Pharyngula

Department of not getting it

Be amused. The malevolent clown at Billy Dembski’s blog has joined the blithering clown at Telic Thoughts in calling for my head, because I’ve admitted that I will vote on matters of substance and scientific validity in tenure decisions. This will not do! Why, if college professors hinder the advancement of fools in academia, creationists will have more difficulty pretending to be credentialed scientists! What can they do?

My thoughts are that the University of Minnesota needs to censure Associate Professor Paul Myers and assure the public that he will not be allowed to participate in tenure decisions.

He also wonders if anyone wants to sue my university.

One does have to wonder how we’re supposed to make tenure decisions if the clown team has their way, and judging our science colleagues on the basis of their ideas about science isn’t allowed?

P.S. Sorry, I’m not linking to them, either. Don’t give ’em tenure, don’t give ’em links…it’s like I’m strangling the poor sad fellows.

Comments

  1. #1 pastormaker
    April 28, 2006

    It perverts like PZ Myers who prevented the genius Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky from collecting his deserved Nobel prize for Everything.

  2. #2 lovepettis
    April 28, 2006

    First, I was one of the Pharyngula readers who got to meet P.Z. at the geek prom. He was hard to miss in his lab coat and squid T-shirt. We shared a taco and I prattled on to he and his wife about insipid things I do at my job while they and my wife listened politely. All in all, a good time was had by… well, in all probability, just me.

    Second, I know that PZ is an atheist, but I was wondering if he might change his mind if the power of prayer would help this guy get his wishes: http://www.thepoorman.net/2006/04/28/dear-jesus/

    lovepettis

  3. #3 Miguelito
    April 28, 2006

    PZ:

    I sympathize with you, but I would like some clarification. It’s obvious that belief in ID (or YEC for that matter) is a fundamental problem in scientific disciplines because it’s obvious that they don’t understand natural processes. And if they don’t understand natural processes, how can they teach them effectively?

    However, do you get to review tenure applications from the Arts or other non-science disciplines? If so, would you veto a candidate because of their ID belief even if it will have no bearing on their research or teaching?

  4. #4 Justin K.
    April 28, 2006

    I was reading the comment thread at your last post on this issue and wass struck by the speed with which the trolls start clouding the issue. As you said, this is a basic issue of competance. I’m in an English Department, and your vow to vote against an IDer is analogous to my conviction that I wouldn’t vote to tenure a renaissance lit instructor who never read Shakespeare. It’s amazing how quickly the trolls have to resort to just making things up (you’re against Christians or Anti-Choicers getting tenure) to make any kind of case.

  5. #5 Tiax
    April 28, 2006

    Dave is now saying that the claim “ID is scientific” is itself part of ID. This level of idiocy just boggles the mind.

  6. #6 dAVE
    April 28, 2006

    The worst thing about this is, is that they are also undermining the academic quality of our nation’s clown colleges.

  7. #7 wolfa
    April 28, 2006

    Yeah, I am curious about the tenure thing too. Do you vote on tenure for people in other disciplines? If someone is in, I don’t know, French lit, would their feelings on ID be relevant to their job? (Of course, most of the time you wouldn’t know.)

    Can this go the other way? If someone believed something demonstrably false about another field (I don’t know, like a bio prof saying that all good writers are men, and all women are bad writers), would it go the same way?

    (I’m not disagreeing with your stance, I’m just wondering out loud.)

  8. #8 Zeno
    April 28, 2006

    PZ will undoubtedly speak for himself, but if you click on the link he provided to his previous statement and scroll down into the comments, you’ll see what PZ said about a faculty member’s non-relevant opinions (it was in the context of the issue of abortion rights): “If a biologist were anti-choice as a matter of personal and moral conviction, if she weren’t mangling the science to support her position, I wouldn’t find her position on abortion relevant to the decision. There are anti-choice people in academia, you know. I think they’re wrong and I’d argue with them, but it is possible to hold that position apart without inventing any scientific foundation.”

    PZ has been specifically talking about professional qualifications rather than personal opinions. As for a French lit professor who believes in ID, who cares? Tell me what he or she knows about French lit.

