Harvey J Graff

If Columbus, Ohio had a free (almost) daily press, this essay would be published in Columbus Dispatch. But it does not. As many readers are aware, I am banned from the unedited Opinion page of our local USA Today/Gannett outlet because I expressed the truth on its own readers’ comments site. I called the Opinion page “muddled” and “uninformed,” which no one can deny. As a result, the “Opinion and Engagement Editor,” who had published my essays and letters regularly and accepted my advice, summarily banned me from its pages. This contravenes both the First Amendment and USA Today’s own thin Statement of Standards. Neither Dispatch nor USA Today/Gannett cares about that. The Opinion page makes it clear that truthfulness, facts, or clear English expression are not concerns.

In Sunday, Aug. 14’s Columbus Dispatch (online on Aug. 15), COSI (Columbus Center of Science and Industry—but not a center of industry) President and CEO, Frederic Bertley published his second poorly-expressed, anti-scientific Opinion essay in its pages. Entitled ridiculously and counter-factually, “Intel might be Ohio’s ‘Sputnik.’ Why we need more science in schools” [ ], it follows his illogical caricature and debasement of “scientific method” on April 29, 2021 “We can do better for girls like Ma’Khia Bryant. Think about it scientifically.” [ ] Dr. B., as he styles himself, does not understand “scientific method,” literacy, contemporary secondary or post-secondary education, “Sputnik,” or Intel.

Bertley is not a “scientist.” He has no post-graduate history of conducting scientific research or writing for either scholarly or public audiences. His Ph.D. is in immunology. He immediately moved into joint education and science positions as a post-doctoral fellow and collaborative work. There is no evidence in any of his bios of practicing scientific research or professional publication.

His COSI biography refers to his “continued interest in communications.” But he is not a writer or a cogent speaker. COSI’s website promotes him as Science Evangelist, Educator, Motivationalist,” not as a scientist. (“Motivationalist” is not in Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionaries) What could be less scientific? The first and third terms derive from religion, not science. There are millennia-old distinctions.

Bertley is a barely-controlled salesman. Picture the exuberant almost content-free public service squealing announcements from “Dr. B.” for Covid vaccinations for the Ohio Department of Health.

In his embarrassing April 2021, “…. Ma’Khia Bryant. Think about it scientifically,” Bertley contradicts science instead of applying it. Writers of letters to the editor and online commenters blasted his fictional fabrication of “data points,” ignorant mocking “controlled scientific experiment” with one made-up “variable,” and “form[ing] your own conclusion” by comparing two fictitious “data points.” One reader responded: “Frederic… let’s start by substituting the assumption that you will apply reasoning and logic. I’ll wait until you get there. We have time. Still waiting….”

I wrote “Bertley should be embarrassed. His op-ed offers a caricature of science. The self-described scientist makes a mockery of scientific method and thinking…. Both the headline and Bertley confuse ‘science’ with data and seem to think that data somehow speak for themselves. Bertley’s four-part outline… is pseudo-science. Imagining an alternative universe may be useful in generating hypotheses or posing questions, but it is the opposite of a controlled scientific experiment. Bertley’s ‘science’ may well fuel anti-science skepticism.”

“Intel might be Ohio’s ‘Sputnik’” is even wilder. If Bertley knew any history, he might try “the Wright Brothers.” There is no serious comparison with “Sputnik” (and why in quotation marks?). The prose is consistently poorly constructed, and presented awkwardly and illogically. Why doesn’t multi-million dollar COSI have a professional writer or editor on staff?

Bertley misdefines STEM by “broadly defin[ing it into] a movement to raise the bar for math and science education, and better align the pipeline from K-12 through the post-secondary experience.” Frankly, I do not know what is trying to communicate. STEM is a university area with multiple definitions and an economic investment, research, and development for-profit sector of the economy. It is not a movement or a pipeline in need of alignment, whatever that may be.

He also misunderstands literacy in his sales pitch for Intel and imagined STEM. (How much are they donating to COSI?) There is no such thing as “science” or “STEM” literacy; there are uses of reading and writing across different symbolic systems in order to access, understand, communicate, and share understanding and information. Interested readers might look at my new book Searching for Literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) among a significant critical literature.

The unknowledgeable push toward a fake “science” or “STEM” literacy at all levels is radically distorting American education, pushing out not only the arts, humanities, and social sciences but also the basic sciences to create places for engineering, computer science, and technology. As opposed to Bertley’s screed, “The promise of STEM education is [not] the creation of a literate citizenry capacity [?] across scientific and math disciplines to support the needs of a 21st century science and technology-dependent [?] society.”

Once again, I do not know what he means. Does he? He is not aware that US students compare poorly to other nations not only in math and science scores but across the broad including languages, civics and social science, and history. He and Intel’s “investment” to overproduce engineers and lower-paid technicians will only lower common knowledge bases across the board and guarantee the overproduction of workers for the predictable numbers of jobs.

Ignoring basic arithmetic—not statistics, linear algebra, or calculus—all Central Ohio post-secondary education institutions compete to further distort their student bodies and curricula, and graduate more technicians than possible jobs. To me, as a lifelong educator, these are criminal acts.

Intel is successfully grifting Ohio for billions of dollars and exemptions from the law. No one else in Ohio reads in the national and international press that they are doing the same marketing pressure, slight-of-hand campaign in Germany for $38 (rather than $20) billion. They are importing thousands of construction workers with no housing or other facilities planned. They are securing permission to commit uncalculatable environmental damage. They fool the local boosterish media into believing that the impact of plants in formerly deserted, desert Chandler, Arizona bears any resemblance to the likely impact on Licking County, New Albany, and Columbus. Perhaps most immediately egregious, they are radically misrepresenting the likely number of kinds of employees and their average salaries. The arithmetic—not “science” or “STEM” literacy—does not add up.

Compare this to salesman Bertley’s “By building its largest manufacturing plant in Central Ohio, Intel can leverage the fantastic [?] community of colleges, universities, research institutes, informal education spaces and beyond… [and] will create an unparalleled STEM education ecosystem ....” The relentless, reckless promoter actually ends his data-free pitch by quoting “the Enterprise Captain, Jean-Luck Picard.”

You can’t make this up. With promoters like Bertley, OSU President and Ph.D. in Engineering but arithmetic challenged Kristina Johnson, Gov. DeWine fearful about his re-election, what else does Intel’s Patrick Gelzinger’s relentless self-promotion and making up of new words need to succeed?


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books on social history, the history of literacy and education, and interdisciplinarity, he writes about the history and contemporary condition of higher education for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current; Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies is published by Palgrave Macmillan in August. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming.