Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article that casts a great deal of doubt on the DI’s persecution claim by examining Gonzalez’ publication record in detail. The DI makes a big deal out of the fact that Gonzalez has 68 published articles, but the Chronicle examined his publication record and found that virtually all of those papers were from research projects that he did prior to coming to ISU when he was a postdoc:

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” said Mr. Hirsch, stressing that he has not studied Mr. Gonzalez’s work in detail and is not an expert on his tenure case. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”

That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.


If all of the quality research on his record was done as a postdoc and none of it while working at ISU, that would undoubtedly be a huge factor in his tenure decision. Postdocs are generally working on someone else’s research grant and following that person’s vision for the research (that is not to disparage the work of postdocs, who work very hard; it’s just a fact); no matter how good that kind of research may be, it is not an indication that he has the ability to devise his own research projects that will bring in research grants, especially if there has been no follow up on that promise after 7 years as an assistant professor:

David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. “He was quite productive, one of the better postdocs I’ve had, and I’ve had 20 or 30 over the years,” said Mr. Lambert.

But he is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert said, recalling that a few years ago, he reviewed a paper that Mr. Gonzalez had submitted to Reviews of Modern Physics, a leading journal in the field.

Mr. Lambert recommended that the journal not accept the paper. “I did not think it was up to the Reviews of Modern Physics,” he said.

Doing great postdoc work may well get you your first professorial position; keeping it requires that you build your own record as an independent researcher in your field. And as the Chronicle points out, Gonzalez has not brought in a single dollar in research grants at ISU:

Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research, on planets beyond our solar system and their parent stars…

Mr. Gonzalez said that none of his scientific publications mention intelligent design, aside from The Privileged Planet. He co-wrote the book with a $58,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which paid 25 percent of his salary for three years. The Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to forging links between science and religion, is perhaps best known for an annual $1.5-million prize that is awarded “for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities.”

“Iowa was, in a way, endorsing the project through administering the grant,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

The only grant he has garnered in 7 years at ISU was not for research but to publish a popular book with a popular press advocating an idea rejected by virtually everyone in his field, including everyone in his own department, and that contained no original research whatsoever. And then on top of that, he has the gall to publicly claim that ISU was endorsing a project that the entire astronomy faculty explicitly rejected. And that took up 3 of his 7 years at ISU. What else was he doing? Working with grad students, perhaps? Nope:

He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work, although a student from the University of Washington, with whom he had previously worked, did finish.

Not a single grad student in his time there has completed his PhD? You better believe that will be a big factor in a tenure decision. The more one examines the record here, the more obvious it becomes that all of the hysterical bleating about conspiracies and persecution from the DI and their apologists is utter nonsense. If you spend your seven pre-tenure years at a university and bring in no research grants at all, don’t generate any original research projects of your own and don’t graduate a single PhD candidate, you aren’t gonna get tenure. Nor should you.

Update: And as if you needed another example of the rank dishonesty of DaveScot, take a look at his post about this same article at the Chronicle. The headline:

The Chronicle says of Gonzalez “a clear case of discrimination”

The article, as cited above, says exactly the opposite. Not only did the Chronicle not say that, a brief glimpse at the very first sentence tells you where the article is actually going:

At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination.

The article then goes on to give the many reasons why one’s suppositions “at first glance” are false. And DaveScot once again proves himself to be a baldfaced liar. And yes, I’ve archived the page because, knowing ol’ Dave, it will be edited or disappeared down the memory hole in no time.

Comments

  1. #1 THobbes
    May 22, 2007

    If you spend your seven pre-tenure years at a university and bring in no research grants at all, don’t generate any original research projects of your own and don’t graduate a single PhD candidate, you aren’t gonna get tenure.

    I’m glad that these facts have been brought to light; when you strip away all the rhetoric, you find that Gonzalez simply did not do the kind of work required for a tenured position. As a tenure candidate, he seemed mediocre, and mediocre candidates generally do not get tenure–that fact seems to have come as a shock to the DI. But then again, they are not exactly known for being intellectually honest.

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    May 22, 2007

    I can have sympathy for the no graduate students finished thing.

    My program is a small program. In the time I’ve been at Vanderbilt, three graduate students in astronomy have completed their PhDs. One was with a professor who’s left, one was with an adjunct, and one was with another professor. Two of the three started at Vanderbilt a few years before I got there. We just haven’t had a lot of astronomy graduate students until about 2-3 years ago. (Now we have a whole bunch.)

    I had two graduate students who started with me when I got there, but both of them eventually left the program, deciding to do something else. I would make the case for both of those students that what they ultimately did was the right decision for them, and not an indication of my inability to advise graduate students.

    The one I’m advising right now is in her second year.

    When graduate students take six years to finish, and when you only advise one or two graduate students all told at a time, you’re talking statistics of small numbers bigtime.

    -Rob

  3. #3 John Pieret
    May 22, 2007

    It’s a shame that ISU wasn’t ready to present this kind of detail right from the start (though legal restraints on discussing Gonzalez’s appeal might also be involved). As it is, this case has been and will continue to be a public relations bludgeon with which the DI can beat real science. On the surface, it’s not nearly as convoluted as the Sternberg case appeared; Gonzalez’s support for ID (and, hence, his religious beliefs) certainly played a role in his denial of tenure and there is real palpable damage to Gonzalez that was missing in the Sternberg case.

    The religious right’s persecution complex needs no feeding to stay strong but this case could have some traction with the public at large.

  4. #4 Greg
    May 22, 2007

    Is it common for assisant professors (or untenured associates) in the sciences to have students? My work is in the humanities and I understood that you should only work with associate professors or preferrably full professors (in my case, all the professors in my department were full). Regardless, the lack of new research at a research institution is pretty damning evidence and I’m guessing a no-brainer as far as denying tenure. Do professors in the sciences regularly write books? My understanding is that articles are the ‘gold standard’ for them (while books are necessary in most cases in the humanities).

  5. #5 George Cauldron
    May 22, 2007

    Don’t miss the ever-clownish Dave Scot’s classic quote mine on this:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/the-chronicle-says-of-gonzalez-a-clear-case-of-discrimination/

    The headline of his post, in big letters:

    “The Chronicle says of Gonzalez “a clear case of discrimination”

    The actual quote, a few lines down, in much smaller and fainter letters:

    “At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination”

    The line Dave fails to mention at all:

    “But a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise.”

    Dave calls the article ‘balanced’, but he must not have read more than the parts you can get for free from CHE, since it’s not pro-Gonzalez at at all.

    (It falls to one of WD’s lackeys to point that out. He gets quite miffed.)

    Even by Dave’s usual very low standards, this is impressive. It’s one thing to quote mine. It’s another to quote mine so ineptly.

    (Thanks to Reciprocating Bill at ATBC for catching this one.)

  6. #6 Tyrannosaurus
    May 22, 2007

    Not a single PhD candidate graduated in his 7 years at ISU? That to me is one of the most damaging factors weighing in not granting tenure to Dr. Gonzalez. Even in a research university your graduate students speak volumes about your capability to be a mentor and adviser to the next generation of collegueas in the field. My dissertation advisor has graduated every single PhD candidate in her 20+ years at the college I attended starting before been granted tenure.
    For not been able to graduate (at least a Master student) showing an obvious lack in his teaching responsibilities, Dr. Gonzalez should not be granted tenure.

