Discovery Institute: liars and thieves

In talking about congestion pricing on my show Saturday night, I couldn’t contain a brief outburst over how our local media and political elite continue to take seriously the Discovery Institute’s transportation proposals in light of its embarrassing role in promoting Creationism Intelligent Design. My frustration stems not simply from the fact that Intelligent Design is ridiculous anti-science, or that it is part of a well planned and executed multi-year campaign to undermine science education in the US at a time we face growing global economic competition… but that it has been promoted in such a shamelessly dishonest manner.

The Discovery Institute has proven again and again that it makes no distinction between scholarship and propaganda, and that there is no ethical boundary it will not cross in the interest of foisting its Christianist agenda on the American people. This blatant disregard for the most basic rigors of academia — or even fair play — was highlighted recently by a virologist/blogger who discovered that DI fellows had stolen and manipulated a Harvard University/XVIVO video for use in their own presentations, without attribution, permission or license.

Here is the original Harvard/XVIVO video, “The inner life of a cell”, with its scientifically accurate narration intact:

And here is a clip from a Discovery Institute presentation that features an excerpt of the video, now redubbed and retitled “The Cell as an Automated City.” Notice how the presenter describes the video as “state of the art computer animation,” implying that it is somehow the work of the institute:

As ERV points out in his her post, this isn’t just a naive case of copyright infringement. The Discovery Institute has plenty of lawyers on staff and on retainer, so they sure as hell know that scrubbing the Harvard/XVIVO copyright and credits off the video is not only dishonest, but illegal.

Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they gave the animation a new title (‘Inner life of a cell’ became ‘The cell as an automated city’) and an extraordinarily unprofessional new narration (alternate alternate title– ‘ Big Gay Al takes a tour of a cell!’). Harvard/XVIVOs narration, all of the science, is whisked away and replaced with a ‘surrealistic lilliputian realm’– ‘robots’, ‘manufacturing’, ‘circuitry’, ‘nano moters’, ‘UPS labels’. Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they turned all of Harvards science into ‘MAGIC!’

Hmm. From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isn’t just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism. Taking someone else’s work without their consent, manipulating it without their consent, pretending it supports ID Creationists distorted views of reality, and presenting it as DI’s work.

ERV further points out that if the DI fellows responsible for this were at his her university, they would be expelled for their plagiarism.

But this is just business as usual at the Discovery Institute, and it raises a question: if the Discovery Institute can’t be trusted to produce independent academic scholarship on its signature issue, Intelligent Design, how can its Cascadia Center be trusted to produce independent academic scholarship on regional transportation planning? Of course, it can’t, and the media, business and political elites who ignore the institute’s established track record of distorting scholarship and science in the single-minded pursuit of its own private agenda, are little more than willful dupes.

Our region’s transportation planning is too important to be trusted to a faux “think tank” with such a shameful and embarrassing record, and every time one of our local media outlets unskeptically cites one of its reports or recommendations, it grants the Discovery Institute credibility it simply does not deserve. Unlike a real think tank, the Discovery Institute produces “scholarship” to support its existing agenda, not the other way around, and thus it cannot and should not be considered a trusted partner in planning our region’s transportation future.


  1. 1

    michael spews:

    So, this is pretty much off topic. But, I do find it curious that the Pierce County council has included $25,000 for Gig Harbor’s chapter of Young Life in next years budget and according to my morning paper stiffed, “John Ladenburg’s request to hire staff to monitor pollution discharges into Puget Sound – something federal and state authorities have mandated with the threat of $10,000-a-day fines for inaction.”

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Where do they get their money? By pulling wiring out of street lamps and selling it to scrap dealers?

  3. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Who cares how many lawyers they have on staff or retainer. Our lawyers are better than their lawyers. The election contest lawsuit proved it.

  4. 5

    ratcityreprobate spews:

    The Discovery Institute is a complete fraud. Biologists that don’t believe in evolution have as much credibility as mathematicians that don’t belive in multiplication.

