Trained parrot awarded Ph.D.

This is a sad story of compartmentalization carried to an extreme: a Ph.D. student in the geosciences who is also young earth creationist. This is a tricky subject: religion is not a litmus test for awarding a degree, but supposedly depth and breadth of knowledge is. I say that you cannot legitimately earn an advanced degree in geology and at the same time hold a belief contrary to all the evidence, and that the only way you can accomplish it is by basically lying to yourself and your committee throughout the process—and look at this…the student agrees.

Asked whether it was intellectually honest to write a dissertation so at odds with his religious views, he said: “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history. I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people” at Rhode Island.

And though his dissertation repeatedly described events as occurring tens of millions of years ago, Dr. Ross added, “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”

In other words, he was going through the motions. He was doing “research” on the distribution of mosasaurs 65 million years ago, but what he was actually doing was echoing ideas he disagreed with to fit the expectations of his advisors—he was a complete fraud.

I have a hard time imagining spending 4+ years working hard at something I believed was a complete lie, but this guy did it, and thinks he accomplished something. His motive clearly was not a love of science, but to acquire credentials under false pretenses that he could then use to endorse his ideology. What a waste of his time; I wouldn’t hire such a phony, and I don’t know anyone who would. Where could he end up working? But of course…

Today he teaches earth science at Liberty University, the conservative Christian institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell where, Dr. Ross said, he uses a conventional scientific text.

“We also discuss the intersection of those sorts of ideas with Christianity,” he said. “I don’t require my students to say or write their assent to one idea or another any more than I was required.”

If his training was a lie, I guess he doesn’t have any scruples about lying a little more: I’ve seen the job ads from Liberty University, and a “young earth philosophy” is a prerequisite for teaching there. He teaches something called CRST 290, which is in a “religious studies” category, taught as part of their required instruction in “creation studies”.

CRST 290: History of Life

An interdisciplinary study of the origin and history of
life in the universe. Faculty of the Center for Creation
Studies will draw from science, religion, history, and
philosophy in presenting the evidence and arguments for
creation and evolution.

I think the University of Rhode Island might want to review their doctoral programs a bit. It looks like someone can slip through with only the most superficial knowledge of their field, and can admit to faking it throughout their entire training. This kind of slack in the standards diminishes the luster of degrees from RI.

It also says something even worse of Liberty University. They’ll hire any old hack to teach their courses.


  1. #1 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    “a sad story of compartmentalization.”

    yup, but that’s the real pattern. Not unique, by any means. Moreover, it’s basically the direction I thought you would take in your contribution on “evolution sunday”.

    I do wonder where the psychologists are in all this. It seems there should be a scienceblog where a psychologist analyzes the common features of cognitive dissonance and freudian-style defense mechanisms that are so prevalent amongst creationists.

    all this story does is bring the issue out more clearly.

    As long as this has been going on, I also think there MUST be someone who has spent time collating the obvious patterns into a book.

    something I expect would be titled: “Revisiting Freud: Creationism and the American Mindset.”

    or something like that.

    anybody run across one yet?

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    I think the University of Rhode Island might want to review their doctoral programs a bit. It looks like someone can slip through with only the most superficial knowledge of their field, and can admit to faking it throughout their entire training. This kind of slack in the standards diminishes the luster of degrees from RI.

    Jonathan Wells

    haven’t we already had this discussion?

    compartmentalization is both a sad and a miraculous thing, and could indeed allow someone like this guy, or Miller, or Collins, to teach or do research without letting whatever contrary beliefs they hold affect their work.

    no, it ain’t healthy in my opinion, and often leads to severe cases of cognitive dissonance (think John Davison or Behe), but it can be done.

    According to the the full article, those considering this fellow’s admission could not fault his qualifications.

    What right does a University as a governing body have to eliminate someone from a graduate program if they showed talent for the field, had a legit thesis project, and had sufficient qualifications coming in?

    surely you can see the problems inherent in rejecting someone who could arguably (in court) say it was done out of religious prejudice?

    I think any university might want to limit their liability from that perspective.

    Truly I think it a responsibility of the those faculty considering the potential student, rather than that of the university at large, to make a decision on accepting to be an advisor for any particular graduate student.

    In this case, when one reads the full article, one does get the impression the decision was not taken lightly; it was more like an “experiment” to see what would happen.

    I doubt seriously they would accept another graduate student with a similar background, and within a thesis committee, any one of a hundred reasons can be given that would not hold them liable.

  3. #3 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    I actually ran into someone like this today, on a facebook message board. He was (or claimed to be, anyway) a PhD student in biology… and tried to argue that objective science favors the genesis account.

    that sounds an awful lot like a troll we had hanging around the ATBC area on PT for a while.

    he didn’t use the last name “Martin” by any chance?

    if so, that guy is a total fraud. He has no advanced degree of any kind (we actually took the time to look it up).

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    It seems to me like that would be grounds for Rhode Island University to rescind their award of a phd (though I don’t know whether something like that is possible, or if it ever actually happens). Also, it seems like this possible dishonesty should have been addressed in the article (though maybe it was too obvious).


    Say you buy a book at a bookstore and then proceed to rip the pages out and use them to wipe your ass.

    should the bookstore revoke your reading privileges because you chose to use the book in an unintended fashion?

    Universities simply CANNOT be held responsible for what someone does with their education, they can only be held resonsible for the quality of the education itself.

    that person paid for a product, pure and simple, and I can’t think of any legitimate reason any business, including a university, should be responsible for how that product is used. However, as I said above, decisions to admit graduate students are not only made at the university level, and cases like this should give faculty committees pause for consideration.

    now let’s talk about gun control and the responsibility of gun manufacturers…


  5. #5 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007


    but I don’t think most universitites would characterize the degrees they award as a “product”. I think they tend to regard them as a status.

    no, they do in fact regard it like a product. They are, after all, a business.

    …should have some moral grounds, if not legal, or practical grounds for wishing to remove that individual’s “status” as having been awarded a phd from that university.

    then the university admits to liability for granting the degree in the first place.

    IOW, it makes them look bad.

    Would you attend a 4 year plus graduate program where at the end, you had a legitimate chance of having your degree removed because of a later decision of the university??

    not hardly.

  6. #6 Peter M
    February 12, 2007

    As a former lawyer, I frequently see Ross-types, people who instead of learning the law to advance society through good rules, use it to advance their personal agendas. It’s sad to see in science, but common in jurisprudence.

    Second, I often wonder why creationist types also ignore the science that exists in theology. For well over a century, theologians have critically examined the origins of the Bible, using document and linguistic analysis, and for later stories, comparing other histories. The bottom line — most intelligent theologians see the Bible as a metaphor. Even the New Testament can be seen that way. Some, such as Elaine Pagels, understand why religious infighting shaped the gospels.

    So why don’t the creationists understand that their basic text is just poetry and not fact? Personally, I think it’s a form of mental illness brought about in part by rigid teaching at an early age — Dawkins’ “child abuse.”

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 12, 2007

    Since science and theories are meritocracies, I don’t see an inherent need for PhD’s to be revoked outside of faking the PhD work.

    But it could be considered, especially is circumstances change. Research is based on peer review, but also money and PR. Getting the reputation soiled may not be selective enough in todays society

    But he HAS faked his data – all of it.

    Probably not, measured against theory. That he thinks it is fake is another matter.

    As scientists, we should be adopting agnostic worldviews.

    Science is a neutral tool. It is compatible with or supportive for a number of -isms, humanism, agnosticism, atheism, and so on.

    It is difficult to claim any is better. But if anything, atheism is increasingly supported by induction over facts and theories, while agnosticism is diminished by it. And as poke noted, instrumentalism, and I would claim agnosticism, may open up for inane positions which is another fact to consider.

  8. #8 Sean Foley
    February 12, 2007
  9. #9 Steve Watson
    February 12, 2007

    Was Kurt Wise a committed YEC while he was doing his Ph.D. under Gould? Dawkins’ essay on Wise doesn’t make the time-line clear — ie. whether Wise’s big Moment Of Decision (in which he chose wrong) came before, during, or after.

    But he HAS faked his data – all of it.

    There’s an irony there: Ross believes all his data is, at some level “fake” — but the scientific world accepts that data (and his interpretation of it) as legitimate.

    Most of us have the ability to think hypothetically — to accept for the sake of argument some proposition we think false, and see where it leads logically. (In fact — more irony! — we frequently run across fundamentalists who have trouble thinking outside their box, eg. understanding why we atheists aren’t worried about going to hell). But most of us don’t engage in that sort of mind-game for very long. I really have to wonder how you can work that hard for that long on something you personally believe to be a fantasy, a giant mistake (I know I couldn’t do it — I’d have to love the subject, and that requires believing I’m studying something real). ISTM that if, in reality, all those mososaurs lived only a few millenia ago, and were buried in Ye Fludde, there shouldn’t be enough of a pattern in the data to talk meaningfully about species distribution across mega-years.

  10. #10 Bertrand
    February 12, 2007


    While it’s a rare practice, universities can and do revoke degrees as the University of Virginia did a few years ago when cheating was discovered after graduation. Revocations have also occurred in a few instances of scientists falsifying data. Whether this particular case deserves revocation depends on details we don’t have.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    But suing a school for a degree is as useless as going on a hunger strike for tenure.

    hmm. Not necessarily true. I can point you to someone who successfully sued in order to get her PhD, if you like, though I can’t say what the issues were in her case.

    I know the story, because she sued my own major prof, before I started my own graduate tenure with him.

    sometimes things like what happened to you are entirely within the purview of the legal system to solve.

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    It’s bizarre. To get a degree in something you have no intentions of utilizing.

    no. It’s genius. Not utilize, you say?

    What this person has done is set himself up to be able to legitimately say:

    “I took the standard scientific explanations as far as they could go; I obviously UNDERSTAND the standard arguments. I just think they aren’t the TRUTH.”

    get it?

    He now has a piece of paper that legitimizes his belief system, because he can use it to say he put in the work to understand the counters to his belief system. Regardless of whether he then chooses to lie to others about whether those counters he learned so well actually DO completely logically dismiss his beliefs, he can still say he isn’t ignorant on the subject at hand. Authority is extremely important to maintaining the psychology of creationism, and this guy now has it in spades as far as your average creobot is concerned.

    By and large, one of the major criticisms of creobots is that they simply don’t even bother to look at and try to comprehend the evidence that counters their claims, and this guy, regardless of whether he is obviously fooling himself (again, compartmentalization is a powerful thing), can at least point to his own credentials to argue otherwise.

    It’s the same reason the moonies funded Wells’ PhD.

    As distasteful as it is, this case only goes to show that the issue behind creationism isn’t stupidity, isn’t always (but usually is) ignorance, nor is it really even religion; it’s really about psychology.

    how else could someone compartmentalize so well?

    do you recall the talk origins piece on Francis Collins?

    If not, I think it would be worthwhile reading for anybody considering this issue.

    check out how someone who was the head of the human genome project could compartmentalize his religious nuttery so well:

    the parts of his book detailing the genetic and molecular evidence for evolution are very well written. The rest? well…

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    Weren’t you freaked out by the prof being sued previously? 😮

    meh, hindsight 20/20 and all. Looking back, I think I was kind of starry-eyed at getting into the program to begin with. Somehow, one has a tendency to think that these kinds of things are case specific, and probably won’t apply otherwise (we all make mistakes, etc.). There weren’t any other outstanding complaints, and my new prof was certainly well known and well published in the field of ethology. I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I can say he gave me quite an education, and most certainly improved my skills as a behavioral ecologist. Whatever mistakes he made with the previous grad student didn’t apply during my tenure, and I never pressed the grad student nor my prof on exactly what those were (probably a wise thing).

    just as a footnote, he’s retired now, so no worries for any new grad trying to figure out if he might be a potential professor.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    #126″I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history. I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people” at Rhode Island.

