Saturday, December 01, 2007


Did We Say That?

There is an interesting article in the Des Moines Register about the ongoing destruction of whatever career Guillermo Gonzalez might have had left by his "friends," otherwise known as the Discovery Institute. At least this time there is some indications that accidental truthiness is leaking out of Seattle:

Gonzalez's backers have insisted that he lost out on tenure, and will lose his job at the end of the school year, because of his religious beliefs and his advocacy for intelligent design.
I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there is shortly a "correction" about ID not being a religious view at the DI's Kvetch & Release blog. After all, the fact that a member of the science faculty is confusing science with religion is something legitimately to be considered in a review of his knowledge of and ability to do science.

Less honest, and something the reporter, Lisa Rossi, should have picked up on but didn't, is the claim that e-mails that the university has now released are "contrary" to what university officials were saying back when his tenure was denied. Specifically, it appears the story is mixing up two different events in the tenure process. One is the vote by tenured faculty members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the other was the review of the result of that vote by Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy. Clearly it would be a rash official who would promise that a faculty vote was not influenced at all by Gonzalez's humping of ID. The color of the ties he wore or a perceived snub can influence that.

One of the better statements in the article was by physics and astronomy professor Bruce Harmon, who said that, while Gonzalez's support for intelligent design was part of the tenure discussions among his ISU colleagues:

... 80 percent to 90 percent of the discussion on whether to grant Gonzalez tenure was based on his astronomy, but "it's impossible to have this big elephant in the room without a burp occasionally, so it may have surfaced, but I don't think it was that strong."
A dossier on Gonzalez that summarized the physics and astronomy faculty decision was then sent after the vote to the other university administrators. According to Eli Rosenberg, chairman of the Department, those documents included "a few words about intelligent design at the end, and that's it." Rosenberg did not vote in the tenure decision but issued a separate recommendation as chairman of the department. I am fond of his example, given that I have used it many times myself:

[Rosenberg] said the tenure discussions included comments on whether Gonzalez thought intelligent design was science, which Rosenberg said he thought he did.

"Would you have somebody in a French department who said Spanish was French?" Rosenberg asked.
What was promised by the university was that President Geoffroy's review ignored Gonzalez's IDeology:

"I based my review strictly on what he submitted himself as part of his dossier when he requested tenure," Geoffroy said. "I did not consider any of the issues that have been circulating around about intelligent design." ...

Geoffroy said he considered refereed publications, Gonzalez's level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and the overall evidence of his future career promise in the field of astronomy.
Of course, Geoffroy is human too and the peanuts on the breath of Gonzalez's application may have colored his perception ... rightly so if, as is apparently obvious even to the DI, he was advancing his religious beliefs by advocating pseudoscience.

The e-mails also indicate that the faculty was trying not to overreact to Gonzalez's activities and to signal him that it was not good for his career. But, ultimately, Gonzalez, as is the case with most proselytizers, was too busy advancing the faith to consider the real world.


You quote [Gonzalez] will lose his job at the end of the school year, because of his religious beliefs and his advocacy for intelligent design. and go on to say "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there is shortly a "correction" about ID not being a religious view..."

I concur with your sentiment, but point out that that quote could be read as "because of his [a] religious beliefs and [b] his advocacy for intelligent design."

OK, back to lurking...
Yes, I'm aware of that possible line of attack by the IDers. A few days ago, in the comments at PZ's place, I suggested that their position could entail this neat two-step:

ID is a scientific position but the academic world perceives it as religious and, therefore, they are discriminating based on a perception of Gonzalez's religious beliefs, which is just as bad as doing it based on his actual beliefs. It is an argument that I don't think a judge can dismiss out of hand, even if we can.

Once again, however, that would seemingly be inviting a decision on whether ID is science or not. I suppose they can argue that it doesn't matter, since it doesn't matter whether the discrimination was based on his religious beliefs or the administration's perception of those beliefs.

On the other hand, the university can argue that the perception was that he was promoting pseudoscience (whether in aid of his religious beliefs or not) which is inherently contradictory to the mission of a research institution and, therefore, the status of ID is relevant.

I suspect that the threat of a lawsuit is more for effect with the Regents than it is serious. The DI's experience with the vagarities of litigation suggests the saying "once burned, twice shy" may be applicable.

One thing is sure though ... it will be interesting.
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