that he has written articles for creationist publications. One in particular, he’s written an article for Answers in Genesis, in which he dismisses what he calls the ‘secular’ explanation of the development of language. Well, what that means is that he’s opting for a religious explanation. He specifically invokes the biblical story of the tower of Babel. I think that that is what is really directly relevant to what Dr. Oller is bringing to this discussion — the fact that he is a creationist, that he is affiliated with creationist organizations. And I think that in itself is reason not to accept anything he says about the quality of the biology textbooks.

A couple of examples suffice to document my remarks on the Crouere show. Oller includes his creationist publications along with his professional ones in his CV under “Peer-Reviewed Monographs, Articles, Chapters, Interviews, Reviews, and Notes.” In “More than PIE: Babel Explains Distinct Language Families,” published in Answers (February 13, 2008), by the young-earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis, Oller rejects the scientific explanation of the natural evolution of language just as he rejects the scientific explanation of the natural evolution of biological species: “Secular theories fail to explain the many distinct language families throughout the world. The biblical account of Babel is the only explanation that fits the data.”

In “Words Are Us” (Answers, May 19, 2008), Oller contends that language, along with everything else, was created by God, alluding to God’s creation by spoken fiat (as in, for example, “Let there be light”).

In ‘More than PIE‘—in the previous issue of Answers—I promised to return to the question of the human language capacity and how we got it. Here, I want to show that the human language capacity is not only unique to humans, but that in its power to represent abstract and universal concepts, language is unique in the universe. In fact, the nature of language itself, it can be argued, reflects the underlying nature of the entire universe, from the galaxies and biosphere down to the level of quarks, or whatever else there may be. I am arguing that language is the most wonderful and powerful system that God put in His universe.

The statement ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1) is more than a metaphor. The writer to the Hebrews argued that the things we can see­—throughout the whole universe—were framed by words we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1–3). The bodily persons, animals, and even the plants that we can see are all formed by the abstract strings of symbols that constitute their genetic basis.4 Even inanimate matter, according to the Bible, is held together by abstract words. In the final analysis, as the Bible teaches, and as the sciences agree more and more, words really do underlie genetics, mathematics, and the physical world.

Oller’s endnote 4 contains his assertion that “It has been proven logically that true representations of the narrative type, such as are found in the Bible, form the only foundation for measurement in the sciences,” an assertion for which he cites his own work: “See J. W. Oller, Jr., and L. Chen, ‘Episodic Organization in Discourse and Valid Measurement in the Sciences,’ Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 14 (2007): 127–144.” Although there is nothing discernible about the Bible in this article [pdf], such assertions are indisputable evidence that his purportedly scientific views rest on a biblical foundation.

After I pointed out on the Crouere show that Oller is a creationist, Crouere asked him point-blank, “Dr., um, are you a creationist? I mean, is that an accurate label for you?” Below is Oller’s answer in the affirmative (with emphasis added). Note his reference again to his employment at UCLA, and note the information in my footnote that comes from his own CV about the nature of his employment there. Note also that he clearly accepts Noah’s flood as geological fact and voices the usual YEC skepticism about radiometric dating. And note in particular the geological age that he accepts for the rocks in Grand Canyon.

Crouere: Dr., um, are you a creationist? I mean, is that an accurate label for you?

Oller: Yeah, that’s a fair label. I have, uh, I’ve always been a Christian. But I didn’t become a creationist until after I got to UCLA. I was invited to a series of lectures by one of the guys who was in the rocket industry. I was the only non-hard science person at the meetings.[2] And the radiometric dating concept was challenged at that series of meetings, and I thought, ‘Man, these chemists and physicists are gonna eat this guy’s lunch.’ But, as a matter of fact, at the end of the week, when they had a chance to basically challenge his argument that the geological column could have been laid down by Noah’s flood, I thought they would attack on the radiometric dating issue because, of course, I’m looking at it as an evolutionist at that time. And I’m thinking, uh, that he was gonna be demolished. But in fact, I walked across the campus the next day thinking, ‘Holy smokes, if the radiometric dating system were to collapse, as this guy argued it could be collapsed,’ the — you know, he showed that there were rocks in the Grand Canyon that were supposed to be billions of years old that we know were formed 200 years ago. Well, I’m a measurement guy. I really got into that in a big way when I went to UCLA. By the way, I was one of the youngest — I think I was the youngest associate professor in the UC system.


