'Tis the Season for Tenure Flaps

By JoAnne Hewett | May 20, 2007 3:00 am

While we’re on the subject of tenure here at CV, there is yet another tenure flap happening in the physics department at Iowa State University. Which is my alma mater (always embarrassing to admit that, so I might as well get it out of the way early on). The department has denied tenure to Professor Guillermo Gonzalez. Prof Gonzalez, by all reports, is the author of nearly 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers, co-author of a major college-level astronomy textbook, his work led to the discovery of two new planets, and he has had his research featured in Science, Nature, and on the cover of Scientific American. Recently, he discovered what is known as the Galactic Habitable Zone, which essentially proposes that life forms when there is the right balance of unique conditions. A hypothesis not too different from our own discussions of the anthropic principle here in theoretical high energy physics!

Sounds pretty good, so what’s the problem? In addition to this scholarly record, he has also co-authored a book on Intelligent Design, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Ooooohhhhh!! A religious studies professor at ISU led a faculty petition drive to denounce efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science. Hmmmm! Seems like a healthy response.

The upshot is that Gonzalez wrote this book as an untenured professor, and now has been denied tenure, with some members of the faculty, including the department chair, apparently saying that the book factored in their decision. He has appealed the decision. The Discovery Institute and Christian blogs are all over the story.

It’s not the first time ISU has had fundamentalist Christians on their faculty — one of my physics professors there used to hold bible meetings with students in his office. (He also always asked me why I was studying physics rather than busying myself cooking in the kitchen. He very grudgingly gave me an A, but had to admit I had earned it. But I digress…)

So what would you do?

At first, I thought this is a difficult case. I could never condone the preaching of ID in the classroom. But Gonzalez claims that he had never introduced Intelligent Design into the classroom (could you be sure he never would?). He claims it is a private belief and he wrote the book on his own time (how could he believe in ID and be a serious scientist? How does he resolve the conflict in his mind?). IF his claims are true, it’s kinda like writing a blog!. And wouldn’t we be hypocritical if we thought he didn’t deserve tenure because he shared his private views in public and we didn’t share his views? Is this worse than the guy with the bible meetings in his office?

But yet, he wrote a popular book, very much in the public arena, advocating an anti-scientific idealogy. This shows a clear lack of scientific judgement, and
damages the public’s perception of science. However, after a simple google search, I found the clincher: he gave invited lectures at other academic institutions, billed as an ISU professor, promoting Intelligent Design. OK – now he crossed the line and used his professional position to promote ID. So the faculty does have a basis in denying him tenure in my book.

PS: I just saw Rob Knop’s post on this case, which also agrees with this denial of tenure.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia
  • twaters

    Bob Park touched on this as well this week. He also pointed out what I find to be even more bizarre… that Frank Tipler has major issues!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_J._Tipler
    His intro books are still my favorite though…afterall, Tipler=Quality.

  • DIS

    You hit it on the head with using his ISU position to promote ID.

    The other arguments I find nonpersuasive, He can have all the crank beliefs he desires. He can write all he wants about his crank beliefs. Whether you can or cannto be sure they will enter his science later is a worry, but you should only go with his proven record. In his astronomy work it has not been to be the case. So based on this he should be given tenure.

    Now, using his ISU position and credentials to promote the views, I do think gives ISU a right to distance itself from him and not give him tenure.

  • Jon H

    Yeesh, there’s been lots of speculation on whether merely having a blog, even a high-class, intelligently written one, can be enough to scuttle your chances of getting tenure. For example that possibility came up when Daniel Drezner didn’t get tenure at U of Chicago – and he’s in International Relations.

    Apparently tenure starts when you apply for tenure – if you’re a Christian.

    After all, the complaint seems to be that Gonzalez is not already being accorded the benefits of tenure, as far as being shielded from punishment for where one’s intellectual pursuits end up.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Well, Iowa State, as an employer, can deny further employment to whomever they want, subject to contractual niceties, and if they deem that someone’s views and activities would cause them embarassment as an institution, then fair enough. They’re not obliged to ‘be nice’, because universities are competitive with each other (as I’ve argued before, they’re a business).

    Personally, I’d not vote against someone’s tenure just because they are into a non-scientific theory; in fact, I’d be pretty unimpressed with the people that did. There can be, of course, a lot more to the story than meets the eye; the people that voted against his tenure obviously know him and his work in the department a lot better than I do, from the outside reading accounts. He could just have pissed a bunch of people in his deparment off, somehow; it’s a human process, after all.

    The mere fact of promoting ID, or writing a book, needn’t be a disqualifier, I don’t think; there are philosophical arguments to be had that needn’t be anti-scientific (they will generally be non-scientific, but that’s a different thing) and people are entitled to their beliefs; I don’t know that sharing those beliefs to a group of people who have been told that you are an ISU professor is such a big deal. The nature of the explanation of those beliefs should be the important thing, I think; if someone goes ‘agressive militant war on science’ then, yes, best to have tenure first (or, ideally, don’t do it at all, given that you’ll probably harm your institution’s reputation and you probably do have a moral obligation to your colleagues, who are also affected by the reputation of the institution).

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    The one thing that I’d add is that for institutions that take tax dollars (which is all state universities and, I guess, pretty much all private research universities too, at least), they can make these decisions in the way that they do so long as voting taxpayers agree. If voters decide that constraints on the tenure process should be applied, then so long as those constraints are legal and institutional, those institutions have to wear it and smile or do without that money.

  • Steven Schreiber

    My understanding is that ID is not, in fact, anti-scientific because science does not, in its theory, posit anything opposed to that thesis. ID is plausibly anti-naturalism, the idea that science can be transmuted by philosophers and others rather straightforwardly into metaphysics, but so long as an ID position accepts that science predicts outcomes and that the methods of science are the best way to go about making those predictions, it is unlikely to be anti-scientific.

    You might hold that it runs against the spirit of science, but this has crossed into philosophy and isn’t, prima facie, a reason to deny tenure within science.

  • http://www.tony5m17h.net/ Tony Smith

    JoAnne, referring to a 29 September 2005 Panda’s Thumb web post by Tara Smith, said that Gonzalez “… gave invited lectures at other academic institutions, billed as an ISU professor, promoting Intelligent Design. …”.

    That Panda’s Thumb post said in part “… his book was funded by the Templeton foundation on a cosmology and fine-tuning grant …”.

    JoAnne also said “… Gonzalez claims that … Intelligent Design … is a private belief and he wrote the book on his own time …”.

    Three questions I have are:

    1 – Did Gonzalez use his ISU affiliation to get his Templeton grant ?

    2 – Was Gonzalez’s Templeton grant paid directly to Gonzalez, or through ISU (that is, did ISU administration get its overhead cut of the grant) ?

    3 – Is Templeton-funded Intelligent Design stuff at ISU really very different from Templeton-funded Landscape stuff at Stanford, in light of this excerpt from a 2005 templeton.org/humble_approach-initiative/ web page:
    “… Stanford’s Leonard Susskind coined the term “stringy landscape” … It seems undeniable that the possibility of a multiplicity of different universes raises deep scientific, philosophical, and theological questions. … Under the aegis of the John Templeton Foundation, sixteen researchers from several disciplines have again come together at Stanford to explore the difficult and interlocking questions …”
    ?

    Tony Smith

  • Steven Schreiber

    Tony,

    (3) is rather fascinating. That’s not science at all and… I’d be afraid of a scientist raising “philosophical and theological questions” because my experience is that scientists tend to be as versed in philosophy as the general public is.

  • TMS

    twaters –

    Not sure which “intro” books you’re referring to. But Paul Tipler (not Frank) is the author of the excellent and widely used introductory physics texts.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    I don’t see how making the unobserved leap of faith to ID is really too much different from making the unobserved leap of faith to the landscape… as if the analogy hasn’t been overdone here already.

    It’s an, (unjustified), inferrence from evidence, verses an as yet unjustified inferrence from theoretical speculation. If you’re going to pretend that either is established beyond that, then pick your religion and kneel.

  • http://www.badastronomy.com Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer

    Another thing to bear in mind is that in a tenure decision, the committee needs to ask how the potential faculty member will represent the University in academia. If the tenure-track candidate is a creationist and the University both knows it and gives that person tenure, then the University — quite rightly — will be a laughing stock, its reputation damaged. While this sort of setup can be abused (what if the person applying has some against-the-mainstream theory that turns out to be correct?) it is clearly the right thing to consider when it comes to creationism.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Well, if the scientist is a creationist, that surely in itself isn’t enough, logically speaking. As a moral matter, as I said, the employer has to have the right to decide whom to employ so long as their criteria are themselves legal; I would think that firing or not hiring someone for the mere fact of their beliefs might be problematic, legally speaking. I imagine the issue would be the extent to which the expressions of their beliefs embarassed the university.

