He’s a young astronomer with dozens of articles in top journals; he has made an important discovery in the field of extrasolar planets; and he is a proponent of intelligent design, the idea that an intelligent force has shaped the Universe. It’s that last fact that Guillermo Gonzalez thinks has cost him his tenure at Iowa State University.
Gonzalez, who has been at Iowa State in Ames since 2001, was denied tenure on 9 March. He is now appealing the decision on the grounds that his religious belief, not the quality of his science, was the basis for turning down his application. “I’m concerned my views on intelligent design were a factor,” he says.
Advocates of intelligent design are rallying behind Gonzalez in the latest example of what they say is blatant academic discrimination. “Academia seems to be in a rage about anything that points to any purpose,” says Michael Behe, a biochemist and prominent advocate of intelligent design at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “They are penalizing an associate professor who’s doing his job because he has views they disagree with.”
And after three paragraphs of puffing him up, do we now get the other side? Do we now hear about the dramatic drop-off in his publication record in the last few years, his lack of any external grant, the fact that most of this wonderful work that is being described was done prior to his arrival at Iowa State, the fact that he hasn’t graduated any students, or the fact that he has aligned himself with anti-science groups like the Discovery Institute and anti-science publishers like Regnery? No. We get this:
But other researchers think that the department’s decision was entirely justified. “I would have voted to deny him tenure,” says Robert Park, a physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park. “He has established that he does not understand the scientific process.”
Oh, for heaven sake. Robert Park is the author of a terrific book called Voodoo Science, but I really hope this comment is out of context.
Gonzalez has a PhD in physics and has published papers in actual scientific journals. Okay? He understands the scientific process. It’s not that complicated. He has drawn some odd conclusions on the basis of some very bad arguments, certainly, but that is both a different criticism and not the reason for denying him tenure.
As I said in my previous entry on the subject, Gonzalez’s personal belief in ID is not the issue. His ID advocacy is a problem because he has hurt his department by actively supporting purveyors of pseudoscience and by giving every indication that his ID work was overtaking any serious scientific work in which he might have been involved. Those are serious negatives in a tenure application. In principle you might be able to overcome them with an extraordinary record in other respects, but Gonzalez does not have that.
We then get several more fawning paragraphs about Gonzalez, including a pull quote from his former supervisor describing him as one of the best post-docs he has ever had. Near the end of the article, we get another statement from Park:
But Park says that a researcher’s views on intelligent design cannot be divorced from the tenure decision. Anyone who believes that an intelligent force set the Earth’s location doesn’t understand probability’s role in the Universe, Park argues. Such a person is hardly qualified to teach others about the scientific method. “We’re entrusting the minds of our students to this person,” he says.
Please tell me this is an instance of poor phrasing, or of a quote getting garbled in transmission. As printed it sure sounds like Park is saying that anyone who believes in God is not qualified to teach science. I’m an anti-religion kind of guy, but that is way out of line. I suspect, however, that Park’s intention was simply to criticize the logic behind Gonzalez’s ID arguments. That, at least, would be a sound point, albeit one that’s totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.
We finally get something from the university in the article’s penultimate paragraph:
Eli Rosenberg, who chairs Iowa State’s physics department, concedes that Gonzalez’s belief in intelligent design did come up during the tenure process. “I’d be a fool if I said it was not [discussed],” he says. But, he adds, “intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this decision.” Four of twelve tenure candidates have been turned down in the past decade, he says. “We are a fairly hard-nosed department.”
So basically, in a lengthy article on this subject we get paragraph after paragraph puffing Gonzalez up, two brief inane comments criticizing Gonzalez, and absolutely no insight at all into the factors on which ISU based its decision. And this is in Nature! Where do science magazines find these guys?