Pharyngula

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.

Comments

  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 Shelley
    February 12, 2007

    PZ, stop insulting trained parrots.

  3. #3 Jenn
    February 12, 2007

    My pet parrot just complained to me that the headline for this blog post was very misleading. He is insulted.

  4. #4 Melanie S.
    February 12, 2007

    Sad to say, the Ph.D. is often a test of endurance as well as/instead of ability…this shocks me less than it ought to, I think.

  5. #5 Sunbeam
    February 12, 2007

    Hmm. After seeing the title, I immediately thought you were talking about Wells again.

    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.

    In the course of a rather short discussion, he managed to completely bastardize the idea of punctuated equilibrium (nearly equating it with special creation). Also argued that the bible should be regarded as true because it correctly placed fish as emerging before land animals (somehow overlooking that the birds are said to come with them) and claimed that speciation hasn’t occured since the emergence of man.

    I *really* hope he was simply lying to me about being a bio student… and if he really is, it’ll be a sad day for education if he gets his degree.

  6. #6 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.

  7. #7 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).

  8. #8 Alan
    February 12, 2007

    Isn’t this the very definition of academic and intellectual dishonesty? If he just did the phd, that’s one thing. Certainly, it’s hard to expect all phd students to be 100% sure of their research… but to then go and teach things that directly contradict your own work? And not mention to your students that you’ve previously done research that earned you a phd that directly contradicted what you’re saying? (I’m obviously making two assumptions, first that what he’s teaching at Liberty directly contradicts the science espoused in his dissertation, and also that he doesn’t tell his students at Liberty that he did phd level work contradicting what he is teaching them… I think both assumptions are probably true, but if not, then this post is unfair to the guy). 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).

  9. #9 Zeno
    February 12, 2007

    “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.”

    Oh, right. When you write “millions of years” in your doctoral dissertation, it does not imply that you believe it. Sorry, buddy. It sure as hell does. Dr. Ross just doesn’t want to admit he lied in his dissertation. I wonder why not. After all, I hear it’s okay as long as you’re lying for Jesus.

  10. #10 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).

    No.

    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…

    :p

  11. #11 Nick (Matzke)
    February 12, 2007

    I’m sure everyone will be shocked, yes shocked, to discover that Marcus Ross was a Discovery Institute fellow while in grad school.

  12. #12 Sunbeam
    February 12, 2007

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

    No. He’s registered as “Ukpong Eyo”. Yeah, I have no idea…
    But if he did lie about one thing, why not another?

  13. #13 zwa
    February 12, 2007

    A degree is not a product.

  14. #14 Alan
    February 12, 2007

    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

    I’m mostly ignorant about academic protocol, 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. Again, I don’t know whether it’s really possible, or whether it happens, but a university that finds gross misconduct in the way that one of its phd graduates is using that phd (and thereby representing the university’s reputation), 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.

  15. #15 Molly, NYC
    February 12, 2007

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

    Not any old hack. Really, how many people with advanced science degrees do you know–even desperate people with unimmpressive degrees–would whore themselves out to a place like Liberty?

    It’s not a coincidence that most of the science PhDs who espouse any form of creationism get their palms greased for it, either in lecture or consulting fees, honoraria, or a salary, like this Ross.

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    Alan:

    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.

  17. #17 AustinAtheist
    February 12, 2007

    “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history. I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people.”

    Lies in the name of methodological naturalism. I’ll stick with the ontological variety.

  18. #18 thaumaturge
    February 12, 2007

    That is fairly bizarre, but is it really a requirement that you believe what you say in order that what you say be useful? Indeed, the scientist is supposed to doubt everything. I guess the real problem is that he ACTUALLY believes something directly contrary. It’s an outright lie to say that “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates” when that is WHAT YOU WROTE. Usually, when you put your name to a statement, it means that you are ENDORSING it, unless you’re an actor merely repeating lines. Trained parrot is a good description.

  19. #19 Lago
    February 12, 2007

    People can believe what they want. It is only when they make claim that the evidence backs their position that they may step into dishonesty. If he makes such a claim, as he has done somewhat, then he must be open to the debates that science requires. If he does not do this, then, no matter how many degrees he has, he is not a scientist, but just a priest with a skin on his wall..

  20. #20 melior
    February 12, 2007

    It all sounds a little comic book villainish to me.

    Once the board at ICR completes their secret plan to infiltrate children as moles into secular universities, they will breed a super-race of christian/scientist hybrids and rule the world! Or something.

  21. #21 Colugo
    February 12, 2007

    I was a teaching assistant on a course that included human evolution. An undergraduate who was Russian Orthodox told me that he did not accept the idea that we evolved from nonhuman primates. I told him that he could personally believe whatever he wanted, but he had to learn and understand the material that we taught him, and that understanding had to be reflected in how he completed his assignments and exams.

    But an undergraduate is a different situation than a doctoral student.

  22. #22 Denoir
    February 12, 2007

    One day a creationist paper will pass peer review. Not because it is in any way correct but because the process isn’t perfect. There are tons of peer reviewed papers on faith healing, ESP and other nonsense. There are tons of bad legitimate papers being published.

    The peer review process and the scientific method in general works statistically – a majority of the people involved try for the most time to honsetly judge would-be contributions to science based on a sound methodology. It is however far from an absolutely infallible process in every case.

    The point being, if you are upset over idiots getting PhDs, you should brace for creationists getting their so desired publication in a peer-reviewed journal. It is remarkable that it hasn’t happened already.

  23. #23 Dave Carlson
    February 12, 2007

    Nick – Nice catch! Does anybody know how many YEC’s are actually part of ID inner circles? Paul Nelson is, right? Anybody else?

  24. #24 MartinC
    February 12, 2007

    I have a bit of a problem with this question.
    PhDs are generally awarded for a combination of things. Usually these consist of courses taken at the college, the thesis itself (generally including one or more peer reviewed published papers) and finally the defence of the thesis in front of an expert or panel of experts.
    Obviously it is possible for a trained parrot to get through such a situation. Most of us in research or who have been through higher education can recall many ‘trained parrots’ – although usually it was the kind that could recite data without a proper understanding of its meaning rather than this case where the individual probably could understand the meaning but really believed something else.
    Based on this I fail to see how they could have failed him so long as he stuck to the evidence based stuff till his degree was awarded.
    Its probably not exactly intellectually honest but at the same time this particular instance is not going to cause the edifice of empirical science to collapse. He has essentially to all intents and purposes now left science anyway (and does anyone seriously suspect that Liberty University would have picked a reality based scientist for the job if Ross hadnt been available ? More than likely they would have got someone with Kent Hovind style credentials).

  25. #25 Kagehi
    February 12, 2007

    Hmm. The issue of revocation is definitely a sticky one. One one hand, its probably not possible to revoke it. On the other hand, you could argue that a degree is a bit like becoming an engineer. You **cannot** legitimately qualify as an engineer in some states without “proving” that you meet certain basic criteria, which includes *how* you use the knowledge you got, not just that you have it, and your status as one *can* be revoked if you later prove to be a complete incompetent or intentionally disregard what you proved you knew, in favor of doing things in a way that wasn’t acceptable by the standards of those giving the certification. There was a big dust up some place not to long ago over this, with the engineers screaming about the unfairness of software developers using the term “engineer”, when nearly all of them calling themselves that had no certification they needed to pass to “prove” that they where qualified to use the term as a title, nor could it be revoked if they failed to match a set standard.

    So, it really comes down to if a college is granting you a gold star saying, “Little Jimmy did real well in this class.”, or a *certification*, which implies a specific set of standards, not only in what is known, but *how* that certification is used in the real world. Personally, I would very much prefer that it be treated as a certification, not a fracking sticker given out because the student did the equivalent of proving that he wouldn’t pee on the carpet “while in” school and being watched, even though he might do so at home.

  26. #26 MartinC
    February 12, 2007

    Kagehi, I dont think they can revoke it either, although perhaps they might be a little more careful in future as to how they recruit PhD students so as to attract those that want to pursue science and research after they have finished the degree. The whole episode just reflects badly on their initial selection process (particularly if Ross was an outspoken creationism advocate even as a graduate student). I would have suggested he completed his education somewhere more suitable, like Patriot University.

  27. #27 John Farley
    February 12, 2007

    I don’t think they’ll revoke his degree at this point. Universities rarely revoke degrees, and only under extreme circumstances: if the student turns out to have faked his data or plagiarized large parts of the dissertation.

  28. #28 G. Tingey
    February 12, 2007

    But he HAS faked his data – all of it.
    Every last bit of it.
    He is standing up in public and saying my PhD was obtained under false pretences.

    The University should rescind, as soon as they can get a convocation together.

  29. #29 Lago
    February 12, 2007

    How did he fake his data?

  30. #30 Macht
    February 12, 2007

    “that the only way you can accomplish it is by basically lying to yourself and your committee throughout the process”

    This is false. The article says that they knew about his YEC views when they admitted him. That’s hardly lying to them.

    “It looks like someone can slip through with only the most superficial knowledge of their field”

    The article quotes his dissertation adviser as saying his scientific work is “impeccable” and that the science he did was “completely defensible.” And I’m assuming you haven’t read his dissertation (correct me if I’m wrong), so I find it rather odd that you would call his knowledge of the field “superficial.” Nobody on his committee seemed to suggest that his knowledge of his field is superficial, so I’m curious why you would say that.

  31. #31 Azkyroth
    February 12, 2007

    This is false. The article says that they knew about his YEC views when they admitted him. That’s hardly lying to them.

    Making a statement you don’t believe to be true is a lie. Is this really so hard to grasp?

    Nobody on his committee seemed to suggest that his knowledge of his field is superficial, so I’m curious why you would say that.

    If you’ve got a more charitable explanation for his maintaining a set of beliefs completely at odds with every significant element of the collective knowledge of the field in which he supposedly qualifies for an advanced degree, we’re waiting to hear it.

  32. #32 Miguel Garcia-Blanco
    February 12, 2007

    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.”

    I haven’t seen his thesis, but how does he maintain the I-don’t-imply-or-deny position unless his thesis is full of weasel words?

    This is a pretty farout idea, but the article states that Dr Ross is “a creationist raised in an evangelical household”, so is it possible that Dr Ross is in fact not a YEC, but is just afraid to “come out of the closet”?

  33. #33 SEF
    February 12, 2007

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

    Not really. They’ll evidently (i.e. on their own claims) only hire hacks (dishonest and scientifically mentally incompetent people) but those can be young hacks not merely old hacks. Plus you already knew that of Liberty University anyway. It’s not like this is news in that respect.

  34. #34 G. Shelley
    February 12, 2007

    I suppose I am curious about how much of his PhD he believed. Did he think the conclusions were justified from the data and that the references he cited in support of it were valid? Or did he think that he was leaving out important contradictory and valid references because he didn’t think they were acceptable?

  35. #35 poke
    February 12, 2007

    Since this is the obvious and inevitable outcome of the sort of instrumentalism science-religion compatibilists support, I’m not surprised to see people defend it. This guy is just applying “methodological naturalism” without taking the “unjustified step” of a “naturalistic metaphysics.” This is exactly the sort of thing many religion-friendly sciencebloggers have been promoting. I hope seeing it embodied in such a ridiculous and inane manner is revealing.

  36. #36 Ithika
    February 12, 2007

    Talking of dumb animals with unmerited accreditation, That Awful Poo Lady, “Dr” Gillian McKeith, has been banned from using her fake PhD when hawking her wares in the UK.

    Read all about it at Bad Science: “Ms Gillian McKeith – Banned From Calling Herself A Doctor!”.

  37. #37 John Emerson
    February 12, 2007

    I think that this kind of compartmentalization is more common than people think. Even today, a lot of scientists have non-naturalist world views, though I’m sure that scientists as a group are more naturalistic than any other demographic (except for atheists and the like).

    It would be easy to make a list of great scientists who were religious believers. There were also scientists who slyly claimed to be doing what Dr. Ross did, for the opposite reason — “just developing a hypothesis, withtout assering its truth or falsehood”. Copernicus, I believe, pretended to be doing this.

    Faraday was an interesting case. He belonged to a sect called the Sandemanians, for whom compatabilism was apparently a primary doctrine, and who thus honored science while separating it from revealed religion.
    Faraday

  38. #38 Macht
    February 12, 2007

    “Copernicus, I believe, pretended to be doing this.”

    No, the instrumentalism that is often attributed to Copernicus is the result of Osiander adding about a preface to Copernicus’ On the Revolutions.

  39. #39 amph
    February 12, 2007

    John Emerson:
    I think that this kind of compartmentalization is more common than people think.

    I agree.
    Another example of compartmentalization: I know several PhDs in Biology who believe in, and use homeopathic medicine. While I know that religion and “alternative medicine” are not exactly the same thing, lack of respect for evidence is obviously a common trait. How can one be a scientist and at the same time accept the weird ideas behind homeopathy?

  40. #40 SLC
    February 12, 2007

    The issue here is whether Dr. Ross obtained his PhD degree under false pretenses, like Wells did. If he did, that constitutes fraud and fraud is grounds for revoking his degree.

  41. #41 Caledonian
    February 12, 2007

    How shall these programs determine what candidates actually believe, then? There’s a difference between knowing what results science has found, and accepting them. If a person can demonstrate mastery of the scientific method and a deep knowledge of scientific results, and has satisfied the other requirements for a Ph.D., I see no reason why the university has the right to refuse to grant the degree.

  42. #42 gengar
    February 12, 2007

    Re: the whole ‘PhD as a product’ thing. I know that things are done slightly differently over in the US, but here in the UK I’m fairly sure that the University would take the position that the ‘customer’ is not the student, but the research council or funding company who actually pays for the research (including the PhD students’ stipend).

    In that sense, so long as the research passes muster (makes verifiable and well-supported conclusions, is not falsified or plagiarised), the University doesn’t really have much of a case for revoking this guys’ degree, even if they wanted to. It’s just very depressing that someone would waste half a decade of their life researching something they believe fundamentally to be false.

  43. #43 Macht
    February 12, 2007

    “…Osiander adding about a preface…” == “…Osiander adding a preface…”

  44. #44 Neil
    February 12, 2007

    I believe he’s just another victim of the polarizing tendency prevalent in today’s society. Why are intellectuals whining like children, just because a Ph.D happens to have religious views? Compartmentalization of this sort isn’t necessarily unhealthy…on the contrary I believe it has its benefits. As for abusing his knowledge…whatever he does with it is his concern. If he writes a paper supporting creationist worldviews and he makes poor arguments, then others will refute them. If he makes good arguments, then maybe Austrolopithecines were God’s rough drafts. Truth alone triumphs.

    As scientists, we should be adopting agnostic worldviews. We aren’t out to prove God doesn’t exist. In doing so, we eschew objectivism only to create yet another set of dogmatic beliefs, giving creationists more ammunition (science is just another religion, etc. etc.)

    Besides, any student who attends a conservative religious school already expects a conservative religious slant on the knowledge presented. Finally, an intellectual body adopting a “devil’s advocate” (God’s advocate?) position may yield interesting avenues of research.

  45. #45 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.”

  46. #46 Caledonian
    February 12, 2007

    Compartmentalization of this sort isn’t necessarily unhealthy…on the contrary I believe it has its benefits.

    As scientists, we should be adopting agnostic worldviews.

    What do you mean, ‘we’? You’re not a scientist.

  47. #47 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    I’m going to agree that there is nothing wrong with what the school has done. The problem is not that this fellow is skeptical of some parts of science, nor even that he would work through those areas. Many advances have come from someone working in a theory that they came to find faulty. Science cannot work as a credal system, nor should graduate students or faculty be asked for statements of belief.

    The guy is a wacko, of course. But it’s important to understand why. It’s not his skepticism of any part of science, but his religious faith that makes him irrational. He chooses to believe a creation story despite the fact that he cannot write a Ph.D. dissertation on it, the way he does on geology, and because of that story, he rejects other notions of geology, without any criticism that can be incorporated into legitimate research. It is, as others have said, complete compartmentalization. And before that, faith.