  7. #7 Steve Fenlon
    May 22, 2007

    Ed says ” that ‘virtually all’(emphasis mine) of those papers were from research projects that he did prior to coming to ISU. However, what I read says that 21 of the 68 papers came while he was at ISU. Is 47 out of 68 “virtually all”?
    Secondly, Ed says “What else was he doing? Working with grad students, perhaps? Nope:”. As evidence he mentions the fact that “none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work”. Obviously, he was working with Grad students. The article does not state how many he has worked with nor how close they may be to finishing. But Ed makes it sound like Gonzalez hasn’t spent any time with Grad students.
    It seems to me that Ed (like Dave Scot in his headline), has distorted the conclusions of the article. If you pontificate about the “rank dishonesty” of Dave, you need to do a better job of watching your own work.

  8. #8 W. Kevin Vicklund
    May 22, 2007

    Of the 21 peer-reviewed publications he wrote since coming to ISU, at least 13 were continuations of projects he started while a post-doc at UofW. So that makes it about 90% post-doc related work.

    He does appear to have graduated a Master’s student from ISU (I presume – the book that was to be his MS thesis is in print).

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    May 22, 2007

    Steve Fenlon wrote:

    However, what I read says that 21 of the 68 papers came while he was at ISU. Is 47 out of 68 “virtually all”?

    That they were published while he was at ISU does not mean they weren’t part of his earlier postdoc project. There is often a lag time in publishing papers, especially as part of a large project. The analysis here focused on those papers that received citations from other scientists and concluded that “Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.” I referenced this twice, and the first reference you cite should have contained the same qualifier the second one did – “all of the quality research.”

  10. #10 gwangung
    May 22, 2007

    Ed says ” that ‘virtually all’(emphasis mine) of those papers were from research projects that he did prior to coming to ISU. However, what I read says that 21 of the 68 papers came while he was at ISU. Is 47 out of 68 “virtually all”?

    Yes, virtually all.

    Read closer. How many of those 21 papers were from research he initiated? How many were from the work he did at UW and UT-Austin?

    You’re not doing a very good job here, right off the bat.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    May 22, 2007

    By the way, to give you some idea of the dropoff, a friend did a comprehensive search for all published articles by Gonzalez and found that, while he published 7 and 10 articles respectively in 2002 and 2003, that fell to 2, 2 and 3 from 2004-2006. It seems that after he published The Privileged Planet, which was a popular book not a scholarly one, his actual research slowed down to a crawl. Almost all of his publication record came from 2001-2003.

  12. #12 George Cauldron
    May 22, 2007

    Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then

    It’s interesting to ask why it happened this way. Why, once he was on a tenure track and at risk of *not* getting tenure if he wasn’t careful, did he decide to start coasting in terms of actual scientific research, and to just focus on publishing for the likes of Regnery? If he’d been smart he’d have behaved himself til he was safely tenured, then after that he could have gone off in any crackpotty direction he wanted.

  13. #13 RickD
    May 22, 2007

    Rob: it is fairly common for students to select an advisor after doing qualifying exams. A new faculty member could conceivably have a student produce a Ph.D. within 2-3 years. (To put things in perspective, in England, where I am now, all students are expected to finish their Ph.D.s in 3 years. But England is wacko.) In any case, having no students produce a Ph.D. in 5-6 years would place one at the bottom of the bell curve (admittely this is mathematically inevitable, but most faculty members who have graduate students will have some produce Ph.D.s by the 5th year).

    Greg: is it common in the sciences for students to work with assistant profs? Yes. Indeed, assistant profs are expected to have students, if they want to get tenure. (Unless, of course, they have demonstrated a flair for getting grant money, in which case all other shortcomings are forgiven.)

  14. #14 Rob Knop
    May 22, 2007

    Is it common for assisant professors (or untenured associates) in the sciences to have students? My work is in the humanities and I understood that you should only work with associate professors or preferrably full professors (in my case, all the professors in my department were full).

    Yes, it is.

    Of course, you’re wiser if you choose a professor you have some confidence will be around for the next few years….

    Rob: it is fairly common for students to select an advisor after doing qualifying exams. A new faculty member could conceivably have a student produce a Ph.D. within 2-3 years.

    Er, no.