    I can buy that it might, depending on the expressions, make an institution something of a ‘laughing stock’ but I’d feel like a right dickhead, myself, if I were amongst those doing the laughing, if if the scientific work were up to snuff.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    My understanding is that ID is not, in fact, anti-scientific because science does not, in its theory, posit anything opposed to that thesis.

    ID is anti-scientific because (a) it was designed (yes, ID itself was designed) to undermine science education (cf: Wedge document), and (b) because its proponents go around saying that all of the evidence that exists for evolution isn’t really evidence for that, and thus undermines the whole way science works.

    If you read ID at face value, it’s vacuous. It’s proposing a “default answer” when no other answer exists. It’s not science at all, and the orthogonality would seem to indicate that it’s anti-science. However, taking ID at face value means being taken in by ID proponents. Proponents of ID claim that no other scientific answer exists even when one does, and claim that their non-scientific default answer is science. The fact that it’s positioned by its proponents– such as Gonzalez– as an alternative to the knowledge of science is what makes it anti-science.

    -Rob

  • graviton383

    Having a vague familiarity with the ISU faculty I would also like to hear the answer to Tony Smith’s #2 above. If ISU took their `cut’ of his grant (which I’d take a bet on) & then denied him tenure it be the very height of hypocrisy and, if it were me, I’d sue the pants off them. The real issue here is the possible conflict between what one privately believes and what one teaches. If Gonzalez was a non-science professor with a similar achievement level he would probably deserve tenure. It is the very idea of a scientist promoting ID `on ISU letterhead’ that led to his demise. Tony Smith’s #3 is also a good question. But then all of the relevant Stanford professors (with whom I am also vaguely familiar) are `famous’ and have tenure already.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    I don’t see how making the unobserved leap of faith to ID is really too much different from making the unobserved leap of faith to the landscape…

    Does anybody really have faith in the landscape?

    The landscape is an idea that is taken seriously because it is a natural outgrowth of hints and indications about the fundamental nature of physics on the most basic level. You can’t have some of the things that are well-grounded ideas about the fundamental nature of reality without having the landscape along with it.

    It’s really quite a different thing.

    -Rob

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    If ISU took their `cut’ of his grant (which I’d take a bet on) & then denied him tenure it be the very height of hypocrisy and, if it were me, I’d sue the pants off them.

    People with overhead-burdened grants get turned down for tenure all the time.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    …even me, by the way. I did have an HST grant at one point, but that one grant (which is two years gone by now) isn’t enough to get me tenure.

    (And I haven’t been turned down for tenure yet, but enough about that is elsewhere.)

  • graviton383

    Rob asks: Does anybody really have faith in the landscape? Well, I happen to know a lot of people who do..but then they’re tenured and `famous’. After all string theory says so.

  • graviton383

    I meant the fact that the grant is from a faith-based organization & not, e.g., NASA or DOE..that’s the hypocrisy…

  • Analyzer

    It’s a form of hypocrisy. If you volunteer at a soup kitchen, and you mentor an inner-city kid, and you donate money to the Red Cross, then kudos on your humanitarian kindness, but I’m not going to look the other way when you go home and beat your wife.

    His scientific achievements are noteworthy; to praise him for them is only fair. But to ignore the harm that his “dark side” does to science would be unfair.

    I can buy that it might, depending on the expressions, make an institution something of a ‘laughing stock’ but I’d feel like a right dickhead, myself, if I were amongst those doing the laughing, if if the scientific work were up to snuff.

    What if his research were top-notch, but he also happened to claim that disease was caused not by pathogens but by imbalances of the bodily humours, to be regulated by the occasional bloodletting? What if he believed–and expressed his belief publicly and loudly–that the Sun goes around the Earth? How about alchemy, or phlogiston, or phrenology, or astrology? None of these need affect the quality of his research, so should they just be ignored?

  • Steven Schreiber

    Rob,

    I don’t think the intent quite matters. If I designed some theory to undermine, for example, relativity and it turns out that it cannot, in fact undermine it because it is fully consistent with it, then it’s difficult to say that the theory is anti-relativity. I might be anti-relativity, but that’s a different matter altogether. There isn’t a necessary relevant intersection between ID and science to make ID anti-science–unless we want to hold that interpretations of mathematic theory are always at risk of being anti-science, then I’d agree but a vast amount of science would become anti-science, devaluing the currency of the term.

    The vacuity objection is also a non-issue: sure, it’s scientifically vacuous, but that’s because it’s not science. That does not, however, make ID as a basic claim anti-science. You might easily argue that Dembski, et al. are anti-science and I would agree, but you can’t plausibly charge that ID is. It’s just not the right sort of proposition to begin with.

    Moreover, if you think about it, you probably agree with this: you’ve probably argued that ID shouldn’t be taught in science because it is everywhere consistent with it and therefore unfalsifiable by any method of scientific inquiry. If that’s the case, then it can’t be anti-science: every ID claim is consistent with every scientific claim and the reasonable de minimis condition for some proposition P being anti-science as (P –> ~S). Since that’s not the case with ID, it’s not anti-science.

  • Analyzer

    If that’s the case, then it can’t be anti-science: every ID claim is consistent with every scientific claim and the reasonable de minimis condition for some proposition P being anti-science as (P —> ~S). Since that’s not the case with ID, it’s not anti-science.

    The ID claim “evolution did not occur” is inconsistent with the scientific claim “evolution occurred.”

  • spyder

    Well, regardless of the politics of the ISU decision, Gonzalez, with this sort of hyped controversy, can easily be given a chair at Regent University, or one of the others that are currently using their fattened-calf endowments to buy credibility. And it would not be a disservice to science for him to accept such a position, in that his astronomical knowledge and authority would be most useful for providing a better, more informed, education to the students.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    The vacuity objection is also a non-issue: sure, it’s scientifically vacuous, but that’s because it’s not science. That does not, however, make ID as a basic claim anti-science.

    But ID proponents are out there claiming that it is science, and that there is scientific evidence for it.

    The core scientific argument of ID is this: evolution is wrong. That argument is at odds with scientific evidence. That they are out there still trying to sell that message is what makes the whole thing anti-science.

    All of us sitting around and coming up with ways about how we can accept it within the framework of science is just all of us doing their job for them.

    -Rob

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Tony Smith:

    You raise valid questions in my view. I have no idea how the Templeton grants work, but it would be interesting to know if ISU took a chunck out for overhead. That would indicate implicit support on their part for this line of “research.”

    As for your third point, Is Templeton-funded Intelligent Design stuff at ISU really very different from Templeton-funded Landscape stuff at Stanford? Well, I have problems with this stuff as well… And with this question, you have touched precisely on the situation ISU is in. You seem to imply (although perhaps I am misunderstanding your point and your point was broader) that because I am affiliated with Stanford I might support or accept or perhaps even participate in the Templeton funded Landscape stuff. Perhaps you are thinking that stuff affects the reputation of all high energy theorists at Stanford (or all HEP theorists everywhere)? Whereas in reality, as a phenomenologist at SLAC, I am literally (in many senses) miles away from that stuff and have essentially no interaction with the campus string theorists. So, I am not connected to that stuff at all, yet because I am at Stanford you ask the question and I feel I must defend myself….see the pickle ISU is in?

  • undergrad math student

    this issue us much more simple than it is being made out to be. Science ends when a question does not have an “observable” answer. Any conjecture beyond that is un-scientific and promoting that conjecture is, of course, anti-scientific.

  • undergrad math student

    “science” is what is taking place when we say “what is going on here?” and the reply is “I dont know.” So, the next step is “lets find out…” Enter: “Science.” When we jump to “Oh, it must be the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we have crossed into non-science…

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    I don’t see how making the unobserved leap of faith to ID is really too much different from making the unobserved leap of faith to the landscape…

    Does anybody really have faith in the landscape?

    Other than Lenny, who has sworn to become an IDist if the landscape fails?… HAHAHA! whew…

    Seriously, that’s why I qualified what I said:
    If you’re going to pretend that either is established beyond that, then pick your religion and kneel.