    And my inability to do this would explain why I didn’t get a degree in economics…..

    consider yourself psychologically healthy then, even if potentially a bit poorer economically.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007


    My objection is that only someone who does not understand the science would be able to make the arguments Ross is.

    then you still fail to fully understand what “compartmentalization” means.

    nobody said it was a healthy thing, but surely with all the case examples we have had over the last few years, it should at least START to dawn on you how powerful compartmentalization can be?

    heck you even used the term in the very first sentence of your original contribution.

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    oh and another related issue…

    I often hear the creobots claiming scientists are “afraid” of creationist arguments.

    if we are so damn “afraid”, why on earth would thse particular scientists have allowed this guy to get his PhD, even knowing his philosophical stance?


  17. #17 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    mark – rather than just assuming PZ has committed anything similar in nature or scope to the kind of academic fraud proposed for the student in question, pehaps you should actually FIND something in reality to compare it to.

    I’d bet you would be hard pressed to find something so bipolar an example as this one, even for yourself let alone for PZ.

    what you have presented I believe would typically be called a strawman.

    In regards to Liberty University hiring any old hacks, I’m sure that the Minnesota Morris can be proud of a whitewashed tomb like you.

    if you knew anything of the two educational institutions, you would have of coursed realized that the comparison is meaningless.

    nice bit of trolling, though.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    This guy was NOT compartmentalzing.

    He was going through the motions of being scientist.

    uh, hate to break it to you steve, but being able to “go through the motions” while still maintaining an entirely different worldview sure seems like compartmentalization from everything I was taught about the concept, albeit I’m no psychologist.

    if he was not compartmentalizing, then he simply wouldn’t be able to maintain his religious worldview in the face of the obvious contradictions to it from the very bits of evidence he used to gain his PhD.

    again, I think Collins is a classic example of this as well, in that he certainly was exposed to entire fields of study that negate his moral law concptualization, but it sure doesn’t stop him beleiving it as “correct”.

    please re-read the article I linked to over on Talk origins.

    Your response is the very reason I was hoping a real psychologist would weigh in, but alas, it appears it won’t be the case here.

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    That being said, an admissions committee might reasonably decide, given the limited availability of graduate student slots, to favor applicants who seem to them most likely to put their degrees to productive use and advance scientific knowledge. But once somebody makes it into the program, I think that the faculty are honor-bound to judge him on the quality of his scientific work.


    that’s why it isn’t just the university itself that makes the decision to accept a graduate student, but that student must be approved for acceptance also by any proposed thesis committee.

    this gives far more than enough lattitude to reject a student deemed “incompatible”, if so deemed, whithout having to write any rules and regulations that might hold the university at large liable.

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    He was never having them coexist. One was true to him, and the other false.

    that’s still compartmentalizing. it doesn’t matter how one relegates the value of the differing mental concepts, all that matters is that they are logically separated from each other. In fact, it is often the subjective “value” itself that maintains the separation to begin with.

    If they weren’t, especially in his case, he simply could not have done the work to get a PhD in this subject.

    he LITERALLY, had to turn “off” one way of thinking in order to proceed with the other. that’s about as compartmentalized as one can get.

  21. #21 mark
    February 12, 2007

    When in Rome live by the romans law wether you agree withit or not. Science has evolved a worldview based on fantasy rather than fiction. True evidence is interpreted to fit the worldview that fits the author. Strawmen do have a creator so do you.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    Yes, mark, thanks for another bit of trolling.

    On to things of relevance.

    Steve: I wonder if the problem you might be having with this being an instance of compartmentalization, might be that you are thinking it needs be “unconscious” in nature?

    naww. Just because one is consciously logically separating competing conceptualizations does not mean they aren’t still participating in compartmentalization.

  23. #23 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    hmm, I bet we could easily get Mark to demonstrate what I mean by compartmentalization.

    Up for participating in an experiment, Mark?