  9. #9 ifriit
    April 28, 2006

    This would be an amusing catch 22 for the person looking to be tenured if they even wanted to try this game. All PZ has to ask is, “do you consider ID to be properly scientific and not religious in basis,” or something like that. They wind up either (a)answering yes, in which case they can’t whine that he discriminated against their religion, or (b)answering no, making it difficult for them to teach it and not be accused of trying to teach religion as science and damaging the case that ID is not a religious but a scientific position.

    They might try to weasel out of the inquiry, but I’d hope they wouldn’t get away with it.

  10. #10 rrt
    April 28, 2006

    Precisely. My understanding is that PZ’s position is that if, for instance, the biologist tenure candidate opposed Plan B because they believed it aborted fetuses, then PZ would oppose him or her. Perhaps first making sure they were informed of the reality of Plan B’s mode of action. Although I suppose ignorance of how Plan B works might be a warning sign about a biologist anyway.

    Seems a sensible approach to me, and it’s the one I’d take.

  11. #11 rrt
    April 28, 2006

    Hm…I forgot to add that the above example would operate independent of the candidate’s personal belief about abortion. The point is, they can believe whatever they want and still qualify, just as long as they don’t abuse or grossly misunderstand biology in support of their beliefs when biology is their job.

  12. #12 deadman_932
    April 28, 2006

    I’m amused by all this, especially after reading “Joy” at Tepid Thoughts, and Billy Dembski’s fierce cheerleading squad commentary. It borders on the surreal/delusional to think that a case concerning church-state separation case law has some application in a tenure decision and hypothetical lawsuit involving “religious” discrimination — but I wonder if Billy would be willing to put his money where his mouth is and testify in such a hypothetical case, or will he be a no-go no-show as in his Kitzmiller disappearing act? Somehow I think he’d prefer not to admit he thinks ID is religion, since it would hurt his (and the “Discovery Institute’s) public relations propaganda. Let’s see, what would the Dembskyites have to do to forward such a case?

    Firstly, find a viable candidate for an open position ( good luck there), second, have that candidate openly espouse ID during his stay there. Third, have the person get turned down ( no problem there for IDiots, I imagine). Fourth, file a suit claiming that the refused post was due to religious discrimination. Fifth, have the Dover case admitted as relevant case law. Sixth, prove their case. I’m amused.

    Each aspect of parts 1-6 has lots of niggling details, like oh..say, finding a candidate that is competent and willing to undergo this, while still remaining an IDiot. Or ..what if the balloting is anonymous? It is in many universities, you know. How about getting beyond the legal hurdle of having Dover admitted as relevant case law in regard to a discrimination suit? That should be fun. The bottom line is that Billy and his butt-kissing brigade are talking out of their asses.

    Note to Billy buddies at his silly little blog: if this was such an easy route, don’t you think that your Creationist forbears would have tried it? They did, from both sides of the fence: After Aguillard, you had Peloza v. Capistrano School District and in 1997, Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education. Creationists have alredy tried to claim that their religious views were discriminated against AND that evolution was “religion.” Neither claim went anywhere. Apples and oranges and all that. Church-state separation rulings on curricula is not a finding substantially relevant to determining the merits of a claimed religious position IN discrimination cases. Consider the prongs of the Lemon test and wonder, O Feeble-minded ones

  13. #13 Kristine
    April 28, 2006

    Just remember: the IDiots claim that the Intelligent Designer could be a time-traveling biologist! Why does DaveScot assume that this time-traveling biologist who supposedly could be the Intelligent Designer wasn’t also the one who cast the deciding vote against Beckwith’s tenure? Could the time-traveling biologist currently hold a seat at Oxford University? Or maybe the Designer is a biologist who works at the U of M-Morris? Oh he of little faith! Who is DaveScot to question the Designer? 😉

  14. #14 jrochest
    April 28, 2006

    Like Justin K. above, I’m a member of an English Department, and I can assure you all that I do not get to vote on tenure decisions in Biology. PZ does not get to vote on tenure decisions in English literature. This is just and reasonable.

