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Cataloging Darwinist Denials and Flip-Flopping over the Role of Intelligent Design in ISU’s Tenuregate

The controversy over why Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure has resulted in much flip-flopping and denials from Darwinists at Iowa State University (ISU):

  • John Hauptman, ISU Physicist:

    Now: The ISU Daily reports, “Hauptman said his tenure decision was ‘absolutely not’ based on Gonzalez’s research into intelligent design.”

    Then: Last June, Hauptman explicitly admitted that he voted against Gonzalez’s tenure because of intelligent design (ID): “I participated in the initial vote and voted no, based on this fundamental question: What is science? … It is purely a question of what is science and what is not, and a physics department is not obligated to support notions that do not even begin to meet scientific standards.”

  • Eli Rosenberg, Chair of ISU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy:

    Now: Rosenberg tells the Des Moines Register that tenure documents included “a few words about intelligent design at the end, and that’s it,” and previously told Nature that “intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this decision.”

    Then: During actual tenure deliberations in November, 2006, Rosenberg devotes a full 1/3 of his Chair’s statement in Gonzalez’s tenure file to discussing intelligent design, instructing voting members of ISU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy to make ID a litmus test where Gonzalez’s support for ID as science “disqualifies him from serving as a science educator.”

  • Hector Avalos, outspoken atheist Professor of Religion at ISU:

    Then: In the summer of 2005, Avalos e-mails ISU faculty, inviting them to sign a statement calling on “all faculty members to … reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science” because of the “negative impact” due to the fact that “Intelligent Design … has now established a presence … at Iowa State University.” Guillermo Gonzalez, being the only well-known ID proponent who has “established a presence” at ISU, is the undeniable target of such a statement.

    Later: Avalos asserts publicly in the ISU Daily, “The statement we wrote was in no way targeted specifically at Gonzalez.”

  • John Clem, ISU physicist:

    Then: Apparently Clem prejudges Gonzalez’s tenure case because of ID, stating: “Many of us here at Iowa State are embarrassed by the work of Guillermo Gonzalez, who with Jay Richards published the book ‘The Privileged Planet.’ … I now feel that publication of such a statement might become the most important piece of evidence in a successful court case to guarantee tenure to the person whose scientific credibility we would be attempting to discredit. … As for the unfortunate publicity we are receiving and the embarrassment we feel as a department, I think the best policy is to just grin and bear it for the next couple of years.”

    Now: The ISU Daily reports, “Clem said the decision to deny tenure to Gonzalez was ‘absolutely not’ based on ID.”

  • Joerg Schmalian, ISU physicist:

    Now: Schmalian publicly asserts in the ISU Daily, “We wanted to take advantage of our freedom to express our opinion on this matter and inform the public about the fact that intelligent design is not generally accepted within our department,” and asserts, “Guillermo Gonzalez’s views on Intelligent Design, with which I utterly disagree, had no bearing whatsoever on my vote on his tenure case.”

    Then: Schmalian expresses a very different motive for releasing the statement in an e-mail, intending to send a message to Gonzalez: “If we go on record, we give Gonzalez a clear sign that his ID efforts will not be considered as science by the faculty.” Other faculty (see below) endorse such statements from Schmalian with an intent to directly target Gonzalez.

Even Wired Magazine is joining in the flip-flopping. Last week, they wrote, “Though out-of-context email excerpts can be misleading, statements like ‘this is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas’ make it sound like Gonzalez was not, as the university insisted, judged solely on the content of his astronomical scholarship.” But this week Wired‘s Brandon Keim says that after reading the e-mails we released to the Iowa State Daily, he’s “inclined to believe the University’s side,” which asserts that “intelligent design … was not a factor” in the denial of tenure.

Yet even one of the faculty that Keim contacted for his story contradicts Keim’s denial that ID played a role. As Bruce Harmon stated in a recent e-mail to Keim, “I sincerely believe that most of my colleagues could, and would, have overlooked the ID if there was great, really good, or even really promising science involved.” Thus, according to Harmon, because “most” of his colleagues thought ID was bad science, they could not “overlook” it and considered it negatively during the tenure evaluation.

At least Harmon isn’t flip-flopping, as he previously wrote in the secret e-mail correspondence that ISU faculty would count ID as a negative during tenure deliberations:

As Joerg [Schmalian] says, I think Gonzalez should know that some faculty in his department are not going to count his ID work as a plus for tenure. Quite the opposite.