    And I completely agree with your reasons why the ID movent is a rotten apple, but no more rotten than the reactionary cluelessness that it typically elicits from the other side of the culture war, who doesn’t give a damn about science either.

    The landscape is an idea that is taken seriously because it is a natural outgrowth of hints and indications about the fundamental nature of physics on the most basic level.

    Or it doesn’t, and it requires unfounded faith to assume otherwise, is still my point.

    You can’t have some of the things that are well-grounded ideas about the fundamental nature of reality without having the landscape along with it.

    It’s really quite a different thing.

    Unless you assume that the fundamental nature of reality has been decided by these facts alone, is still my point… ;)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I don’t know how this got turned into a discussion of the Landscape. No, the Landscape is not anything like ID. It’s an hypothesis that people have been led to by investigating the properties of solutions to string theory, and that has bee proposed as a solution to certain apparent fine-tuning problems that we observe in the data. ID, meanwhile, is a public-relations stunt that explicitly attempts to overturn well-accepted scientific understanding. Any particular physicist might not like or agree with the idea of the Landscape, but that’s just part of the scientific process, not antithetical to it.

    I completely agree with JoAnne that using one’s university position to advocate pseudoscience is something that can legitimately be held against you when it comes to a tenure decision; it should be one factor among many. Once someone already had tenure, I would defend their right to advocate whatever sort of crackpot theories they liked.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    His opinions do not interfere with his research and teaching work, so he should not have been denied tenure. It is actually a good thing to have a few talented scientists who have such radical noconventional views because that may motivate them to do (legitimate scientific) research in an area that noone else is looking into.

    E.g. Fred Hoyle’s adversion to the Big Bang theory led him to do work on the synthesis of elements in stars…

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    No, the Landscape is not anything like ID.

    No but as I’ve said… If you believe that…

    “We will be hardpressed to answer the IDists if the landscape fails”

    ….IS very much like ID.

    Should I reference the interview with Lenny, or should we just admit that he was trying to put irrationale pressure the rest of the string community and others via the popularized political bandwagon that he and Richard Dawkins jumped onto *simultaneously* as a viable means for rebutting the IDists?

    Which is it?… Neither looks very much like honest science to me.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    ID is anti-scientific because (a) it was designed (yes, ID itself was designed) to undermine science education (cf: Wedge document), and (b) because its proponents go around saying that all of the evidence that exists for evolution isn’t really evidence for that, and thus undermines the whole way science works.

    Hi Rob Knop, I was going to avoid this one like the plague, but

    “ID is not, in fact, anti-scientific because science does not, in its theory, posit anything opposed to that thesis.”

    Because ‘some’ creationists go around saying that some people have gone round burying fossils, or have built a mountain out of a molehill or a dynosaur out of a toe nail …
    does not mean ‘all’ creationists are of the same Mind.

    That aside, the fact that we can presume to measure the first few miliseconds of something that ‘allegedly’ happened 13.7 billion years ago give or take 300 million years …

    well it’s a bit like saying the universe was created in six days and god rested on the seventh. The only thing that would be unscientific or ignorant would be to presume that a day for god is a twentyfour hour day composed of hours with sixty minutes and minutes with sixty seconds …

    When exactly did ‘man’ introduce (construct or design) this measure.
    And a light year is an amazing (man-made?) measurement too.

    But again that aside, having watched the (science-fiction) film Deja Vu
    makes me wonder if some scientists would presume to be semi-godlike and fold spacetime – and then we could go back to the beginning of creation(?)

  • drunk

    Prof Gonzales considerable intelligence will be better used if he instead apply for tenure as a theologian. The moment he gave those ID lectures at other academic institutions in the capacity of an ISU prof, he ceased to be a credible scientist and have embarrassed his employer. Unless, of course he can develop a scientific theory of ID, shows how it can be verified experimentally in a paper that’s accepted in a peer-reviewed publication.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Unless, of course he can develop a scientific theory of ID, shows how it can be verified experimentally in a paper that’s accepted in a peer-reviewed publication.

    The face on Mars was a viable ID theory until it was falsified by technology, but you’d have to have realistic plausibilty, as well as “experimental verifiability”, (of a theory, not a fact), in order to get a cosmological ID theory published by scientifc peer-review, I would certainly hope.

    Alien intervention doesn’t cut it, unless you can produce something concrete like a very old alien space craft with knobs that control the constants in it, in other words.

    Gonzales has a long history prior to the discovery institute of trying to subvert science. That should have been enough then.

  • Dave

    I’d like to take issue with Joanne’s descriptions of Gonzalez’ research accomplishments. The concept of a Galactic Habitable Zone is far to speculative to be considered to be “discovered”. It is based almost entirely on rather dubious speculations regarding what is required for the development of intelligent life. Similarly dubious arguments are often used in discussions of the anthropic principle, and in both cases it often seems that the proponent has some ulterior motive for using these dubious assumptions. (In Gonzalez’ case, it is not difficult to think an ulterior motive.) In any case, W. H. Tucker and Virginia Trimble have each written about these issues well before Gonzalez and collaborators.

    The statement that his work led to the discovery of two new planets also seems to be a bit of a stretch. This is presumably based on his work on the metal abundances of stars known to host extrasolar planets. Gonzalez has certainly been a leader in this field, and it is now known that stars with higher metalicity than the Sun are more likely to host massive, short period planets. After this relation was established, there was one survey that explicitly targeted stars with a high metal abundance which has led to a few planet discoveries. But, the people doing these searches also study the metalicities themselves, so it is not clear how much of a role Gonzalez’s results have played in this effort. In any case, the study of the chemical abundances is Gonzalez’s real contribution.

  • Eric Mayes

    Intelligent design is unscientific because it’s basic idea is that it’s impossible to understand the existence of the universe through rational means. Rather, it posits that existence is only explainable through magical means, i.e. through the actions of a deity. Of course, most of us realize that it is really an attempt to undermine science by introducing pseudo-rational arguments. Some people like these types of arguments because it’s easier on their emotions than grappling with hard problems. The comments of Quasar9 above are a great example. He doesn’t understand, or perhaps doesn’t have the intellectual ability to understand, how scientists can presume to know that the universe is 13.7 billion years old. The answer is that we can calculate it because the universe is governed by rational laws. Of course, if you believe that reality is fundamentally magical then you cannot understand this.

  • Pingback: Intelligent Design and Tenure on the Net « As the Worm Turns()

  • Steven Schreiber

    Rob,

    But ID proponents are out there claiming that it is science, and that there is scientific evidence for it.

    But that doesn’t make ID as a thesis anti-science, it just makes those proponents dumb. :)

    The core scientific argument of ID is this: evolution is wrong. That argument is at odds with scientific evidence.

    What I’m saying is that there is no core scientific argument in ID at all. ID’s core is merely this:

    (ID1) The world is, at some fundamental level, intelligently designed.

    What you are after is the further claim:

    (ID2) If the world is intelligently designed, then evolutionary theory is wrong.

    Evolutionary theory qua scientific theory, on the other hand, properly holds something akin to:

    (E) The number and type of observed species correlates to the outcomes predicted by differences in the rate of gene replication.

    The obvious problems are these: even if ID2 is anti-science, it doesn’t follow from ID1 and it isn’t implied by not-E. As such, the core claim of intelligent design, ID1, doesn’t have anti-science implications at all. Moreover, the claim that ID1 should be the default explanation isn’t anti-science, either, it’s simply a strange claim; it doesn’t match any of our intuitions about what the default claim of science would be, that is fairly well fulfilled by the more universally skeptical “there is no relationship whatever between phenomena”.

  • Steven Schreiber

    Eric,

    That doesn’t work. ID is a thesis about the fundamental nature of reality and suppose that there are reasons to accept it. While I agree that those reasons are simply terrible, they can’t be a rejection of rational investigation in any commonly held sense: the ID theorist does offer reasons to believe it. It’s not just a skeptical case; no, Hume has the skeptical case well covered.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    Sean made the key point above.

    Intelligent Design is a publicity stunt, nothing more, nothing less.

    Asking if it’s a valid scientific theory is like asking if the leak of Alec Baldwin’s call to his daughter is valid scientific expression.

    -Rob

  • Eric Mayes

    Steven,
    The central idea of ID, that there was a designer, is inherently unscientific because it cannot be proven or falsified.

  • Steven Schreiber

    Eric,

    Oh, no! I certainly agree with that: it’s totally unscientific. I disagree that science is to be equated with rational inquiry. Math and logic are rational inquiries but not, really, science. Also, literature and art are unscientific (not science at all) but this doesn’t make them anti-science. They’re just not science, perhaps to their dismay.