    It is not uncommon for students to change advisors after a couple of years. However, in Physics and Astronomy, if you aren’t hooked up with some sort of research group by your first summer, you’re already showing signs of trouble as a graduate student.

    The standard thing is to stay with the group you start with, but something like a quarter of people switch. There’s nothing wrong with switching after your first summer, or even after your second year.

    By the time you take your admission to candidacy exam in my department, you basically need to know the general area of your research. That means you need to know who your advisor is. The rare student will switch, but not many.

    Again, at Vanderbilt there just haven’t been a lot of students. I picked up a second and a third year student when I got there; neither one finished. I started with a first year a couple of years later, and she transferred out after a year for family reasons. There was one more student, who joined another professor. Then there was the year with a lot of students, and I recruited one of those.

    I will argue that it’s not evidence of my failure to advise graduate students that I haven’t produced any. (I will also argue that “graduate student production” as a metric for success is one of the fundamental flaws in the sociology of science at the moment, but that’s an argument for another day.) Who would they have been?

    -Rob

  15. #15 S. Rivlin
    May 22, 2007

    The lack of productivity while pushing woo is a combination that would certainly block one’s tenure. Even a designer would not be able to remove such a block.

  16. #16 Flint
    May 22, 2007

    This may sound stupid (it probably IS stupid), but Iowa isn’t exactly known for great observatories atop all those tall mountains Iowa is so well known for. Just how much research of the PhD persuasion requires any sort of capable observation platform – any at all? I would imagine the time-slices on the aging Hubble would be too few to allocate among the Iowa States and Vanderbilts.

    I’ve done some programming work, long ago, for the McDonald Observatory, the University of Texas observatory out in the mountains a LONG way from civilization and humidity. Where does an Iowa State or a Vanderbilt do their astronomical research?

  17. #17 W. Kevin Vicklund
    May 22, 2007

    Flint, they do have their own observatory.

  18. #18 SLC
    May 22, 2007

    Re George Cauldron

    Case in point, one Michael Behe in the biochemistry department of Lehigh Un.

  19. #19 Rob Knop
    May 22, 2007

    Just how much research of the PhD persuasion requires any sort of capable observation platform – any at all? I would imagine the time-slices on the aging Hubble would be too few to allocate among the Iowa States and Vanderbilts.

    I’ve had Hubble time.

    There are definitely “haves” and “have-nots” in astronomy. The Haves are people like Caltech, the Carnegie Institute, Hawaii, and Harvard, all of which have access to multiple large telescopes. Also included, to a lesser degree, in this category is Arizona, members of the WIYN consortium, and several others who are part-owners of 4m class telescopes.

    Vanderbilt is a member of SMARTS, and has guaranteed access to the 1m class telescopes in Chile.

    The rest of us, however, spend much of our time applying for time on national facilities. This includes the Hubble Space Telecopes, and, yes, all of the astronomers at Vanderbilt have received time (some of them substantial amounts of time) on the HST. This also includes the national observatories at Kitt Peak and in Chile, and the Gemini telescopes.

    -Rob

  20. #20 Flint
    May 22, 2007

    Rob:

    Thanks, that’s what I was curious about. I picture far too few research-worthy observatories being inundated with time requests from every school, doling out precious seconds or forcing applicants to pool their resources into single projects (or projects using the same set of observations).

    My project at McDonald took about a week, during which there wasn’t a single night clear and dry enough to do any work with the telescope (which was wonderful for me, I got to test the equipment I was programming without interfering with any actual observing). But I can see how it would be terminally frustrating to wait months for your slice, and watch the bottoms of clouds that night.

  21. #21 Joe
    May 22, 2007

    Thanks for this post.

  22. #22 tacitus
    May 22, 2007

    Being a Brit, I don’t know much about the tenure system.

    Once you have been denied tenure, is that it? Are you out of a job, or can you stay on and try again in a few years?

