[ "Who Are The Members" Series: Part one, part two, part three, later note ]
Turning our attention for a moment from our report on the BCSE's knowingly supplying false information to MPs, we continue shining a light on the BCSE's membership. (See Part 1). Let us remind ourselves of our purpose. Are the BCSE a legitimate body of scientific educators - or not? What are the facts?
It seems that the BCSE are sensitive about criticisms of their claim to be a legitimate scientific body with real members. On the 16th of October, leader Roger Stanyard added a new note to their website. Read it for yourself. Do you think it has something of the "surely he protests too much" flavour about it?
BCSE comments: Roger Stanyard was acting as one of the two spokesman for BCSE in the above interview. We point out that of the 83 members of BCSE many are qualified scientists and include people with post-graduate qualifications, including PhDs from leading universities such as Leeds. ... The position that BCSE takes on science is determined by the considerable scentific and other expertise or its members.
We'll be looking at those claims about the "qualifications" of its members later. But just where does the figure of "83 members" come from? The intrigue increases when you run a search on the site for the phrases "join the BCSE", "join us" and "become a member". They all turn up a blank (the last search bringing up an unrelated comment). There is no page about membership, no schedule of membership fees, no list of qualifications required for membership, and no details of a membership secretary. How, then, has it managed to rack up 83 members?
The answer is simple. The BCSE's definition of a member is, "anyone who says anything - even one word - in our discussion forum". See this paragraph from the front page:
And sure enough, on the day that the above claim to 83 members went up, we find that the discussion forum had 83 members:
But there are a number of obvious problems with claiming that the membership of your organisation is equal to the number of people who have posted messages in your discussion group.
Firstly, it seems highly unlikely that the people posting messages in this forum realise that from thenceforward, the BCSE will publically claim them as its members. The page with the conditions for signing up certainly never explains this (http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/forum/profile.php?mode=register). (It's a nice way of counting though. When someone loses interest, or changes their mind, they'll normally just stop visiting the forum. But their username will remain registered - and the BCSE will continue to use them to inflate its claims about its membership).
It is clear, too, that many of the people signing up have not in fact realised that this is how it works, and are actually opposed to the BCSE, having joined the discussion forum in order to express disagreement with it. Here is an example quotation from Nick Cowan, a head of science from Liverpool Blue Coats' school, who has objections from the field of biochemistry against Darwinsim. Does he know that the BCSE are claiming him as one of their members?
(In case that's too small to read, it says: "There is no mechanism for the abiogenesis of the complex macromolecules of living organisms. Protein synthesis, for example, is irreducibly complex, requiring DNA, a suitable transcription mechanism to form m-RNA, up to 20 different t-RNA molecules stereospecifically designed to select only the L-enantiometers of the optically active amino acids (19 of them!) plus a medium in which to carry this out. But DNA itself requires proteins for its own synthesis!")
And Nick is no one off. Here's "Jack", who has a tricky philosophical question for evolutionists.
What do you think? Is it philosophically plausible to argue that the universe appeared from nothing? Has that been demonstrated in a laboratory somewhere? Must we insist that only this position is science, and that alternative possibilities must never be discussed with schoolchildren? But I digress...
Further research shows that the BCSE were well aware of their lack of true members. Back in July (at which time the BCSE had a Yahoo group instead of their present forum), we find BCSE member Ian Lowe complaining about it (http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/BlackShadow/message/1545: (In the same post, Ian also suggested removing the public archive of their previous discussions - which the BCSE later did. Why do you think they might have felt the need to do that?).
Had Ian done a count, he would have found that over 20% of the group's membership at the time had never posted a message.
But there's more. A very sizable proportion of those signing up on the forum are unwilling to give their real names. Do you think they might be unwilling to be publically identified with the BCSE? Some give one name; some give a single initial; some won't give anything at all. Just how seriously should we take an organisation that lists as its members such esteemed scientists and educators as "Wankle Rotary Pyjamas", "Bonytrux" and the "Taoist Hermit"? What's my point, then? That there's something wrong with people communicating anonymously? No - but there's something wrong with the knowingly BCSE making a false representation of itself to the British public and law-makers.
But do they really know that they only have a fraction of their claimed number of members? Are they misleading us deliberately? Let's hear from Ian Lowe again, on the 11th of August:
Despite the 50 or so members on this list, precisely four people have responded:
So, where the hell is everyone? Cat got your tongues all of a sudden? Lurking on the group because you don't want to post is one thing - sitting idly by whilst we ask for help with getting a campaign going is another.
In reply to which we have a "vulcannuk" replying:
I think Ian is correct. There is a hardcore centre within this group, where are the rest?
Finally, Roger Stanyard, the de facto leader of the BCSE, and the author of the claim that the BCSE has 83 members, adds his assessment (http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/BlackShadow/message/2198):
That's the same Roger Stanyard who took exception to the description of the BCSE as a small and insignificant group. That's the same Roger Stanyard who wanted to clarify for the public that the BCSE really had at least 83 members. Note the initials "RJS" in the record of who changed the website:
Did you catch that? In private, when Roger thinks he's just talking to insiders, he says that there are about 10 members. In public, when Roger thinks he's speaking to the public (or MPs, or newspapers), he wants you to know that there are over 8 times as many.
Well, we don't have to just be left with Roger and Ian's estimates. We have produced our own statistics. In early September, not too long after the time when the BCSE publically launched its website, we crunched the numbers. We decided to be very generous. Though they're a group of "science educators", we won't require them to have any qualifications. Though they're "British", we won't require them to even live in this continent. We will count as a "real" or "active" member, anyone who had, over the previous year, used his real name at least once, is not an anti-Darwinist, and has managed to send more than 2 e-mails a month. How many members does the BCSE now have?
It's twelve. Just twelve.
If we up that to 3 e-mails a month, then it's down to nine.
In future research, we'll be looking more closely at the credentials of the BCSE's leadership to set themselves up as leaders in science education. What will happen to that figure of nine when we apply any such tests? Whilst those articles are on their way, ask yourself a question.
Have the facts presented in this article shown that the BCSE is a reliable organisation, or are they looking like a body of people who just can't be trusted? Are they the kind of people that you would be happy for MPs and other legislators to take notice of?
Or is the evidence pointing somewhere else?
[ "Who Are The Members" Series: Part one, part two, part three, later note ]
Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.
All links as at 19th October 2006. The BCSE have, since this article was published, removed all "BlackShadow" messages from the Internet - if you wish to see copies for research purposes, please contact me.