Experts Ain’t What They Used to Be

Question: What do you do if you are appointed to a position — say, to an expert curriculum review panel — for which you have no relevant credentials or qualifications?

Answer: Make up some fancy-sounding credentials.

That appears to be what State Board of Education-appointed “expert” David Barton has done. As readers of TFN Insider know, Barton has no advanced degree in history or any related field and has never held a faculty position at a college or university. But he does get quoted in the news a lot, and it must get pretty embarrassing to tell reporters that you are qualified because you run a political advocacy group and once served as vice chair of the Texas Republican Party. So Barton is now telling reporters that he’s “certified as an expert historian in state and federal courts.”

Sounds impressive, I guess. But what is a certified court historian? I asked my friend Ed Darrell, who is an attorney, former speech writer and currently teaches social studies in the Dallas-area (and has a great blog called Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub). Ed’s not buying it:

There’s no certification process, but a person could be qualified as an expert for expert witness purposes, similar to the experts in the creationism trials.

I don’t think Barton could come close to qualifying as an expert in history.

First, he doesn’t hold a degree in the area.

Second, he has no professional training in the area.

Third, he doesn’t publish in peer-reviewed journals in the area.

Fourth, he doesn’t bother with the professional associations in history.

I can’t think of a single area in which Barton would qualify.  But the ultimate test would be a case where he was accepted as an expert.  Is there such a case?

Listen up, all you aspiring historians. Quit wasting your time in graduate school, and just convince a court to certify you. You might not get an job at a prestigious university, but the State Board of Education will always need “experts.” It worked for Barton.

14 thoughts on “Experts Ain’t What They Used to Be

  1. I don’t get it TFN. Are you just accepting Barton’s word that some court in some place has somehow given him some sort of certification? I’d never do that. He has to show me official certification papers. I then get to carry copies of those papers to a person that knows what they are doing and say, “Is this real or is this some sort of forged or altered mumbo jumbo BS? If Barton cannot or will not produce them, I would just assume that he has no such certifications.

    In my field, a person called to tesify as a forensic anthropologist (as in CSI) in court has to be regarded as a real expert in their field. This means graduate course work in forensic anthropology, appropriate degrees in anthropology, professional affiliations in forensic anthropology organizations, etc. I know something about this subject. My osteology and forensic anthropologyteacher is the world’s best:

  2. Charles, I think the point is that Barton has hoodwinked the State Board of Education, and the process of seeking professional advice has been cheapened. They’ll take comments from anyone, so long as the comments fit their political filter, no matter how divorced from reality or ethics the comments are, no matter what damage the comments might bring to education of Texas kids.

    James Madison warned about government becoming “a tragedy, or a farce, or perhaps both.” To the great dismay of the founders, SBOE took that as a blueprint, not a warning.

  3. Maybe most importantly, Charles, William M. Bass is one of those experts that Dr. Don McLeroy said the State Board must stand up against — to the State Board. Bass is qualified as an expert by the courts? He must be part of the evil cabal, then, QED — according to the State Board.

  4. I, too, am an attorney, and a brief and unsatisfying Lexis search turned up no reported case of Barton testifying as an expert in either a state or federal court.

    Why does Barton not list his very public affiliation with the Texas GOP as a qualification?

  5. I do take Charles’ point . . . there is a story here and TFN should be pushing it to the major dailies in this state and beyond. Barton is a fraud and as Ed has pointed out the right-wing faction on the SBOE will accept as an “expert” anyone who meets their political criteria. In fact, they will attack anyone who doesn’t meet their political litmus test, regardless of their credentials and experience. It isn’t enough to post this story on a blog on TFN. Reporters should be looking in to this and I think that TFN needs to push and push until reporters start doing their jobs.

    1. George,
      Please know that we’re not simply posting this information on our blog. Reporters are well aware of our concerns. And TFN President Kathy Miller was very blunt about Barton’s and Marshall’s lack of qualifications in her testimony before the SBOE last month. It is important, however, that Texans across the state also contact their SBOE representatives, write letters to the editor of their local newspapers and in other ways add their voices to the growing chorus of concerns that these two absurdly unqualified ideologues are using our children’s classrooms to promote their own personal political agendas.

