Pharyngula

The DI had their press conference. They unveiled their killer evidence, emails from his university colleagues obtained via a Freedom Of Information Act request. They revealed — oh, horrors! oh, tea and crumpets! oh, I feel a swoon coming on! — that his colleagues had discussed Gonzalez’s involvement with intelligent design in a negative way before the tenure decision was made.

The disclosure of the e-mails is contrary to what ISU officials emphasized after Gonzalez, an assistant professor in physics and astronomy, learned that his university colleagues had voted to deny his bid for tenure.

“I think Gonzalez should know that some of the faculty in his department are not going to count his ID work as a plus for tenure,” physics and astronomy professor Bruce Harmon wrote in an e-mail dated November 2005 – a year before the department voted on the tenure case.

“Quite the opposite,” Harmon added.

Uh, yeah? This is a surprise? Of course his colleagues would have been talking about his ID involvement. I’m sure my colleagues talk about my involvement with the creation-evolution wars, too; I’m willing to bet that, if a FOIA were served on my colleagues, there has been some private discussion about my militant atheism, too, and it hasn’t all been rah-rah hooray-for-him stuff, but mostly concerns about it’s affect on perception of the university. I expect that. Does Gonzalez really think he could publish a book that was billed as a scientific discussion of the “privileged planet” hypothesis, that he could go on media tours, that he could be a darling boy of one of the loudest anti-scientific institutions in the country, and that his fellow faculty would not discuss this, or express any reservations?

Amazing.

This is precisely what his colleagues are supposed to do: discuss concerns about his tenure case. There are yearly reviews where we professors get evaluated, and they discuss this kind of stuff at length. It’s also told to the subject: “You should be doing X to strengthen your case, you should be doing less of Y, which isn’t helping you.” Harmon’s comments are precisely the kind of legitimate criticism that should be discussed. The alternative is to lie to the candidate every step of the way and then sandbag him at the last step.

I can give a similar example from my own history. I was up for tenure at Temple University, and among the activities that I was best known for at that time was some software development: I’d written a rather elaborate piece of software for image processing and lab automation that was getting some attention in the developmental biology community, and I was traveling around a fair bit helping people do time-lapse and ratiometric imaging and that sort of thing. It was academic, and it was scholarly, but not of a type the department was familiar with, and my review files contained a mix of comments just like that — “Should his imaging work count for tenure?” And some said no, and others said yes. Do I consider the remarks before I went up for final tenure review that my software work was insufficiently biological a case of bias against me? No. It was fair warning of what some of my peers considered a strike against me (or in some cases, a plus), and I had the opportunity to shift my focus before the final decision.

Gonzalez was fully aware that he was engaging in extra-disciplinary activities that were not winning him friends. Of course, if he’d published a dozen papers a year and pulled in a few million dollars in grants, all work that is clearly recognized in tenure evaluations, it would have been evidence of productivity beyond his dubious activities, and there wouldn’t have been a problem.

In May, Eli Rosenberg, chairman of the ISU Department of Physics and Astronomy, told the Register that Gonzalez’s tenure denial was “not political” and that journalists were wrong to suggest that Gonzalez’s tenure review was based on anything other than his scientific qualifications.

Later that month, however, Rosenberg told World Magazine, a Christian publication, that Gonzalez’s book, called “The Privileged Planet,” played a role in the tenure decision-making process. But the book was not an overriding factor, Rosenberg added.

So where’s the conflict? His tenure denial was not political, but based on his scientific work; his ‘scientific’ work for the DI and on his book was judged inadequate, and uncompensated for by achievement in other areas, and so he was denied tenure. So far, all the DI has pulled up is evidence that the academic bureaucracy was working exactly as it always does in these cases.

The Panda’s Thumb has more on the Discovery Intitute’s misplaced hysterics. They don’t have a case.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    December 3, 2007

    mostly concerns about it’s affect

    This has to be intentional.

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    December 3, 2007

    My God, professors talk about issues relevant to their colleagues capacity to teach and do science? What other secrets have you been hiding from us, PZ?

    More seriously, I suppose they’re hoping (though they couldn’t have planned for it) that this will make the Comer case receive less attention.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  3. #3 MAJeff
    December 3, 2007

    Iowa State sending GG packing because he wasn’t doing any science makes me proud to be an alum.