[2] Oller taught English at UCLA in the 1970s, according to his CV. See http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~jxo1721/CV.html. His CV indicates that not only was he not a “non-hard science” person, but that he was not a science person of any kind. He taught English for about two years (1969-1971) and also worked as “Director of the UCLA English as a Second Language Placement Examination.” He left UCLA in 1972 and returned in summer 1979 for the “First Annual TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] Summer Institute.” He returned to UCLA once more in spring 1984 as a visiting professor to teach “language testing,” by which time he had begun writing articles for the Institute for Creation Research (which he lists among his professional publications). He also wrote the foreword for one of Henry Morris’s books: “Oller, J. W., Jr. (1984). Foreword to H. M. Morris, The biblical basis of modern science (pp.11-15).” Nothing in Oller’s CV indicates that he has any credentials in science. His degrees are in French, Spanish, and linguistics.
 

 

At this point in Oller’s call to the radio program, Crouere saw an opening for a most appropriate question. Oller’s answer, although a bit rambling, reveals not only that he is scientifically untrained himself, but that he rejects modern geological research about the age of the earth, a hallmark aspect of young-earth creationism.

Crouere (interrupting Oller): ‘So, Dr. Oller, the earth is about how old?’

Oller: ‘Sorry, Jeff?’

Crouere: ‘I said the earth is about how old?’

Oller: Well, I don’t think that we know — I don’t think we can put an exact figure on it, but the idea that God, who created the whole universe — if there is a God, let’s put it in a hypothetical way — if God created the whole universe, of which the earth is the tiniest little speck you can imagine, if it’s hard for him to create that speck in six days, if he could create the entire universe, what on earth makes evolutionists think that they’re in a position to judge the God of the universe? Poor silly old God. He couldn’t possibly do this stuff. Well, the point is that that’s not a scientific position. That’s a religious position taken by evolutionists. And, and, Jeff, let’s go back to my first question, if I may. Did Dr. Forrest read my article in Entropy? She’s — has essentially indicated, I think, that she did not. And here’s my point: that article is online. It’s completely available. It’s downloadable. It deals with immunology, toxicology, language, and the whole complexion of true representations that are required in order for us to be healthy, and for our biochemistry and DNA to work.

Not only did Oller totally sidestep Crouere’s question about the age of the earth, which is simple enough to answer if one accepts the scientific evidence, but his subsequent “hypothetical” remarks indicate his acceptance of the literal, six-day creation story in Genesis. And then, predictably, he again tosses in the red herring of his Entropy article. Oller’s call ended with Crouere’s offer to post a link to Oller’s article if he would send it (Oller: “Absolutely”). As of now, the link has not been posted on Crouere’s website.

Oller Post-Fessing-Up: Still Peddling Creationist Nonsense — and Still Defending Andrew Wakefield

Readers might wonder what Oller has been doing since his admission on the Crouere show that he is a creationist. On the same day (December 10, 2010), he published a blog post at his The Autism Epidemic and Related Issues blog entitled “Autism, Vaccines, and the Louisiana Biology Books.” In this post, he charges that we citizens who urged BESE to approve the biology textbooks “defended the books on the basis of 19th century dogma,” i.e., the outdated theory of evolution, while he and his fellow creationists appealed to “current biological science.” (That would be news to the LSU scientists who testified and actually do science for a living.)

He also again invoked the work of the discredited Andrew Wakefield — who has achieved international notoriety for promoting the false connection between autism and vaccines — by referring readers to Wakefield’s new book, Callous Disregard. (The foreword was written by Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, who, as the mother of an autistic child, promotes the autism-vaccine link and says that she learned about the connection between autism and vaccines from “the University of Google“). (See Louisiana Coalition for Science, “Of Autism and Creationism — A Strange Louisiana Connection,” December 2, 2010).