Harmon’s e-mail to Wired tries to deflect the issue by talking about the Wedge document and poisoning the well by encouraging readers not to listen to anything that Discovery Institute says. What Harmon isn’t discussing is how he mocked Gonzalez’s ID work, saying he had to study it “under medication,” and how he called Gonzalez’s work in The Privileged Planet “how primitive humans explained things, and then rejoiced.” Harmon sees the failure of Guillermo Gonzalez to attain tenure as linked to the demise of ID as a whole, and he seems more than willing to help participate in that demise: “I still suspect the [Discovery Institute] views Guillermo’s case as their best chance for establishing ID as a science. Let’s hope some more self destruction occurs in the next year.” While Harmon is of course entitled to his opinion, even he at one point admitted, “I don’t think talking behind Guillermo’s back is quite ethical.” Thus, the very ISU faculty that form the centerpiece of Wired‘s denial that ID played a role in the tenure decision contradict Wired‘s position that Gonzalez did not face unfair treatment and prejudice due to his views on ID.

Why did Wired change its mind? Their flip-flopping occurred immediately after I praised them last weekend on Evolution News and Views, stating, “Wired Magazine Acknowledges Discrimination against Guillermo Gonzalez and Understands What the Ames Tribune Ignored.” This probably resulted in some kind of a memo being sent to Wired’s blogger, Brandon Keim, to the effect of, “Don’t praise Discovery Institute because then you’re helping their evil Wedge strategy,” so it is no surprise that by Monday, Keim changed his tune. To justify the 180, Keim cites the usual fallacious pretexts, vastly understating Gonzalez’s funding by over 800%, adopting an Ames-Tribune-like hear-no-evil, see-no-evil approach to ISU’s behavior, and forgetting the following points:

  • Dr. Gonzalez’s funding level, high or otherwise, does NOTHING to negate the undeniable evidence of bias and prejudice against him in the department because he supports ID.
  • Dr. Gonzalez’s department does not even consider grants as a criterion for gaining tenure. Yet he has a $50,000 grant from Discovery Institute that allows him to collect more than enough observational astronomy data each year for the next 5 years. In short, Dr. Gonzalez has precisely the money he needs to have a successful research program at ISU. As one external reviewer observed, “Dr. Gonzalez is eminently qualified for the promotion according to your guidelines of excellence in scholarship and exhibiting a potential for national distinction. In light of your criteria I would certainly recommend the promotion.” Indeed, 2/3 of the external reviewers who gave an opinion about whether Dr. Gonzalez deserves tenure said he should receive tenure.
  • Dr. Gonzalez has more per-capita publications and more per-capita scientific citations since 2001, the year he joined ISU, than all ISU tenured astronomers who voted against his tenure, and he has over 350% more peer-reviewed science articles than what his department ordinarily requires for indicating the type of reputation that demonstrates research excellence. Moreover, he co-authored a peer-reviewed astronomy textbook with Cambridge University Press that some ISU astronomy classes are now using. These seem like distinct accomplishments that make a tenure denial difficult to justify.

In the end, Wired‘s article is almost comical. It states, “Iowa State researchers, justifiably frightened by the rise of creationist pseudoscience masquerading as legitimate science, wanted to take a stand; but they were unsure how to do so without attacking Gonzalez himself, or creating the lynch mob perception now being stoked by the Discovery Institute.” So because ISU faculty believe that intelligent design is “creationist pseudoscience masquerading as science,” I guess Wired believes they were a “justifiably frightened” lynch mob.

Wired ignores the fact that Gonzalez’s ID work was not “creationist pseudoscience masquerading as science.” Gonzalez’s ID book, The Privileged Planet, was written by a grant funded by the prestigious Templeton Foundation (money that was accepted by ISU to help pay Gonzalez’s salary) and the book was praised by eminent scientists such as Cambridge’s Simon Conway Morris, Harvard’s Owen Gingerich, and National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell. To my knowledge, groups and people like this don’t praise “creationist pseudoscience masquerading as science” as having the high level of academic legitimacy of Gonzalez’s ID work in The Privileged Planet.

But keep in mind that one ISU faculty member even admitted that “freedom of inquiry … has been violated massively in the physics department.” Perhaps Wired should e-mail John Hauptman and ask him why he said that. (If they do, expect more flip-flopping in response from Hauptman.)

Although Brandon Keim at Wired apparently now believes otherwise, even ID proponents deserve academic freedom and the courtesy to be free from a hostile work environment.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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