  48. #48 Steve
    February 12, 2007

    I’d like to comment on the “degree as product” debate. Wasn’t this essentially the central argument behind the “seperate but equal” concept in the ’50’s? The Supreme Court ruled that a university is not just the books and facilities and the quality of its professors, but also the alumni and prestige that they reflect upon their universities. Based on this, they determined that seperate is inherently unequal and invalidated the concept of s.b.e.
    Thus, it would appear to me that universities do indeed have an interest in what the graduate does with their degree. The “product” of the university is the graduate, not the degree.

  49. #49 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.

  50. #50 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.

  51. #51 Caledonian
    February 12, 2007

    No, the “product” of the university was (among other things) the prestige that could be associated with their degrees. The benefit from said prestige ultimately being the students’, not their own.

    It will cost the university far more prestige, and thus hurt their product, if it becomes known that they are willing to revoke earned degrees simply because they don’t like what people have gone on to do with their lives after attending their instutitions.

  52. #52 George
    February 12, 2007

    So are all the college science teachers here ready for the onslaught of fundie kids who come into your departments and follow this fellow’s brave example?

    Is this the beginning of a trend?

  53. #53 BlueIndependent
    February 12, 2007

    This would be FAR from the first time such individuals have earned such degrees from prestigious universities. I am not terribly concerned per se. If he wants to blow his money earning a doctorate in something he believes is wrong, that’s his deal.

    My only question is, did he pay for his education, or did federal grants and/or scholarships get him through? If he earned scholarships or grants for study of the field, then I’d start asking questions of those who reviewed his application for said money.

    But sometimes it’s easy to sweet-talk money-granting bodies into handing out free money to those that don’t deserve it. Back in college, I just missed getting half my tuition paid for to an older, less motivated, class-dodging hack. Them’s the breaks…

  54. #54 Sean Foley
    February 12, 2007
  55. #55 roystgnr
    February 12, 2007

    Fascinating – it’s almost like a real life “Chinese room” experiment. The Ph.D. candidate alone doesn’t understand geology, but the Ph.D. candidate running a “conform to my dissertation committee’s beliefs” program understands geology well enough to pass a Turing Test limited to that field.

    It’s a shame he metaphorically deleted the program afterwards. Aside from the loss to his future students, consider the potential loss to artificial intelligence researchers.

  56. #56 Jeff Chamberlain
    February 12, 2007

    I’m not an academic. I don’t understand the idea that it is wrong for a student to get a degree in a discipline the substance of which he disagrees with. An atheist, presumbably, could get a degree in theology. Even if the student’s beliefs were contrary to the evidence of his discipline, I don’t understand why that means that his obtaining a degree is illegitimate or that it would require lying to yourself and others during the process or that it means that the training is a lie or involved obtaining credentials under false pretenses.

  57. #57 Kristine
    February 12, 2007

    Is this the beginning of a trend?

    My question as well.

    this particular instance is not going to cause the edifice of empirical science to collapse. He has essentially to all intents and purposes now left science anyway

    I’m not worried about the edifice of empirical science collapsing, just collapsing here in the United States. The issue of these “sleeper cells” Ph.D.-grabbers is only one facet of the larger issue: Why does this country even tolerate crap “universities” staffed by crap “professors” teaching crap? This is beginning to look like [Godwin Law violation alert] the search for the “true Aryans” and race “biology” and all that other crap pursued by a certain crap culture that tried to erect a new, parallel, crap edifice. Those guys had “degrees” too.

  58. #58 Carlie
    February 12, 2007

    Doesn’t the Bible say something or other about not lying?

  59. #59 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.

  60. #60 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2007

    I’m afraid I would have to agree that there is no legitimate reason to revoke his degree. He earned it under the terms of his advising committee; it’s done. You don’t get to retroactively change the criteria for passing.

    However, it is a problem for the University of Rhode Island, and I hope they do some rigorous review of their procedures. It isn’t about screening out religious people; I think Ken Miller and Francis Collins, to name the usual suspects, are credits to their institutions (at least in science) and we certainly don’t want to get to the point where we’re denying degrees because someone is a Lutheran. This is a case where a student did not accept basic, fundamental concepts of his discipline, though; he should have been axed from the program during his prelims when he was grilled on, for instance, dating methods.

    My question would be whether the program did do an adequate review of Ph.D. candidates knowledge (no foul to URI), or did this student simply parrot back what he was expected to say (in which case, he’s a poor scholar)?

  61. #61 Carlie
    February 12, 2007

    I just had a heated discussion with a historian of science in my department about this (we were both heated in the same direction, but also both playing devil’s advocate). What we came down to was that it’s ok to go to school to learn about something you don’t believe in, it’s ok to reject certain hypotheses in your field, but there are a couple of lines he crossed: One, he outright lied and admitted to it, and two, he doesn’t accept the basic tenet of the scientific method that you have to be willing to adapt your explanations based on new evidence. We decided that in good conscience, he should have declined to get the degree at the end of the program if he didn’t believe in it, and that the school should have declined to give him the degree. Not because he’s a YEC, but because he refuses to accept the very method of obtaining knowledge that the Ph.D. is all about.

  62. #62 Sean Foley
    February 12, 2007

    Was Kurt Wise a committed YEC while he was doing his Ph.D. under Gould?

    Yeah, he was. I can’t find the link, but he didn’t divulge his YEC beliefs to Gould until after he had been admitted to Harvard’s program. Which raises a whole other question, namely whether or not these guys were applying to graduate school under false pretenses. Ross uses the example of a socialist economist applying to a department with a supply-side orientation, but presumably that student’s application statement would have indicated that he or she didn’t necessarily subscribe to the school of thought advanced by the department’s faculty. Wise, so far as I know, did not.

  63. #63 Berlzebub
    February 12, 2007

    Interestingly enough, my wife did the same thing, when she attended Catholic school. She aced the classes that were required for religion, just by telling them what they wanted to hear. At no point did they even ask if she believed what she was saying or writing. She considers herself a xian, but her views seem more naturalistic (i.e. The Bible is a book of parables, not to be taken literally). Which is fortunate, because I consider it a fairytale.

  64. #64 gg
    February 12, 2007

    It’s worth mentioning that Ph.D.’s have been revoked under circumstances where the researcher committed fraud in his career beyond graduate school. The scandal involving Jan Hendrik Schön falsifying data at Bell Labs resulted in the University of Konstanz revoking his degree. See the link at

    http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/8224/8224physicist.html

    It’s probably not valid for RI to revoke a degree which they awarded apparently with full knowledge of the student’s views. However, if that student demonstrates issues with dishonesty and fraud (not terribly unlikely, given the track record), there is precendent for revoking.

  65. #65 SteveF
    February 12, 2007

    PZ,

    This Ross character is involved with Paul Nelson and his ideas:

    Nelson, P.A. and Ross, M.R. (2003) Understanding the Cambrian explosion by estimating ontogenetic depth. Developmental Biology, 259, 459-460.

    Nelson, P.A. and Ross, M.R. (2004) Problems with characterizing the protostome-deuterostome ancestor. Developmental Biology, 271, 601-601.

    Both are meeting abstracts and these are the only “publications” Ross has (though he might get some from his PhD).

    As an aside, on ontogenetic depth and the Cambrian explosion, I am somewhat confused. As YECs, Nelson and Ross must view the CE as the result of flood hydraulics and not biological diversity (be it God or evolution). Why are they then seeking to investigate it in this way?

  66. #66 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    PZ writes:

    This is a case where a student did not accept basic, fundamental concepts of his discipline, though; he should have been axed from the program during his prelims when he was grilled on, for instance, dating methods.

    I have to disagree. Consider a physics student doing research in relativity who believes there is something fundamentally wrong with general relativity. Understanding is required. Belief is not. And requiring belief would turn academic departments into that which we are fighting: credal churches or seminaries.

  67. #67 gmanedit
    February 12, 2007

    I’m mad at the Times. “He would not say whether he shared the view of some young earth creationists that flaws in paleontological dating techniques erroneously suggest that the fossils are far older than they really are.”–this, way down in the story, is all they had to say about how he reconciled the two points of view or criticized the science. Ross upholds the authority of the Bible, but the Times can’t get a word out of him about what’s wrong with the science. How hard did they try?

  68. #68 df
    February 12, 2007

    It’s a slippery slope to talk of revoking PhDs for apparently correct dissertations just because the author doesn’t believe what’s in it. I have no time for this guy but plenty of parrots graduate based on writing stuff they don’t understand. The PhD itself is irrelevant – the real issue is what is done with it – in this case it was used to get a job at Liberty. That says it all – it’s a one way ticket to academic oblivion.

    It seems pretty clear that this individual did the PhD so that he could use his credentials to advance YEC/ID. After all, many YEC-ers who want to go into science go into physics or chemistry which are essentially “neutral.” The level of intellecutual dishonesty needed by this guy is breathtaking and an interesting case study in self-delusion.

    But I’m sure that the publicity they have received on front page of the NYT is unwelcome, too – no matter what they say in public, it looks really bad and will be a cause for serious squirming even among some evangelicla groups.

  69. #69 TheBrummell
    February 12, 2007

    Not having read his thesis, or seen anything more than ‘soundbites’ from his thesis advisor and examining committee, I can’t stand up and say “revoke!” or “should not have been awarded!”.

    Presumably, his thesis, as written, was defensible. Given that the thesis defence is exactly that, a defence of the submitted thesis, his success at that endeavor should be all that is required for graduation and getting the award.

    What he does with his shiny-new PhD after graduation is up to him, and there’s very little he could do post-graduation that RI could use to justify revocation. The only behaviour of his that would matter would be inappropriate acts conducted while he was conducting his research or during the admission process (i.e. lying).

    The irony pointed out by Steve Watson (#56), above, is very interesting to me – he was lying in his thesis, in that he said things he believed to be false (however many weasel words he may use to try to cover that lie). BUT, ironically, what he said in his thesis was (apparently) scientifically sound and in line with current theory. So he was lying to himself.

    I don’t think the university can or should revoke his degree at this point. If it comes to light that he plagiarised, or faked his data, or otherwise commited fraud, that’s a different story. But that story hasn’t been told, yet (if it will; he might have actually done good science).

  70. #70 Bertrand
    February 12, 2007

    Ichthyic:

    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.

  71. #71 Blake Stacey
    February 12, 2007

    I hope Alan Sokal and Meera Nanda are watching. Take a look at the platitude which this Ross fellow used to justify his actions: “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history.” One can appreciate why Nature‘s editorial policy bans the word paradigm: all too often, it is the verbal equivalent of a prion.

    We owe the infectious factor to Thomas Kuhn, of course, and his Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It has been said that there are in fact two Kuhns fighting for domination within the pages of that volume, the moderate Kuhn and his demented evil twin brother (who was, perhaps, bitten by a radioactive French literary critic when he was a child). The moderate Kuhn takes the position that in science, one world view replaces another — Einstein overtaking Newton, for example — and that we typically overestimate the degree to which the actual scientific evidence determines this change. His twin, Mutant Evil Kuhn, says that these “paradigms” are incommensurable: that evidence can never change a Newtonian into a follower of Special Relativity.

    “Say wha?”

    Well, that’s why he’s Mutant Evil Kuhn, and why he gets to be a revered patriarch of the Fellowship of Social Constructivists.

    Now, a tolerant and scholarly mind can find some good in “postmodernism” (to steal a riff from Pliny the Elder, it’s hard to find a book which is so thoroughly bad nothing good can come of it). We can find some modest worth by elaborating and refining the axiom, “Whatever is said, is said by someone.” However, modesty is not a virtue in postmodern circles, and when found it is often corrected by injections of the K-Factor Mutagen.

    We stereotypically associate an infection by postmodern memes with residency in the political Left. As Meera Nanda has ably documented, this is an illusion brought about, ironically, by our Eurocentric bias. Fans of Vedic creationism and Vedic astrology invoke Lacan and Feyerabend to justify the subduction of modern science into Hindu mythology. And now, we see that all the talk of epistemic relativism and incommensurable paradigms which earned philosophy degrees for so many latte-sipping, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving intellectuals provides a pat mantra for the creationists. It has no more intellectual depth than the answer one gets upon asking a teenager, newly saved and reborn in Christ, how they reconcile God’s omniscience with free will or how they resolve the problem of evil. It is a soma of words, whose function is to lubricate the mind and keep it slipping freely past contradictions of fact and crises of conscience.

  72. #72 vetarabbit
    February 12, 2007

    The YEC bio grad student mentioned above is the humiliation of our program – slipped in under the radar by not mentioning his views during the app process. Currently he supplies us with some great FAC jokes, can’t find an advisor who wants him, and is not expected to make it through the first round of cuts. Be wary O admissions committee members.

  73. #73 Blake Stacey
    February 12, 2007

    In other news, the ScienceBlogs decency filter apparently blocks messages containing the word soma (don’t ask how I got it through!).

  74. #74 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Russell wrote:

    “I have to disagree. Consider a physics student doing research in relativity who believes there is something fundamentally wrong with general relativity. Understanding is required. Belief is not.”

    I feel that it is more apt to say that ‘understanding is required’, but ‘dogma is forbidden’. It is certainly okay to have beliefs that differ from the orthodoxy, as long as those beliefs are grounded in some sort of justifiable evidence or argument.

    If a student came in and told me that they thought there was a problem with GR because it didn’t properly account for the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, I would be okay with it. If they had a problem with GR because it isn’t biblically accurate, I would say they have not demonstrated any ability to be a good scientist.

  75. #75 Carlie
    February 12, 2007

    I think the real question is what is a Ph.D.? Not flippant, but a real question. Is it a signal of mastery of subject matter, or is it a signal that one knows how to think? I’ve always thought that an MS is a mastery of subject kind of degree, but that a Ph.D. goes farther into mastering the ideas behind the subject, understanding how the process of research and exploration happens in ones’ subject, and that’s why it’s a doctor of philosophy rather than a doctor of “x” subject. Sort of why an MD isn’t a PhD in medicine; that’s a different thing altogether.

  76. #76 Blake Stacey
    February 12, 2007

    Now this is nice:

    Fascinating – it’s almost like a real life “Chinese room” experiment. The Ph.D. candidate alone doesn’t understand geology, but the Ph.D. candidate running a “conform to my dissertation committee’s beliefs” program understands geology well enough to pass a Turing Test limited to that field.

    Good job, roystgnr.

  77. #77 The Atheist Jew
    February 12, 2007

    Lets see him do some science with his Phd and prove the earth is young. Hee haw.

  78. #78 CJColucci
    February 12, 2007

    If played right, this is an opportunity to make a couple of points that are often overlooked:
    (1) In what sense does it make sense to say we “believe” in some scientific matter? “Belief” implies that something is a matter of opinion. Not being a scientist myself, I can say that I have some idea what scientists say is likely to be true about the world, and some idea about where they disagree, and I accept what is settled as such, but I have no basis for an opinion on any matter of legitimate scientifc disagreement. People who actually know enough to have worthwhile opinions can be said to “believe” something about a matter of scientific controversy, but I can’t. Maybe we can make people see the senselessness of asking laypeople what they “believe” about science, and drive the very notion of belief out of the discussion.
    (2) Dr. Ross is a trained, and apparently competent, scientist. Whenever he starts spouting his YEC nonsense, he can be pinned down about whether there is any scientific evidence for his views. If so, what is it? Where is it published? If it isn’t published, how, scientifically, would one go about researching the question? Eventually, he’ll have to admit there is no SCIENTIFIC basis for his YEC beliefs and he believes them, as he is entitled to do, DESPITE the lack of scientific evidence for them. If the PR value of someone like Ross is that he’s a YEC-er and an actual, credentialed scientist, we can turn it against him.

  79. #79 Gerard Harbison
    February 12, 2007

    I tend to side with those who ague that if he completed the requirements for a Ph.D.. he can’t be denied it.