    Unfortunately the Municipal League of Seattle appears to have been comletely taken in by the Cascadia Center. In the coming months look for the “serious people”, the “adults” in our community to push very hard for a region wide super government taking over most if not all planning and transportation power. Norm Rice, Joni Balter and all the other usual authoritarian suspects will be trotted out to endorse the idea.

  5. 7


    To the HA Attorney, Roger Rabbit, JD

    Roger, I wonder about this. Can Harvard or anyone prosecute for misuse of copyrighted material if there is no financial harm to the authors or profit to the forgers?

  6. 8

    ArtFart spews:

    The Discovery Institute commands a particularly dangerous faux credibility in Western Washington by virtue of being fronted by Bruce Chapman. Members of our political/business leadership and press corps apparently haven’t realize he’s been drinking deeply of the neocon sociopathic Kool-Aid–or that he’s simlply become a very well paid polical whore.

    Considering its background, it’s not all that hard to imagine this gang hijacking any regional planning process in order to subvert it and discredit anything that competes with Big Oil and the asphalt lobby.

  7. 9

    columbo's glass eye spews:

    @8: I’m surprised that you don’t realize that the only way for the free market to work is to ensure that it is never free.

  8. 11

    Daddy Love spews:

    How come evolution is supposed to happen only with design but rail transit is supposed to spring up on its own?

  9. 12

    correctnotright spews:

    #11: good one

    Just a couple of points:

    Goldy: ERV is a female (not a he but a she) graduate student studying HIV promoter actions. She has succcesfully challenged some of the “scientists” at the DI especailly in her area.
    The bottom line is that most of these “scientists” are making statements and proclamations about scientific ideas that are out of their field.
    This is because in their field they have no real publications that actually support their arguments and they have no alternative theories except a higher power accounts for everything.

    I don’t mind people saying that there are some things science cannot explain or that belief in a higher power is not inconsistent with evolution.

    What bothers me is the use of bad science to try and disprove the theory of evolution. Also, the use of misinformation to try and poke holes in a constantly changing theory. Yes – there are holes in every theory – but the preponderance of evidence – the huge genetic base of evidence between species is not refuted by a couple of poorly interpreted arguments put forth by the pseudoscientists at DI.

  10. 13

    David spews:

    I think their idea is that if God wants us to have rail, he will magic it (design) into existence overnight. That would be nice. Just wake up the next morning and find an entire light rail system magically in place. Come on, if He can create an entire world, a woman from a man’s rib, etc…surly he can create a few miles of light rail track.

  11. 14

    Tlazolteotl spews:

    ERV further points out that if the DI fellows responsible for this were at his university, they would be expelled for their plagiarism.

    Uh, that would be her university. ERV is the nom de blog of Abbie Smith, a virology Ph.D student. Goldy, shame on you! You take for granted that someone with this back ground must be male, apparently. When I buy you that Manny’s at DL, I may have to pour it over your head, you sexist pig, you!

    Oh, and Cheney had an atrial fibrillation at his doctor’s exam! I guess the implanted defibrillator just won’t let the DarthBot die!

  12. 15

    David spews:

    If you watched that PBS series on Intelligent Design recently, it went through all this in gory detail. Ultimately, the bottom line is that science is NOT in conflict with religion…religion is (sometimes) in conflict with reality. Science just measures and explains what we see in the world around us. If you believe “god” made the world, then science CAN NOT disagree with god ever…everything science finds about the world is by definition gods creation. If we had looked inside our bodies and saw that we were made of magically animated clay, then that would have just been gods creation. But we looked inside our bodies and saw DNA, so that’s how god made us. If we look at the world and our best science says it’s 6 billion years old, then that’s how god made it. If you’re simply saying the science is wrong somewhere, someone made a bad calculation or missed evidence, that’s fine, point it out. But just claiming everything we don’t know yet is god, or that 99% of science is wrong just because you don’t like what it found, is silly.

  13. 16


    Perhaps we’d do better to spend our time working towards the earth’s future rather than debating who created the planet. There’s nothing we can do about who or what the “creator” was, if there was a creator!!