    And the true parallel to an ID-believing biologist wouldn’t be “Someone who’s never read Shakespeare” but “Someone who believes that the Earl of Oxford (or Sir Francis Bacon, or The Queen’s bastard son) wrote the plays”. It’s okay if a specialist in, say, evolutionary biology, is an Oxfordian, since that just means they’re just prone to hold crackpot notions in areas they know nothing about, a noble academic tradition in itself. However,when a specialist in a field holds to a theory that requires them to ignore all of that field’s painstakingly assembled concrete evidence in favour of special pleading slanted to the ignorant, it is perfectly acceptable to kick them to the curb.

  15. #15 SEF
    April 28, 2006

    if college professors hinder the advancement of fools in academia, creationists will have more difficulty pretending to be credentialed scientists!

    The creationists are scared of being “attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture” and, worse, of being rightfully judged by them and their superior standards (of ethics and of science). The meritless aren’t all so dim as to be completely unaware of their likely place in any real meritocracy, such as academia aims to be. There’s probably a nice tenured berth waiting for each of them on the B-ark though …

  16. #16 wheatdogg
    April 28, 2006

    Please pardon the interruption, but since when do outsiders have any say in the decisions made by a university? Tenure is an internal decision, not a public referendum. The Dembski-ites need to mind their own effing business, and try to explain why Billy does not hold tenure anywhere he has “taught.”

    Besides, if PZ voted against a person, would that guarantee the candidate would be denied tenure? Does it have to be a unanimous decision, or a majority one. (Sorry if the last question is naive. I teach high school science, so tenure is foreign to me.)

    And speaking of high school science, our school is looking for a biology teacher for next year. No IDists or creationists need apply. Sorry. Live with it. Contact me via my website, http://www.wheatdogg.com, or at john.wheaton AT gmail DOT com for details.

    We now resume normal programming.

  17. #17 Mike
    April 28, 2006

    Wow we’ve made it this far and no one has trolled yet! I never really comment, but this very fact has struck me as worthy of commenting upon. Did a sound, plainly stated, argument finally sink in with ID proponents? Or are they just on holiday?

  18. #18 Dustin
    April 28, 2006

    However, do you get to review tenure applications from the Arts or other non-science disciplines? If so, would you veto a candidate because of their ID belief even if it will have no bearing on their research or teaching?

    No, PZ has nothing to do with those reviews. It’s better that he doesn’t since, if scientists were responsible for granting tenure to Literature professors, those Literature professors would probably get to have a say in the scientists that get tenure.

    Then we’d be reading monograps on C*-Algebras in American Literature, and The Great Gatsby in Calculus (and that’s the best case scenario).

  19. #19 Virge
    April 28, 2006

    I’m reminded of Tom Lehrer’s introduction to It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier where he quips:
    “…one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

  20. #20 Christian
    April 28, 2006

    Mike, I seriously think they are on holiday. In this case, I mean the vacation kind, rather than the mental kind, which they usually are.

  21. #21 George Cauldron
    April 28, 2006

    I’m just on pins & needles wondering who the first troll will be to shatter the peace here. Will it be klystron? JMcH? Steveinchicago? Swiftee? And what approach will they take? Will they make a perfunctory attempt to argue the topic at hand, or will they go straight to the tried-and-true bargain-basement Horowitzian “LIBRUL COLLEGE PROFESORS ALL SUCK”? Either way, we’re probably in for some long harangue about how horribly persecuted conservatives and christians are based on some anecdote he read on Horowitz’s site.

  22. #22 compass
    April 28, 2006

    Well, I am sure you folks have called me troll in the past. . .but, in the end, I actually agree with PZ here (pause for shudder of horror).

    The analogy of the Medieval Lit prof who’s never read Shakespeare seems to cover it quite well. And if PZ is not going to question the issue of tenure with a pro-life advocate, sounds consistent to me.

    Then again, I have questioned for some time if ID isn’t better served discussed in the philosophy classroom (which is where the idea really originates, anyway) rather than the science classroom. And to make things worse, there are issues related to ID that ought to ALARM reasonable, thinking Christians (and save me the trollish imbecile response of “Christianity and reason is an oxymoron” or some such similar idiocy). Said alarm emanating from the idea that the Designer screwed it up in the beginning and had to tweak things as He/She/It went along. That kind of screws the omnipotence argument.

    I wonder if PZ would convert if we could prove to him that the Designer is in fact a primal Squid?