    The way to expose this sort of thing is to draw attention to the conflict between the creationists’ scientific statements and their creationist utterances. Baumgardner (mentioned in the article) has coauthored papers that explicitly track the evolution of the earth over hundreds of millions of years, and refer, without any stipulation, to an old earth. He has also written papers (not in a peer reviewed journal, of course) advocating a young earth. Those two sets of statements are incompatible, and one or the other was inevitably a deliberate lie.

  80. #80 kim
    February 12, 2007

    Whoww, this is precisely the ammunition we need to give the IDiots. Suggesting that a degree should be revoked because your personal believes contradict the mainstream ideas is exactly up their alley of suppression. Good job guys….

    The spastic responses here tell me something else, and that is that we are not sure of ourselves, and more important, the strength of science. We should not focus on the few individuals who misuse their legitimate degree for bogus, but on teaching good science and effective public relations…..

    (I know someone who got a Ph.D. in nuclear physics just to know where he was fighting against as an environmental activist)

  81. #81 Nick (Matzke)
    February 12, 2007

    Nick – Nice catch! Does anybody know how many YEC’s are actually part of ID inner circles? Paul Nelson is, right? Anybody else?

    Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson, John Mark Reynolds, Nancy Pearcey, Dean Kenyon, and Percival Davis for starters. The latter three were the main authors of Of Pandas and People, the first book to systematically use the term “intelligent design.”

    Others like Phillip Johnson and Forrest Mims are agnostic on the question of the age of the earth, which is equally ridiculous.

    Some of the 2006 dissertations at URI have been posted here, I don’t see Ross’s yet though.

  82. #82 carey allen
    February 12, 2007

    I suppose an analogous situation would be to award a PhD in clinical psych to an animist shaman who believed that behavior problems arise from conflicts between garden fairies and wood sprites, but whose graduate work showed no such bias. I do not consider this person’s sophistry to be scientific or professional in any sense. ‘Real’ science requires falsifiability and *tentative* hypotheses. One should question the ethics of a person so compartmentalized as to live a live for four years in this fashion.

  83. #83 Kristine
    February 12, 2007

    Interestingly enough, my wife did the same thing, when she attended Catholic school. She aced the classes that were required for religion, just by telling them what they wanted to hear.

    Well, I admit that, in the section of the application that one fills out demographic information voluntarily, to err on the side of caution I chose “no religion” rather than “atheist” being that this is a Catholic college (and what’s the difference between “no religion” and “atheist,” anyway?) I don’t think it should matter for an MLIS, but given the hysteria about atheists among some people one never knows.

    As a matter of fact I happen to be very interested in religion; I love myths and legends, and know a lot of them; I have a collection of old Bibles and religious books and pamphlets (because I am a librarian at heart); I saw Dr. Robert Price speak yesterday and I love finding connections between biblical-Talmudic and pagan scriptures; I see that religion is a human-created thing and that humans make sense of their lives through story. However, were I to pursue a masters in religious studies I would out with it and state the above clearly, on the app and in my work. That’s simple ethics.

    I hope no one would ever think that I want to “burn all the bibles” because of what I don’t believe in. Dr. Price called religious myths “fossils” and I loved that; it’s all part of the human record, which is very precious to me. Now, if I were an aspiring book-burner training to be a librarian, that would be unacceptable!

  84. #84 Anton Mates
    February 12, 2007

    This is a case where a student did not accept basic, fundamental concepts of his discipline, though; he should have been axed from the program during his prelims when he was grilled on, for instance, dating methods.

    I don’t think so. If he knows the theory behind dating methods, and the evidence from mainstream evidence which supports them, then it’s not really relevant (except to his own mental equilibrium) that he thinks other, nonscientific evidence knocks them down. You can get a PhD with a primatology thesis even if you personally believe you saw Bigfoot while hiking, as long as you don’t write it into the thesis.

    It doesn’t seem to me that this reflects badly on anyone except him. He’s not going to be a very effective creationism advocate; his own thesis demonstrates that paleontological research supports evolutionary theory, even when the researcher doesn’t want it to!

  85. #85 Erasmus
    February 12, 2007

    carey ROFLMAO. If I wasn’t a biologist I would be a buck naked green powder snorting animist shaman with a plate in my lip. Don Juan and Moses had it made.

    this guy is a douchebag but to be fair as grownups you have to play ‘No Takebacks’. It should be pretty easy to skewer anyone attempting to boost some moonbat YEC credentials by citing the number of PhDs held by creationists, as long as someone out there is taking names. I find this pragmatic approach infinitely more satisfying than bloviating about ‘should have’ and ‘could have’ ethical illusions.

  86. #86 Anton Mates
    February 12, 2007

    The way to expose this sort of thing is to draw attention to the conflict between the creationists’ scientific statements and their creationist utterances.

    Exactly. It makes it transparently obvious that when they did real science, they got the same conclusions as everybody else; therefore, they can only reject those conclusions by rejecting the scientific method. It’s a godsend in a debate, I would think.

  87. #87 Glen Davidson
    February 12, 2007

    There are many problems involved in this case, of course, including the fact that someone so intellectually dishonest can receive his doctorate. Nonetheless, was there much doubt that this would be possible? And can anyone screen out all of the Wells’s and Ross’s using legitimate means?

    About writing a thesis within a “paradigm” (hasn’t this old clicheed word been retired yet?). I know someone who took his Masters degree under a person who was adamantly opposed to plate tectonics, while he himself considered the latter to be likely to be correct. I don’t know the details, but I can easily imagine that he put in the “right answers” for his dolt of a professor, regardless of what he thought. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, does it? My point is that I can see why someone would put in the “right answers” under the assumption that plate tectonics isn’t the best model, sort of like how Ross gave his answers.

    However, there are considerable differences, particularly the fact that pre-plate tectonics geology was a legitimate enterprise, for the most part intellectually honest. The same idea of what science actually is was shared by both pro- and anti-plate-tectonics theorists, while Ross tries to make the difference between himself and real scientists out to be some “philosophical” issue:

    I accepted that philosophy of science for the purpose of working with the people” at Rhode Island.

    Complete nonsense. Virtually the only “philosophy of science” in play in his case is what underlies all of science, adherence to the concept that evidence decides all matters in accordance with accepted human processing of the data. Here is where Ross is a total fuck-up, where “compartmentalization” is nothing more than complete intellectual dishonesty. Either you follow the evidence or you deny evidence to support your a priori beliefs, and when you’re the latter, as Ross is, you’re dishonest intellectually.

    And yes, it’s true as many have said that compartmentalization is not uncommon or especially unhealthy, however it is healthy only when people don’t understand the issues involved. Ross knows far too much to be in anything but denial of where the evidence points, and is a disgrace to academia altogether. I cannot see how it would be wrong to deny passing grades to anyone so opposed to using the proper methods of science to come to legitimate conclusions. However, once he has his degrees, I also don’t know how they can properly be revoked.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  88. #88 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2007

    I have to disagree. Consider a physics student doing research in relativity who believes there is something fundamentally wrong with general relativity. Understanding is required. Belief is not. And requiring belief would turn academic departments into that which we are fighting: credal churches or seminaries.

    Oh, I quite agree. This is a case where a guy thinks there is something wrong with the science, though, and instead of arguing his case, misrepresents his position and argues for the standard position in his science, and professes something quite the opposite in public. It’s dishonest and more than a little cowardly.

    I also think “understanding” is the perfect word. Someone who is getting an advanced degree should be able to demonstrate understanding of the discipline. My objection is that only someone who does not understand the science would be able to make the arguments Ross is.

  89. #89 John
    February 12, 2007

    Hmmm … I knew an atheist who got a Master’s degree in theology and was studying for a PhD in theology when he died — if he had lived, do you think he should have been awarded his PhD? If so, how would his case differ from this one? Yes, it is absurd to get a PhD in a subject whose basic tenets you reject outright, but a PhD certifies knowledge, research skills and intellectual stamina; it’s not a test of faith or belief.

  90. #90 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    They’re not the same. Not even close.

    Do you have to be a capitalist to get a Phd in economics?

  91. #91 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    PZ Myers writes:

    This is a case where a guy thinks there is something wrong with the science, though, and instead of arguing his case, misrepresents his position and argues for the standard position in his science..

    Does he believe that the science is done wrong, that the science is done well but happens to give the wrong answer anyway, or that he rejects science in some areas? These are all somewhat different things.

    Let me emphasize, again, that there is nothing inherently dishonest in doing and publishing research based on notions one suspects. Given theory and data, one can write a paper saying, “here’s an interesting consequence of this theory,” or “here’s some important results from this theory and data.” I don’t know whether or not John Bell believed in quantum mechanics. It certainly doesn’t matter to his eponymous theorem.

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

    I think you underestimate the perversity of the human mind. I also wonder what you propose as a test of understanding that goes beyond the current Ph.D. process, with qualifiers, dissertation defense, etc.

    It’s dishonest..

    Sure. But let’s be clear what’s dishonest. It’s not that he doesn’t believe geology. Science is always tentative. Many people seem to not really grok what that means. I can understand that quantum mechanics is the most thoroughly tested theory in history, and still have doubts about it. What’s intellectually dishonest is his unreasoned religious belief. But if we’re going to start screening graduate students on that basis, where does it stop? And the question isn’t just about where some religious believer falls along the scale of creationism, from YEC to some compatibilist view where God just kicked off the big bang, knowing all else would follow. There are all sorts of irrational beliefs.

  92. #92 "Q" the Enchanter
    February 12, 2007

    PZ, I disagree on several grounds. But I’ll just give the pragmatic one (I think we differ on the principles). My sense is that creationists who enter a legit degree program in the relevant sciences almost always “lose their faith.” I’m pretty sure this goes even for those who enter such programs with an agenda. (The exceptions are rare, and therefore conspicuous.) If we create disincentives for these types to pursue such programs, we’re effectively creating a net loss for the membership rolls among the reality-based community.

    Now maybe this guy really shouldn’t have received a Ph.D. for other reasons–say, for engaging in merely phatic research, say. But in that case it’s the vacuous character of his work rather than the content of his beliefs that should matter.

  93. #93 Bryson Brown
    February 12, 2007

    I’d also like to know a lot more about just how Ross reconciles the scientific evidence he’s apparently very familiar with and his YEC beliefs. Is he some kind of Gosseian? If so, it might be a healthy step forward for YEC beliefs: The science is fine in its own terms, but we hew to a higher ‘truth’. If this is his view, then there needn’t be any real dishonesty in what he wrote for his dissertation: He accepts the science as science, even though he believes that there is another truth– that some sort of illusion is involved in our scientific world view. Better yet, this sort of ‘two truths’ position (a sort of revival of Averroism) is so intellectually peculiar that it could actually undermine ordinary YECism.

    On the other hand, if his aim is to turn around and ‘trash’ science, using his PhD as a prop while lying for Jesus, then his degree is a fraud.

  94. #94 Blake Stacey
    February 12, 2007

    If the Theology Department is where they study the history and philosophy of religion, then an out-and-out atheist could write and defend a thesis there without the slightest ethical qualm. One does not have to believe in a religion to study its scriptures as literature or explore their relation to history (with the aid of other disciplines such as archeology). For all I know, having religion is actually an impediment to doing this in a fair manner. I don’t know of any empirical evidence on this matter, but one could certainly argue for the plausibility of that claim.

    Yes, in a strict sense, theology doesn’t carry exactly the same baggage as philosophy of religion, but if we look at the bureaucratic structure of the University, the difference may well be inconsequential.

    I found the appeal to economics particularly laughable:

    He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”

    The reason we have different schools of economics is that it’s hard to do the experiments necessary to winnow bad ideas from good. In an environment where experiments are hard, people may get used to living without them, and what was once science becomes the sophistic manipulation of words. If this is true of any Economics Department, then they’re not doing science, and there’s no point making a comparison to them in order to justify one’s behavior as a scientist. In principle, socialism and supply-side economics are both empirically testable. You try them out and see if the country flourishes or collapses. If the experiments have not been done, or if the results in the historical record are difficult to interpret, then reasonable people can differ on what the results of different economic systems will be.

    This situation is in no way analogous to the chasm between science and creationism. To have a correct analogy, we would have to speak of a student writing a thesis about supply-side economics while believing in his heart that all economic decisions should be made by Ouija board.

  95. #95 windy
    February 12, 2007

    Hmmm … I knew an atheist who got a Master’s degree in theology and was studying for a PhD in theology when he died — if he had lived, do you think he should have been awarded his PhD? If so, how would his case differ from this one?

    If his thesis would have argued for the existence of God, he’d have been as dishonest as Ross.

  96. #96 Amit Joshi
    February 12, 2007

    Hey PZ, I don’t find myself disagreeing with you often, but this is one of those occasions. And boy, do I disagree!

    The PhD candidates’ beliefs have nothing fucking whatsoever to do with whether or not he’s earned his doctorate. What the fuck are our universities–religious seminaries? I earned my doctorate by dint of my research, properly presented, published and defended. By my completion of required coursework, passing qualifying exams, all that crap. Swearing allegiance to particular beliefs is absolutely NOT a requirement!

    I’m sorry, PZ, but your take on this reminds me of the winguts’ assault on constitutional rights on grounds of the danger “the enemy” poses. Yes, creationist morons are truly attacking science. But no, the way forward CANNOT include litmus tests on anybody’s beliefs!

    I can’t believe how upset I feel that you should say otherwise. Pharyngula is the place I visit for some to soothe my ruffled feelings over the idiocy I see elsewhere!

  97. #97 gg
    February 12, 2007

    One other thing all this discussion about ‘belief’ reminds me of is the modern standard of newspapers to present ‘balance’ in their coverage, i.e. the implicit notion that both sides of an argument have some validity.

    Of course, though, YEC is WRONG. Even a devoutly religious person (who holds some semblance of rational thought) will have to acknowledge that every bit of evidence amassed by science for the past 150 years contridicts the biblical view of the Earth. A person who advocates such a view will add nothing to science, and will probably make things even worse (by wasting the time, for instance, of all of us talking about it).

    For ‘big picture’ topics such as biology and physics, people seem to almost have the attitude, “Well, he’s not hurting anyone with his research and it’s important not to inadvertantly cut off healthy discussion.”

    Would we also think it’s reasonable to have someone get a Ph.D to do medical research who doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease?

  98. #98 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    Getting a doctorate in science and then turning around and getting a job where you say that science is bullshit?

    There’s no dishonesty in that?

    Getting a degree in a field so you can use the degree against the science itself?

  99. #99 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Another thought:

    This student evidently presented research that they didn’t believe themselves, but thought this is what the committee wanted to hear. How is that any different from a researcher presenting data they know is crap to (for instance) a contract monitor in order to keep the money flowing? I would have serious doubts about the academic integrity of any person who freely admits that the work they presented is not something they believe to be correct.

  100. #100 Erasmus
    February 12, 2007

    it’s really not that different from the other side of the attack on science, the climate change deniers who have financial or ideological pre-commitments. of course we know that.

    now can we talk about creationists with bones in their nose dancing around in loincloths?

  101. #101 Glen Davidson
    February 12, 2007

    In principle, socialism and supply-side economics are both empirically testable.

    I agree, except that it is far more complicated than just “trying out socialism” or some such thing. Is “socialism” a success yet in Europe, or did the demise of communism decide forever against socialism? The fact is that sociologists and economists have to sort out what we mean by “socialism”, to look at everything in context, and to perhaps say that socialism of a kind worked in the mid-20th century in some countries, and a socialism of another kind works today in some other countries.

    Arguably, a rather despotic socialism did work in Russia during the early to mid 20th century, when we look at the Eastern context. Its evolved successor did not do very well in the late 20th century, especially in areas where information needed to be exchanged in horizontal transactions.

    The very complexity of societies and economies thus allows for socialist viewpoints and supply-side viewpoints to coexist with actually legitimate interpretations of what is going on (I’d say that socialism probably has more legitimacy than supply-side economics, but that’s more or less my opinion). The complexities of science, however, do not extend to whether or not God might have sent a flood with no flood characteristics to magically work the geological column into what we see today. That’s sheer pseudo-science, much as Behe’s “puff of smoke” is. The type of analogy proper to Ross and Behe is more along the lines of the proponents of “divine right of kings” form of government, where no testing of socialist or supply-side economics is to be allowed, since we already know what the proper form of society is via divine revelation (OK, presumably socialism or supply-side economics could be compatible with divine rights of kings, but in this analogy we’re considering the more mercantilistic and control models that actual “divine-righters” believed in).