In this December 10 post, Oller also charges, as he and his fellow creationists did at the BESE meeting, that the new biology textbooks were not actually revised, a charge that is tantamount to accusing the authors of dishonesty: “The biology books, for this year, incidentally, were near verbatim copies of the ones on display 8 years ago, but these have new copyright dates, some as recent as 2012. But that’s two years from 2010, isn’t it? And when were these books actually written?” (This website will feature a response to Oller’s charge from one of the textbook authors in an upcoming post.)

On December 21, 2010, he posted another blog piece entitled “Everything Depends on True Reports of Facts” in which, next to a picture of an Archaeopteryx fossil, he includes the creationist canard that Archaeopteryx is a hoax.

Was the lithograph shown here tampered with? A fradulent [sic] made-up fossil? . . . Whether it is a flying bird or not, it certainly is very different from reptiles and if the feathers were faked, as some have claimed in recent years, then it was not much of a bird either. No matter, there are no transitions leading to it or from it in either direction. Case closed.

[Note: For a scientific assessment of this fossil, see "Archaeopteryx: An Early Bird," by the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California-Berkeley.]

Oller also employs in this post the despicable creationist tactic of linking evolution with the Columbine killings, racism, and Nazi genocide. (As examples, see articles by other creationists at the Institute for Creation Research: here, here, and here.)

Finally, on December 31, Oller attacked physician and vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit in a post entitled “Offit’s Deadly Choices,” in which he slammed Offit for denying that vaccines cause autism. Readers of the LA Coalition for Science website will recall our December 2, 2010, post, “Of Autism and Creationism — A Strange Louisiana Connection,” pointing out Oller’s relationship with the discredited Wakefield. Oller has promoted both Wakefield and Wakefield’s autism-vaccine link; Wakefield wrote the foreword to Oller’s 2010 book on autism. But Oller had no kind words for Paul Offit in his December 31 post (the hyperlink is Oller’s).

Paul Offit (2010) has a new book out: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All (New York: Basic Books).

He flatly denies that vaccines have anything to do with autism and he does not believe in an autism epidemic. At 1 minute and 55 seconds into the video embedded here, see Offit say why he thinks that ‘vaccines don’t cause autism.’ He says in that interview, ‘It’s been asked and answered. Vaccines don’t cause autism.’

So why is it that we see so many children having seizures, perhaps experiencing anaphylactic shock immediately upon receiving one or more injections? . . .

When Offit claims to know for a certainty that vaccines cannot cause autism because the CDC studies can’t find a link (according to published reports of searches that were carefully designed not to find anything), he reveals a level of ignorance of the positive findings of toxicology research that is astounding. . .

Oller charged that “Offit . . . is helping to erode the former confidence of the general public that medical ‘science’ on the whole is worthy of the name.” He also questioned the benefits of vaccines to human health and well-being, even with respect to smallpox:

Vaccines have been over-rated with respect to their touted benefits and they have been under-rated with respect to their often lethal and destructive short-term and long-term consequences. . .

. . . the great success of smallpox vaccine is a myth. (emphasis added)

Moreover, in the face of the well-known fact that vaccines have virtually eliminated smallpox and polio, Oller alleged that “vaccines, e.g., smallpox and polio . . . actually increased the risk of smallpox and polio along with other infectious diseases.” As humorist Dave Barry used to say in his columns, I am not making this up.

Uh-oh . . .

Oller made these claims in the first version of his December 31 post. A few days later on January 5, 2011, the British Medical Journal published an editorial, “Wakefield’s Article Linking MMR Vaccine and Autism Was Fraudulent,” accompanied by an article by journalist Brian Deer, designating as outright fraud the “research” that Andrew Wakefield presented in his now-retracted 1998 Lancet article. Like Lancet’s retraction of that article, the BMJ article made headlines around the world within hours. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wakefield’s fraud on January 7 in “The Autism Vaccine Hoax.”