  23. #23 Zeno
    April 28, 2006

    I wonder if PZ would convert if we could prove to him that the Designer is in fact a primal Squid?

    Well, sure. If you could prove it. I would, too.

  24. #24 George Cauldron
    April 28, 2006

    Well, that was an anticlimax.

    Guess we’ll have to wait for the next one.

    (Taps foot, impatiently looks at watch.)

  25. #25 Monado
    April 28, 2006

    Well, you must admit that there’s a certain similarity in the logic of “ID is science because it says it’s science” to “The Bible is true because it says it’s true.”

  26. #26 The Amazing Kim
    April 28, 2006

    I have questioned for some time if ID isn’t better served discussed in the philosophy classroom

    We have better things to do. Try theology, or the history of science classes.

    Sure, ID’s uselful as a a tangent to the sociology of anti-empiricism, or the contortions of compromised ideology, but as a philosophical concept it’s sadly lacking. At least creationism had some rough arguments.

  27. #27 Dustin
    April 28, 2006

    Yeah, if I were a philosopher, I’d probably get a little tired of having a bunch of placating local-office sycophants trying to pass every last bad idea that gets shot down by scientists off as philosophy.

  28. #28 The Amazing Kim
    April 28, 2006

    To clarify: not workable arguments, but at least they had their heart in it. The IDists don’t seem so… emotional. Fanatical sure, but not so passionate.

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2006

    However, do you get to review tenure applications from the Arts or other non-science disciplines?

    No. Although since this is a small university, I do get to vote on people in geology and math and statistics and computer science and chemistry and physics. It would be interesting if a mathematician were up for tenure who had been promoting Intelligent Design (one important fact: nobody brings the candidate up before an inquisition and grills them on whether they have ever been a fellow of the Discovery Institute…we just review their submitted CVs and supporting information, along with letters from their peers).

    To be honest, I would vote against such a hypothetical cretinous colleague in some other discipline. I would not want to give any endorsement at all to someone using their position in my university to promulgate such crap. I think it would be similarly fair for a mathematician to vote against a biologist who was writing screeds against calculus and demanding that pi be revised to the value of 3.100000–there should be some reasonable standards for advancement within academe that even our colleagues in other disciplines should recognize.

  30. #30 woofsterNY
    April 29, 2006

    PZ, look on the bright side. At least the baying pack is spelling your name right these days. 😀

    I’ll submit my own career parallel to tenure voting: As I work on a newpaper copy desk, I would definitely vote (if I was allowed to, that is) against those applicants who could neither spell nor understand correct grammar. (Since copyeditors share the work load each night, in my case it would be simple self-preservation.)

    In non-voting arenas: I also wouldn’t let anyone work on my house who didn’t know much about carpentry, work on my car without a serious understanding of automechanics, or do surgery on me without some respectable credentials in medicine. I would happily and guiltlessly deny all these people the “right” to work for me.

    Credentials, qualifications, expertise … these are fields of discrimination only to people bubble-headed enough to believe that the importance of facts and knowledge can be legislated or sued out of existence.

  31. #31 Fredrock Flintstone
    April 29, 2006

    As I work on a newpaper copy desk, I would definitely vote (if I was allowed to, that is) against those applicants who could neither spell nor understand correct grammar.

    And this analogy falls short. In your profession, these unqualified applicants would not be merely be less-than-competent in spelling in grammar, they would be telling you–and the world–that what is considered correct spelling and grammar is not only wrong, but wrong as the result of a vast conspiracy of editors and proofreaders who should know better, but spell and write the way they do because they are part of a vast atheistic conspiracy to get god out of the language. Whatever that means.

  32. #32 cp
    April 29, 2006

    I think elections are elections. Academic ones are not about qualifications but politics.
    It’s always about politics, funding and positions and this is obvious even to people that are watching from outside.

  33. #33 Caledonian
    April 29, 2006

    also wouldn’t let anyone work on my house who didn’t know much about carpentry, work on my car without a serious understanding of automechanics, or do surgery on me without some respectable credentials in medicine.

    Let’s be specific: nobody performs surgery without sufficient skill in surgery. Medical knowledge alone doesn’t cut it, and credentials are only useful to the degree that they can reliably be used to detect skill.