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of passing Ross on his dissertation and earlier works, the stark issue is whether or not someone who thinks that an old book of magic gives us a better handle on knowledge than does the evidence, and who, I might add, would never be willing to put that old book of magic to the proper test of scientific investigation. I would also point out, once again, that this person considers the differences between an empirical approach to be a matter of “philosophy”, thereby denying that the evidence is what properly decides scientific issues.

    One may, perhaps, argue that a person who can still go through the motions of science (parrot) deserves a Ph.D, but surely one could legitimately argue that anyone whose understanding is so skewed as to believe that following the trail of evidence is merely a philosophical preference truly lacks a grasp of the most fundamental bases of the science that he performs like a circus ape (or IDist).

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  102. #102 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Glen D reminded me of this classic dialogue from A Fish Called Wanda:

    “Apes don’t read philosophy.”

    “Yes, they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it!”

  103. #103 Chris Bell
    February 12, 2007

    How can anyone take this guy seriously? He walks around school saying 2+2=4, and then goes home and says 2+2=5. I realize these two different “results” are the product of two different “theories”, but a person faced with two glaring inconsistencies must choose.

    How can you accept someone’s word when they have clearly written (and published, I presume) directly and purposefully contradictory things? How do I know that this guy “endorses” anything that comes out of his mouth?

    Personally, I don’t understand how his own head doesn’t explode.

  104. #104 Blake Stacey
    February 12, 2007

    Glen Davidson:

    Thank you for expanding on the point about testing economic theories.

    The fact is that sociologists and economists have to sort out what we mean by “socialism”, to look at everything in context, and to perhaps say that socialism of a kind worked in the mid-20th century in some countries, and a socialism of another kind works today in some other countries. […] The very complexity of societies and economies thus allows for socialist viewpoints and supply-side viewpoints to coexist with actually legitimate interpretations of what is going on (I’d say that socialism probably has more legitimacy than supply-side economics, but that’s more or less my opinion).

    I tried to get at this when I wrote the following:

    If the experiments have not been done, or if the results in the historical record are difficult to interpret, then reasonable people can differ on what the results of different economic systems will be.

    Part of the, ahem, “diversity” among economics folks may be due to what I’ll call “legitimate scientific reasons”, i.e., the difficulty in carrying out and interpreting experiments. Other schisms must stem from ideology, from letting the conclusion precede the observations (e.g., the most doctrinaire kind of campus Marxism). The problem with Ross’s self-serving analogy is that the only way to support creationism is to throw out all the facts and let your predetermined conclusion be absolute monarch.

  105. #105 Greg
    February 12, 2007

    Amit Joshi wrote: “I earned my doctorate by dint of my research, properly presented, published and defended. By my completion of required coursework, passing qualifying exams, all that crap. Swearing allegiance to particular beliefs is absolutely NOT a requirement!”

    I think PZ is talking about the beliefs with respect to one’s research. Ross’s beliefs directly contradict the data he is using. That is being dishonest. Did you think the research you did was false? If you did, why did you write it? That is the problem. I agree with PZ 100%. Ross is being dishonest.

    What if I believed the brain’s only function was to cool the blood. Should I be let into medical school? Should I be a brain surgeon? Hey it’s my belief, so it shouldn’t be a requirement right? That’s crazy.

  106. #106 windy
    February 12, 2007

    I think PZ is talking about the beliefs with respect to one’s research. Ross’s beliefs directly contradict the data he is using.

    It’s not just the beliefs… Who would care if he had some private doubts about the validity of paleontology, as opposed to this:

    While still a graduate student, he appeared on a DVD arguing that intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, is a better explanation than evolution for the Cambrian explosion, a rapid diversification of animal life that occurred about 500 million years ago. […]

    As for Dr. Ross, “he does good science, great science,” said Dr. Boothroyd, who taught him in a class in glacial geology. But in talks and other appearances, Dr. Boothroyd went on, Dr. Ross is already using “the fact that he has a Ph.D. from a legitimate science department as a springboard.”

    Why aren’t creationists worried that he might be adopting the creationist “paradigm” in order to get money for appearances? (rhetorical question 😉

  107. #107 Gerard Harbison
    February 12, 2007

    Ultimately, all this comes down to two propositions:

    (1) Unless you’re a Trappist, ‘compartmentalization’ usually ultimately means ‘lying’. You can’t make positive statements both about a old earth and a young earth without one of those statements containing a deliberate falsehood.

    (2) While we are each individually free to deal with falsehoods as we wish, society does not generally proscribe falsehoods qua falsehoods, but does proscribe them when the falsehood is used as a means to defraud.

    The common sanction against lying is that your word no longer inspires trust. I’m mostly inclined to leave it that way. The alternative is for the gummint to decide officially what the TRVTH is. No thanks.

  108. #108 Amit Joshi
    February 12, 2007

    Greg points out (as did others upthread) that in this case, Ross’s beliefs directly contradict his thesis. But the only relevant academic question is whether his reseach–as presented in his thesis–is honest and up to standards. As long as the work he did and presented meets academic criteria for a PhD thesis, there is no moral basis for denying him the degree.

    This is about the process of research and earning a degree. Dishonesty is a bar, but not if the dishonesty did not spill over into the work as presented.

    Otherwise, really, it would be impossible to grant a degree to anyone who wasn’t fundamentally an agnostic. After all, as far better thinkers than I have pointed out (Feynman, in this case), the core of science is about empiricism. If observed reality does not support your theory, then you have to abandon or revise it. Religion is all about faith. Should all science PhD qualifiers include a required disavowal of religious faith, then?

    As to the hypothetical about brain function beliefs of medical students, the point is, no test of the belief-purity of students would work. And anyway, the only relevant questions should be (a) does the student understand the state of medical science as prescribed in the curriculum, and (b) will the student meet the ethical requirements of the profession (Hippocratic oath and all that)? As long as those answers are yes, schools should leave religious belief alone.

    And, mind you, I’ve been an athiest for 30 of my 45 years! I just don’t believe a religious test is appropriate.

  109. #109 PaulGBrown
    February 12, 2007

    As befits an organ of the mass media with the reach of the NYT, the comments section for that article now runs to 300 posts.

    And it’s presently being freeped by assorted religious types. We’ve passed clear through assorted New Testament verses and are plunging into Genesis. I expect a Deuteronomy citing (pun intended) at any moment!

  110. #110 Kagehi
    February 12, 2007

    People like Amit Joshi really don’t actually **read** anything on here do they? This is the second time in two posts that some moron has attributed the statements of other people to PZ and then chastised him for something he never actually said.

    Well, Amit, PZ just got through saying a few posts “above” your rant that he didn’t think it should be revoked. What he did say is that, basically, if the system worked right, people shouldn’t be able to get such degrees if they fail in some critical fashion. That he got the degree is regretable, that he shouldn’t have been able to, since he fails in one *major* fashion, is just common sense. It would be just as common sense for a theology based program to have serious problems giving someone a degree in theology, **if** the underlying principle of that course was to *believe* in the mythology involved. The problem with using that example though is that people with theology degrees are *not* expected to conform to public opinion of the legitimacy of the beliefs. If anything religious scholars have a skewed view of what religion is, which bares almost no resemblance at all with the common views of what any of it means.

    It comes down to practicality. This fool is inevitably going to use his degree to advance an agenda that undermines the very thing he got a degree in. That might become a grounds to nail his ass to a wall for it. Right now… Not so much. But if we have “no” standards at all for determining the validity of someone’s claims at expertise in the subject, beyond passing some tests, then all a PHD becomes is a useless scrap of paper, with no meaning at all. If it can’t be used to certify both knowledge and good practices, then we might be forced to create something that does. This doesn’t mean you reject people for believing in fairies, anymore than you reject someone’s engineering application on the basis of them believing the gremlins actually try to dismantle airplanes, just so long as they don’t start insisting on building airplanes with machine gun turrets to shoot the gremlins off when spotted. Its about “how” you use the knowledge, not just if you can prove you know it that certification implies. Degrees don’t, apparently, even try to do that, save in truly extreme cases. This is imho, unfortunate, since it lets people claim things that are patently untrue, and gullible people that don’t know any better **do** see it as certification that they not only know what they are talking about, but that what they say means something if they then turn around and insist the whole thing is some big made up story and they have some better and more “traditionally acceptable” explanation.

  111. #111 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    Steve_C:

    Getting a doctorate in science and then turning around and getting a job where you say that science is bullshit? There’s no dishonesty in that?

    What about writing papers on quantum mechanics, then turning around and saying “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”? Is that dishonest? I’ll say it again: the dishonesty doesn’t lie in what this fellow doesn’t believe, but in what he does believe.

    Chris Bell writes:

    I realize these two different “results” are the product of two different “theories”, but a person faced with two glaring inconsistencies must choose.

    Yeah? I hope you realize that physicists for the last couple of centuries have lived with the fact that their major theories were incompatible. Newtonian mechanics was Galilean invariant, while Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves is not. Which would you have chosen? It turns out both have since been superseded, by newer, shinier and better corroborated theories. That also are incompatible. Yet I’ve never seen a physicist’s head explode.

    I would say it’s the act of choosing to believe where the fault and deceit lies. The problem isn’t that this guy doesn’t believe current theories of geology. The problem is that he has chosen to believe a bunch of hoo-haw. And it is that, not his skepticism toward geology, that will keep him from doing significant geology research.

  112. #112 kemibe
    February 12, 2007

    “We also discuss the intersection of those sorts of ideas with Christianity,” he said.

    Is geology class really the place to spend so much time talking about the null set? Now I’m concerned about the quality of the math and science departments at LibertyU., the only “university” in the world that resembles a protracted Colbert Report skit where no one gets the joke.

  113. #113 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    Saying god doesn’t play dice with the universe is different than saying GOD created the universe. Did Einstien not believe his own theorums? That he was just playing with numbers?

    This is not about someone getting a degree in something he has absolutely no trust in.

    Could you imagine an Archeologist getting a PHD and think the fossils are “really” only 10,000 years old. Or that homo sapiens and dinosaurs coexisted.

  114. #114 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    This is not about someone getting a degree in something he has absolutely no trust in.

    Should read… This is about…

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

  115. #115 Chris Bell
    February 12, 2007

    Russell,

    I agree with what you ended with, but I think the two scientific theories hypo is different. In those, scientists start with different assumptions and work down to contradictory results. At least one of the theories must be wrong, but they don’t know which.

    One of this guy’s basic assumptions (namely, bible=true) contradicts his theory.

    I would consider it similar if one theory started “the speed of light is constant…” and the other started “the speed of light varies…” and a scientist thought they were both correct.

  116. #116 Amit Joshi
    February 12, 2007

    People like Amit Joshi really don’t actually **read** anything on here do they?

    No, I just randomly posts rants around the internets. Works well for me, how about you?

    What [PZ] did say is that, basically, if the system worked right, people shouldn’t be able to get such degrees if they fail in some critical fashion. That he got the degree is regretable, that he shouldn’t have been able to, since he fails in one *major* fashion, is just common sense.

    Yes, I got that, and that is what my comment was directed at. Maybe you should try reading it yourself!

    In defending my thesis, I warranted the originality of my work. The committee set the standards for how far I had to take the research before I could successfully defend and graduate. My beliefs about god and teacups in orbit were nowhere mentioned, and indeed should not have been.

    As it turns out, actually, my advisor claims to be a devout catholic, whereas I am a staunch atheist. Maybe I should challenge my advisor’s PhD in physics? That would be sad, because he is a fine academic–open to ideas, rigorous in his methodology, always open to challenges and criticism, etc.

    His religious beliefs don’t taint his work. And so they are his own private business. And for his professors, so should Ross’s beliefs be.

  117. #117 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Another way to think about it (I’m now posting on this topic on two different blogs… I should really be getting some work done):

    Suppose question #1 to the student at his defense was, “Do you believe in your research results?”, i.e. “Do you think your results are correct?” It is a strange question to ask, since the unspoken implication of that student being in that room is ‘yes’, but what should the committee do if the student says their own thesis results are false?

    In practice, earning a Ph.D in essence only requires passing certain benchmarks, but those benchmarks are really there in principle to create a graduate with good critical thinking and scientific research skills. Allowing someone to just ‘say what needs to be said’ to get the degree really makes a mockery of the whole process.

  118. #118 George
    February 12, 2007

    I wonder if they would have let him go forward if he had avowed a belief in a flat earth?

    Where do you draw the line?

  119. #119 Anton Mates
    February 12, 2007

    It would be just as common sense for a theology based program to have serious problems giving someone a degree in theology, **if** the underlying principle of that course was to *believe* in the mythology involved. The problem with using that example though is that people with theology degrees are *not* expected to conform to public opinion of the legitimacy of the beliefs.

    Scientists aren’t expected to conform to public opinion concerning their subjects either, for which biologists and climatologists can be very thankful.

    The underlying principle of a science degree program isn’t to believe in science, it’s to do science. Ross showed he could do that; whether he chooses not to do it later is his problem, I think.

    However. As mentioned above, “While still a graduate student, [Ross] appeared on a DVD arguing that intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, is a better explanation than evolution for the Cambrian explosion, a rapid diversification of animal life that occurred about 500 million years ago.”

    There it looks like he actually claimed to base his argument on some sort of science, rather than on a Gossean don’t-believe-your-lying-eyes position. I’d say that argues against his actual understanding of paleontology, and damages his claim to a PhD.

  120. #120 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 12, 2007

    Dishonest, yes. But fraud? I think that it falls short, compared to the examples already given of scientific fraud and the Sokal hoax.

    “Under the ‘common law’ of all states [in the USA], there is a body of definitions, including the definition of fraud, that have been developed and refined by judges and lawyers over the years. As more cases about fraud have been adjudicated, the definition of what constitutes fraud has become more precise. Fraud has a specific legal meaning. The following essential elements must be present before an actual finding of fraud will occur:
    Misrepresentation of a material fact consisting of a false representation, concealment or non-disclosure;
    * Knowledge of the falsity (scienter);
    * Intent to deceive and induce reliance;
    * Justifiable and actual reliance on the misrepresentation; and
    * Resulting damages.”

    The crux: who is damaged? This means actual dollar damages, as in “I was going to collect my compensation according to this contract, until this bozo barged in, and so he cost me $100,000.00”

    In Talmudic terms: “Whose ox is gored?”

    My feelings are hurt by this (but hurt feelings are not damage). The public is hurt, but in a diffuse way, akin to the professor who sued McDonald’s about the “billions served” being a fraud. The judge agreed with the math, but didn’t think that there were damages, nor that the professor had “standing.”

    My feelings are hurt because I did very original, very good research, about 2 to 3 decades ahead of its time. That is, my research (resulting in over a dozen publications) answered questions that almost nobody was asking at the time (1973-1977). This is not the venue to give citations.

    My PhD is an “ABD” — All But Degree. Not, mind you, “ABT” — All But Thesis. There was a thesis, whose chapters were subsequently published in refereed venues. But the department refused to turn the Ad Hoc Thesis Committee into a Formal Thesis Committee, hence I was never given a chance to formally submit the dissertation or orally defend it. A third of the faculty in the department left in disgust, but my transcripot still shows the 900-level credits (PhD Dissertation) as “incomplete.” This has limited me to adjunct professorships — as no university wants to waste tenure or even tenure-track on me.

    So my feelings are hurt by the Parrot, because he did NOT do adequate honest research, honestly presented, but he has his union card and full-time professorship, and I don’t. My damages accrue from the then-Chgairman, the department, and the university. But suing a school for a degree is as useless as going on a hunger strike for tenure.

    Fraud by Parrot? Just short of it. Horrible? You bet!