  14. 17

    compassionatelibertarian spews:

    I rode the Alaskan Way Viaduct for the first time yesterday. That shit was alot of fun! Please keep it…I love how there’s no shoulders or turnoffs for ticket-happy police to hide and catch me doin 85 on the top deck :)

  15. 18

    rhp6033 spews:

    I’m no fan of the Discovery Institute, but I think perhaps this incident doesn’t do much to prove the conclusion that all D.I. statements are bunk. For that, we might have to look back at the statements themselves.

    I’ve been around nonprofits enough to know that lots of unpaid work gets “donated”, and then appropriated and used widely, without a lot of thought to how it originated. For example, I recently attented a luncheon for donars for a nonprofit in which I participate, where a slideshow was given with lots of pictures of people with glowing faces, presumably made happier by the nonprofit’s work. But I know the people who do the media/graphics work for the organization, and I knew it was not created in-house. When I asked about it, I was told that it was a student who created the presentation as a class project, and donated it to the organization to satisfy part of her “community involvement” requirement at her school. Turns out she had just copied pictures from the web, and didn’t have the foggiest idea about professional photographer’s copyrights and model’s image release requirements. Nobody in the organization thought to ask, they didn’t want to look a gift-horse in the mouth. I suggested that they shelve the presentation and not show it again, which they did, although my position didn’t make me very popular right then. (I guess that’s my function in life – to play the spoilsport and the devil’s advocate).

    Anyway, setting aside the issue of whether or not the D.I. is really a “non-profit” for now, I think you have a case of plagierism and copyright violations, and poor supervision/oversight, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything else.

  16. 19

    ArtFart spews:

    17 There’s also noplace for you to pull over if you blow a tire where you’re safe from the other nitwits bearing down on you at 85MPH. For that matter, if you blow a tire at 85, that ancient guardrail ain’t going to do much to keep you from making a very sudden visit to Ivar’s Fish Bar.

  17. 20

    ArtFart spews:

    The whole idea of promoting “creation science” is that if we can be made to believe that God created everything 6,000 years ago and then went out on Sunday for a pint of Guinness, we can be made to believe we’ve never had it so good as we’re working 20-hour days in the relocation camps and eating Soylent Green.

  18. 21

    ArtFart spews:

    Speaking of myths….it appears that the stock market pretty well blew the shit out of the theory that cyber-shopping on “cyber-Monday” would pull the economy out of its current tailspin.

  19. 22

    tedious troll spews:

    In regard to copyright infringment, it doesn’t matter if the infringer gains monetarily, it’s still infringement and against the law.
    This example is especially egregious as they deliberately obfuscated any copyright notice and retooled it as their own work.
    Now if it was being used under the “fair use” rules, then showing part of the video would be ok (but not changing content). But that’s not what their doing here.
    Hopefully, Harvard has registered this work with the copyright office at the LOC; that way, they can collect some pretty substantial damages.

  20. 24

    Matty spews:


    One doesn’t have to register an item for copyright protection. A copyright is presumed with the creation of the work.

  21. 25

    Tlazolteotl spews:


    Enough damages to bankrupt DI and put their pathetic dog-and-pony show out of business permanently, one can only hope.

    If that were to actually happen, it might make even me believe in divine intervention. /snark

  22. 27

    Trev spews:

    Goldy –

    I think you are great. Discovery people sound like crazies. But I actually agree with congestion pricing. I it not my top pick for a solution, but nothing eles is acheiveable here. I actually think if we had congestion pricing in effect it would focus clarity on people (they see costs) and lead to solutions (rail, etc) that would help. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE.

  23. 28

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @7 Substitute “sue” for “prosecute” and the answer is yes. The points you raise may be relevant to measuring actual damages, but note that the plaintiff’s remedies may also include statutory damages and recovery of attorney fees, so this can get expensive for an infringer even if no profit was realized from the misappropriation. And, apart from damages, often the most important part of the judgment is an injunction against further infringement. If the infringer violates this, he can be held in contempt of court, which would subject him to fines and/or jail time.

  24. 29


    @22 suieing for misuse

    I do not see how one can sue w/o financial damages? What harm could Harvard claim had been done? Harvard is, after all, itself neither profit making nor committed, in theory to one thing or another.

