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The Truth about Research Grants, Gonzalez and ISU

As evidence has mounted that intelligent design played a role in the denial of tenure to gifted astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University, efforts to distract attention from that fact have also increased. The latest salvo is a one-sided article in today’s Des Moines Register that implies that inadequate research funding must have been the key factor. Reading like it was produced by ISU’s press office, the article distorts Gonzalez’s actual research funding as well as the published standards at Iowa State. The article follows unfounded speculation at various websites and blogs where some people have falsely claimed that Gonzalez had no research funding at the time he was at ISU. Here are the facts:

  1. As we have reported previously, outside research funding is not a published criterion for earning tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department. Indeed, it isn’t even mentioned in the departmental standards for tenure and promotion. So if this factor was considered key in his tenure denial, Gonzalez’s department was applying a criterion outside of its own stated standards. (The primary standard according to the departmental policy on tenure and promotion is peer-reviewed publications, and 15 articles are “ordinarily” supposed to “demonstrate excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation.” Dr. Gonzalez has 68 peer-reviewed publications, or 350% more than the departmental standard. Twenty-one of these articles were published since 2002, the year after Dr. Gonzalez arrived at ISU.)
  2. Contrary to some reports, Dr. Gonzalez did receive outside grant funding during his time at ISU:
    From 2001-2004, Dr. Gonzalez was a Co-Investigator on a NASA Astrobiology Institute grant for “Habitable Planets and the Evolution of Biological Complexity” (his part of the grant for this time period was $64,000).From 2000-2003, Dr. Gonzalez received a $58,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation. This grant was awarded as part of a competitive, peer-reviewed grant process, and his winning grant proposal had been peer-reviewed by a number of distinguished astronomers and scientists.
    Earlier in 2007, Dr. Gonzalez was awarded a 5-year research grant for his work in observational astronomy from Discovery Institute (worth $50,000).
  3. Using selective figures provided by ISU, the Register implies that one was expected to bring in an average of $1.3 million in grant funding to get tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department. Again, there is nothing in the departmental standards about this, and it is hard to know how accurate or comparable this figure is without seeing the specific data for all of the astronomers in the department, and without seeing comparable data from other departments at ISU.Unfortunately, ISU has thus far stonewalled efforts to get grant and publications data for those considered for tenure during the past several years. On May 16 Discovery Institute filed a public documents request for the grant and publication data of those considered for tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department since 1997 and for faculty in other departments considered for tenure since 2002. Thus far the university has provided no data in response to these requests, nor as of today has it responded to repeated requests about when the materials will be provided.

It is worth pointing out again that 91% of ISU faculty considered for tenure this year received it. Did they all receive more than a million dollars in grants order to get tenure? Did they all exceed by 350% their departmental standards for publications? We are trying to find out, but ISU apparently doesn’t want people to know the answers to these questions.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.