  121. #121 George
    February 12, 2007

    Would they have let him through if he told them the moon was made of swiss cheese?

    Believing that is not any different than believing in the Genesis account of creation.

    He should never have gotten through the Ph.D program.

  122. #122 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    Glen D:

    The fact is that sociologists and economists have to sort out what we mean by “socialism”, to look at everything in context, and to perhaps say that socialism of a kind worked in the mid-20th century in some countries, and a socialism of another kind works today in some other countries.

    Whatever terms one uses, I think it is important to distinguish between (a) economic systems that nationalize the means of production, or otherwise keep it out of private hands, or at least, not traded in markets, from (b) economic systems that are essentially capitalist, with all the mechanisms of modern capitalism from equity markets and derivatives trading to the free destruction of failing businesses, but where the government implements a variety of social programs, such as public schools, welfare for poor families, and public pensions. The first group includes history’s experiments with what I usually call socialism: the old Soviet Union, China prior to its adoption of markets, Cuba, etc. The second group includes almost all modern democracies, from the US to France, from Japan to Spain. Yes, the nature of those social programs has political importance, and economic effects depending on their cost, incentives, and efficiency at increasing human capital. But they don’t change the essential nature of the underlying capitalist economy. If you start a business in Sweden, you will face the same problems and many of the same mechanisms for solving those problems as you do in the US. If that business goes bankrupt, you will lose all you put into it. Though in Sweden, you are less likely to sleep under a bridge as a result.

    In popular discussion, I often see the term “socialism” used to refer both to economies of the first sort, and to capitalist economies that have social programs either more or less to the speaker’s liking, depending on whether the speaker is using the term in praise or condemnation. It’s interesting that some on both the right and the left are fond of this conflation. The right wants to pretend that Sweden, as common example, doesn’t have a capitalist economy as part of its mythology of American exceptionalism, and as prelude to damning Sweden. (I don’t know why — I hear it’s a nice place.) The left wants to pretend that Sweden doesn’t have a capitalist economy as part of the larger pretense that capitalism isn’t necessary. The simple fact is that Sweden has a modern capitalist economy, well integrated with the global economy. The Stockholm Stock Exchange was founded in 1863, and in 2004, the companies listed had a combined cap of 2.5 trillion krona.

  123. #123 Geral
    February 12, 2007

    Have you checked out the biology courses for Bob Jones University?

    ..hahaha…

    http://www.bju.edu/

  124. #124 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    Chris Bell:

    I would consider it similar if one theory started “the speed of light is constant…” and the other started “the speed of light varies…”

    Curiously, that’s close to how Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s theories differed. Not quite. Maxwell’s equations don’t require the speed of light to be constant, but only work in “the frame of the aether,” that mysterious substance through which electromagnetic waves travel.

  125. #125 Kristine
    February 12, 2007

    I wonder if they would have let him go forward if he had avowed a belief in a flat earth?

    Meet Gerardus Bouw, Ph.D., editor of “The Biblical Astronomer.” He’s a flat-earther, geocentrist, and Young Earth creationist.

    He has a Ph.D. in astronomy.

  126. #126 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Amit wrote: “Maybe I should challenge my advisor’s PhD in physics?”

    You seem to be arguing that one’s spiritual beliefs are necessarily in conflict with any science one studies. While some would probably agree with that (PZM in particular might), I don’t think that’s the issue in this particular case. The issue is really that this student’s views (the Earth is 10K years old) directly conflicts with one of the fundamental basic assumptions of geoscience (the Earth is billions of years old). In physics, the only analogies to this sort of view I can think of are someone thinking that Newton’s laws or Maxwell’s equations are complete nonsense.

    To try and sound as open-minded as possible, we in the sciences like to say that there is no ‘belief test’, but that isn’t completely true – many results have been confirmed so well, and so many times, that there really is no productive scientific argument about them any more. If we really allow anybody who believes anything (moon is made of green cheese, etc.) to join the discussion, I don’t think science would advance much. Of course, fundamental assumptions do change, but those changes inevitably are experiment-driven, not faith-driven.

    I wouldn’t revoke the man’s degree at this point, since it seems to have been granted in full knowledge of his disagreement with his entire field of study. However, we don’t have to say that this person really demonstrated the critical thinking skills worthy of the doctorate.

  127. #127 Tlazolteotl
    February 12, 2007

    “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…..

  128. #128 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    gg writes:

    Suppose question #1 to the student at his defense was, “Do you believe in your research results?”, i.e. “Do you think your results are correct?” It is a strange question to ask, since the unspoken implication of that student being in that room is ‘yes’, but what should the committee do if the student says their own thesis results are false?

    Suppose the answer made was: “I believe this is good research that extends knowledge relative to the field, based on valid data. I cannot say how the field as a whole might be viewed two centuries hence, though I hope that work in it is somehow incorporated into whatever follows. As for Truth, the Real and Absolute, I took some philosophy while an undergraduate, but I missed the class where they handed out the Truth Meter.”

    How did I do? Should I return my degree?

    Steve_C:

    Did Einstein not believe his own theorems? That he was just playing with numbers?

    Einstein thought that quantum mechanics was a statistical rule that worked, much as one might use combinatorial statistics to predict the results of throwing a pair of die, but that there had to be a more classical kind of physical law behind it, much as the die were long thought to follow Newton’s laws, seeming to be random only because of the impossibility of knowing all the conditions that affect their course, from air currents to the lay of felt on the table. One of his most famous papers, with Podolsky and Rosen, used the non-locality of quantum mechanics to argue that something deeper had to be going on. In 1967, John Bell published a paper showing that QM’s non-locality is much more obdurate than previously thought, and that any mechanism behind it would need equally strange properties. Einstein had unfortunately died 12 years previous, so we’ll never know what he would have thought of Bell’s surprising result. I suspect most physicists today view QM as the most fundamental physical law now known, despite its weirdities, and have few expectations of finding anything more classical behind it.

  129. #129 Chinchillazilla
    February 12, 2007

    My dad has a grad student working for him who’s a YEC. He doesn’t believe in evolution. This is a lab where they’re currently studying strains of yellow fever…

  130. #130 pluky
    February 12, 2007

    I find this a wonderful affirmation of one of the basic principles of the scientific method; it operates independently of the underlying belief system of the adherent. In his own words, “I was working within a particular paradigm of earth history.” Lucky for him, he picked the right paradigm.

  131. #131 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.

  132. #132 gg
    February 12, 2007

    Russell writes: “I believe this is good research that extends knowledge relative to the field, based on valid data. I cannot say how the field as a whole might be viewed two centuries hence, though I hope that work in it is somehow incorporated into whatever follows. As for Truth, the Real and Absolute, I took some philosophy while an undergraduate, but I missed the class where they handed out the Truth Meter.”

    The first sentence of your response seems quite reasonable. The second sentence is pretty much the implication of all scientific statements. The third sentence is a complete non-sequitur, and an uncharitable interpretation of the original question. The original question asked if the research was correct, or whether the researcher had ‘belief’ in their research results, not whether their work was the ‘Truth’. It is not an unreasonable question to ask, and one I’ve heard in some form or another at conferences. How confident is the researcher in their numbers? What are the opposing views, and how do they compare with your own? Candid answers to such touchy-feely questions can often be very enlightening.

    One of my big beefs with this student is their apparent ability to endorse and expound upon a view that they themselves have no confidence in. At the very least, I expect other scientists to not waste my time by giving me a line of what they consider B.S. To return to your original sentence, this student would not have given the answer you gave, at least not honestly. And if they can’t give that answer, and can’t be honest, then, no, they probably don’t deserve the degree.

    And, for the disrespectful sarcasm of your third sentence, yes, you should give back your degree!

  133. #133 windy
    February 12, 2007

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

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

  134. #134 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:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Theistic.cfm

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

  135. #135 Zarquon
    February 12, 2007

    The age of the earth is a measurement, not an assumption or the result of some interpretative paradigm. If you think that the measurement is scientifically wrong it’s up to you to do a better measurement, not to come up with some bullshit ‘philosophical interpretation’.

  136. #136 Factician
    February 12, 2007

    Let him have his PhD. It’s useful as little more than a placemat now that he has so soiled it.

    Many folks are trying to use the analogy that this is like a theology student not believing that God exists. Wrong metaphor, I think. I think it’s more like a theology student not believing that people exist.

    And in terms of academic honesty, may I suggest another metaphor? I think it’s rather like he pled guilty to a crime in his own trial, but as soon as he got on the courthouse steps had a press conference to say he’s “not guilty”. Can’t have it both ways, bud.

  137. #137 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.

  138. #138 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    gg writes:

    It is not an unreasonable question to ask, and one I’ve heard in some form or another at conferences. How confident is the researcher in their numbers?

    The answer to that question tends to fall along a spectrum between Marketing and Process. In the extreme Marketing answer, the author puts on a look of beaming confidence that would suit a preacher in a modern, evangelical superchurch, says that the data is incontrovertible, avers that he absolutely believes, and explains how they’ve moved on and beyond such questions. In the extreme Process answer, the author raises his eyebrows, explains more how the data was collected, what earlier processes didn’t seem to work and why, how that compares with what other people are now doing, and invites you to ask him afterwards if you want a more detailed answer.

    Should we be most convinced by the researcher who is most convinced by his own data and own results?

    The original question asked if .. the researcher had ‘belief’ in their research results, not whether their work was the ‘Truth’.

    What does it mean to believe something, if not to believe that it is True? This is much like my preferred answer, when a fundamentalist asks me if I believe in evolution. To that, I say I don’t believe in anything, in the way that they believe in things.

    And, for the disrespectful sarcasm of your third sentence, yes, you should give back your degree!

    On that basis, I should have given it back a ten thousand and one times. The day is yet on. Before dusk, ten thousand and two. 🙂

  139. #139 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.

  140. #140 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    PZ:

    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.

  141. #141 mark
    February 12, 2007

    Dear MR. Myers,
    Dr. Ross did scientific work, following the scientific method and gave a dissertation to back up his work not his beliefs. When have yo done something although your heart disagreed, Perhaps paying taxes, not speeding to a importantr meeting when going by a police officer monitoring traffic, lusting after anotherwoman when married, or fit your own illegal vice that you keep from your coworkers in. There is not one here that does not do things against what they no is right.
    It is truly incredible to here you call Dr. Ross a fraud.
    When was the last time you said something contrary to your true beliefs. Perhaps giving lips service to a colleague then talking about them behind thier back. I’m sure your closet like the rest of us has skeltons hidden from others eye. One day the creator of this universe who sees all will expose our lies and what will be your excuse.
    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. Perhaps you should check the mirrorbefore writing your next critique.

  142. #142 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?

    hmm.

  143. #143 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.

  144. #144 tgibbs
    February 12, 2007

    If a PhD student does PhD quality research and writes a PhD quality thesis, then he is entitled to a PhD. I don’t care if he’s an axe murderer.

    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.

  145. #145 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    This guy was NOT compartmentalzing.

    He was going through the motions of being scientist.

  146. #146 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.

  147. #147 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.

    yup.

    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.

  148. #148 George
    February 12, 2007

    par·a·digm (pr-dm, -dm)
    n.
    1. One that serves as a pattern or model.
    2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.
    3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/paradigm

    I’d like Dr. Ross to tell us about the values he embraces as a member of the community of con artists, because he is yanking everyone’s chain with this “I can believe whatever the fuck I want” attention-getting stunt. Typical of those who embrace Falwell’s fucked-up worldview.

    You only get one life, Ross. You are wasting yours on a bunch of hokum. Idiot.

  149. #149 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    I don’t think it is compartmentalizing.

    To keep two seperate beliefs apart from each other in order to allow them to coexist in the same mind.

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

  150. #150 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.

  151. #151 mark
    February 12, 2007

    Ichthyic,
    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.

  152. #152 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.

  153. #153 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?

  154. #154 Steve_C
    February 12, 2007

    I’m saying he didn’t turn one off to do the other. He just lied. And not to himself.

    “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 pretended the science was true. For the sake of others… not himself.

  155. #155 joseph knecht
    February 12, 2007

    I think the simplest and best solution this sort of situation is to investigate during the qualifying exams, dissertation defense, etc. whether the candidate sincerely stands by his work and asserts it to be the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” (to the best of his knowledge).

    I think it is reasonable to expect that a candidate should be willing to assert that her research was undertaken in the spirit of adding to the stock of knowledge of humanity, that to the best of her knowledge it represents the truth as she sees it, and that she has not intentionally neglected to mention or include any major data that could falsify the thesis.

    We all expect that this is the case, and it is sad that it should need to be explictly stated, but is it any sadder than requiring an oath in court stating that one will tell the truth?

  156. #156 George
    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.

  157. #157 Chris Bell
    February 12, 2007

    Someone earlier mentioned the Bob Jones University biology cirriculum. Here’s a better link, giving several ‘responses’ from professors on prominent questions.

    http://www.bju.edu/academics/cas/undergrad/divns/creation/panel/index.html

    It really deserves a post all on its own. It’s quite a hoot.

  158. #158 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?

  159. #159 mark
    February 12, 2007

    Forgive them Lord they do not know what they say.

  160. #160 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    mark writes:

    When was the last time you said something contrary to your true beliefs.

    Mark, I think the thing that amazes most of us is that Ross would do this voluntarily, through years of effort, in order to learn a subject matter that he clearly thinks is bogus, and in which he will no longer work. This isn’t a case, such as someone obeying a law with which they disagree, where legal or social pressure make someone do it. No one is forced to get a Ph.D.

    PZ clearly has a great passion for his life’s work. And that is something universities want to see in their faculty. There aren’t many reasons to get a degree in a subject one thinks is bogus. Teaching at Liberty University is the only one that comes to mind. Ah, well. Ross has his degree. Falwell can brag about having a “real” geologist. And no one is fooled, except for those want to be fooled.

  161. #161 Carlie
    February 12, 2007

    No, Mark, they know exactly what they say. Why is it that religious nuts always think that the nonreligious must just not know all about religion? Trust me, some of us have not only seen, but experienced, the best it has to offer, and we still in the end found it wanting.

  162. #162 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.

  163. #163 George
    February 12, 2007

    Forgive them Lord they do not know what they say.

    Posted by: mark | February 12, 2007 07:11 PM

    The least you could do is try to be a little more original.

  164. #164 Great White Wonder
    February 12, 2007

    Steven B. Case, a research professor at the Center for Research Learning at the University of Kansas, said it would be wrong to “censor someone for a belief system as long as it does not affect their work. Science is an open enterprise to anyone who practices it.”

    Dr. Case, who champions the teaching of evolution, heads the committee writing state science standards in Kansas, a state particularly racked by challenges to Darwin. Even so, he said it would be frightening if universities began “enforcing some sort of belief system on their graduate students.

    Excuse me, Dr. Case, you little piece of sniveling chicken shit, but referring to basic scientific facts as “some sort of belief system” is wordplay worthy of the most committed apologist for fundie horse-hockey.

    It is INCUMBENT on the Univ of Rhode Island to denounce this fundie loser for using his Ph.D. to promote idiocy.

  165. #165 mds
    February 12, 2007

    I think it is reasonable to expect that a candidate should be willing to assert that her research was undertaken in the spirit of adding to the stock of knowledge of humanity, that to the best of her knowledge it represents the truth as she sees it, and that she has not intentionally neglected to mention or include any major data that could falsify the thesis.

    But, but, but, he or she can’t know absolutely that it’s the Truth.

    The above is at the crux of it. He willfully misrepresented his data. He withheld information from his dissertation that he believed contradicts its findings. If he weren’t someone who would immediately start shrieking about how being dismissed from a PhD program was exactly like early Christians being thrown to lions, he would be out on his ass from any decent doctoral program. See, that’s the problem with Russell’s fallacy about “the Truth”; Ross in fact believes that the contrary information he omitted from his thesis is unquestionably the Truth. To have said, “I don’t know what the Truth is” would still have been a lie, coming from him.