  4. #4 David Wilford
    December 3, 2007

    IMNSHO, the Discovery Institute couldn’t care less about the actual merits of their case. All that matters to them is getting a story in the newspapers that includes their over-the-top accusations. If Prof. Gonzales himself has any integrity, he should go on the record now to defend the reputations of his colleges who denied him tenure, unless he’s craven enough to want such unfounded rumors spread about them.

  5. #5 Brian
    December 3, 2007

    Ooof….I just shuddered reading the “religious viewpoint” comment by James. But I’m pretty sure that there are Christian Science teachers that actually teach SCIENCE. And this case would be a Christian Science teacher teaching CHRISTIANITY, so I don’t think it would be discrimination.

    Geoffrey: I hadn’t even considered the impact that the Caucuses will have on this “issue”.

  6. #6 Moses
    December 3, 2007

    In May, Eli Rosenberg, chairman of the ISU Department of Physics and Astronomy, told the Register that Gonzalez’s tenure denial was “not political” and that journalists were wrong to suggest that Gonzalez’s tenure review was based on anything other than his scientific qualifications.

    Later that month, however, Rosenberg told World Magazine, a Christian publication, that Gonzalez’s book, called “The Privileged Planet,” played a role in the tenure decision-making process. But the book was not an overriding factor, Rosenberg added.

    I see the problem. The Discovery Institute is corrupted by its “political filter” through which EVERYTHING is viewed. Sadly, they’re clearly incapable of understanding that the inclusion of Gonzalez’s book wasn’t a ‘political’ smoking-gun.

    What he did was fail to “do science” and instead wrote a book on the origins of the universe based on a bronze-age religion. And since astronomy does have some “interest,” if you will, on origins of universe questions, I believe that reviewing “The Privileged Planet” was fair game, especially if he included it in his Curriculum Vitae.

    Now, if he wrote a book on interpreting ancient Phoenician religious doctrines, and he had a very strong academic resume, I’d be on his side in the “no tenure,” decision. But that’s not what he did. What he did was “little science” and a lot of “bronze age” religious apologetics that are at least somewhat related to what he did as a professor. And the price he paid was the natural and logical consequence for failing at his job while blandishing his superstitions.

  7. #7 G
    December 3, 2007

    Should have gone for a philosophy position, I hear you can get one of those anywhere, even from respectable organizations.

  8. #8 Kim
    December 3, 2007

    Whowwwaaaaa, how long is that pdf, five pages and with many summaries, and some cherry picked quotes. Ok, out of 33 pages of report, and how many 100’s of e-mails? If they have balls (I doubt it), they will publish everything. Or maybe ISU will be so smart of doing that.

  9. #9 Janine
    December 3, 2007

    Say, do you think we all could get a petition together condemning Temple for denying tenure to PZ? There is enough people here. I am sure we could give them a headache. But what could be the nail we hang all of this on?
    (I am sue most of the people reading knows I am kidding. But for those who cannot tell, ’tis a joke.)

  10. #10 Nan
    December 3, 2007

    “it’s affect”? A double blooper. Cool.

  11. #11 Scooty Puff Jr.
    December 3, 2007

    It seems the entire issue boils down to this: the ISU faculty said, “Intelligent Design isn’t science, so it doesn’t count favorably in your case for tenure.” Gonzalez and the Discovery Institute’s eloquent response is, essentially, “nuh uh. Is so.”

    This is no different from anything else the DI does. They might actually be crazy enough to believe that he was wrongly denied tenure because they actually believe this crap is science. If so, I feel very very sorry for them. They’ve repeated the lie so often even they have forgotten it was just a smokescreen for creationism.

    Either way, he’s just a pawn in their cdesign propontentists agenda to convince the nonscientific public that ID creationism is science.

  12. #12 gerald spezio
    December 3, 2007

    Lawyers and peeyar yuppies are already stirring up the muck so that you can’t see the bottom.

    This is lawyer-peeyar nation.

    Comes the LAWSUIT.

    It doesn’t matter, if it’s true or not.

    Tens of thousands of our fellow humans are marketing and lawyering as hard as they can to keep us mis-informed.

    But of course.

  13. #13 me
    December 3, 2007

    The end of the DI’s claims, which are PDF linked at Panda’s Thumb, it says that 3 of 10 outside reviewers recommended rejection. Naturally, the DI makes a big deal out of how ISU ignored 7 outside experts.

    At my institution, a single negative assessment by an outsider is the kiss of death. Even a lukewarm assessment can put some promotion packages on the critical list.