  • Eric Mayes

    Steven,
    I’m not sure I agree with you that science isn’t a rational inquiry. It might be that the scientific profession is not completely rational, but I think the very idea of science is to apply rational thinking to the universe.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Dear Dave… get a clue. Claims that anthropic arguements that creationists use are “dubious” are stereotypically lame from a willfully ignorant and reactionarily opposing knowledge about the subject.

    They use terms like “dubious” in conjunction with what we do and don’t know about why carbon based life is favored, but they conveniently don’t know stuff, like the fact that… Carbon based life arises directly from an environment that is better suited (by a ratio of 10:1) to the creation of silicon based life, in spite of the fact that silicon based life is the next most plausible life form that we have ever been able to imagine.

    Little details like that… ya know what I mean?

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Intelligent Design is a publicity stunt, nothing more, nothing less.

    But I made that same point about… so does that mean that we get to hang all…. nevermind.

    Okay, okay… I give.

  • Steven Schreiber

    Eric,

    When I say “I disagree that science is to be equated with rational inquiry” that means that: for any inquiry (I), if that inquiry is rational (R), then it is science (S) ((x) ((Ix & Rx) Sx)). On the old definition of a “science” (18th and early 19th century, as when Kant uses it) that would probably be true, but colloquially it isn’t.

  • Steven Schreiber

    Huh. It doesn’t like arrows there for some reason. There should be a conditional between (Ix & Rx) and Sx.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Eric Mayes,
    13.7 billion years is a calculation made by Terrans, ie:
    calculations made by ‘man or woman’ on planet Earth.

    There is no maths that PROVES the Universe is said 13.7 billion years old – it is based on many assumptions – and of course light always travels the shortest distance(s) in space – but even the speed of light may not actually be ‘contant’ thru long distances. And there is nothing that ‘proves’ there is nothing beyond the observable universe …

    But of course it is purely coincidental that a ‘being’ on a small planet in the solar system in the corner of a galaxy somewhere in the observable universe would make such calculations – and presume to KNOW that the universe is 13.7 billion years old or presume to know that TIME is always constant.

    You probably think yourself openminded enough to accept the possibility that there could be life in other parts of the universe – even in other universes – yet are clearly too narrow-minded or short-sighted to see that these lifeforms may have ‘evolved’ to higher forms (at some ‘future’ point) … or as may be your case devolve into ever lower forms.

  • Eric Mayes

    Quasar9,
    No need to respond to your post. I think it speaks for itself.

  • http://www.gaugegravity.com/testapplet/SweetGravity.html Carl Brannen

    This resonates well with my current reading, a biography of Kepler entitled “Kepler’s Witch”. It turns out that his mother was accused of witchcraft and nearly burnt for it. Kepler, of couse, was deeply religious (Lutheran) and corrected the year of the birth of Christ to the currently accepted figure (4 BC) in his treatise:De Vero Anno quo Aeternus Dei Filius Humanam Naturam in Utero Benedictae Virginis Mariae Assumpsit (Concerning the True Year in which the Son of God assumed a Human Nature in the Uterus of the Blessed Virgin Mary”).

    I doubt that Dr. Gonzalez will have the least problem finding another tenure track position, and eventually tenure, at another more or less enlightened institution. I wonder if he would have been treated this way if his efforts had tended more towards some other religious belief, something more compatible with current academic prejudices, perhaps Moslem or Wiccan.

  • Eric Mayes

    Carl,
    I don’t think that any religous belief is particularly compatible with science, in the way that you imply. Science is not about religion. The situation with Gonzalez is no different than if an astronomer went around giving lectures in support of Astrology.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Analyzer #20, you ask:

    What if his research were top-notch, but he also happened to claim that disease was caused not by pathogens but by imbalances of the bodily humours, to be regulated by the occasional bloodletting? What if he believed—and expressed his belief publicly and loudly—that the Sun goes around the Earth? How about alchemy, or phlogiston, or phrenology, or astrology? None of these need affect the quality of his research, so should they just be ignored?

    Well, it wouldn’t bother me too much on the face of it (in particular, I don’t care what a scientist actually believes). As I said, I can understand an institution’s point of view if they do rightly fear that a tenured appointment would make them into a laughing stock based on the expressions of that professor’s opinions; I am just saying that I wouldn’t be one of those that were laughing. Indeed, I’d probably ignore the stuff I thought was crazy and consider the serious stuff. I don’t, however, have a particular problem with what little I know of this case, because I think that there’s an element of truth in the fear that the community (students, researchers, others with an interest in this stuff) would look poorly on the institution in question. I just probably wouldn’t be one of them, if the good research was good enough.

    I guess that if the work was undeniably superb, the threshold at which embarassment was assessed too painful for the institution to bear would be higher. If I have a problem, it’s with that ‘community’ I mentioned, which I think should be a little less uptight. Mind you, in the main, it’s not picking the fight but, rather, kicking back at intrusions from god-bothering demagogues.

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    JoAnne said that I [Tony] “… seem to imply (although perhaps I [Jo
    Anne] am misunderstanding your point and your point was broader)
    that because I [JoAnne] am affiliated with Stanford I [JoAnne] might
    support or accept or perhaps even participate in the Templeton
    funded Landscape stuff. …”.

    JoAnne, you do misunderstand my point which was indeed broader.

    I know that you are now at Stanford and that you have been at ISU.
    I also know that you practice what I call Real Particle Physics (which
    is what you call phenomenology) and that it is, as you said, “miles away”
    in many senses from Susskind’s superstring Landscape.

    It is only coincidence (maybe the IDers would call it part of subtle Design,
    but I am an Einstein-Spinoza-Taoist Pantheist which may differ substantially
    from ID in some respects) that you wrote the blog entry and are at
    Stanford, and that the most egregious example I could find with a
    quick web search of Templeton funding establishment physics people
    was their funding of the Susskind Landscape stuff at Stanford.
    So,
    please do NOT take it personally that I used the Stanford example,
    and please do NOT feel that you “must defend [your]self” with
    respect to my comment, because it was not an attack on you.

    It was nothing more, and nothing less, than a question about
    comparing Templeton support of ID at ISU
    with Templeton support of Landscape at Stanford.

    Sean said “… the Landscape is not anything like ID …”,
    which is a statement of his opinion,
    but
    others have different opinions that do see similarities
    in the structures of Landscape and of ID,
    and also in the sociopolitical hype found around both.

    The facts that Templeton funds both Landscape and ID,
    and
    that Templeton uses the word “theological” with respect to Landscape
    are clear objective evidence indicating to me that, despite Sean’s opinion,
    there are some similarities between Landscape and ID.

    Tony Smith

  • dave tweed

    Just another slant on this: The situation that’d concern me is if his promulgation on ID _remains_ an off-hours activity. The reasoning is that in one’s official work one has to give faculty seminars, talks at other institutions, appear at conferences, etc, explaining one’s work to peers who will point out flaws and problems in the work so the outside world gets a representative picture of how the work is viewed. (As an example, consider the brouhaha about Hawking’s “black holes don’t destroy information” presentation: it might have got more media attention than it deserved, but I can’t think of media coverage which didn’t include comments from conference attendees saying things like “there just wasn’t enough detail there to see what was going on”.) By contrast, someone with an academic position can ensure they only talk about “off-hours” ideas in “easy, unchallenging” settings whilst still trading on the “prestige” of their official job.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Tony, no worries! I didn’t take your remarks personally, but did want to point out how easy it would be for folks at ISU to feel that their reputation is tarnished by having an ID proponent on their scientific faculty.

  • L-Train

    Sorry, this is completely off topic, but I was directed here by someone at “Not Even Wrong”, because they thought someone on here might be able to answer this question I had:

    I stumbled on your website, trying to find information about a theory about gamma ray bursts that has been written up in general interest publications, such as the Economist. I am a layman (although with a scientific background — chemistry), but I have a paranoid interest in particle physics.
    The theory that I was wondering about was Dr. Clavelli’s theory that GRBs are produced by a spontaneous SUSY transition in white dwarves. From what I understand, GRBs are generally thought to be caused by exploding stars, and if anything, GRBs tend to not occur in galaxies where there are not very many elements heavier than helium, which seems to negate this idea. I was wondering whether Clavelli’s ideas (regarding GRBs and spontaneous SUSY transitions in general) are taken very seriously in the physics community as a whole.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    L-Train, While I know Louis Clavelli very well, I am not familiar with this particular work of his and I’m no expert on GRBs. Sorry.

