Seth Cooper

Anti-intelligent design gurus Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch have fired a shot across the bow to those in academia who have given intellectual assent to intelligent design theory (ID). The message: don’t count on academic freedom to protect you. Beyond Barbara and Branch’s hackneyed diatribe against ID as a conspiracy theory–like something out of an X-Files caper–the authors call upon others in academia to try to undermine the careers of academics that have pursued research in ID.
Their article reads like an anti-ID hit list, with the authors taking great care to drop the names of many ID proponents between propagandistic, red herring bits involving the author’s slanted discussions of the apparent religious motives of certain ID thinkers. The empirical scientific arguments of ID proponents are conveniently ignored.
One subheading in their article describes the work of ID proponents as “Abuse of Academia.” This is a call for the suspension of the strong protections for academic freedom in higher education. The most vehement anti-ID advocates don’t have to respect the academic freedom of their opponents if they can first create and sustain misperception that their opponents are somehow dishonest. (I.e., we don’t have to respect the rules because the rules don’t apply to you.)

After engaging in wholesale character assassination of many scientists and other scholars favoring ID, the authors try to give themselves some cover through a begrudging acknowledgement that ID scholars deserve “the same degree of academic freedom conferred on the professoriate in general.” But what ID scholar should take this empty platitude seriously, coming at the end of a lengthy hit piece, painting ID proponents in the worst possible light? The authors accuse ID academics of “misleading students,” and then claim that such ID supporters exercise “power without responsibility.” The authors’ claims are precisely the ones people make as a prelude to stripping other persons of such power. If that weren’t enough, Barbara and Branch call on other academics to “resist” the work of ID scholars.
Hopefully, scholars (including AAUP members) will recognize that if academic freedom is to mean anything, it must apply as strongly to scholars you disagree with as it does to scholars you agree with. A pseudo-academic politic of personal destruction and strong-arm tactics are no substitute for genuine debates over ideas and evidence. The freedom to debate is all that ID scholars ask.