  23. #23 Shawn Wilkinson
    May 22, 2007

    Rob summed it up for universities that lack a high-powered personal observatory due to location/financial reasons.

    The conversation over at the UD blog on DaveScott’s post is interesting, just to let anyone know.

    Lastly, Ed, I’ve been a bit of “hidden fan”, so just letting you know to keep writing :-)

  24. #24 Greg
    May 22, 2007

    Tacitus,

    Unless your appeal is successful, you’re out of a job. Usually you get one year to search for a job after the denial. Nowadays a tenure denial is more likely to make it really, really hard to find a job elsewehre, much less get tenure there (though I can name some exceptions to that rule in my own field in the humanities). I can’t speculate on his chances in his field, but based on what I’ve read (mostly here, though a comment I think I read at UncommonlyDense was helpful too), he’s SOL. Maybe a nice religious school would be interested…

  25. #25 Gerard Harbison
    May 22, 2007

    Signing on with a very early assistant professor is actually a good move. Usually, they’re right there beside you in the lab, and so you get a lot of one-on-one attention, and they’re really motivated to get your papers out. Smart students stay away from fourth year and later assistant professors if their tenure is at all questionable.

    One problem Gonzalez had was a lack of funding; that means his students were all probably permanent teaching assistants on large, non-major lecture courses like Astronomy 101. Those are time sinks, and almost certainly delayed their graduation. On the other hand, he did have some money, and spent it it (apparently) on summer salary rather than student R.A.s. In my department, people would look askance at that. If you’re in it for the money, you should have gone to law school.

  26. #26 SLC
    May 22, 2007

    My thesis adviser was an assistant professor in his third year. He got tenure at the end of his 5th year. As an aside, he was an old earth creationist which didn’t affect his work in elementary particle physics. Apparently, Mr. Gonzalezs’ creationism did adversely affect his efforts.

  27. #27 tacitus
    May 22, 2007

    Thanks for the info, Greg. So tenure should be seen as basically a one shot deal. If you don’t get it first time around, then you’re not likely to get another chance. Do all professors have to apply for tenure at some point?

  28. #28 Coin
    May 22, 2007

    It’s interesting to ask why it happened this way. Why, once he was on a tenure track and at risk of *not* getting tenure if he wasn’t careful, did he decide to start coasting in terms of actual scientific research, and to just focus on publishing for the likes of Regnery?

    All evidence appears to be that if you’re an ID person, you don’t need to do any of these things.

    Instead, you can just largely not do your job for seven years, and when your employer fails to simply give you the things that other people had to work for, your denial will bring you national attention and make you a propaganda point for the creationist movement. This newfound fame will put you in a good position to write more books…

    See also: Dembski, Sternberg, etc.

    Seriously, this actually kind of ticks me off. Having known and worked with an extremely productive professor who was at the time going through absolute hell working his way through the tenure process without any guarantee of success (and who I’m not actually sure whether he ever made it), I find myself kind of shocked to read the excerpts Ed quotes here. Gonzalez appears to be applying for tenure in an entirely different world from the one I briefly observed, a world where not only are the standards for tenure incredibly low, but being granted tenure is a simple right, rather than a risky battle which even worthy candidates regularly and quietly fail at with no one interested in mourning or championing them afterwards.

    I am hardly in a place to evaluate astronomy professors for tenure, but… from where I’m standing after looking at these Chronicle of Higher Education excerpts it doesn’t really seem like Gonzalez’ pseudoscientific pursuits in the field of “Intelligent Design” have net hurt his case for tenure (even if they should have). Indeed, it appears that his “Intelligent Design” connections, and the religiously motivated controversy that those connections give him the ability to create, are the sole and only grounds on which his case for tenure are standing right now.