    All that said, no revocation is possible; the University of Rhode Island must suffer the costs to its reputation of allowing this. Because that’s where Ross is off the hook. He wasn’t kicked out of the Ph.D. program, and he didn’t have to defend his intellectual honesty, because his Ph.D. committee knew that he was lying to them. So now they’re stuck.

  166. #166 Great White Wonder
    February 12, 2007

    All that said, no revocation is possible; the University of Rhode Island must suffer the costs to its reputation of allowing this. Because that’s where Ross is off the hook. He wasn’t kicked out of the Ph.D. program, and he didn’t have to defend his intellectual honesty, because his Ph.D. committee knew that he was lying to them.

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

    Revoke this asswipe’s Ph.D. and don’t look back.

  167. #167 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?

  168. #168 mds
    February 12, 2007

    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.

    As me dear departed grandfather would say(*), “Don’t trust any fundie internet troll who doesn’t even use the King James Bible.” It’s “whited sepulchres” in the original seventeenth-century English. The NIV is the work of heretics.

    (*)Hey, I quoted him in my dissertation, and I’m sticking by it.

  169. #169 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    mds writes:

    He willfully misrepresented his data. He withheld information from his dissertation that he believed contradicts its findings. .. See, that’s the problem with Russell’s fallacy about “the Truth”; Ross in fact believes that the contrary information he omitted from his thesis is unquestionably the Truth.

    Let’s suppose I’m a reader for a thesis or on a dissertation committee, and the graduate student says he suspects the whole theoretical basis on which the work is founded. I ask if he has any evidence for this, since obviously large holes in theories make for great papers and dissertations. Alas, knowing something about the kinds of evidential chains that scientists take seriously, he says he has nothing of that sort. Now, what information is it that you think I should insist he include in his work? His baseless suspicions?

    Or is it just that you’re looking for a statement of belief?

  170. #170 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    Great White Wonder impugns:

    Dr. Case, you little piece of sniveling chicken shit, but referring to basic scientific facts as “some sort of belief system” is wordplay worthy of the most committed apologist for fundie horse-hockey.

    Dr. Case is doing his best to prevent it from becoming an institutionalized belief system. If we start requiring belief from students and faculty, that is what it will be.

    You might object that it is also the result of best current science to date. Note two things. That does not keep it from being a belief system, and that a large part of what gives science the credibility it has and deserves is that science departments don’t institutionalize a belief system.

    I really don’t know why people are making such a big deal of this. There have always been people with advanced degrees, in science, from legitimate institutions, that nonetheless fell for some cockamamie nonsense, including cockamamie nonsense that was completely counter to science. Holding a Ph.D. in science is not automatic protection from that.

  171. #171 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    mds writes:

    It’s “whited sepulchres” in the original seventeenth-century English. The NIV is the work of heretics.

    Much better phrasing. Of course, J. Frank Dobie penned the ultimate line on graveyards and the academic thesis.

  172. #172 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2007

    My argument is not about requiring “belief” of any kind in graduate students: it’s about having some expectations and standards that more is required to earn a Ph.D. than the ability to follow a recipe. That’s why I think there ought to be some more soul-searching among URI faculty — an obviously incompetent student has slipped through the net, and is also using his status as a URI grad to promote nonsense.

    Obviously bad students have and always will slip through. When they do, though, people should think seriously about whether they are doing a good job in training.

  173. #173 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    PZ writes:

    My argument is not about requiring “belief” of any kind in graduate students: it’s about having some expectations and standards that more is required to earn a Ph.D. than the ability to follow a recipe. That’s why I think there ought to be some more soul-searching among URI faculty — an obviously incompetent student has slipped through the net, and is also using his status as a URI grad to promote nonsense.

    There are three ways I can interpret your claim that Ross is incompetent. (1) You have read his dissertation or reviewed his research, and find it lacking. In this case, I would point out that your complaint has absolutely nothing to do with Ross’s religious beliefs, and your criticisms of the department would be better aimed by not mixing it with that other issue.

    (2) You mean something by “incompetent” that has nothing to do with his dissertation and research. In which case I’m curious what standard you are proposing. I’m glad you don’t want to require belief. But that leaves me not knowing what additional standard you think should be met.

    (3) You hold some belief about human psychology that because of Ross’s religious beliefs, his work outside those beliefs, and even in conflict with them, cannot possibly be competent, in the sense of (1) above. Now, I’m no more a psychologist than I am a geologist. So I will speak entirely from a viewpoint of basic empiricism, that we find out what is psychologically possible by observation, and that if this happens, it happens, and should be taken as any other data, not railed against for pricking the balloon of some favored belief.

  174. #174 PZ Myers
    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.

    If you know of some reasonable evidence for a geoscientist to reject the idea of a 4.5 billion year old earth, please do share it with us.

  175. #175 Great White Wonder
    February 12, 2007

    There have always been people with advanced degrees, in science, from legitimate institutions, that nonetheless fell for some cockamamie nonsense, including cockamamie nonsense that was completely counter to science. Holding a Ph.D. in science is not automatic protection from that.

    You know, other professional organizations have ethical requirements and they can have their licenses revoked for failing to live up to those requirements.

    There is nothing “arbitrary” about University of Rhode Island issuing a statement saying: “We disown this creationist clown and refuse to recognize the Ph.D. we mistakenly granted to him. His actions and words subsequent to the granting of his degree reflect a profound ignorance, if not outright hostility, towards science and basic principles of honesty.”

    I don’t see what the problem is with issuing such a statement. The letters “Ph.D.” are just letters. If this clown wants to represent himself as a Ph.D. but refuses to mention that the university which granted the Ph.D. has disowned him, then he’s just proven himself a liar all over again.

    Let’s say some guy gets his Ph.D. in genetics and then immediately joins some neo-Nazi group and starts advocating for the extermination of Jews. If the university that granted the Ph.D. comes out and says, “We revoke the Ph.D.” will the wishy-washy apologists here for “free speech” (or whatever your motivations are) rise up to object to the University as being “unfair” and “arbitrary”?

    Look at the facts here. This creationist loser isn’t just fading into the woodwork. He wants to be a player for the other side. He’s going to use his Ph.D. to trash science.

    I say: game on.

  176. #176 Great White Wonder
    February 12, 2007

    a large part of what gives science the credibility it has and deserves is that science departments don’t institutionalize a belief system.

    Uh, no. The failure of science departments to institutionalize a belief system is NOT a “large part” of what gives science credibility, and for you to suggest otherwise shows that you are clueless in the harshest, most absolute meaning of that term.

  177. #177 John B
    February 12, 2007

    I haven’t read his research, but if he got the degree his work must have made some contribution to the field.

    If the work passed the review process what is the problem?

  178. #178 Russell
    February 12, 2007

    PZ Myers writes:

    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.

    So just to be clear, you’re proposing as a standard for awarding degrees in science that the student not advocate a position for which there is no tenable evidence whether or not that advocacy appears in or affects the academic work the student does toward that degree? Should I recommend to the science graduate students in Morris that they turn in their fellow students who recommend homeopathic remedies, who preach of the socialist paradise, who traipse the outer reaches of cryptozoology, who tell that their cousin was abducted by extraterrestrials, who go all Randian, or who believe in angels? Are you going to be the first Dean of Wrongful Advocacy? Are you aware how many graduate students keep some weird shit in a barrel in their psychological attic?

    Yes, of course, we should criticize nonsense wherever it appears. And yes, we should reject academic work when nonsense appears in it. That is an essential part of what university faculty do. But Ross didn’t make his nonsense part of his work. He carefully avoided that, practicing a pragmatic compartmentalization, if not a psychological one. That reflects a deep intellectual dishonesty on his part. I doubt that is easy, when done to this degree, nor do I worry it will become common. Weird shit tends to spill out of the best coopered containers.

    Still, I’m not sure how you propose grading students on their advocacy, when it isn’t presented in their academic work. And I doubt I want the academic atmosphere that would create. Stand up in the class room and denounce nonsense. When students try to present it as part of their work, explain why it isn’t tenable and grade it appropriately. But when it is outside their work.. well, you tell me. By what process do you propose to handle that?

  179. #179 Keith Douglas
    February 12, 2007

    PZ: Are you sure? I used to think that – that it was all a matter of ignorance. But I see so much cognitive dissonance in people that I begin to wonder

    Blake Stacey: The old joke is that religious studies departments differ from theology departments in one way – the latter contains believers.

    Zarquon: To be fair, measurements use indicator hypotheses and various foundational postulates common to all science. But these are (a) scrutable and (b) similar to those used in other measurements the YEC already accepts in other contexts.

  180. #180 John B
    February 12, 2007

    Nevermind my earlier comment, after a google search I begin to see the harm. This guy’s name seems to turn up attached only to intelligent design talks/articles.

    I don’t see how you can stop this sort of thing from happenning, but this particular guy seems to be not even working as a geoscientist. He could have gotten his ph.d in theology if he wanted the credentials to pursue his current work.

    I thought he had some passion for geoscience existing parallel to his religious beliefs, but it doesn’t seem that way.

  181. #181 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?

  182. #182 Ichthyic
    February 12, 2007

    GW:

    (or whatever your motivations are)

    that says volumes about how you tend to debate.

  183. #183 Caledonian
    February 12, 2007

    It is depressing (but not surprising) to see how many people here argue for or against a proposition not on the strength of the arguments supporting it, but whether it is invoked for a person they favor or disfavor.

    Exceptionalism reigns.

  184. #184 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2007

    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: notice that he is now off teaching undergraduates. Understanding of basic concepts central to his work ought to be an expectation.

    This is not a case like Francis Collins, where the fellow can have one domain where he thinks through and through like a scientist, and then goes home and gibbers at the invisible ju-ju. This is a guy who holds an absurd belief that is directly incompatible with a central piece of his work, who has announced that he considers his research to be false.

    Are you seriously asking whether intellectual honesty ought to be part of a Ph.D. requirement? What do you think this is, something like training to be a technician, where ability to follow a protocol is enough?

  185. #185 Great White Wonder
    February 12, 2007

    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?

    Like this: “This Ph.D. was given with the expectation that you would not abuse the title in order to attack and mock the principles which give the title meaning. You abused the trust we placed in you. If you feel betrayed, join the club. We have no doubt that you will find some way to find a silver lining in all of this, perhaps by appealing to the same religious dogma which allows you to ‘believe’ that the earth is 6,000 years old. Enjoy.”

    Bottom line: it ain’t worth worrying about the fundies and their feelings. They don’t care about anything or anyone except themselves and brainwashing new cult members.

  186. #186 Caledonian
    February 13, 2007

    What do you think this is, something like training to be a technician, where ability to follow a protocol is enough?

    Well, that’s what most people popularly called ‘scientists’ actually are. There’s just no way to train someone to be a scientist, after all – the intellectual honesty cannot be taught.

  187. #187 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.

  188. #188 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    PZ, you still haven’t said what procedures you would put into place that would adequately insure a student’s intellectual honesty, and how those procedures would apply when that lapse is apparent only outside the student’s academic work. I agree: Ross is intellectually dishonest. I agree that it’s a damn shame that he has a degree from a real university. But how do you propose to filter out graduate students on that basis? Don’t just say it’s bad. If you think schools should do something about it, tell us what you would have them do.

    Very often when dealing with people, the best rules are proxies for something deeper that is more difficult to fairly measure. Trying to measure what you really want is too costly or has unfortunate side effects.

  189. #189 Caledonian
    February 13, 2007

    …or what you really want is ethically incorrect.

    It would be an absolute disaster if the teaching of science became about faith instead of the method.

  190. #190 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.

  191. #191 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.

  192. #192 G. Shelley
    February 13, 2007

    Are you seriously asking whether intellectual honesty ought to be part of a Ph.D. requirement? What do you think this is, something like training to be a technician, where ability to follow a protocol is enough?

    I don’t think so. I think people are saying that someone ought to be able to analyse the data, compare it to data others have previously obtained, draw conclusions from it and design ways of testing those conclusions.

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

  193. #193 SEF
    February 13, 2007

    I haven’t read his research, but if he got the degree his work must have made some contribution to the field.

    Even that is debatable. Some PhD’s (or even non-PhD papers) can be rather minimal. They aren’t necessarily anything earth-shattering which will be used and cited in the future by anyone else’s work.

    However, that’s somewhat beside the point. I think this PhD potentially serves more as an albatross or millstone around his neck. Of course it will impress some/many fundies, but those will mostly be the ones who would be impressed by any of their “authority” figures, even the lawyers!

    The few fundies who are sophisticated enough to care whether someone has relevant expertise will also be those who are capable of appreciating that, when it actually counted, Ross had to resort to reality-based thinking in order to achieve anything in science. His fantasy-based creationist view got him nowhere.

    Just like all the other creation “scientists” who have failed to achieve anything worthwhile (other than dishonest financial gain!) with the creationist “paradigm”. That’s what the example of Ross really demonstrates.

  194. #194 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.

  195. #195 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.

  196. #196 Carlie
    February 13, 2007

    I think that this could well be a nice stinking heavy albatross for him, but only if there were Christians smart and honest enough to continually call him on it.
    (paging Scott Hatfield?)
    Every time he gives a talk on ID, someone needs to ask him what he did his dissertation on, if he believes the information in the dissertation was correct, and then why he lied, because God says not to lie. Every time. Christians should be just as disgusted at his behavior as scientists are.

  197. >>>>>Marcus Ross simply behaved like a good methodological naturalists, conducting his research as if the reptiles he studied were 65 million years old.

    It’s nice to know what the Drs. Moran, Myers, Lynch, and Rosenhouse really think of scientists who adopt methodological naturalism. I wonder how long it will be before theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins are accused of “lying for Jesus”?
    <<<<<

  198. #198 MartinC
    February 13, 2007

    For every Marcus Ross that completed his PhD thesis and remained a creationist I wonder how many didn’t make it out the other side. As I Scientist I have no problem with him or any other creationist doing this. What affects me in the end is published peer reviewed papers, not press releases from the Discovery Institute of books by Jonathan Wells.
    If Behe, Wells and Dembski submitted a paper to Nature whereby they had worked out how to use Darwinian principles to treat and cure some terminal cancer, what should we do ?
    If it passes peer review and stands up to criticism then we should accept and publish it, no matter what we really think of the personal beliefs of the authors (as Scientists we judge the data, nothing else).
    The same principle applies here. Judge the data in the PhD thesis, not what you may think the candidate may privately believe. Likewise if he now submits a paper containing data closer to his own creationist beliefs we should judge that in exactly the same manner.

  199. #199 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    I have a minority view, but I believe that methodological naturalism is both unnecessary to science, and is philosophically ill-conceived. I have yet to read a cogent definition of how to draw a line between what counts as natural and what counts as supernatural. Yes, yes, of course: ghosts, gods, fairies, the loup garou, and vampires are supernatural. But why are they supernatural? The answer that they don’t adhere to natural law is entirely circular, and in any case, doesn’t provide any kind of methodological guidance. What about them exactly makes them beyond the study of science?

    There is one and only property I know that puts them beyond scientific study: we have no evidence for them. They are shy. Cameras and mirrors won’t take their images. Ears do not hear their words. They do not affect any kind of observational aid, or do so only in such a fashion that we cannot know test. The ones that die, such as vampires, leave behind no corpse, or at least, nothing that would distinguish their remains from something ordinary. They cleverly work in such a fashion as not to leave any trace of themselves behind. In other words, here is what I think supernatural really means: a set of entites from myth for which we have no evidence.

    It is that lack of evidence, and only that, that keeps them from being studied by science. I don’t believe science needs any a priori suppositions about ontological categories. What it needs is evidence. Now yeah, if you invent some ontological categories whose members have the property that they leave no evidence behind, then science can’t study them. But that’s not any deep result of the ontological lines you’ve drawn. If some god were to start revealing himself tomorrow, scientists would line up down the block to start their examination. There is nothing philosophical that prevents that. There is just the theological convenience that most gods don’t do that, for their own private reasons.

  200. #200 windy
    February 13, 2007

    Marcus Ross simply behaved like a good methodological naturalists, conducting his research as if the reptiles he studied were 65 million years old.