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    You all are being too nice to him. He went to work for Liberty University. Imagine him in a pew at Liberty U., beaming away as Jerry Falwell delivers another hate-filled screed to a bunch of Stepford students.

    well, if you know where he is, invite him over so we can step on him like the bug he is.

    It’s not a matter of being nice to this person, it’s a matter of explaining his behavior, and a discussion of just what level of responsibility a university can practically maintain in a case like this.

    I truly do despise the man, but I can’t fault the University for giving him a degree, if he legitimately passed all the knowledge tests and defended his thesis.

    call it an ability to compartmentalize the process from the person.


    look at the bright side:

    when you call folks like Fallwell “friend”, who needs enemies?

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    Why is it that religious nuts always think that the nonreligious must just not know all about religion?

    simple projection from the fact that so few of them know anything about science, or atheism, for that matter.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    So what? What is the asswipe going to say? “You lied to me?” As if.

    no… he’ll simply take them to court saying he had his degree arbitrarily removed.

    … and technically, he’d be correct.

    What do you really think the university would consider to be better for their reputation?

  27. #27 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    (4) I have sufficient knowledge of the geosciences to know that there is no tenable support for the position that Ross is advocating, that the earth is 6000 years old, and that that position is actually contradicted by the evidence.

    whee, let’s see how many times we can run this around in a circle.

    If there is nothing in his thesis, nor in his answers during examination, that indicate such, how can one hold him to what he says outside of his thesis or examinations?

    I completely agree that a person who openly states a philosophical position entirely contradicted by the evidence he uses in his very thesis is technically insane, and there are ways an advisory committee can choose to avoid admitting such a student. However, as you yourself earlier mentioned, once they DID decide to accept him as is, the only way they can judge his performance is based on his knowledge of the material and how well he presents and defends his thesis.

    I understand the frustration, but you are saying things here that backtrack on your own earlier statements.

    It’s like there are a lot of people here, yourself included, that simply cannot seem to grasp the power of compartmentalization.

    let’s face facts here, what he knows factually about geology has very little to do with his professed belief system.

    One could reasonably conclude that his primary goal in pursuing a PhD could have been to prove that very thing.

    You cannot equate intellectual dishonesty with academic dishonesty, they just aren’t the same thing.

    If he fudged the data for his thesis to make it LOOK like it supported some YEC notion, or even theorized based on a YEC notion to begin with, they would likely have tossed him out on his ear.

    past this discussion, the best this guy can look forward to as a professional geologist would be teaching at creobot U (current occupation), or as some second hand gofer at a geology research insitute, where they would refer to him something like: “oh yeah, that guy’s completely nuts, but he can operate the sifters OK”.

    Getting back to URI, if they show a pattern of admissions like this, there would be a public stink raised automatically. All indications are, though, that there was simple curiosity on the part of the faculty to see what would happen if they admitted this one student given his stated philosophy.

    In short, while this is interesting to discuss, I doubt URI really needs to adjust its admissions policies.

    That said, boiling down what you are saying to its essential essence, are you saying that intellectual honesty (in addition to academic) should be a requirement of getting a PhD?

  28. #28 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007


    (or whatever your motivations are)

    that says volumes about how you tend to debate.

  29. #29 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    notice that he is now off teaching undergraduates.

    …at a religious university, that probably would have hired him to do so even if he got booted from the program at URI.

    Now if a real university like yours or URI was considering granting him a tenure track position to teach, that’s a new ballgame.

    I suspect that a guy who got a degree based on his analysis of 65 million year old fossils ought to be comfortable with the basic concepts of figuring out how old a specimen is. And yes, that’s something a graduate in geosciences ought to know:

    again, where is it demonstrated he was unable to express knowledge of how dating works?

    surely, if his advisory committee failed to test his knowledge of dating methods, then they were entirely lax. It hardly seems likely that they would have, especially given his stated philosophy. I rather think they would have drilled him inordinately hard on that particlar material during his orals exams, don’t you?

    Are you seriously asking whether intellectual honesty ought to be part of a Ph.D. requirement?

    actually, yeah. please show me any university graduate contract (you signed one, too, remember), that speaks to this specific issue.