  29. #29 Greg
    May 22, 2007

    Tacitus,

    Basically yes. But times are changing. I can’t speak for the sciences per se, but for the American university system at large, the answer is generally yes, although many part time (often meaning simply non-tenured or non-tenure-track faculty) are used rather than committing to a tenure-line candidate. People at all kinds of institutions make careers despite not having tenure — I’ve heard of people who bounce around between Yale, Harvard, Columbia (the ivy league) without ever getting tenure. Another point is that some presitigious universities (basically, the ivy leagues and other simliar places) regularly deny tenure. One is sometimes hired to a “tenure-track” position at these places, but the chances of getting tenure there is highly unlikely. What a lot of people do (at least those in one of those positions) is use the leverage of having been at Havard or Yale to get hired with tenure elsewhere.

    For the most part, tenure is a sign of belonging in the academic world, and so, the answer is again, yes, everyone applies for it (or at least would like to). It seems to be under fire, seemingly by rightwingers who are upset that liberals have a job for life, and I’ve heard speculation that it will be eliminated in the not-so-distant future (ie, ten, fifteen years).

  30. #30 David B. Benson
    May 22, 2007

    I know of one case in which a tenure-track faculty member decided that his work was not good enough to submit for the tenure decision. However, he was (and still is) an excellent teacher. So the decision was made that he should become an Associate Professor (without tenure). He is still there and likely to retire in a few more years with that title.

    This is, however, quite rare…

  31. #31 snaxalotl
    May 22, 2007

    you could at least allow the not-widely-read DaveScot the benefit of the doubt that he only read the first line of the article. Where you have re-emphasised it as
    At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination
    has clearly chosen to re-emphasise it as
    [even] At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination

  32. #32 doctorgoo
    May 22, 2007

    snaxalotl, DaveScot is well-known enough to have a plainly noticeable pattern of spreading lies and deception.

    Just look under Ed’s picture above and enter “davescot” into the search engine, and you’ll find links to dozens of incidents where he’s been proven to be quote mining or just simply lying intentionally. This is just another example to add to that list.

  33. #33 Rob Knop
    May 23, 2007

    Thanks, that’s what I was curious about. I picture far too few research-worthy observatories being inundated with time requests from every school, doling out precious seconds or forcing applicants to pool their resources into single projects (or projects using the same set of observations).

    It’s not so bad as all that. The observatories are oversubscribed, but not nearly as bad as the funding agencies. People all over the place do get time. Smaller telescopes tend to be (but aren’t always) less oversubscribed, so if you have a project that can use a 1-2m telescope, it’s a bit easier to get time. Of course, you then have to deal with the stupid bias of NSF panel members that you must have big telescopes to do funding-worthy science…..

    Re: the whole tenure thing, anybody who has been reading my blog knows that I’m extremely bitter over the issue. I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life building towards tenure, and probably won’t get it. I’ve lived the last 2 or so years knowing that my tenure case was increasingly on the rocks– having been told by my chair that the funding issue was the only problem I had. (Of course, it feeds forward; the despair caused by my funding woes have seriously hurt my productivity.) I’m not going to get tenure because I can’t get funding at the level of an NSF grant, but pretty much every astronomer I talk to is aware that NSF astronomy is in a huge crunch right now and that chances are slim there.

    I have no choice but to go up for tenure. I’ve asked Vanderbilt to move me to a non-tenure-track lecturer type job, but they simply weren’t interested in even considering it.

    I suppose it’s possible I’ll get a job at a small liberal arts college, but probably in reality I’m going to be out of astronomy, simply because there isn’t enough funding to go around, and the dice didn’t roll well for me.

    -Rob

  34. #34 laurk
    May 23, 2007

    I know of a professor (at a B-School though) who kept out of tenure simply because he would rather teach than do research. Some years back when around the 8th year of his contract a new Dean sent out the word that he would have to do some research at least. The prof quickly churned out a few papers three of which instantly made it to the top journals (he is that good really!). But the review committee, still unhappy, decided to terminate his services. That led to one of the biggest protest marches seen on that campus (not just the B-School – the prof is that popular). The school relented and decided to let the prof continue as a non-tenured teacher. He continues to teach and with unfailing regularity has been voted the best teacher every year. Recently he has withdrawn his name from the nomination process, as he thinks he has had enough of the awards. Academia is strange!