    Love that “as if” there.

    AFAIK there is no principle of methodological naturalism that says, a priori, that any mosasaurs must be over 65 my old. Besides, he was supposed to find out how old the mosasaurs were, not assume it! (Isn’t that what the evolutionists are always accused of doing?)

    And doesn’t he believe that the mosasaurs really are physically only a few thousand years old? Why would that be off limits to methodological naturalism?

    This quote from his webpage puts this supposed “methodological naturalism” into perspective:

    He is greatly interested in issues surrounding the creation-evolution controversy and the intersection of geology with the Biblical events of creation and Noah’s Flood.

  201. #201 David Livesay
    February 13, 2007

    When I got my Ph.D., I don’t recall being asked if I really, truly believed what I said in my dissertation, although I think was probably taken for granted.

    It’s an interesting question whether or not someone can earn a doctorate based on a hypothetical acceptance of the axioms of a filed of study. I can see adopting a position for the sake of argument for forensic purposes, but to earn a doctorate on that kind of foundation raises a lot of issues.

    Suppose someone earns a doctoral degree in a field in which they honestly and sincerely do accept the fundamental axioms, but then subsequently reject them? I bet there are a lot of people with theological degrees who fall into this category.

  202. #202 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    David Livesay:

    It’s an interesting question whether or not someone can earn a doctorate based on a hypothetical acceptance of the axioms of a field of study. I can see adopting a position for the sake of argument for forensic purposes, but to earn a doctorate on that kind of foundation raises a lot of issues.

    In mathematics and logic and computer science, that is done all the time. We can’t prove set theory is consistent. Should we therefore stop using it?

    The foundational problems are handled by studying the foundational issues, and making reference to what is known about those. It’s fair for someone writing a Ph.D. thesis in computer science to say that an NP-hard problem is intractable, because no one else has been able to reduce NP to P, despite decades of effort, and a million dollar prize riding on doing so or proving otherwise.

  203. #203 David Livesay
    February 13, 2007

    Russell,

    While you can’t prove set theory is consistent, I doubt any serious mathematicians would have deeply held reasons for doubting it. I doubt that any serious mathematicians even attempt to prove something unless they believe, at least on some level, that it can be proven.

  204. #204 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    David Livesay:

    I doubt that any serious mathematicians even attempt to prove something unless they believe, at least on some level, that it can be proven.

    When I was in graduate school in mathematics, I found that the best way to work on a problem was to alternate between trying to prove it and trying to disprove it. It’s important not to get stuck in a rut, and intuition often will stick you there. In topology, people made lists of pathological examples — I think I recall a book on this — just to warn against the temptation to see the issues as too ordered. One reason Gödel’s work had such an impact is precisely that it was unexpected. Plausibility arguments often sound very convincing until the opposite is proved.

  205. #205 PZ Myers
    February 13, 2007

    I’m not talking about testing people for what they believe. I’m demanding more rigor in understanding the foundations of their research. I don’t think we should have any say in what a guy believes — I do think we have a problem when a student professes nonsense in his field that directly contradicts the evidence in his field.

    We have no way to police that if a student simply lies through every step of his training, and puts up a facade in which he parrots everything he’s supposed to say. This guy was openly advocating creationist crapola throughout his tenure at URI. Why wasn’t he grilled on it?

    Seriously, this is a real problem. What’s the value of an advanced degree if someone can just fake their way through it?

  206. #206 gg
    February 13, 2007

    One final comment on this topic; I had an evening’s hiatus from reading on it…

    Russell wrote:
    “What does it mean to believe something, if not to believe that it is True? This is much like my preferred answer, when a fundamentalist asks me if I believe in evolution. To that, I say I don’t believe in anything, in the way that they believe in things.”

    To me, you’ve sort of answered the question the way I would have, but come to a different conclusion. As a scientist, I don’t equate belief with Truth (or Belief with a capital ‘B’). When I say I ‘believe’ in my results, I mean that they represent an accurate picture of the physical process studied, and I don’t expect my results to be completely overturned, although refinement is possible, even inevitable. This is ‘belief’ in my mind, which differs from the ‘Belief’ of the fundies. And for the most part over the past hundred years, this ‘belief’ has held true. Even quantum mechanics and special relativity did not invalidate Newton’s laws: they illustrate that Newton was not the whole picture.

    My criticism of the Ph.D student in question falls into 3 parts, then:

    1. His thesis advocates a view which he himself thinks will be completely overturned and shown to be inaccurate. This seems completely against the spirit of how a scientist should behave – I would never present results which I truly believe (little ‘b’ or big ‘B’) to be fundamentally not a proper description of nature. Ironically, all of us have the opposite view of his work, but this does not change the fact that he is a proponent of a view which he thinks is wrong.

    2. His critical thinking skills come into question because, in spite of every single piece of experimental and observational evidence, he still Believes that the Earth is 10k years old. To say that this does not affect his overall conduct as a scientist is, I believe (little ‘b’), wishful thinking.

    3. His particular Belief is contrary to one of the fundamental theorems of his chosen field: that the Earth is billions of years old. I can’t imagine a physicist working effectively if they comparably thought that Newton’s laws were completely invalid for describing Earth-bound motion.

    As I think I’ve said before, none of these statements seem to be grounds for revoking a degree or even possibly denying it. As has been pointed out by others, there is no such thing as a ‘code of ethics’ or ‘oath of office’ for scientists, as there is for doctors and lawyers. That doesn’t mean I have to applaud this student or agree that they truly earned their degree or understand what it means to be a scientist.

    We’ve been fortunate in the past that fundamentalists have traditionally sought to tear down science from the outside. Things are changing, though, and students like this represent an effort to undermine the system from within. In my view, pretending that a doctoral degree is nothing more than ‘parroting’ the prevailing views is a dangerous step in that direction.

  207. #207 "Q" the Enchanter
    February 13, 2007

    PZ, what you seem to be saying is that while we’re not supposed to look to what the candidate “believes,” he nonetheless must be “grilled” on what he “professes.” (Meanwhile, he’s a “fraud” because he seemingly professes things in his academic work that are at odds with…what he actually believes!)

    But surely, if there is no substantive weakness in his work and no academic fraud,* the only thing left of the charge that he is “faking” his way to a Ph.D. is the shell of “thought crime.”

    *And there isn’t any properly academic fraud if a candidate’s beliefs are immaterial in assessing his quality as a Ph.D. candidate, as you seem to want to grant.

  208. #208 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    gg writes:

    We’ve been fortunate in the past that fundamentalists have traditionally sought to tear down science from the outside. Things are changing, though, and students like this represent an effort to undermine the system from within.

    Fortune has nothing to do with it. While it’s clearly possible for a fundamentalist to finish their doctorate in a field of science, I have absolutely no fear that that will become common. There is a reason science departments have some of the highest concentration of atheists and rationalists in our society, despite the fact that they don’t teach atheism or require it. That is simply a side effect of the kind of critical thinking that is encouraged, and of the kind of interest that leads people to study science. Fundamentalist belief will continue to be rare in our halls, not because we make rules against it, but because of the inherent tension between it and science. And not just science. Fundamentalism is dumb. Any process that winnows for smart people will end up working against fundamentalist belief.

    Yes, obviously, psychology is not so simple that such filters are perfect. People are complex. Smart people can believe dumb things. But the pathological cases don’t change the trend. Fifty years from now, science departments will still have a paucity of fundamentalists, and Liberty University, if it survives and retains its ideological nature, will still be the laughing stock for scientists looking for faculty positions.

  209. #209 Blake Stacey
    February 13, 2007

    Russell speaks wisdom.

  210. #210 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    Hey Russell, you never explained where you came up with your inane garbage upthread. Remember, you wrote: “a large part of what gives science the credibility it has … is that science departments don’t institutionalize a belief system.”

    That’s a giant steaming pile of bullcrap. But you never retracted it. What’s the deal, Russell? Obviously you have lots of time on your hands. Take some time to retract some of the spewage that leaks out.

  211. #211 dr x
    February 13, 2007

    The publicity around this fool is a good thing. When his phony ass turns up as a ‘geoscientist’ representing ‘creationism’ as science in Buttnose, Kansas someday, his identity as a shameless fraud will be known. He won’t be able to say he changed his mind based on the evidence because he’s admitted that he had his mind made up before he ever cracked a book to earn his PhD.

    I always wondered how sham science departments at schools like Liberty University staffed their biology departments. In a country of 300 million, odds are it isn’t that hard to find a lying fraud for whom no evil is too great to commit in the name of JeHeesus.

    I wonder if they paid this turd to get the degree.

  212. #212 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    So, consider the organizations in our society that do institutionalize a belief system. Seminaries, admittedly, some more than others. The Discovery Institute. The science departments at Liberty University. For science research, one also can look back in history where this was done, e.g., Lysenkoism. How much stock do you put in the research that comes from such institutions, especially where it concerns their official beliefs? If all of our science departments institutionalized a belief, what would you expect of the research reported in that area?

    The fundamentalists pretend that biology departments have made evolution a doctrine, rather than surfaced it as a broadly supported conclusion, because they know if that were the case, it would taint how biological research is viewed. They desperately want to see science and religion as equivalent. That’s why they spew all that horseshit about “paradigms.” But it’s not so. And one of the important ways it’s not so is that scientific theories aren’t institutionalized belief systems. The beginning of biology is the field and the sea, not acceptance of some doctrine. The study of biology yields some conclusions, but I hope they never become definitional or doctrinal.

    Instead of clueless, could I at least be a loon? That would at least give me some hope to upgrade my status to heron.

  213. #213 Nick (Matzke)
    February 13, 2007

    We have no way to police that if a student simply lies through every step of his training, and puts up a facade in which he parrots everything he’s supposed to say. This guy was openly advocating creationist crapola throughout his tenure at URI. Why wasn’t he grilled on it?

    This is an important issue that people are missing. Marcus Ross didn’t just tell people, “My personal religious beliefs make me a YEC.” He went to various meetings — both creationist and mainstream — and presented creationist papers and posters.

    Since this was part of his professional activity while in the graduate program, I think it would have been entirely legitimate for his committee to bring it up and criticize it before or during his examination. (OTOH there may be some rule that says the degree is based solely on what’s in the thesis, in which case maybe not.)

    Since presumably Ross would have no good scientific answers to the questions, on that basis the committee might think twice about granting the degree, and would be completely within their rights to do so. OTOH they were probably also within their rights to grant the degree, and take whatever criticism comes their way. We can be pretty sure they know more about the details of the situation and have discussed it far more extensively than we have.

    If you search technorati you will see some people close to URI discussing it — evidently Ross was previously in a different university but found that a significant proportion of that department was adamantly opposed to granting a PhD to a YEC.

    The people who might have the most reason to be annoyed are the other geosciences PhD students at URI. Imagine the conversation with a hiring committee: “No, I’m not the creationist from URI written up in the New York Times.” “I swear the geosciences faculty that gave me my degree aren’t crazy.” Etc.

  214. #214 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “So, consider the organizations in our society that do institutionalize a belief system.”

    Consider your stupid strawman erected and toppled several times now, Russell. So you refuse to retract your bizarre statement about what gives science credibility? Just say so, Russell, instead of pretending to address your inarticulate muckymuck while creating more of the same.

  215. #215 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “The study of biology yields some conclusions, but I hope they never become definitional”

    What a stupid thing to say. You’re too late, Russell. Many conclusions have become definitional. So what? Who cares? There’s nothing unscientific about that.

  216. #216 dogscratcher
    February 13, 2007

    PZ, maybe you should go get yourself one of those divinity degrees. Then the wankers can’t complain about your poor “theology.”

  217. #217 mtraven
    February 13, 2007

    I posted this on telic thoughts, who knows if it will show up:

    This is stupid. Methodological naturalism means doing science without invoking supernatural entities or explanations. It doesn’t mean that you can can keep two versions of the facts in your head. YEC is counter to the facts of nature, whereas other kinds of religious beliefs (Deism for instance) are compatible with it. What’s so hard to understand about that?

    Maybe somebody here can explain to me what the hell methodological naturalism has to do with this case, cause it is beyond me.

  218. #218 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?

  219. #219 mds
    February 13, 2007

    Now, what information is it that you think I should insist he include in his work? His baseless suspicions?

    Does Dr. Ross really consider his honest views of the age of the earth to be baseless suspicion? He created a dissertation that contained statements he considers objectively false. Meanwhile, he made outside presentations asserting the scientific correctness of YEC. Do you think he and the entire creationist crowd would be completely happy with “teaching the controversy” if it were required that ID and YEC be labeled “baseless suspicion” by the teacher? Because I don’t really have a problem with equal time if creationism has to be called “completely baseless” or “unsupported by any data.”

    Oddly, I continue to argue with someone who apparently believes that scientific research is no different from writing a novel, or is conducted in the same realm as medieval theology. I took my doctoral work seriously; I signed my name to my dissertation paperwork; I honestly defended my conclusions. If only I had known that I could have written a dissertation that I believed to be a complete fabrication, and given a public talk presenting material I thought was false, as long as it contained what my committee wanted to hear. Because being asked, “Do you stand by your findings?” during a committee meeting or final examination is apparently beyond the pale.

  220. #220 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “What objective methods do you propose to reject a qualified candidate based on their philosophy?”

    Maybe you just can’t read. That would explain a lot.

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

    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.

  221. #221 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    @gg:

    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?

  222. #222 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.

  223. #223 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.

  224. #224 Madam Pomfrey
    February 13, 2007

    “As has been pointed out by others, there is no such thing as a ‘code of ethics’ or ‘oath of office’ for scientists, as there is for doctors and lawyers.”

    Yes, and there is also no licensure for scientists per se, as there is for medical doctors, pharmacists, professional engineers (PEs), etc. (Maybe there should be, but that’s another discussion entirely.) Rather than a theology student professing atheism, this Ross guy is more like a medical doctor specializing in infectious disease who privately believes bacteria don’t exist, and goes through a regular med school doing microbiology experiments during the day and giving talks at night saying there’s no such thing as a virus and that evil spirits cause disease. Let’s call him Doctor X. After graduating (in this case it would be hard to believe that the medical faculty wouldn’t have noticed his extreme level of cognitive dissonance), Dr. X takes a clinical faculty position at the Woo Institute of Spiritual Medicine and sets about attempting to cure pneumonia by shaking a tambourine over his patients (while teaching his students that there are no such things as germs). The board of medicine in the state where Woo Institute is located finds out what he’s been doing and revokes his medical license for flagrant ethics violations as well as practicing pseudoscience. He can no longer legally practice medicine and is relegated to giving tambourine talks, at which he proudly displays his M.D. diploma as evidence that he knows what he’s talking about.

    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. Yes, a research PhD has a different focus from a clinical MD or PharmD, but the ethics demanded by the practice of science should not be weaker or fuzzier just because the state doesn’t license scientists, or because the degree contains the word “philosophy.”

  225. #225 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?

  226. #226 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

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

    One of the best in the country. It’s Dr. Great White Wonder to you, asswipe.

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

    Irrelevant.

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

    Does your grad contract address whether the sky is blue? If you were in a meteorology program and you started telling everyone that the sky is lime green every day, is it “subjective” for someone to take you aside and give you a dose of reality vis a vis your Ph.D.?

    Point being there is nothing subjective about what my proposal. Nothing at all. It’s only subjective if you want to pretend that creationists aren’t anti-scientific fundies or if you want to pretend that fundie shitspeech can’t be criticized or if you want to pretend that fundies who engage in shitspeech can’t have their degrees revoked or denounced by the granting universities.

    So which is it? What is your problem exactly? Why must fundie shitspeakers be protected from attacks by scientists? What are you afraid of, exactly? Be very specific.

  227. #227 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “Surely most here can immediate recognize how that can be abused?”

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

    Be specific.

  228. #228 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2007

    Irrelevant.

    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.

  229. #229 Russell
    February 13, 2007

    mds writes:

    Does Dr. Ross really consider his honest views of the age of the earth to be baseless suspicion? He created a dissertation that contained statements he considers objectively false.

