Remember Guillermo Gonzalez? He was the astronomer from Iowa State University who was denied tenure earlier this year. The reason for the tenure deinal? Depends who you ask.
Gonzalez, you see, is a rising young star in the ID movement. He coauthored a singularly bad book entitled The Privileged Planet, in which he argued not simply that the Earth was designed, but designed specifically with the idea of human scientific investigation in mind. A truly idiotic idea, which explains why the book was published by Regnery (among their other authors: Ann Coulter and Jonathan Wells. Get the idea?).
At the same time that Gonzalez was making a name for himself with the ID crowd and willingly alligning himself with anti-science organizations like Regnery and Discovery, he was lagging in every other metric used to assess professorial performance. His career started in promising fashion with a number of noteworthy papers. But this work was done prior to his arrival at ISU, and it was clear that his ID advocacy was eating up an increasing amount of his time. His publication record at ISU was clearly lagging. He also had received no external grants or funding from scientific agencies, which is a big deal for a research university.
All of which adds up to a pretty strong case for tenure denial. And had the ISU physics department stated forthrightly that he was being denied tenure because his advocacy of ID pseudoscience was hurting the department and plainly hampering his scientific work, there might have been no reason for this blog entry.
But they didn’t, at least not primarily. Instead they publicly denied that Gonzalez’s ID advocacy played a significant role in his tenure denial. One member of the department, John Hauptmann, wrote an op-ed in which he argued, preposterously, that Gonzalez did not understand the scientific process and that was the reason for denying him tenure. I reported on this sorry essay here.
Well, the Discovery Institute used the Iowa Open Records Act to get hold of the e-mails sent back and forth among the physics faculty at ISU. They show — surprise! — that the faculty were concerned about Gonzalez’s ID advocacy and felt that he was hurting the department. Discovery’s version of events available here is cartoonish and ridiculous. Follow the link and you can read about how “secret e-mails” reveal a “campaign of ridicule and villification,” by the faculty towards Gonzalez. The quotes they provide show nothing of the sort, of course. They show only that the faculty was concerned about Gonzalez’s advocacy of dopey pseudoscience, and rightly considered that a factor in the tenure process.
But the evidence presented does show that the publicly stated arguments offered by ISU were not true. And now they have given themselves, and the scientific community generally, a big black eye. Instead of forthrightly stating the real and completely defensible reason for denying tenure, that Gonzalez was making a career of promoting pseudoscience at the expense of his real scientific work, they opted for obfuscation and dishonesty. They were clueless for stating things in e-mails that they would not have wanted to be public (even acknowledging this risk in one e-mail), and they were craven for not taking a blunt stand against ID nonsense.
This, you see, is why it so important for scientists to be aware of and familiar with the ID movement. I don’t think the ISU physics department had the slightest idea just how rotten and malicious the Discovery Institute is. It probably never crossed their minds that their e-mails, mostly innocuous in context, could be made to look like a conspiracy and a smear campaign. They probably never dreamed that their internal deliberations would be the subject of a press conference, and would be distorted beyond all recognition in the process. They probably viewed Gonzalez as someone with dopey ideas about science with which they did not want to be affiliated, as opposed to someone who was happily being used as a pawn in a political and religious campaign.
That professional scientists in the United States could be so clueless is really quite horrifying. Sadly, the stereotype of academic living in ivory towers has some truth to it.