  6. Hi Lane. Thanks for your brief search of Lexis. I am also an environmental scientist. One of my friends that I worked with on another job 4 years ago was in standby (on an as needed basis) to provide expert court testimony on the technical aspects of certain environmental issues. He had a B.S. degree in chemistry, many years of experience (probably 20+) doing environmental chemistry for internationally known environmental management firms like ours, and a JD degree. All three worked together to make him into the “perfect storm” expert on the witness stand. However, I am not aware of his ever having had any sort of official court “certification” to be an expert witness on environmental matters.

    He was in demand because of the three factors that I stated above, which are the normal and appropriate credentials that you, I, or most any other propfessional in a given field would have. So, from where I sit, I think the onus is on David Barton to show us and the Texas news media the written certificate that qualifies him to testify as a history expert in a court of law. And by the way, has anyone here ever heard of anyone needing to testify as a history expert in a court of law? I suppose it could happen, but what do you do? “Yes, George Washington and his troops did cross the Delaware River.” What does that accomplish? A smart fifth grader knows that.

    Worst of all, if I were David Barton, I would be scared poopless that Chris Rodda might be brought in by the opposing side to assist with cross examination. How many people are there on a jury? That’s right, ther are 12 people per jury.

  7. Truly qualified “experts” will come from different backgrounds and experiences, and will typically have different opinions on many things, even within their established areas of expertise. Though many are loath to admit it, and sometimes because they have political agendas, even much of modern physics is hotly contested, and cannot be considered “settled science” as many in Western absolutist value sets would like. Trial work, particularly in education, often becomes a matter of which expert witness(es) can put on the most convincing show and are the most resistant to aggressive cross examination. There are threshold points of veracity and evidence though, in reasonable settings. That leads to the phenomena that TFN has described here, where the apparent degree of fabrication is beyond tolerance of most anyone except the most extreme: as was noted, near the level of expertise of those supporting “creationism science”. Truth can sometimes be difficult to define inside or outside context.

    I think these two expert consultants and the Board’s decisions regarding them probably do not pass the sniff test, or any reasonable standard of established expertise, and are thus, irretrievably partisan political choices and operatives. Thanks for Lexis search Lane. And, thanks KM for continued exposure of this scam.

  8. Why does Barton not list his very public affiliation with the Texas GOP as a qualification?

    Because that would highlight the political aspect he wishes to hide.

    Oh, it would play well with Republicans, maybe. Not all Republicans agree with his views, though.

    Baron, I think that most experts who get qualified by a judge to sit as an expert in a trial are true experts. Judges generally don’t fool around with that stuff. No one wants injustice done in their court, and no one wants the reversal record they’d be likely to end up with.

    Which again rather cries out for the question, has Barton ever been qualified as an expert in this area, other than by the politicians at the State Board? No? Then why is he there?

  9. Ed’s right. No judge wants his decisions to get turned around on appeal. It’s kind of like a “report card” for judges. Generally speaking, lawyers are pretty conservative with regard to how they operate. If they are going to err, do it on the conservative side. That’s what we do in the environmental field. When dealing with assumptions, as one must do sometimes, we tend our imputs toward the most conservative assumptions to ensure that public health and safety are protected by our results—because we care about you and your kids.

  10. This is great follow-up on this topic. Thanks to all for the valuable insight. TFN is absolutely right; They are telling everyone they can, but the onus still rests with the constituents involved here. If the voters can’t/won’t do their part in demanding proper, expert people do the work required, then the far-right will take every advantage given to them. Only when enough voices are heard, will the legislature, or whoever is responsible, take action.

  11. Ed & Charles: Its true that Judges don’t like to be reversed any more than they like to issue orders that can’t be enforced. But, it depends on the cause, the parties, and the specific Judge whether the processes you refer to are operative. Judges develop personal and political agendas too, sometimes infamous. And, in many circumstances, because of assets limiting all concerned or other factors, the probability of a primary judgment being overturned is very small. Of course, the Supreme Court has established some general guidelines for lower judges to use in qualifying an expert witness, including financial contamination. That still doesn’t change my statement with regard to the witnesses’ impact and resistance to cross, particularly on a jury. In education, judges standards don’t always serve to protect kids, often they do not, particularly if they are half century out of date. I doubt that “experts” picked by the SBOE would qualify under the standards suggested in this dialogue, and I doubt that we could place any standards to qualify these “experts” anywhere in the last half century.

  12. My neighbors have a cat named “Orange.” It appears that we have concluded that not even Orange would have selected the social studies experts that McLeroy and company did.