    I don’t know how Dr. Ross holds his religious views, or what rhetorical walls he constructs around them. I have put some effort above into criticizing what I think would be a mistake, approaching science as if it were a credal system, or requiring statements of belief from students. That said, I will say if a graduate student is teaching as science something that he cannot back up as science, that is an academic flaw. To go back to my example, if the physics student doubts GR, that’s one thing. If the student latches onto some crank alternative that he cannot defend, that is something else. The religious tend to guard their beliefs from this treatment by calling it out as religious, appealing either to faith or segregating it as a different “paradigm.” I’m not sure there’s much to be done about that in this context. It’s bullshit, but if they maintain their rhetorical walls, it’s philosophical bullshit, not scientific bullshit.

    I continue to argue with someone who apparently believes that scientific research is no different from writing a novel, or is conducted in the same realm as medieval theology.

    Not at all. I think they are quite different. The medieval theologian works on much more fixed ground than the scientist. The vulgate Bible is much the same today as it was when Thomas Aquinas wrote. No new data or theories will shake a belief that is not susceptible to such issues. I full well expect Christians will be reading Paul and Augustine a 1,000 years hence, and will take their views as seriously and authoritatively then as they do today. In contrast, I would not venture to guess what physics will be like in a 1,000 years. Or biology. What I do expect is that there will be huge change, of sorts that we can only speculate now. Theologians tie themselves to a fixed and fantasized firmament. Unlike theologians, scientists make real advance in knowledge. But work in a muddy river.

  230. #230 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.

    Quoted:

    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.

  231. #231 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.

    Quoted:

    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.

  232. #232 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “It’s the only really relevant thing. any university simply cannot act on subjective grounds, otherwise they open themeselves up to lawsuits”

    On what grounds could this character sue a university which issued a statement saying that they denounce his anti-scientific agenda and revoke his Ph.D. as improvidently granted?

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

  233. #233 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “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 ”

    What the hell is “subjectively smearing” and what does that have to do with this Rhode Island admittedly creationist dipshit?

    You insist on erecting stupid strawmen. Stop it.

  234. #234 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “You’re an idiot to think that it wouldn’t happen, as it has happened, many times,”

    It’s happened many times already? So then the “system” you are so afraid of is already set up.

    How frightened you must be.

  235. #235 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.

  236. #236 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

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

    LOL, coming from a paranoiac like yourself.

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

  237. #237 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “”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”

    Oops! It’s not arbitrary. Not at all. Remember, it’s a science department, not an ANTI-SCIENCE department.

    Go back to square one. Find a better lawyer.

  238. #238 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?

  239. #239 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

    “in violation of my free speech rights.”

    The right to put Ph.D. after your name and not have anyone question whether those letter are appropriately placed there is not protected by the First Amendment.

    Sorry, man.

  240. #240 L
    February 13, 2007

    I’d say this says much more about the institution that awarded the degree (URI) than it does about the person who got it.

    There are undoubtedly lots of cases of people going through the motions to get credentialed. I would bet that the medical profession has its fair share of such people.

    It may not be any accident that this person chose University of RI. Perhaps he knew of someone with similar beliefs who had also gotten a degree there. I suspect that his professors probably were also aware of his beliefs and chose to look the other way.

    If anyone should have their credentials revoked, it is his thesis advisor — and the school that gave him the degree should have their accreditation revoked.

  241. #241 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2007

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

    LOL!!!!! You have no idea how funny that question is.

  242. #242 John B
    February 13, 2007

    Can a biologist explain this Ross’ involvment in this paper:

    PROBLEMS WITH CHARACTERIZING THEPROTOSTOME-DEUTEROSTOME ANCESTOR
    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?id=146

    It seems like the paper is making a kind of mysterian point. Is that correct? The technical bits are beyond me.

  243. #243 Anton Mates
    February 13, 2007

    This is an important issue that people are missing. Marcus Ross didn’t just tell people, “My personal religious beliefs make me a YEC.” He went to various meetings — both creationist and mainstream — and presented creationist papers and posters.

    Yes, that’s rather different. Apparently he thought there was some evidence for YEC within the “scientific paradigm,” contrary to his other public statements, and he should have been questioned on that by his committee.

  244. #244 Anton Mates
    February 13, 2007

    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.

    Actually, Miller’s quite explicit on evolution being unguided. His god fits in the gaps in history, making itself known though the miracles described in the Bible.

  245. #245 Dr. J
    February 14, 2007

    I can’t wait for a true scientist to infiltrate Liberty University and sneak in some “old earth” ideals when teaching classes. That would make for some interesting news as well. Any takers?

  246. #246 Great White Wonder
    February 14, 2007

    “I can’t wait for a true scientist to infiltrate Liberty University and sneak in some “old earth” ideals when teaching classes. That would make for some interesting news as well. Any takers?”

    There is our mole at the ——— … but (h)(s)e is busy at the moment …

  247. #247 windy
    February 14, 2007

    Can a biologist explain this Ross’ involvment in this paper:
    PROBLEMS WITH CHARACTERIZING THE PROTOSTOME-DEUTEROSTOME ANCESTOR

    I can’t explain it, I don’t see much *geologist* involvement in that paper 🙂

    But the paper has been discussed on Pharyngula:

    http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/sdb_2004_the_discovery_institutes_disciple/

  248. #248 windy
    February 14, 2007

    I’ll just pick one funny bit from the proto-deutero “paper”:

    The more realistic this common ancestor becomes, as a functioning organism within a population of other such organisms, the more it will tend to “pull” (in its characters, both developmental and anatomical) towards one or another of the known bilaterian groups. As this happens, and the organism loses its descriptive generality, it will cease to be a good candidate Urbilaterian.

    WTF? Substitute “last common ancestor of humans and chimps” to that argument – when we learn more about that ancestor, does it lose its “descriptive generality” as well? Will it cease to be a good candidate ancestor then? WTF??

  249. #249 John B
    February 14, 2007

    I can’t explain it, I don’t see much *geologist* involvement in that paper 🙂
    But the paper has been discussed on Pharyngula:

    Thanks. I figured there wasn’t much to it, but I don’t know enough about the topic to critique the central claim, such as it is.

    It seems Dr. Ross is not using his degree for anything substantive, I read another paper of his about differentiating between young earth belief and intelligent design, it was a brief 6 pages and pretty useless, though he made some attempt to have scientific-looking charts.

    On the issue of ‘using a different paradigm’ raised in the article, that isn’t necessarily bullshit. Thomas Kuhn developed this idea of paradigm shift as a model for large-scale progress in scientific theories. I can see someone perhaps proposing and defending some radical new theory about the history of the planet, trying to promote a new ‘paradigm’ for scientific work. The difference being that these new theories must explain some element of the physical evidence better than anything in the established worldview. Think about the trouble with the ‘continental drift’ idea (the best i can think of in the geosciences category).

    Anyway, I don’t see Ross as a modern-day Wegener. I don’t think Kuhn was trying to supply a justification for people to retreat to biblical authority, or to treat that sort of authority as equivalent to a scientific approach when dealing with a question of pure physical history.

    I wonder if Ross’ creationist friends have considered the possiblility that he doesn’t really believe the young earth thesis, but is just whoring himself out for guaranteed income and probably tenure in their institution. I don’t know what the employment opportunities are like for someone with a geoscience degree, but I’m sure Ross will be in demand with people desperate for a reason to resist the scientific story of our origins.

    Part of the problem with traitors/liars is that you can’t be sure they aren’t trying to fool you in precisely the same way they fooled your opponents. This guy is obviously prepared to tell people whatever they want to hear for the sake of his personal advancement.

  250. #250 rrt
    February 14, 2007

    Windy: I’m pretty sure that your excerpted paragraph is trying to claim that the more you learn about a hypothetical Urbilaterian, the more it will prove not to actually be one at all, but in fact a protostome or deuterostome. It’s a little difficult for me to figure out where they’re going with that claim. It’s either saying that there actually is no such common ancestor and they’ve been separate groups since “creation,” or that you can’t find the common ancestor because there was a lot of Intelligent Designer “poofing” going on at the time. Either it’s a confused argument with hints of YEC mixed in, or I just plain don’t get it (quite possible.)

  251. #251 John B
    February 14, 2007

    The part I don’t get about the paper is why the common ancestor needs to have some intermediate phenotype. The point they seem to be making is that you can’t be half and half … or ‘mildly bilateran’ as it were. I’m just not sure why all the development needs to be expressed in phenotypic stages from uni- to bilateran. As someone mentioned above there are alot of organisms with common ancestors that don’t exhibit a half-and-half chimerical appearance.

  252. #252 windy
    February 14, 2007

    It’s either saying that there actually is no such common ancestor and they’ve been separate groups since “creation,”…

    It’s probably this, but they had to write it in code since it was originally a poster at a *real* developmental biology meeting.

  253. #253 Albatrossity
    February 14, 2007

    Steve Case is quoted in the NYT article as saying that it would be wrong to “censor someone for a belief system as long as it does not affect their work. Science is an open enterprise to anyone who practices it.”

    True enough. But the religionists don’t reciprocate. Try getting a job at BYU if you aren’t Mormon. Try getting a job at Liberty U or Bob Jones U if you are not a YEC. I’m not saying that a lot of folks would want those jobs, but it is true nonetheless that folks are being discriminated against because of their belief systems, and I imagine that it would certainly “affect their work” if they took a job at Liberty and tried to do mainstream evolutionary biology…

  254. #254 Dr X
    February 14, 2007

    Considering the future professional contributions of doctoral students is a legitimate consideration for admissions committees. Education is a product for some people. For others, education is intimately bound to a passionate commitment to the search for truth.

    In my field, clinical psychology, graduate programs do look at the question of what one intends to do with their doctorate in consideration for the admission to a doctoral program.

    Clinical Psychology PhD programs typically look for students whose interests are primarily in research, but historically many applicants have entered clinical programs in pursuit of non-research clinical careers. The concern among many clinical researchers has been that students will simply not have the personal investment in the research process if they are interested primarily in clinical work. There is also a concern that the field will not have enough high quality, committed researchers who support the discipline as a whole. All sorts of efforts go toward smoking out those who are uninterested in pursuing academic and research careers and all sorts of tricks have been used to mislead admissions committees about intentions.

    To address this tension, many doctoral programs designed specifically for clinically focused doctoral students have emerged, sometimes as free standing programs and sometimes standing side-by-side with more traditionally research heavy programs within the same institution. The doctoral education in these clinically-focused programs has been more frequently equated with a product, but I see nothing wrong with clinically focused programs so long as clinical work is not intended or used to destroy the standards of the academic discipline.

    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. Undergraduate programs are not necessarily training those who will carry the field forward, but that is usually the aim and assumption in research-oriented doctoral programs.

    I have my suspicions that the URI geosciences department wimped-out on their responsibility out of fear of the bullying tactics of knuckle-dragging Christianists who would howl over a ‘qualified’ student being denied admission over his religious beliefs. These arguments would fly with a public that is largely ignorant when it comes to science, research and academia. Those who view graduate school strictly as a product and those who think integrity is for sale would also buy into this argument.

    Those of us who believe that integrity is essential to the scientific endeavor are not persuaded in the least by the bellowing of men like Jerry Falwell, who incidentally holds a degree from a school that was not even accredited until 45 years after he graduated. Falwell also uses the title of doctor based upon having been awarded several honorary doctorates (Falwell’s bogus education).

    And, Ross, is now an ‘assistant professor’ at Falwell’s institution — hardly what I would call a contribution to the field of paleontology.

  255. #255 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.

  256. #256 dr x
    February 15, 2007

    …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.

    First of all, the fact that I didn’t provide and operational definition of ‘future contributions’ doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Significant research contributions in my field would consist of conducting and publishing ongoing, peer-reviewed research.

    That said, applicant selection is an extraordinarily complex process and your notion of completely objective (do you mean operationalized?)criteria and outcomes represents a gross oversimplification of how selection works. 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.

    While objective criteria, including expectations for future accomplishment are important, if you rule out subjective determinations in making applicant appraisals you will likely rule out individuals who can make important contributions that fall outside a limited set of pre-existing parameters. By the same token, an individual may meet the pre-existing ‘objective’ criteria for admission but present special problems not anticipated by the pre-existing standards. At times, both of these situations will be apparent when an admissions committee or prospective employer looks at an applicant.

    There will always be ‘hard’ cases. This is not a hard case. The man doesn’t believe that the methods or standards for the discipline he is taking up are valid. It is beyond obdurate to imagine that he will make contributions to his field based upon any standard that is credible in the eyes of his scientific peers. And if it is fairness you are concerned about, a mercenary sense of fairness is not fairness at all.

  257. #257 darwin's trapezium
    February 17, 2007

    “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.”

    What a silly argument.

    Do students of theology have to believe in god? How about students of comparative religion? Do students doing work on MWI in quantum theory have to believe in alternate worlds, even if they disagree in MWI in principle?

    Presumably one can be versed in religion/MWI and YET not believe in any of it?

    This thought policing is almost Orwellian. I’m an atheist and an anti-creationist, but even I regard this overt politicization of science from zealots like PZ Myers as utterly misguided.

  258. #258 Steve_C
    February 17, 2007

    Because Theology and Biology or Archeology is the same thing right?

    So you can get a degree in Archeology and believe the world is only 10,000 years old with out lying?

  259. #259 PZ Myers
    February 17, 2007

    I’m an atheist and an anti-creationist

    Yeah, like that matters. I smell a concern troll.

    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.

  260. #260 Caledonian
    February 17, 2007

    Making bad, incompetent arguments against Creationism, Young-Earthism, and Theism is also a bad thing.

  261. #261 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.

    PZ:

    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.

  262. #262 tgibbs
    February 18, 2007

    I think that it would be wholly inappropriate for a dissertation committee to question a student regarding his beliefs–science is about evidence and hypothesis, not belief. If I were the committee chair, I most certainly would not permit any such line of questioning.

    It seems to me that the ability to do good science is completely separate from belief. There is no reason why a scientist cannot reason in an IF…THEN manner, just as a mathematician does: “If these premises are true, then this evidence supports this hypothesis” without necessarily believing in the premises. Indeed, we do this all the time when we reason from multiple mutually incompatible hypotheses to figure out what they predict, in order to figure out what kind of experiments we must do to distinguish among them.

  263. #263 darwin's trapezium
    February 18, 2007

    “Yeah, like that matters. I smell a concern troll.”

    Actually it does: to pre-empt knee-jerk morons like you from accusing me of being a creationist/stealth-anti-evolutionist. Predictably, now that it has been pre-empted, you blabber something about “concern trolling”. Pity.

    “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.”

    So? He’s not doing work on a creationist earth. He’s doing work in geology. Who cares what delusional fantasies he harbours in private. It’s as point-missing as denying Newton a PhD for his occultism and religious beliefs!

    But this is the best part. On the one hand you claim this isn’t about what Ross believes, yet in the same breath you claim that he has “no arguments” for his belief in a 6000 year old earth. Contradict yourself much?

    Tellingly, science has been politicized to such an extent that when one criticizes the silliness of your position–EVEN WHEN HE’S OSTENSIBLY ON YOUR SIDE–he is quickly demonized as a “concern troll”; reason and logic jettisoned. Before dogmatically lashing out again, take a moment to think about why you contradicted yourself and how you reacted so predictably. Amaze us all.

  264. #264 darwin's trapezium
    February 18, 2007

    I just looked up “concern troll”. Apparently, I’m someone who doesn’t really believe in evolution, I’m really a stealth creationist! What utter bollocks. As someone who grew up debating christains and creationists and feeling a visceral contempt for pious creationist drivel, I can’t help but resent the insinuation. It’s almost like the inquisition here: I must profess my utter fidelity to the anti-creationist cause (by not questioning the dubious reasoning of one PZ Myers, self anointed evolution warrior) or else face summary judgement if gets a whiff of a suspicion that I’m wavering.

    Execrable reaction from a biologist who should know better.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.