    Roger .. we NEED you!

  25. 30

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @12 “I don’t mind people saying that there are some things science cannot explain or that belief in a higher power is not inconsistent with evolution.”

    I don’t understand why the creationists don’t get it that the Great Mother Rabbit Spirit cooked up evolution and it’s part of Her intelligent design of the universe.

  26. 32

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @15 “If we had looked inside our bodies and saw that we were made of magically animated clay, then that would have just been gods creation.”

    Of course people are made of clay! That’s where the expression, “feet of clay,” came from. But some came from better clay than others, e.g., Cheney and Bush are both vivified elephant manure.

  27. 33

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @16 “Perhaps we’d do better to spend our time working towards the earth’s future rather than debating who created the planet. There’s nothing we can do about who or what the ‘creator’ was, if there was a creator!!”

    Of course there’s a Creator, and the reality of Her existence is very relevant to the future of the planet. Don’t worry about the planet; the planet’s going to be fine. All the Great Mother Rabbit Spirit has to do is kill off one species. Actually, She doesn’t even have to do that much; all she has to do is wait for that species to kill itself off, which it is going to do. Then rabbits will run this place, and I’ll be their king! The Great Mother Rabbit Spirit told me all of this in a dream.

  28. 34

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @17 If you’re doing 85 on the top deck, I hope you have an outboard motor on your rear bumper, because you’re going to need it to get back to the dock.

  29. 35

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @19 Hmmm … acres of clams with a red blot in the middle … I wonder if that’s how they thought up the Target Stores logo?

  30. 36

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @21 “Speaking of myths….it appears that the stock market pretty well blew the shit out of the theory that cyber-shopping on ‘cyber-Monday’ would pull the economy out of its current tailspin.”

    Yup, DJIA down 237 points today, and most retail stocks are screaming bargains — if you believe consumers still have any money to spend.

  31. 37


    Goldy, you did notice that the DI’s version is the short version created by Harvard & XVIVO, right? The DI didn’t take out the original narration from the long version; they just added their own narration to the short version. Also note that XVIVO posted the video on their website with a note saying it was available for educational use. The credits were definitely stripped out, I’ll give you that.

  32. 38

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The presidential election year is going to start out with a crashing stock market, $100 oil, a nosediving dollar, and rising inflation and unemployment.

    This is going to be fun.

  33. 41

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    17 U.S.C. § 504. Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits
    (a) In General.— Except as otherwise provided by this title, an infringer of copyright is liable for either—
    (1) the copyright owner’s actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer, as provided by subsection (b); or
    (2) statutory damages, as provided by subsection (c).
    (b) Actual Damages and Profits.— The copyright owner is entitled to recover the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the infringement, and any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages. In establishing the infringer’s profits, the copyright owner is required to present proof only of the infringer’s gross revenue, and the infringer is required to prove his or her deductible expenses and the elements of profit attributable to factors other than the copyrighted work.
    (c) Statutory Damages.—
    (1) Except as provided by clause (2) of this subsection, the copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally, in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers just. For the purposes of this subsection, all the parts of a compilation or derivative work constitute one work.
    (2) In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000. In a case where the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that such infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200. The court shall remit statutory damages in any case where an infringer believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use under section 107, if the infringer was:
    (i) an employee or agent of a nonprofit educational institution, library, or archives acting within the scope of his or her employment who, or such institution, library, or archives itself, which infringed by reproducing the work in copies or phonorecords; or
    (ii) a public broadcasting entity which or a person who, as a regular part of the nonprofit activities of a public broadcasting entity (as defined in subsection (g) of section 118) [1] infringed by performing a published nondramatic literary work or by reproducing a transmission program embodying a performance of such a work.

  34. 42

    My Goldy Itches spews:

    Damn, I was hoping for an interesting discussion, but its just the same old RR SPAM drivel.

  35. 43

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Explanation of #41: The plaintiff can elect between actual or statutory damages. Statutory damages are determined according to the court’s discretion, and in the case of wilful infringement, are capped at $150,000 per work.

