December 04, 2007

Forwarding Implies Endorsement?

Controversy is growing over the firing by the Texas Education Agency of its Director of Science Curriculum, Chris Comer. Her crime? Forwarding to a local mailing list an announcement of an upcoming talk by a critic of the inclusion of "Intelligent Design" in the science curriculum. Official documents obtained by the press contain the following explanation:

Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.

Most of the criticism is directed at the idea that a state's education department should remain neutral on the content of the science curriculum, and I agree, but there is also a rather striking linguistic point here which no one seems to have picked up on. Since when does forwarding the announcement of a talk imply endorsement of its content? This is simply nonsense. Forwarding email is approximately like quotation; the only inference that can reliably be drawn is that the forwarder thinks that the recipient may be interested in the information. That may be because the forwarder endorses the content, but it may also be because she opposes it. For that matter she may have no opinion on the subject and have decided to forward the announcement to people she believes do. Indeed, her belief that recipients will find the announcement of interest might not even be based on the content of the talk: her purpose could be to draw attention to the venue or the date or amusing title.

Posted by Bill Poser at December 4, 2007 02:56 AM