  • kavik

    I’m an “old school” physicist (I probably have 25 yrs on most of you) and for a variety of reasons of I believe the tenure system is obsolete (note that most people in favor of it are those w/ it or those trying to get it). That being said, I quite agree that in this case, denial of tenure was the appropriate decision. If the publication of the book was the only matter at hand, then the award of tenure should still be considered, despite the contrarian contribution (to borrow a term from the global warming debate). But conducting “official” lectures as university faculty does indeed cross the line and constitutes grounds for loss of tenure. Back in the days of yore, so I would have voted.

    Now Rob Knop argues that the problem is that ID puts the issue in the public domain rather than in the “scientific” domain. To my mind that makes no difference. Never mind that we are not strictly trained to be teachers…we are expected to be teachers, and that includes the public, as well as the people who show up in our classrooms. Indeed, it is probably the public who are the students we most need to reach.

  • http://www.gaugegravity.com/testapplet/SweetGravity.html Carl Brannen

    Eric,

    Gonzalez’s religious beliefs are incompatible not with science, but instead only with the physics department at Iowa State. If they were incompatible with science, then he wouldn’t be able to do science; clearly he can.

  • Dave

    Carl Brannen,

    Gonzalez’s problem is not his religious beliefs, but his public advocacy of ID. ID is an attack on science and an attempt to fool the public into thinking that there is some scientific alternative to evolution. Either his religious beliefs have confused him to the point that he doesn’t understand that ID is not science, or he is simply being dishonest. Any university that hopes to attract high quality students and faculty in the future is not going to want to hire him. He’ll damage their reputation the same way that Michael Behe has damaged the reputation of Lehigh University.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The situation with Gonzalez is no different than if an astronomer went around giving lectures in support of Astrology.

    No, the area of Gonzalez’s giving offence (ID) is different from his area of professional expertise. Suppose he believed in Atlantis? Would it matter?

    Anyway, Sean’s post shows the cognitive dissonance – “after he gets tenure, I defend his right to be crackpot”.

    Gonzalez should be denied or given tenure purely based on his scientific achievements. The hypocrisy of someone like Gonzalez to dissimulate until he gets tenure and then to openly declare his beliefs presumably is not what any of us want.

    A person should be judged for a job based on the requirements of the job. Sean’s comment makes it clear that advocating crackpot theories is within the tenured professor’s job description; therefore denial of tenure cannot be based on advocacy of crackpot theories. Denial of Gonzalez’ tenure as professor of astronomy should be only based on his inadequacy of achievement in astronomy, and/or his inability to run a research program and guide graduate students and/or his inability to teach.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Suppose Gonsalez was an evangelist in his spare time and went about preaching the truth of the Bible, including a literal reading of Genesis. Would that disqualify him from tenure?

    Suppose G. went around publicly debating that global warming is not happening or that it is nothing to worry about. Would that disqualify him from tenure?

    Suppose G. went about advocating Reaganomics or some such theory of economics? Suppose G. agreed with Michael Ledeen that “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Would that disqualify him from tenure?

    Just asking.

    Seems to me that the demand for orthodoxy – whether on the Right or on the Left – has never been greater, and this country will be the poorer because of it.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    Now Rob Knop argues that the problem is that ID puts the issue in the public domain rather than in the “scientific” domain.

    That’s not exactly what I was arguing. I did say that there are ways to be a proponent of an unpopular scientific position while remaining a good scientist, and what the ID people are doing (arguing their case in front of school boards and the public consciousness) is certainly not it. I do think that so doing is not evidence of somebody with a viable but fringe scientific theory, but is back-door, back-stabbing science– and that’s why I think all of these arguments about “off hours” are irrelevant.

    However, they can only argue it that way, because ID is scientifically vacuous. If somebody were to keep arguing ID in the scientific sphere, they’d be no better than somebody who kept arguing cold fusion or N-rays. It doesn’t stand up in the scientific domain.

    -Rob

  • J

    This is rediculous. I thought this was a free world, yet it turns out to be a frustrating one. I hate this.

  • Thomas Larsson

    If somebody were to keep arguing ID in the scientific sphere, they’d be no better than somebody who kept arguing cold fusion or N-rays.

    They’d be no better than Julian Schwinger? :-)

  • Dave

    Arun,
    I can’t speak for the folks at ISU, but I would generally expect that unusual religious activity or political beliefs would generally be consider irrelevant for a tenure review. The case of global warming could depend on the details. If aspects of global warming are being attacked on a scientific basis, that would probably be ok. But, if the scientist is acting as a shill for an industry group trying to discredit global warming for their own economic benefit, then this would be grounds for denial of tenure, I would think. (There are some industry groups that have funded academics to try and discredit global warming.)
    But, keep in mind that tenure is basically a lifetime job appointment, and sometimes people can be denied tenure just because their colleagues can’t stand to have them around for the next 30 years. So, someone with unorthodox views that makes life unpleasant for his or her colleagues might very well be denied tenure.

  • Jim Miles

    I’m a new reader to Cosmic Variance and loving the entries – especially ones like this about academic politics!

    I’ve visited a few times in the past 24 hours and each time the term “tenure flaps” sound dodgier and dodgier.

  • L-Train

    Joanne,
    Thanks for getting back to me. I’m surprised that you know Clavelli, but you hadn’t heard about this work, as it is a “claim to fame” of his, so to speak. Wonder why he doesn’t talk about it much.

  • Philip

    Would Isaac Newton have gotten tenure at ISU? He was an alchemist and believed that the Bible was the literal word of God.

  • graviton383

    L-Train: Actually I believe Clavelli is best known for his long standing work on the physics of very light gluinos in supersymmetry. I’ve heard about this more recent work but don’t know much about it.

  • Analyzer

    Would Isaac Newton have gotten tenure at ISU? He was an alchemist and believed that the Bible was the literal word of God.

    Meh. Science 300 years ago = apples; science today = oranges.

    (No Newton/apple pun intended.)

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Newton had to keep his activities and beliefs under wraps then, of course, too. Alchemy was illegal and being a unitarian wasn’t wildly popular, either.

    All you can aim to achieve with rules like this is to restrict what faculty say; you clearly can’t modify what they believe. That’s no different to most jobs, of course, where your employer will act against you if that employer feels that you are harming their image somehow with your behaviour, including what you say. Whether or not that’s the sort of job that many people would like the job of professor to be is another matter; you hear a lot of stuff about the essential freedoms, etc, of academia. Additionally, Arun made the key point that if it’s OK (as Sean said) for tenured faculty to behave the way that Gonzalez did, why not for tenure-track faculty, who are presumably being judged for their suitability for the job of ‘tenured faculty’? So it comes back to moderating expression being the only possible expected result and where moderation of expression is the desired result, we had best be careful about the rules that that moderation follows, at least for those of us that believe that ‘slippery slopes’ do exist (for all that they are perhaps spotted with greater regularity than they actually occur).

  • http://scienceblogs.com/interactions Rob Knop

    Science 300 years ago = apples; science today = …

    …curvature of spacetime.

    (No Newton/apple pun intended.)

    If I could only say as much.

  • q2

    The original post concludes that what puts Gonzalez out of bounds is that he made public ID-related appearances billed as an ISU professor, with (it appears to me) the implication that this is materially different than advocating for one’s ideas on a blog. But I’m not so sure I see that solid of a line here. The particular blog that you are now reading has an “about” section with profiles of each author, and the first sentence of each of these profiles very specifically identifies the author’s institutional affiliation. (JoAnne’s profile contains a disclaimer to the effect that her posts don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of her employer, but none of the other profiles has such a disclaimer.) I don’t see that that plays an essentially different role than the introducer at some lecture mentioning that the lecturer is a professor at University X.

    If Gonzalez “used his professional position to promote ID,” is it any less true that, say, “Mark Trodden has used his professional position to promote the idea that there is no such thing as universal morality”? In light of the considerable unpopularity in some quarters of a lot of the opinions that have been expressed here by some of the authors of this blog (who, again, post here with a university label), I would have thought that people here would be less open to others being punished for their extracurricular manifestoes.

