Get off the damn cross already

All the evolution denialists are up in arms because one of their own, Guillermo Gonzalez, was denied tenure. It’s persecution they cry! Let’s write a letter to ISU they cry! And now Denyse O’Leary says, “It’s a conspiracy!”

How tiresome. Could a kind reader make me an animated gif of a man climbing up on a cross for me? This persecution complex of the IDers needs a graphic.

There are a number of good reasons why Gonzalez might have been denied tenure (and so far I haven’t seen Gonzalez himself cry persecution – just his fans at UC)

It’s getting so old. If you criticize them it’s persecution! If you don’t let them teach religion in public schools it’s persecution! If you do something as simple as make a list of who the denialists are it’s persecution! Now if an advocate of ID doesn’t get tenure it’s persecution!

Maybe they’ve forgotten what persecution means? It seems that many Christians complain about persecution in this modern day, but what kind of persecution is having members of your religion in charge of all three branches of government? How about having television stations committed to spreading your message, and even all the networks on Sunday morning showing religious programming? How can they claim persecution despite all of these things?

Ed Brayton also wonders and provides some reasonable explanations for why someone like Gonzalez might not get tenure. The IDers for instance, point out his publication record as a sign he should be given tenure but, sorry, it’s not publications people, it’s money. You gotta bring in the dough hand over fist if you’re going to get tenure, you have to justify the space you occupy and your salary, as well as showing you can teach, participate in the university community, and not piss of your department. I know that here at UVA they compute your value in dollars per square foot. That is, the grant money you bring in over the square footage of your lab space. It seems a little harsh, but that’s just how universities work and how they compute your value. Just ask Rob Knop over at Galactic Interactions, it’s hard out there for an astronomer.

All that aside, I still like Denyse O’Leary’s explanation of how they are persecuted in this day and age. It’s apparently a conspiracy!

If you are a Christian or theist or anyone who thinks that the universe shows evidence of meaning, purpose, or design, listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: You need to think carefully about wasting time, energy, and money in the Western academic system IF, by chance, whatever you are doing undermines materialism.

Now, materialism is shot to pieces anyway, and has been ever since quantum mechanics began to be understood. But hordes of tenured mediocrities still compel tax money from the public to defend their dissolving empire, and persecute anyone who threatens it.

Consider the case of Guillermo Gonzalez. He is a young astronomer who was denied tenure at Iowa State University a few weeks ago, in a case that seems to me a classic in determining whether the current Western university system is simply biased against anyone who thinks that the universe is top down instead of bottom up, or otherwise thinks there is meaning in the universe:

Ahh, two pieces of denialist claptrap in rapid succession. First note the irrational appeal to quantum mechanics, the Rorschach blot of scientific theories for perpetrators of psuedoscientific BS usually based on a misunderstanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Never mind trying to explain to these people that the constant in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle is h-bar or 1.05 x 10(-34) J*s. For those who don’t know this is a very small number, and what it means is that quantum mechanics doesn’t really mean anything relevant for a particle much bigger than an atom – we should stick to Newtonian mechanics for daily life. I like how she says, “ever since quantum mechanics began to be understood”, when in reality it’s ever since quantum mechanics began to be misunderstood.

Second note the conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy! Evil materialist atheists are conspiring to keep out a wonderful man just because he believes in God! How dare they? They’re doing it to protect their precious, precious grant money! They’re lying and conspiring to enrich themselves with RO1s and NSF grants!

Well, they don’t. This is absurd. There isn’t a materialist conspiracy to protect scientific orthodoxy, as we’ve discussed before this conspiratorial thinking is the sign of a weak mind. And even if his peers at ISU decided he didn’t deserve tenure because of his pro-ID ideas, that’s not a conspiracy against ID, it’s called the sensible protection of the university’s reputation by members of the faculty. It would be perfectly justified, in my opinion, to block someone from getting tenure over their ID stance in a science department, because ID isn’t science. It’s an effort to undermine science. It’s denialism.
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Comments

  1. #1 Gerard Harbison
    May 14, 2007

    Agree 100%. It was probably the money.

    And, as someone who does quantum calculations on a daily basis, I am really annoyed attempts by people like O’Leary to convert an area of physics they don’t understand to woo.

  2. #2 Ted
    May 14, 2007

    It seems a little harsh, but that’s just how universities work and how they compute your value. Just ask Rob Knop over at Galactic Interactions, it’s hard out there for an astronomer.