    How on earth do you measure it? what if he never mentioned his philosophy until after he graduated?

    what if he only mentioned it in private?

    what then?

    were you required to parse your philosophy for your graduate degree?

    yes, let’s take a look at the value of making a university responsible for measuring this and see where it leads.

  30. #30 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    Trying to measure what you really want is too costly or has unfortunate side effects.

    subjective false positives come readily to mind.

  31. #31 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    it’s late here, but I certainly would like to pursue this debate further.

    I’ll try to catch up tommorrow afternoon.

  32. #32 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 13, 2007

    As long as he has done that, what does it matter if he believes there is some mysterious flaw in the reasoning?

    The whole discussion is interesting, and while I sympathize with PZ’s goals of pure science, I don’t quite see how it would work. All sorts of walks of life have frauds living in the cracks of the systems.

    But I think we can make this more precise. The above description also encompass theistic evolutionists like Miller. They see that evolution results in unguided natural processes but believes the process is guided anyway. So they put their faith in their gods in the physical gaps of evolutionary theory, unduly constraining physical theories and their own theology instead.

    Ross is different, because as an YECist he believes there is some mysterious flaw in independent facts. His belief doesn’t contradict a specific theory and pervert others, it directly contradict facts arriving from all sorts of science. In principle he could check each stage in dating a fossil and either get gobsmacked by the missing flaw or have to believe most of our science is at fault. That is a difference.

  33. #33 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    Why wasn’t he grilled on it?

    once again, PZ.

    what makes you think he wasn’t?

    the far more reasonable assumption is that given his stated philosophy, his grilling on relevant factual issues during his orals would have been rather intense.

    Gees, you must have had some easygoing examiners for your orals to think otherwise.

    so, we’re back at square one. What objective methods do you propose to reject a qualified candidate based on their philosophy?

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007


    His thesis advocates a view which he himself thinks will be completely overturned and shown to be inaccurate.

    sounds a lot like what happened to WD Hamilton (maybe not to such an extreme, but very similar in quality to a alot of the arguments he had with folks like Lewontin).

    Many students with new ideas are properly (IMO) forced to show that they fully understand and can work with the ideas that are currently accepted.

    again, I see no difference here. Regardless of whether this person’s basis for differing philosophically is basically insane, there is NO evidence that he exhibited a lack of understanding of the factual material and theories presented to him by his advisory committee and the URI.

    Let’s get back to what a University could theoretically do to limit this kind of situation.

    What if we could have some quantitative measure of the damage particular philosophies could cause to the advancement of science itself? It’s easy enough to differentiate philosophy and religion from science (heck, that’s how ID was so easily shot down in flames in Dover). How hard would it be to demonstrate that philosophies like creationism and ID actually are a physical detriment to the advancement of science in the long term? Seems PZ (and numerous others) has spent much time blogging about this very thing, and least in a qualitative fashion. So, someone should generate the numbers; show how creationist beliefs materially affect the advancement of science itself, both directly and indirectly (through funding, say).

    Once there are a number of peer reviewed quantitative studies showing exactly how these philosophies impact the advancement of science in general, then the next question can be addressed:

    Is it a university’s purview to further the advancement of science?

    surely the answer to that is a resounding “yes”, in any instance where a university has a science program to begin with.

    so, with objective backing of various studies showing the damage certain philosophies can have on the advancement of science, couldn’t a university then logically write into its requirements that any student accepted into a graduate program MUST support the advancement of science itself in order to be accepted to begin with?

    kind of like a hippocratic oath for science majors: “first, do no harm.”

    what do you think, PZ, would that work?

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    What do you think? Feel free to pretend that you never read this comment, just like you seem to have never read any of the dozens of similar comments.

    actually, i do often bypass a lot of your rants, just like everybody else does.

    hey, that’s not my fault.

  36. #36 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    What do you think? Feel free to pretend that you never read this comment, just like you seem to have never read any of the dozens of similar comments.

    actually, i do often bypass a lot of your rants, just like everybody else does.

    hey, that’s not my fault.

    but here:

    One objective method would be to look at whether the “qualified candidate” is spending his/her “free time” undermining science and promoting antiscientific horseshit.

    this makes me wonder if you ever have actually gone through a graduate program.