    That said, as far as this particular case goes, this article suggests that Gonzalez’s legitimate scientific activity may have significantly fallen off in the last few years as he’s become more preoccupied with his ID hobby, in which case there may have been more validity in the tenure denial than first appeared.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Three hundred years later on okanet Earth
    the apple still falls to the ground because of …

    The Moon orbits the Earth because of …
    The Earth revolves around the Sun because of …
    The Sun moves along the Milky Way because of …

  • MedallionOfFerret

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and also Tenure if work in their field is excellent, even if they will use their position to espouse crackpot concepts invented specifically to undermine the work of that field.

    All Right! Doctrine for a new Revolution! To the Barricades!

    …only, I wouldn’t find it a cause for great happiness if a known proselytizer for ID were to be voting on MY tenure in a physics department. I do, after all, have a rather strong inclination toward science and the scientific process.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    You go to tenure review with the senior faculty that you have, not the ones that you want.

  • http://www.gaugegravity.com/testapplet/SweetGravity.html Carl Brannen

    A tenured position at a state school is a paid position in the state government. Responsibilities of professors include handing out grades that will directly effect the lives of students. A professor judges which students are worthy and which are not, and it is imperative that their decisions be fair. Perhaps someone who believes in ID cannot fairly give out grades to atheists. Perhaps someone who believes in ID does not understand truth and will lead impressionable youth astray.

    But this is a political question, not a scientific one. Professors, like judges, at state schools especially are in positions of trust with respect to those who are underneath them. In many parts of the US judges are elected by vote of the community. Perhaps tenure should be decided the same way. Certainly few are arguing that we should have small groups of secretive judges decide on who will become a judge.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Actually, I don’t know about ‘secretive’, but I don’t have any problem with judges being selected by smallish groups. Certainly, I don’t support the direct election of judges that does, as you say, take place in a fair number of places in the US.

  • Pingback: More Commentary on Guillermo Gonzalez - Telic Thoughts()

  • Analyzer

    But this is a political question, not a scientific one.

    Is it? The quality of his scientific output is compromised by the inclusion of ID nonsense in his body of work. Nothing political about that.

  • beezle

    I really do not understand your objection to him speaking at another university. Of course he was billed as an ISU professor – that is his job title isn’t it? Were he a medical doctor would you object to him being referred to as an MD? Should an elected official who gives an invited speech only be billed as Mr. Jones instead of Congressman Jones when the topic of said speech is not related to government at all? What of a CEO giving an invited speech at some philanthropic event? Is it wrong to say Mr. Smith, CEO of Big Company will give the keynote?

    While it is certainly true the school is perfectly within its rights to give tenure to whomever they so chose, it is disappointing that the decision is not primarily one of his academic work. Perhaps a better idea would to establish a policy for all falculty that when giving an invited lecture at another institution on a subject outside their field that they must disclose at the start of the talk they are there in a personal capacity and any thing they say should not be taken as representing the view of their employer or fellow employees.

  • Analyzer

    Perhaps a better idea would to establish a policy for all falculty that when giving an invited lecture at another institution on a subject outside their field that they must disclose at the start of the talk they are there in a personal capacity and any thing they say should not be taken as representing the view of their employer or fellow employees.

    This is not the issue. Even when Tenured Professor X from Fancy University Y gives a lecture or publishes a paper directly relating to his or her own field, he or she does not speak for Y, or represent the official opinion of Y, or carry the endorsement of his or her opinions by Y.

    The issue is that when X goes out and says something really stupid, it makes Y look bad. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how much X disclaims before he or she speaks. It makes Y look bad for having X on board. And I don’t have a problem with Y deciding, if X is untenured, that they don’t want to be associated with X anymore.

  • my one cent

    Okay, not that it’s worth anything, but here’s my take on this….

    Some here and elsewhere seem to argue that denying someone tenure because they hold unpopular ideas is a bad thing. The trick is, he does not just have some unpopular ideas, he has been advocating those ideas by writing a book and, apparently, by giving lectures. Thus these cannot be treated as his “private beliefs” anymore, as a scientist and a scholar he has the responsibility as a scientist and a scholar to engage and respond to critics. How Dr. Gonzales handles the reaction to his ideas therefore has a direct bearing on his tenure. At the most basic level, one should expect that he would attempt to convince his peers in his department and his university that his ideas have merit, or at lthe very least, covince them that considering the idea could be useful in some way (sort of like how the Copernican model could be treated as a useful computational tool even if you still thought the heliocentric model was right). The better he is able to do this, it seems, the more likely he is not only to get tenure but also to be a scholar who can effectively advocate a position and deal with criticism. Thus the tenure proccess may not be that much at odds with the idea of promoting good scholarship in this case.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Analyzer #84 said:

    The issue is that when X goes out and says something really stupid, it makes Y look bad. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how much X disclaims before he or she speaks. It makes Y look bad for having X on board. And I don’t have a problem with Y deciding, if X is untenured, that they don’t want to be associated with X anymore.

    I think that this is the core issue. It’s an employment and contractual issue. People might complain about the contract being unfair and it might be pointed out that there are inconsistencies (in that it would be fine for a tenured professor to do it, at least in terms of their employment, according to at least some) but it’s not like Gonzalez signed his contract in ignorance of likely repercussions of his actions.

    Whether that SHOULD be the contract, or whether tenured professors should be subject to similar constraints (at least if they are well-defined) is a different matter, relating in large part to what one thinks that ‘tenure’ ought to be; Ward Churchill, for example, might well have been OK with ‘mini-Eichmanns’ had the resulting furore not uncovered, or at least brought into prominence, some other issues for which he could be fired, although one might defensibly argue that the most important cause was the furore (but that the genuine disciplinary issues did exist was necessary).

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Additionally (occurred to me as I hit the submit button, so apologies for another multiple post), this is going to be a lot more difficult for other subjects whose boundaries are less (relatively) well-defined than ‘science’. A historian, or political scientist, or sociologist, etc, would have a lot more freedom and still be within the defensible bounds of their general subject area. Even an applied mathematician could get into areas that, whilst on the face of it don’t look to be in the mathematical domain, would be subject to mathematical analysis whilst causing significant offence/discussion (a la Freakonomics).

    What comprises disreputable conduct is pretty hard to pin down, in general, when talking about the statements/books/lectures of research faculty; having people securely ‘thinking the unthinkable’ is a great advantage to society in most cases but might be argued in specific cases to be deleterious (such as theorising on racial differences) or, at least, offensive, whilst in all cases clearly having the potential to cause damage to an institution’s reputation (and for most educational institutions, reputation is clearly related to economic health). In some senses, we in science have it rather easy; we might disagree on what science is to some extent and some of us might be looking carefully for wedges being driven into that, but that pales into comparison with the difficulties of assessing what was appropriate that would plague other disciplines. On the other hand, science has a particularly high regard in the public mind, and is, thus, an attractive target for being co-opted into, say, a thinly-veiled creationist cause.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    I wasn’t aware that One had to be an ‘atheist’
    to understand Maths, or Physics or Chemistry or Biology or …

    However closing one’s Mind to the ‘unknown’ sounds ‘unscientific’
    I’m glad some science is still looking for things that cannot be seen
    I’m glad some science is trying to fathom what remains unseen or ‘hidden’

    Medical science strives to reveal & overcome the impossible – everyday!

  • ROB

    Joanne:

    I would first like to note that you and others engage in much tap-dancing to arrive at a predetermined conclusion (i.e., Guillermo Gonzalez should not get tenure), which is what you accuse Gonzalez of doing with his teleological musings.

    Secondly, I oppose the idea that tenured faculty deserve to be treated like Brahmins, whereas untenured faculty must remain content with their dalit status until such time as the tenured caste deems them worthy. In public institutions, especially, tenured faculty may not do as they please; there must be just cause and accountability in their decisions regarding tenure.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Carl, 70% of the Amercans believe that the Bible is literally true. So, if Americans are going to elect professors, then universities will be transformed into “madrassas” :)

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Jo Anne & Rob,

    I have you mistaken in law, history and logic. If Intelligent Design is religion and not science(as is usually argued), and the tenure committee used his expressed belief in it’s decision, they violated the law and the Constitution – no religious test – have you heard that one.

    It’s simply false that ID was invented as a weapon against evolution. A very limited study of the history of western thought will show you that it was a prominent idea in the philosophy of nature from ancient times until Darwin.

    Calling it anti-scientific is not a meaningful use of the term. In fact, ID is a theory of nature, and it’s one that has testable consequences. ID was rejected by biologists because it lacked explanatory power, failing to explain relations betweens species, and because it made false predictions – too many aspects of life simply aren’t intelligently designed.