    I usually say to the kinder, “if you care about employment, you won’t get a degree in art history.” However, having followed your link to Rob Knop’s blog, I’ll need to append …or research astronomer. Orac says that worse-come-to-worse, he can do insurance exams, so for the time being medicine seems safe. And law is always a good bet.

    Not being a member of the vast academic conspiracy, what is the usual use of the grants that come from the NSF or other public entities?

    I’m asking this because many times I want to read something akin to an interesting study referenced by the MSM, they’re behind a paywall, and one needs to revert to interpretations of people that actually had the honor and privilege of reading them and then blogged.

    Is the assumption that if something is behind the paywall, like here, then public funds (such as originating from NSF or DoD or some other gov’t agency) were NOT used in that study? Does charging for access help dissemination?

    How can we determine where the funding for a particular study came from? Why isn’t a funding source disclosed?

  3. #3 Bronze Dog
    May 14, 2007

    Looks like I may want to update Doggerel #22 in the near future.

  4. #4 Andrew Wade
    May 14, 2007

    But hordes of tenured mediocrities still compel tax money from the public to defend their dissolving empire, and persecute anyone who threatens it.

    Somehow I’ve missed the angry letters decrying the absorption spectrum of hydrogen, or that the hydrogen/lithium ratio has anything other than a materialist explanation</sarcasm>

    Seriously, most everyone working in quantum mechanics makes “classical” approximations of parts of their systems. They’re rarely tractable otherwise. This may not be strictly speaking correct, but it is a fruitful approach. If a “top down” approach (whatever the heck that means) proves fruitful, it will likely be accepted as well.

  5. #5 Davis
    May 14, 2007

    I must have missed the part where quantum mechanics turned out not to be a 100% materialistic theory.

    However, having followed your link to Rob Knop’s blog, I’ll need to append …or research astronomer.

    You can add theoretical mathematician to that list, too.

  6. #6 SLC
    May 14, 2007

    Re understanding Quantum Mechanics

    The late Richard Feynman was once quoted as saying that, “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Or as Steven Weinberg was once quoted as saying, “quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which unfortunately appears to be correct.”

  7. #7 MarkH
    May 14, 2007

    Ted, you’re dead on there. Currently there is a movement to force publishers of state-sponsored research to make them free. They have been variably successful at doing so, but it should be a requirement. I’m behind you all the way on that one.

    I think the movement will be towards greater open-access with time. I think that the example set by PLoS shows that open-access can work, but journals like Nature and Science are very stodgy and are unwilling to open up access even to a subset of important articles.

    As far as the sources of funding those are included in the footnotes of every article. Scientists disclose their funding sources for their publications as a rule.

  8. #8 Andrew Wade
    May 14, 2007

    I must have missed the part where quantum mechanics turned out not to be a 100% materialistic theory.

    :Shrug: The “matter” of quantum mechanics behaves very differently than the “matter” of our everyday experience. Whether quantum mechanics is compatible with materialism rather depends on how one defines materialism and how one interprets quantum mechanics. Denyse O’Leary is pulling a fast one by not defining his terms.

  9. #9 sparc
    May 14, 2007

    Over at UD and other creationist/ID sites posters state that Gonzales

    has had his research featured in Science, Nature, …

    IIRC, the review of his book in Nature wasn’t friendly and Science contains an article about how the DI abused the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

  10. #10 Mike K
    May 15, 2007

    Hi Ted,
    Just adding to MarkH’s comment above. If you have a public research University nearby, you can use the library computers to access articles in journals for which the University (and you as a taxpayer) have paid for an institutional subscription (More journal titles than you would suspect!). It’s a pain I know… and as MarkH points out, the system may be in the midst of a sea change towards open-access for all publicly funded research (the vast majority of published work currently). As it is, you can access full text articles in many of the journals in my field (cell and molecular biology) online for free, sometimes after a short waiting period (up to six months) after initial publication of the article. Those journals are noted with little symbols in referenced articles found in PubMed searchs, using the Entrez PubMed govermental search site.

  11. #11 JS
    May 15, 2007

    @Ted et al.: No, finding employment in the physical sciences is not usually a problem. Finding employment as a scientist in the physical sciences is. But if you’re willing to go private sector, you’ll find that there’s a neigh-inexhaustible demand for numerate people. You would be surprised at where physicists end up. I know people who are doing railroad logistics, people who are doing macroeconomic simulations, people working in fibre optics, people working in oil prospecting, and so on and so on.