    We don’t need to give the Cult of Professionalism any more than we have to.

  34. #34 Tom Hudson
    April 29, 2006

    Hmm, where I am now, and where I did grad school, tenure isn’t quite like that: the candidate’s department members and/or chair make the first decision on the candidate’s application, their dean makes a second pass, but then a third pass is made by a Reappointment and Tenure committee which includes faculty from all across campus before it goes up to the provost and chancellor. So yes, if I pass this pretenure review and go up for tenure in three years, there will be people from English and Political Science and whatnot voting on my (Computer Science) tenure application.

  35. #35 deadman_932
    April 29, 2006

    The simpering halfwits at Billy Dembski’s blog have lowered their sights a bit and are now calling for a “censure” of anyone willing to deny tenure to an IDiot. Actually, I’m surprised little Billy didn’t run off and tell mama…er, the Dept. of Homeland Security that people were picking on him.

    Billy’s Blubbering Brigade needs a complaint form, so I’ve kindly composed one with his head cheerleader in mind, if he can unbunch his panties enough to sit and copy this:

    “To Whom it May Concern: As a former Marine/ Engineer/ Air Force Pilot/ Lawyer/ Biologist/ Programmer/ Queen of Romania/Texas pinata, I will hold my breath until I turn blue until you censure anyone who laughs at my little friends. ID is a religion, because we say so and a judge said so. It’s true. Saying you will not vote to hire IDiots is discrimination, and if you don’t tell everyone at your school this and punish any bad mens and womens who say those mean things, then we’ll get really mad and never apply to your science departments.”

  36. #36 wcomer0
    April 29, 2006

    kristine

    you have proved that PZ is god

    I welcome our squddish overlords.

  37. #37 Bob C
    April 29, 2006

    Maybe it’s just me. Whatever I hear, my first reaction is CONSIDER THE SOURCE.

    With PZ it’s simple, he speaks rationally.

    With people like Dembski & Hovind et al, it’s quite the opposite.
    What’s for more disconcerting is that people actually believe them.

    Then again, I’m a just a first time poster who’s been lurkin’ awhile. That may explain a lot.

    That being said, do substance and validity have anything to
    do with tenure? Didn’t my last time ’round (92-93)

  38. #38 PZ Myers
    April 29, 2006

    That being said, do substance and validity have anything to
    do with tenure?

    Well, yes, as a kind of Platonic ideal that rarely manifests itself in the imperfect dross that is a university committee meeting. We do aspire, however.

  39. #39 Bob C
    April 29, 2006

    PZ said
    We do aspire, however.

    That was obvious with many of my excellent teachers. However, it appeared that too many (and one is too many) were more concerned with appearance than substance. Maybe I’m just a typically cynical New Yorker. Who said “Scratch a cynic and you find an idealist”?

  40. #40 blogista
    April 29, 2006

    I think elections are elections. Academic ones are not about qualifications but politics.

    Hey everyone, welcome the troll.

  41. #41 slpage
    May 1, 2006

    Regarding who votes on tenure decisions:

    At my university, and I suspect it is similar elsewhere, the tenure review process goes something like this:

    The department reviews the applicant’s materials and votes, taking in to account things like their teaching load/evaluations, university service, professional development (at research schools, things like grants received and such I am sure figures in here).

    Then the materials are forwarded to the next level – here, we have a Math/Science division which has its own division level P&T committee, which reviews the applicant’s materials for compliance with the division standards and ensures that the departmental process was fair. No votes from the department can be appealed to the division committee.

    Then, if the applicant makes it past the division level, it gets forwarded to the University P&T committee, which has representatives from all of the academic divisions, and the Provost.

    The University P&T committee then reviews everything, deliberates, and votes then forwards its recommendation to the President via the Provost, both of whom, I believe, have at least some level of veto power and to whom appeals can be made.

    So yes, a biologist could vote on the tenure of an English prof or vice versa, but of course he/she would be one of about 10 votes on the committee and, at that level, the main concern is that all of the procedures were followed.
    If the department voted no, it is likely that the appeals will be unsuccessful, unless some impropriety is discovered.

    Professional incompetence will get even a tenured, contracted professor the boot here.

    This multi-step, appealable process essentially ensures that political issues are minimized.

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