  35. #35 Alex
    May 23, 2007

    Thanks for the info, Greg. So tenure should be seen as basically a one shot deal. If you don’t get it first time around, then you’re not likely to get another chance. Do all professors have to apply for tenure at some point?

    At least in the physics world, most people know well in advance whether they’re likely to be approved for tenure (it’s not that hard to smell which way the wind is blowing), and move on before beginning the actual approval process. Typically, they may get a 6-year junior faculty appointment and if things are looking uncertain after four years, they’ll begin looking for a job and hope to hop somewhere else before the tenure deadline approaches. But yes, you are expected to do the application if you’re in a tenure-track position.

    Reputation-wise, bailing out and moving on looks better on your CV than actually doing the tenure application and being rejected, though you can still get a tenure-track position at another university if you fail at your first one.

  36. #36 Bob Maurus
    May 23, 2007

    I’ve always found it amusing, at least, that Gonzalez is credited as a contributor/resource by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee in the preface to their 2000 book, “Rare Earth”:

    “Guillermo Gonzalez changed many of our views about planets and habitable zones.”

  37. #37 mollishka
    May 23, 2007

    It is not uncommon for students to change advisors after a couple of years. However, in Physics and Astronomy, if you aren’t hooked up with some sort of research group by your first summer, you’re already showing signs of trouble as a graduate student.

    The standard thing is to stay with the group you start with, but something like a quarter of people switch. There’s nothing wrong with switching after your first summer, or even after your second year.

    By the time you take your admission to candidacy exam in my department, you basically need to know the general area of your research. That means you need to know who your advisor is. The rare student will switch, but not many.

    I think this is a gross overgeneralization, Rob. What is and is not normal really varies from department to department.

  38. #38 Larry Arnhart
    May 23, 2007

    According to the article, he has published 21 of his articles since 2002. He has also published a textbook with Cambridge University Press.

    The critical question is: Did the other tenured professors in his department have better records than his when they were tenured? If not, then this is a clear case of unfair discrimination and suppression of freedom of thought.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    May 23, 2007

    Larry, with all due respect (and my respect for you is high indeed, thank you for stopping by my humble blog), your argument would be more tenable if published articles was the only factor considered for tenure. But it’s not. And even if published articles was the only factor, there are multiple aspects to that one factor as well. The quality of those articles must be considered, as well as when he published them. Nearly all of those articles were published in the first two years, and 13 of the 21 articles were the delayed results of his post-doc work, which would not be considered at all. So the simple calculation of total number of articles written in 5 years is not the key factor. Here’s what the record actually shows when you look beyond that simple number:

    A. Since he got to ISU, he has done very little original research.

    B. Since he got to ISU, he has not attracted a single grant for original research.

    C. The vast majority of his published research was from his prior post-doc appointments, not from anything he did at ISU. Since 2003, his publication record has dwindled to a mere trickle. Coincidentally, that is about the same time that he began working on a popular book advocating an idea rejected by virtually all of his colleagues, raising obvious questions about his commitment to doing real scientific research. Rather than spending his time bringing in the money to do serious research, he’s been spending his time doing popular work in pseudo-science.

    D. Since he got to ISU, he has not graduated a single grad student with a PhD.

    The dwindling publication record, the lack of original research, the inability to attract grant money and the failure to shepherd grad students to completion are very strong factors against tenure at any reputable university.

  40. #40 anon
    May 23, 2007

    “Did the other tenured professors in his department have better records than his when they were tenured? If not, then this is a clear case of unfair discrimination and suppression of freedom of thought.”