    Majoring in hard science is definitely a safe choice if you’re talking about job security. It’s the trouble involved in going down the research path that makes you wonder why anyone bothers. I guess you could call that a market failure… But then again, it’s not harming the employers, so it’s not a real market failure [/snark].

    - JS

  12. #12 Graculus
    May 15, 2007

    The “matter” of quantum mechanics behaves very differently than the “matter” of our everyday experience. Whether quantum mechanics is compatible with materialism rather depends on how one defines materialism and how one interprets quantum mechanics.

    Well, I’m not a physicist, but “materialism” isn’t subject to definition by physicist, so I’ll give it a shot. ;-)

    Generally “material” means that something can be described in objective (quantifiable/concrete) terms (energy, momentum, postition). Something that is “immaterial” would be described in subjective (abstract) terms and not subject to measurement.

    In general defintitions “material” is opposed to “spiritual”. I’d say that quantum mechanics was most definitly a materialist field.

  13. #13 Davis
    May 15, 2007

    The “matter” of quantum mechanics behaves very differently than the “matter” of our everyday experience.

    Except that the “matter” of quantum mechanics is the same thing as the matter of our everyday experience — you can compute, say, the de Broglie wavelength of a macroscopic object in exactly the same way as you do for a subatomic particle (and the computation will be valid). Given infinite time and resources, you could probably even solve the Schrodinger equation for a macroscopic object.

    If weird behavior is all it takes to overturn materialism, then relativity did the trick before QM ever hit the scene.

  14. #14 James McGrath
    May 15, 2007

    If ID supporters were capable of doing actual scientific research, they would be able to get tenure.

  15. #15 Andrew Wade
    May 15, 2007

    Well, I’m not a physicist, but “materialism” isn’t subject to definition by physicist, so I’ll give it a shot. ;-)

    No problem. What we need is a philosopher. And that ain’t me.

    Generally “material” means that something can be described in objective (quantifiable/concrete) terms (energy, momentum, postition). Something that is “immaterial” would be described in subjective (abstract) terms and not subject to measurement.

    Hmm. For quantum mechanics one would really have to extend that list to include wavefunctions. Generally I understand the list for materialism to be matter and its attributes, fields, and spacetime. Whether this is standard usage I really can’t say.

    For very simply “particle in a box” systems one might argue that a wavefunction is a property of a particle, but not so in more complex systems. Nonetheless Wavefunctions are measurable with some limitations; I’ve seen some very nice “pictures” of electron orbitals. This being so they can reasonably be considered objective and concrete.

    In general defintitions “material” is opposed to “spiritual”. I’d say that quantum mechanics was most definitly a materialist field.

    This seems to be Denyse O’Leary’s definition, but it does raise the question of what “spiritual” means. But the only thing that might fit the bill in quantum mechanics is the role of the observer in some versions of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. That’s not a lot to hang “goddidit” on. Certainly, it’s not a field lacking in rigor, and “then a miracle occurs” is generally not found in derivations.

  16. #16 Andrew Wade
    May 15, 2007
    The “matter” of quantum mechanics behaves very differently than the “matter” of our everyday experience.

    Except that the “matter” of quantum mechanics is the same thing as the matter of our everyday experience — you can compute, say, the de Broglie wavelength of a macroscopic object in exactly the same way as you do for a subatomic particle (and the computation will be valid).

    I strongly disagree. To get the matter of our everyday experience you need to apply an ad-hoc procedure of “collapsing the wavefunction”, otherwise you do end up with cats in a quantum superposition of dead and alive. In the quantum world, some examples of what appears to be wavefunction collapse are instead quantum decoherence; to my knowledge wavefunction collapse has never been conclusively demonstrated. If there is no such thing as wavefunction collapse then you would indeed be able to diffract baseballs off a picket fence�, but you would also end up with something like the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. That may be compatible with our everyday experience, but it is very different from it.

    � In practice environmental noise would destroy any observable interference pattern, and the time required would be impractical anyway.

    If weird behavior is all it takes to overturn materialism, then relativity did the trick before QM ever hit the scene.

    I’m not familiar with early 20th century materialism; I don’t know that it is compatible with relativity. Materialism can probably be changed to remain compatible with fundamental physics indefinitely, but worrying about what is real has become pass� in physics. What is still very important is rigor and (correct) observable predictions.

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