    There was nothing in my grad contract that addressed this, nothing in the university rules and regs either.

    so what you are proposing is entirely SUBJECTIVE at this point.

    it simply doesn’t exist.

    in fact, though your post wasn’t there yet when i started the post prior to this one, you can see in it that I actually agree with your sentiment, and am trying to propose a way to provide for objective support for any given university to deal with it.

    rather than leave it open to entirely subjective manipulation, which is actually where it DOES stand now.

  37. #37 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    It’s amazing that some here think this is about private beliefs, or about a university “institutionalizing belief systems.” It’s about the ethical practice of science.

    and there are those here who apparently think this issue is as simplistic as you just painted it.

    this one case example is far from typical, and only serves as the jumping off point to discuss the reality of the situation, but when you bring up “ethical practice of science”, you seem to fail to realize the overwhelmingly large issue you just raised in those few simple words.

    thinking beyond the grad school issue, when Francis Collins wrote his most recent book (note: not peer reviewed scientific article), he did a great job explaining how genetic evidence supports evolutionary theory.
    then he went on to talk about how humans are special creations because we are “endowed with moral law”.

    so, is his book scientifically “unethical”? do we pull his “license”?

    I think if that becomes the norm, there will be far fewer practicing scientists, as they simply will be afraid that any contrary philosophical thought they expound in public will be grounds for having their career ruined.

    there has to be some sort of dividing line between thought and practice. In this guys case, his immediate practice after leaving grad school was to try and teach woo to kids.

    that’s a pretty clear case of entire abandonment. However, he did that AFTER he put together an apparently very legit thesis and defense.

    objectively, all the URI had to judge his performance as a grad student was on how well he could exhibit the knowledge of his actual profession, and how well he could produce and defend a thesis.

    going back to the comparison with Collins, does the woo in one part of his book invalidate the well supported genetic arguments he makes in the other?

    If Collins starts putting together a lab to fund research into the woo of “moral law”, that is entirely different that if he funds a lab that attempts to map the genomes of other animals, right?

    This whole thing simply cannot be left to subjective interpretation of disagreeable philosophies. Surely most here can immediate recognize how that can be abused?

  38. #38 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007


    talk about assinine statements.

    It’s the only really relevant thing. any university simply cannot act on subjective grounds, otherwise they open themeselves up to lawsuits, or did you miss the post i made about the grad student who successfully sued to get her PhD?

    Why don’t you tell us exactly what you are afraid that scientists are going to do?

    it’s not just scientists, moron. which is another reason I keep wondering what on earth graduate program you must have gone through that never had any politics involved?

    if you set up a system where any faculty member can subjectively smear a grad student, they can and they will if that graduate student slights them in some way (not even related to any perceived philosophical bent, mind you). You’re an idiot to think that it wouldn’t happen, as it has happened, many times, and I am a personal witness to just that kind of thing.

    Indeed, I lived in “interesting” times as a grad student; not only did a previous grad student successfully sue my own major prof to get her degree (the above mentioned instance of subjective smearing being directly involved), but while I was there, Jonathan Wells was in the dept. “next door” (MCB), and is a perfect parallel to Ross, the only difference being biology vs. geology, and the moonies backing him instead of Fallwell/disco inst.

    so, yeah, I’ve personally witnessed the entire gamut, from abuse on one side to abuse on the other.

    that specific enough for ya?

    I swear, sometimes i wonder if you are writing from a cell in a mental institute or something.

  39. #39 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 13, 2007

    I have yet to read a cogent definition of how to draw a line between what counts as natural and what counts as supernatural.

    Natural is defined as what is observed.

    If one doesn’t introduce ontological categories for observations that is not yet observed, this will do fine. Science is “methodological naturalism”.

    If one introduces other ontological categories for analysis, one has to be more precise. A necessary (else we couldn’t do science) and sufficient (since that is what we observe) is lawfulness for natural observations.