    If the committee rejected Dr. G for believing in a discredited theory, albeit one distant from his own research, that might be legit if odd.

    If you plan to discuss this stuff you ought to try to get your minimum facts together before you just launch into your respective prejudices.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Analyzer,

    We do have laws that make discrimination on the basis of race, religion and a few other things illegal. If the Prof was engaged in protected behavior, they can’t legally fire him for making them “look bad.” Nor can they legally use or consider that behavior in making hiring decisions.

    My guess is that he sues and wins, and comments like Jo Anne’s, Rob’s, and your’s might well be part of the proof.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Freedom of Religion doesn’t mean the same thing as being able to use your employment credentials to promote religion, though, I don’t think. Preaching religion in the class, for example, might be grounds to be refused tenure (if you’re hired to research and teach science); the question of preaching religion outside of class, if that is judged to harm the institution, might not be so very different.

    I am not convinced that Gonzalez would necessarily win if he sued. I am, myself, the most blackhearted of capitalist imperialist pigs, and to me it looks like a contractual issue. As tenure is something like a re-hire with no guarantees, it seems to me that it’s probably legal (at least constitutionally) not to hire someone that does a lot of preaching, because it’s not penalising their beliefs but, rather, their choice of expression of them.

    I’m not at all convinced that the decision is wise, but it looks to me like it’s probably legal.

    If Hooters don’t hire a moslem woman that wears the Hijab, is that illegal?

  • Eric Mayes

    CIP,
    ID is in fact a pseudoscience who’s express purpose is to undermine scientific arguments. Also, denial of tenure is not entirely the same as being fired. University’s hiring untenured faculty is like a man dating a woman (or vice-versa). Granting tenure is equivalent to deciding to get married. Just because two people have been dating doesn’t mean they have to get married.

  • Analyzer

    If the Prof was engaged in protected behavior, they can’t legally fire him for making them “look bad.” Nor can they legally use or consider that behavior in making hiring decisions.

    Claiming that something is science when it is not is not protected behavior. He’s free to practice his religion and even to preach it–and I would imagine that these freedoms are properly legally shielded from punishment by employers–but the issue is not the religious side of ID. It’s the scientific side of ID.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Eric,

    If you have read my comment, you should know that ID long predates Darwin. Words like psuedo-science are pretty much meaningless insults – the important point is that ID fails as an explanatory paradigm. Decisions on hiring or firing, especially by a government entity, are not like deciding whom to marry – they are covered by express laws (and the constitution) which forbid religious discrimination.

    Adam,

    Preaching religion in class is not usually protected speech, but miscelleaneous religious remarks almost certainly are. Preaching religion outside of class is undoubtedly protected by more than one part of the constitution. Whether your fellow faculty members approve doesn’t matter, and if they make hiring/firing decisions based on such considerations they have violated the law.

    Proving it might not be easy, of course.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Analyzer,

    Turn your analysis on what you said. If ID isn’t science, how can it have a “scientific side?” You are hung up on meaningless terminology. I don’t care whether you, Jo Anne, etc think ID is science, anti-science, psuedo-science or whatever. It makes some statements about the world, statements that make some wrong predictions and lack much overall explanatory power compared to natural selection. The rest is just BS.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    CIP and others who have missed the point: I totally agree that a professor is allowed whatever crazy religious beliefs they may have, or they may have a blog, or they may like to spend their Saturday afternoons smoking weed. Their personal life is just that, personal, and should not factor into a tenure decision, unless they themselves cross the personal-professional line.

    And this is what Gonzalez did. He went to the University of Northern Iowa, as a professor from the “big school,” ISU, and gave a lecture to their yearly Sigma Xi meeting. Sigma Xi is the honor society for physics undergraduate students. This is a very professional activity – I know, as my ex-husband once gave this lecture and I was there. One is asked to give this lecture due to the reputation of their scientific research and one is asked to talk about that research. However, Gonzalez chose to give this lecture on ID, rather than on his scientific work. He himself crossed the boundry of personal/professional, state/religion, and it is grounds for dismissal.

    PS: CIP: My name is spelled as JoAnne – no space between the o and the A. Thank you.

  • Analyzer

    Turn your analysis on what you said. If ID isn’t science, how can it have a “scientific side?” You are hung up on meaningless terminology.

    The fact that something is not science does not mean it has nothing to do with science. I wouldn’t present a paper on the tractor beam of the USS Enterprise at a conference, but I don’t know too many people who would say that it had nothing to do with science.

    Anyway, JoAnne nailed it. No one is picking on him for what he believes; it’s the intersection of his religion and his work that is the issue. If I’m a receptionist, and I answer every phone call with, “Good morning, the Earth is 6000 years old, praise Jesus, how can I help you today?” does my employer not have the right to tell me to cut it out, and to fire me if I refuse? I’m not being punished for my religious beliefs. I’m being punished for letting them interfere with my effectiveness as an employee and for tarnishing the reputation of my employer.

  • Eric Mayes

    I think a point that is being missed is that when a university grant’s tenure, they are making a lifetime commitment, in principle. In many ways, tenure is a priviledge rather than a right. Because it is such a deep commitment, there are many factors that go into such decisions, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with merit. For example, if there is not a lot of personal chemistry between a tenure candidate and the other faculty, they may be less likely to grant tenure because they feel he/she will not be a good fit with the department in the long term. Of course, such things are never given as official reasons for denying tenure, and usually get lumped in with things such as ‘service’. In the case of Gonzalez, I am sure that many of the faculty felt that he would bring ridicule to the department should he be granted tenure, and would probably have hurt the other faculty of his department’s chances at getting grants and attracting students. There are places for people such as Gonzalez, one of which is also in Iowa, Fairfield to be exact.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    All jobs, not just tenured ones, are privileges, not rights.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    JoAnne,

    It appears that Sigma Xi invited Gonzalez explicitly to give the talk that he gave. So I don’t think what you wrote is fair.

    E.g.,

    Paul Shand, UNI professor of physics and president-elect of Sigma Xi, the science research society that sponsored the event, said the discussion went very well, and the goal of exchanging ideas in a civil way was accomplished.

    Shand said although he sees no problem with the theory being presented as an idea in a university setting, it runs into problems when it is presented as a science.

    “Obviously, there are people like Professor Gonzalez that would like to convince people that Intelligent Design is a science, but I don’t see them as being easily convinced,” he said.

    http://media.www.iowastatedaily.com/media/storage/paper818/news/2005/09/29/News/Intelligent.Design.Debate.Continued.On.The.Road-1106102.shtml

    -Arun

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    http://www.uni.edu/myuniverse/2005/092605.shtml

    INTELLIGENT DESIGN SPEAKER:

    The UNI Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Research Honor Society, presents Guillermo Gonzalez, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and assistant professor of Astronomy at Iowa State University, speaking on Intelligent Design (ID). He will review the leading ideas proposed by ID theorists and explain why they believe ID is properly a branch of science. He will end with a brief description of the evidence for design which he presented in his book “The Privileged Planet.” Wednesday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m. in MSH Lantz Auditorium.

    Diabolical plan, I think, first to invite a prof. to expound on his controversial ideas in front of a professional society, and then to claim that he overstepped the bounds of his profession by doing so, and make it an argument for denying tenure.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    There are interesting issues here which have not been touched on. First, tenure is a very formal process with the rules set forth in a faculty handbook. Neither the department nor ISU are totally free to do as they will. In any case there will be further reviews at the college and university level. Given that tenure is usually awarded by the Board of Trustees upon recommendation of the President (or local equivalents) and the state is pretty religious, pass the popcorn.

    More interesting is the issue that ID presents itself as a scientific theory, not a religious belief. Here I have to differ with the Pig. Creationist have constructed a theory of origins that is not religious (at least in their claims). That is something new under the sun. HAD Gonzales been preaching a religious doctrine and been rejected on the grounds he was religious, he would have a slam dunk case under (forget the exact name of the ) law. However, since ID is presented as a theory of the natural world, he cannot directly make such an appeal, but must show that his colleagues saw his ID efforts as a religious effort and denied him tenure for that reason.

    Also, ID is a theory of origins of the universe. Please tell me how this has no relevence to the professional qualifications of an astronomer/astrophysicist.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Oh yes, you might also want to take a look at the James Sherley tenure case at MIT. A biology professor very anti non adult stem cell research denied tenure.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Eli,

    I don’t think we actually disagree. If we treat ID as a serious but largely discredited idea, there is no problem. If, as is usually done, it’s called religion, there is.