  36. 44

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @43 You’re supposed to Stop, Look, and Listen at RR crossings. If you don’t, you might get run over.

  37. 46

    Broadway Joe spews:

    Ah, the emptiness of the Wrong….er, right. It’s just breathtaking, isn’t it?

    tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick

  38. 49

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Is Sucky Politics under new management? 12 of the last 13 posts are by Earling, and Stefan is nowhere to be seen (the other one is by Miller). Did Mrs. Sharansky get tired of supporting her gigolo husband and, taking a cue from Ruth Neslund, whack him over the head and cut him up in the bathtub with a chainsaw and feed him to the sand sharks in Puget Sound?*

    * For you newcomers to this area, the late Captain Rolf Neslund is a local folk hero who was responsible for the new West Seattle Bridge being built by hitting the old one with his ship. His wife died in the Treatment Center for Women at Purdy (Washington’s women’s prison).

  39. 50

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @47 Bring him on!


  40. 51

    ArtFart spews:

    42 I think Roger should be commended for doing such an excellent job of standing in for Richard Pope.

  41. 52

    ArtFart spews:

    23 I know. If you prefer, replay in your mind a certain extraordinary episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

  42. 53

    Jelly Roll spews:

    “I couldn’t contain a brief outburst over how our local media and political elite continue to take seriously the Discovery Institute’s transportation proposals in light of its embarrassing role in promoting Creationism Intelligent Design.”

    Yeah, why would Mike Lindblom of the Times or Larry Lange of the P-I ever want to do any critical analysis of these lunatic ideas Discovery always comes up with?

    The Discovery Institute always quickly jumps on the latest “alternative to light rail”, no matter how stupid the idea is, and no matter how impossible it would be to implement. They defy engineering realities the same way they try to defy science. Take that idiotic Freeway Monorail fad

  43. 55

    Bill spews:

    This posting does not really discuss or deal with transportation issues at all and is unproductive.

    I am a progressive, a climate change activist, and involved in working to find sustainable solutions at work and my community.

    Yes, the Discovery Institute is very involved pushing Intelligent Design. As a former Biology Teacher I have many problems with this “theory”. Primarily, it is not really science, as it cannot be tested in any real fashon. Keep in mind however that Intelligent Design is at least an attempt to reconcile aspects of religion and science in a way that does not deny the existence of a fossil record. It’s a big step up from creationism. But still wrong.

    I forget the name, but the Discovery Istitute has even hosted a climate change denier for a seminar, which I view as an even greater travesty.

    However, in it’s tone, this posting runs counter to the purposes of NW Citizens coming together on good transit policy. For the most part, the merits of proposals of the Discovery Institute should be judged on their merits alone. We are tring to build coalitions on good policy, not divide! Their proposal to convert unused rail on the East Side to passenger/commuter use deserves close attention.

    A look at the Cascadia Transportation page includes proposals and promotion of: Plug-in Vehicles, Rail expansion, Renewable Energy, improvements to the Electical grid, and Bus Rapid Transit. All of these are suppported by a progressive approach to Energy.

    I feel that climate change is THE issue of the 21st century. If the religious and evangelicals want to get green, more power to them. Welcome to the tent.

    Bill Reiswig

  44. 56

    Brian Grunkemeyer spews:

    The Cascadia Center seems to be a sane group of people. I was very leary of the Discovery Institute for their intelligent design stuff, but after going to two conferences held by the Cascadia Center on the future of transportation (like this one: Jump Start to a Secure, Clean Energy Future), these local guys working on this particular issue are doing respectable work.

    Indirectly attacking any Eastside rail proposal due to one of the messenger’s parent organization’s wacky views in unrelated areas is not really the best use of our time.

    We should be securing the BNSF rail corridor on the Eastside for future Eastside transportation projects. At worst case, when Sound Transit phase 3 or 4 eventually gets designed (maybe 30 years from now) and we get a rail loop going completely around Lake Washington, we’ll look back at today’s plans to secure the BNSF corridor as the best investment we’ve made in our future regional transportation system.