    If the fundamental laws changed too often between place to place or time to time we could never make any science out of it. (Which leads to a dreaded philosophical question, since life wouldn’t be possible either – is nature anthropic? :-)

    Note that we could distinguish commonly discussed supernatural events here if we wished, say random resurrections, Thor causing thunder or poofed speciations, nothing prevents that.


    scientists who adopt methodological naturalism.

    That is a fair description of science.

    I wonder how long it will be before theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins are accused of “lying for Jesus”?

    Peoples opinions are already voiced. I wouldn’t expect any change.

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    Let’s hear it. Let’s hear the complaint.

    i swear you ARE dense, aren’t you.

    how’s this sound:

    “At no time did the university or faculty of URI express to me how i was to disseminate the information I learned while a student at URI. As such, the arbitrary decision by the university to revoke my degree is obviously based entirely on subjective grounds, and is in violation of my free speech rights.”

    slam dunk.

    enough of you, already. It’s not enough that I’ve already told you about an actual case that was far less obvious and she STILL won. You still persist in your delusions that he would have no legal recourse if they went about removing his degree in the way you propose.

    I’m going to ignore the rest of your blithering, as you’ve made your points, and are obviously unable to see past them.

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    News flash: getting sued by a fundie is GOOD PRESS for a science department. It shows that they are doing their job.

    last response:

    why don’t you go ask the legal dept. of your supposed alma matter and ask them if they agree with your assesment?

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    February 14, 2007

    My point here is to say that there is precedence for doctoral programs to consider the potential future contributions to the discipline as a whole when considering students for admission.

    ..and my point was that unless there is consistent objective criteria defining exactly what consitutes “future contibutions to the discipline”, it does indeed end up boiling down to subjective discrimination.

    I highly recommend anybody interested in this to read the biography of WD Hamilton, who had serious problems getting a graduate position for reasons very much like this (subjective discrimination of various related graduate departments), but had nothing to do with religion.

    I wonder how long we would have had to wait for the theory of inclusive fitness and kin selection to be fleshed out if he didn’t eventually find a hole for himself to work in?

    Again, I have no problems with any given university making policy on graduate admissions. It’s just that these things have to be based on some objective reasoning, consistently applied.

  43. #43 Ichthyic
    February 17, 2007

    That said, applicant selection is an extraordinarily complex process and your notion of completely objective (do you mean operationalized?)

    no, I do not mean operationalized when i mean objective. I mean objective in the sense that whatever IS operationalized/institutionalized is actually based on some form of evidence indicating that the approach is warranted.

    I refer you back to the post I made earlier about researching what effects the pursuit of creationism has on the furtherance of science in general, for example, and using the results of such studies as objective data to support an operationalized part of the selection process.

    to compare, well institutionalized (with copious data in support) is the idea that all students must be academically honest.

    The notion of wholly objective criteria simply does not hold up well when you’re dealing with people who engage in deeply complex, original and creative work.

    to clarify, I certainly DO know how the selection process works, having done it and gone through it myself. I also know the dangers of allowing subjective determinations in that process, and how it can be abused.

    Moreover, I’m not saying the process can be ENTIRELY objective, however I am saying that whenever objectivity CAN be introduced, it should, as in the particular subject under discussion here.


    As I have said repeatedly, this isn’t about what someone believes–it’s about the quality of the arguments that they make for specific positions in science. Marcus Ross makes bad, incompetent arguments (or no arguments at all) for a 6000 year old earth.

    it doesn’t matter how often you repeat yourself on this, you are still apparently missing the point: Since Marcus did NOT MAKE THESE ARGUMENTS IN HIS THESIS, you are essentially contradicting yourself by saying it isn’t about belief. Now I’m not saying that looking at his beliefs in this instance is unwarranted, but really that IS exactly what we are looking at.

    If you want to make an argument about removing a graduate student from a program for their beliefs, you have to at least make some objective argument as to the danger those beliefs represent, and specify exactly how the beliefs are dangerous and to what.

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