    It is also true that serious or not, it is being used as a stalking horse for religion.

  • Mike Watson

    JoAnne Hewett begins her post by saying she is embarrassed to admit that Iowa State is her alma mater and ends it by saying denial of tenure was justified by Gonzalez’ giving an invited lecture promoting intelligent design while “billed as an ISU professor.” From all appearances, it seems Hewett was right in the first instance, and that whatever Guillermo Gonzalez may have contributed to the promotion of intelligent design is unlikely to have benefitted from his association with ISU.

    There is such a thing as giving one’s affiliation for purposes of identification without the implication that the individual is speaking for the institution. See, e.g., Dr. Hewett’s bio page under “contributors” on this blog.

    Gonzalez’ work supportive of a design inference isn’t exactly out in far left field. See the book jacket endorsements on _The Privileged Planet_ from, among others, Owen Gingerich and Simon Conway Morris.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    CIP, ID isn’t ‘religion'; at best, it’s religiously motivated (which is presumably the argument for claiming that lecturing about it is religious expression).

    Joanne’s point is that Gonzalez wasn’t ‘preaching out of class’, but, rather, using his ISU credentials to do it (in that sense, representing the University). Now, that probably means that some people can’t preach religion very easily because of the career path they chose, in that their big opposrunities to preach come through their job. Those people should probably seek a different job, as we capitaists would prefer them to.

    It seems to me that it’s possible that Gonzalez was exercising his right to religious expression in a way that harms his employer. Carte blanche to do that would appear to make hiring religious people rather difficult; there clearly has to be a balance between their right to religious expression and the right of employers not to employ people that they believe hurt their business.

  • Cynthia

    ID is intrinsically a religion hiding behind a facade of science: plain and simple! Here’s a fundamental question which drive at the heart of this dispute: was Gonzalez selling himself as a man of religion or as a man of science? And for Gonzalez to sell himself as a man of religion wearing the clothes of a scientist is an act of deception: nothing more, nothing less!

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    JoAnne, shows how emotions can interfere with ‘logic’
    If what Arun says in 102 and 103 is true
    It simply shows that a physicist called JoAnne can be wrong
    or worse deliberately distort the ‘facts’

    I guess I’m still trying to figure out where that great big collider in the sky and energy source that produced the big bang might have gone (or come from).

    However I understand that research entails not only researching what has been found, but searching for the ‘unknown’ and that can entail things which turn out to be right, and often things that turn out to be false or wrong. After all what does knowing what may have happened at the beginning of Time, or how Time began – change. Will it change our lives, the way earth’s gravity pulls us down or the way things and people age, decay & die, And the question will remain why did it happen, and what was before. And more important perhaps what comes after – is there any more? Who would have believed before yesterday that you will soon be able to store the sum total of the knowledge and life experiences of the average human ‘being’ in the next generation of ‘memory’ sticks. And man & science still strive for inmortality, and the possibility or notion that life in some shape or form can (or may) continue after bodily death … exists even among non-theist (and atheist) scientists

  • Mike Watson

    JoAnne Hewett’s argument that denial of tenure is justifiable based on extramural statements (rather than classroom performance, research or publications) is not specifically an argument about tenure standards, but raises broader issues of academic freedom. In this respect, my understanding is that under AAUP standards an untenured faculty member is supposed to have the same academic freedom all other faculty members have. So if Guillermo Gonzalez’ conduct in making a invited presentation to a Sigma Xi chapter at another university was grounds for denial of tenure on the basis that he stepped over the line of what academic freedom permits under AAUP and First Amendment standards (which I very much doubt it did), wouldn’t similar conduct by tenured faculty could also be grounds for discipline?

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    The whole thing is an interesting version of double blind zuzwang. Gonzales to win his tenure has to show that ID is a religious doctrine and he is being religiously discriminated against, something that ID was designed to implausibly deny. On the other hand the department has to show that they regarded ID as a scientific theory which has nothing to do with religion. Pass the popcorn.

  • Eric Mayes

    The bottom line is that Gonzalez’s actions undoubtedly undermined his credibility and respect within the scientific community. Regardless of your feelings about ID, it is not respected by most scientists. For this reason, Gonzales becomes a liability for ISU, and this is most definitely grounds for denial of tenure.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Arun, I realize that Gonzalez was invited to speak about ID. However, he had the option of saying “No thank you, I don’t think that’s approriate, but I would like to talk about my research on the Galatic Habitable Zone instead.” And he should have. This was not a public lecture, this was a physics lecture, sponsored by a physics student’s society, and should have been kept professional.

  • Cynthia

    Excellent point, Eli! From the looks of things, IDers are aiming to gain a privileged status in academics: a status whereby they can freely vacillate between teaching science and religion–all in a single setting, in fact! And, in my opinion, it sets a dangerous precedent to allow scientists to inject religion into their scientific work!

  • Belizean

    Surely, this discussion turns on character of Gonzalez’ version of ID. If it is free of supernaturalisms and subject to refutation on the basis of observation, then it is just an outlandish scientific hypothesis. Which is okay.

    If it is chock full of supernatural assumptions and completely untestable (even in principle), then, yes, his positions is anti-science. And it would be wrong to grant him tenure in a pro-science department.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    Belizean

    If it is chock full of supernatural assumptions and completely untestable (even in principle), then, yes, his positions is anti-science. And it would be wrong to grant him tenure in a pro-science department.

    And completely illegal not to grant him tenure on that basis.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    He wouldn’t fail to be hired as permanent for what he believes, but for what he said and did. There’s not a limitless carte blanche to express your religious beliefs, regardless of the effect on your employer.

  • http://CapitalistImperialistPig.blogspot.com CapitalistImperialistPig

    adam,

    I suggest you review your understanding of US law. Religious activity is protected speech, and if you aren’t advocating or doing something criminal, the State of Iowa can’t legally take any job action against you for it. This is all spelled out very clearly in Civil Rights case law and the statutes.

    He can’t use his classroom to proseletyze, but what he does on his own time, if of a religious character, cannot (legally) be used against him any more than his race, sex or ethnicity could be.

  • Analyzer

    He can’t use his classroom to proseletyze, but what he does on his own time, if of a religious character, cannot (legally) be used against him any more than his race, sex or ethnicity could be.

    Are you sure about that? Suppose I work at Bob’s Auto Repair. I put in my hours, then right after I’m off the clock, I stand on the street outside the shop, on public property, and I start handing out flyers that say, “Bob is pro-choice! Boycott Bob’s, or Jesus will see to it that you burn in hell forever!” I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that Bob ought to be able to fire me.

  • Dave

    Dear CapitalistImperialistPig,

    There are a couple of problems with your argument. First, denial of tenure is not a decision to fire someone. It is a decision not to hire them for a permanent job. This makes it much harder to win a lawsuit.

    Second, the very essence of “Intelligent Design” would seem to defeat any attempt to make a religious discrimination claim. If Gonzalez were to claim that he rejects evolution based on his religious beliefs, but that this doesn’t interfere with his astronomy, then he might be able to claim religious discrimination. But, “Intelligent Design” claims to be a scientific theory, so the tenure decision could be based on his poor scientific judgement in accepting ID. So, in order to make his claim, Gonzalez would have to deny the central fraud behind ID. This seems unlikely.

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    My understanding, CIP, is that religious expressions are not protected ‘no matter what’ (as a rastafarian smoking cannabis might find). If an employee does something to harm their employer’s business, they’re going to get fired (clearly, amployers can’t stand for that).

    In any case, Dave would appear to have nailed it; even if you (CIP) are right about the nature of the law (that religious expression trumps all, including the commensense idea that an employer ought to be able to fire employees that harm that employer’s business), there appears to be something of a logical trap there for Gonzales.

  • Pingback: Intelligent Design and Tenure on the Net | As the Worm Turns()

  • Pingback: CIPig on ID, prof’s tenure, and Cosmic Variance militancy « Dudesky()

  • Dave

    Here is a story on the ISU president’s denial of Gonzalez’ appeal of his tenure decision. The story reports that Gonzalez received only $22,661 in grant money since July, 2006, and that the average total funding for physics and astronomy professors prior to tenure was $1.3 million. It also quotes the president as saying that ID issues played no role in his decision. I’m pretty sure that $1.3 million is much higher than the average for astronomers that don’t build instruments, but if he only got $22k in funding over 6 years, it is not a surprise that he didn’t get tenure.

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