Deer, who first exposed Wakefield’s misconduct, explains in his copiously and carefully documented article, “How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine Was Fixed,” exactly how Wakefield perpetrated his fraud. Wakefield — who was being paid by a lawyer but had not disclosed this fact — was using other people’s children to gather data for a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. But he never told the parents of the children about this, as Deer points out:

Unknown to Mr 11 [father of one of the children], Wakefield was working on a lawsuit, for which he sought a bowel-brain ‘syndrome’ as its centrepiece. Claiming an undisclosed £150 (€180, $230) an hour through a Norfolk solicitor named Richard Barr, he had been confidentially put on the payroll two years before the paper was published, eventually grossing him £435,643 [$677,759], plus expenses.

Curiously, however, Wakefield had already identified such a syndrome before the project which would reputedly discover it. . .

The BMJ‘s editors weighed in with a detailed editorial:

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted. . .

Furthermore, Wakefield has been given ample opportunity either to replicate the paper’s findings, or to say he was mistaken. He has declined to do either. He refused to join 10 of his coauthors in retracting the paper’s interpretation in 2004, and has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong at all. Instead, although now disgraced and stripped of his clinical and academic credentials, he continues to push his views.

Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession. . .

Deer followed up with another, painstakingly detailed BMJ article on January 11, 2011, detailing “How the Vaccine Crisis Was Meant to Make Money.”

Whoops!

This new development clearly was going to put Oller in a bind. By January 12, 2011, his December 31, 2010, post had disappeared from his blog. On January 13, the link reappeared but was password-protected. On January 14, the post re-appeared, with the same December 31 date, but having been substantially revised (without any indication to readers of the revision). For example, Oller’s claim that the success of the smallpox vaccine is a myth has been removed. But Oller continues to defend Wakefield, referring in his revised post to “the targeting of Dr. Andy Wakefield by Brian Deer and his collaborators.”

Despite the wealth of information showing Wakefield to be a charlatan, Oller still has a University of Louisiana-Lafayette web page on which he touts Wakefield as a “world-renowned gastroenterologist and medical researcher.” He continues to use his university website to post information about his 2007 conference, “Solving the Autism Puzzle” (which was held three years after Brian Deer’s exposés began in 2004), featuring glowing testimonials such as the following from attendees about Wakefield, who was actually one of the conference presenters: “The world needs to hear Dr. Wakefield speak. They need to listen and take action to save our children and our selves.” But none of the attendees’ comments compares to Oller’s own pro-Wakefield testimonial on the conference page.

Does the name Hippocrates ring any bells? What happened to the idea that doctors aren’t supposed to do harm? Thank God for recruits from the UK— the good old mother country— like Andy Wakefield. I think I have never known a more meticulous, clear-headed, and sensible approach to complex research problems than Dr. Wakefield has developed over his productive medical career.

A Creationist? . . . Moi?

Although Oller was incommunicado to the Independent Weekly, he completely overcame his reticence once he found a newspaper, the Acadiana Gazette, that would portray him as he wishes to appear in a January 3, 2011, article, “Academic Denies Practicing Textbook Terrorism.” As for criticism of his activities and affiliation with the Louisiana Family Forum, Oller isn’t bothered by it. And he has most opportunistically changed his public tune about being a creationist.

As for the excoriation he’s received in print, ‘I don’t pay it no nevermind,’ he laughed.

But because of his published articles on genetics, Darwinism and the implications, Oller, who considers himself an experimentalist, has been espoused by the Louisiana Family Forum.

‘They know about me and my writings,’ he said.

‘That’s natural in the sciences. We’re always assessing and testing. You’re always challenging some theoretical position.’

Besides, said Oller, from a purely mathematical and logistical standpoint, ‘Darwin’s too-dull tools can’t refute the existence of an intelligent God. It’s entirely presumptuous.’

Does this make him a Creationist? ‘I sense that’s a pejorative,’ he demures.

‘I’m a research scholar.’

Right.

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2010. Louisiana Coalition for Science. All rights reserved.