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow from your question. First, most universities (and I assume Iowa’s) explicitly state that tenure is not awarded on the basis of past accomplishments, but on the potential for future accomplishments. A rapidly declining rate of publication in refereed journals is a bad sign, because it suggests that there’s a real risk the candidate will turn into deadwood as service obligations pile on and the pressure to publish turns off. The relevant question, then, is whether his trajectory of publication was comparable to other candidates’ trajectories. We don’t have enough info to judge either way.

    Second, most universities also build in escape clauses that allow them to deny tenure if a department’s priorities change or if a candidate’s research moves in a direction that isn’t a departmental priority. Departments hire partly on the basis of fit, and they typically have two shots (pre-tenure review and tenure review) to fire on the basis of lack of fit. If Gonzales was hired to fill one role in the department but decided that he wanted to do something else instead, he violated his implicit contract with the department.

    Third, all publications are not created equal, and crappy publications can actually hurt a candidate’s chances. Short of reading the entire dossier (and becoming experts in the field), there simply isn’t enough information for any us to judge whether this was a factor in Gonzales’ review. But it means that the case for discrimination is anything but “clear.”

  41. #41 Art
    May 24, 2007

    Ed, I think you are exaggerating some things here, to no particularly good effect. Specifically:

    Point A in your latest comment is at best debatable. At least this is what I get from perusal of his list of publications. A large majority of his papers may be collaborative, even extensions of his earlier work (I’m not convinced of this). But I don’t think all of his work is not of his own conception. And his more recent work (which would most likely be original) has been published in the leading journals in his field, as far as I can tell. In my opinion, it’s hard to see a problem with Gonzalez’ publication record.

    Point B is the big hurdle for Gonzalez.

    Point C is not appropriate, IMO. I don’t think there is anything wrong with cultivating collaborations with your previous mentors, as long as you pull your own weight and develop some additional independent avenues of investigation. Indeed, in this age of bigger and bigger science, collaboration is essential. The trick, when it comes to promotion, is to be both collaborative and independent. It’s not an easy trick. But the answer is not to cut off productive lines of work, but rather add to them. (Ironically, PP may be an example of independent work, and indicative of his future. If this were the case, then the merits of ID as a field of scientific inquiry come into play.)

    Point D is debatable as well, IMO. I haven’t seen nearly enough about the students in his department to know what to make of his record of turning out students. What is the time to degree over the past, say, 10 years? How many students per faculty are there? How many Ph.D.’s per year per faculty? How many students have been or are in his lab? There are many, many reasons why an assistant professor may not have graduated a Ph.D. after 6 years – indeed, if the time to degree is 5+ years, then this piece of data is pretty unremarkable.

    I’m sure that the process at ISU was thorough and fair (although most ID proponents would not consider it “fair” that a group of scientists would actually weigh ID on its merits and decide that there isn’t a future in the area). But I would be surprised if many of the points being raised were as important as the matters of funding and his future professional inclinations.

  42. #42 Steven S
    May 24, 2007

    Jeez, haven’t you guys got anything better to analyse in minute detail over and over again? What he did was a bad thing, yes, but surely not worth 55 posts?

  43. #43 Joe G
    June 4, 2007

    Doing original research and publication of that research are two very different things.

    One can do original research but not have anything worth publishing because the results just aren’t in.

    Next if someone has a problem with “The Privileged Planet” perhaps they could provide some scientific data which refutes the premise it puts forth. So far that hasn’t been done.

    Real science is all about the search for the reality behind our existence (or the existence behind what it is we are investigating). Perhaps people are upset with GG because he thoroughly refuted Sagan, who was/ is most likely a favorite of the anti-ID crowd.

    And if ISU students can’t earn a PhD don’t blame the teacher. The problem could very well be with the students. ISU isn’t known to be a hot-bed of intellectual activity.

    However perhaps it is time to stop all the rhetoric and just start fighting. That is the only course of action for dealing close-minded people who are the anti-IDists.

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