  14. #14 waldteufel
    December 3, 2007

    My guess is that because of all this bullshit with DI and public whining about losing out on tenure, Gonzalez’ career is down the tubes. He might as well just apply for a job at Bob Jones or Liberty, or Dembski’s little bible college . . .

    What reputable university would employ a known and guaranteed personnel problem.

  15. #15 fardels bear
    December 3, 2007

    I agree with the other commentators who explain the weight of outside letters in the tenure decision. 3 negative letters out of 10 is the kiss of death. A good friend of mine had 1 negative letter out of 10 and that was enough to deny tenure. 3 our of 10? Check the job ads and get packing.

  16. #16 Pablo
    December 3, 2007

    Moreover, we have to question the DI’s assessment of what constitutes a “negative letter.” The statement I saw above is that 3 recommended _denying_ tenure. What did the others say? For example, how do they interpret a letter saying, “There’s a case for tenure here, but it is not clear cut”? It doesn’t actually recommend denying tenure, but it should not be considered a positive, either. Their description that only three recommended denying tenure does not tell us that the others were actually favorable.

  17. #17 W. Kevin Vicklund
    December 3, 2007

    I call quote-mine!

    In a particularly damning e-mail, ISU Physicist John Hauptmann admitted to faculty member Hector Avalos that “principle [of freedom of inquiry] has been violated massively in the physics department“21 in its treatment of Dr. Gonzalez.

    That “21” you see is a footnote citation. What does the footnote say?

    21 John Hauptman, “Rights are Intact: Decision Rests on ‘What is Science?’,” Des Moines Register (June 2, 2007) (emphasis added).

    Um, DI, didn’t you claim that that was in an e-mail, not an op-ed? Oh, and if you actually read the op-ed being cited, Hauptman is taking Avalos (who is not in the department) to task for trying to unduly influence the department’s tenure decisions. Jason Rosenhouse has a good portion of the text of the op-ed in an early June posting.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    December 3, 2007

    as usual, Mr. Vicklund, your investigative skills are unparalleled, as noted ever since you started after Farfromsane’s commentary post Dover. You were a one-man wrecking crew.

    thanks for the head’s up.

    I think it’s high time you started a blog yourself!

  19. #19 Kristine
    December 3, 2007

    Dr. Grover Krantz of Washington State University was a Bigfoot believer all of his life. He believed that the hokey Patterson-Gimlin film (purportedly of a female Bigfoot filmed in 1967) was real and was even drawn into the controversy surrounding Kennewick Man. But apparently he was a capable anthropologist otherwise, and remained in academia until his death in 2002. So cry me a river, Gonzalez. You didn’t measure up, now get over it, or pretty soon no one is going to want to employ you in academia.

    BTW, a teaser for the John West lecture is now up at You Tube.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    December 3, 2007

    W. Kevin Vicklund:

    Your link was broken; I think this is the post in question.

  21. #21 Coin
    December 3, 2007

    five pages and with many summaries, and some cherry picked quotes. Ok, out of 33 pages of report, and how many 100’s of e-mails? If they have balls (I doubt it), they will publish everything

    Moreover, we have to question the DI’s assessment of what constitutes a “negative letter.”

    I am thinking that it would make a lot of sense from the perspective of science advocacy to file a duplicate of the open records request the Discovery institute filed, and make it all publicly available.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    December 3, 2007

    PZed, shouldn’t you have filed this under the previous post title: Point and Laugh?

    that could be said of just about anything ever posted here about the Disinformation Institute.

    it would be a thread a hundred pages long.

  23. #23 MAJeff
    December 3, 2007

    What’s the Des Moines Registrar doing reporting on this? You’d think they’d put all their resources into a more important story, namely tracking down even more of the guys who’ve had sex with Larry “Wide Stance” Craig.

    You do realize that Iowa and Idaho are completely distinct places, right?

  24. #24 Glen Davidson
    December 3, 2007

    [div class=”featuredquote”][em]”It’s (EXPELLED) going to appeal strongly to the religious, the paranoid, the conspiracy theorists, and the ignorant — which means they’re going to draw in about 90% of the American market.”[/em][/div]

    [div class=”featuredauthor”]-Atheist blogger and fabulist PZ Myers, on a film he has not yet seen.[/div]

    Just thought I’d put in the above, which is from Expelled‘s blog. It’s from the source code (chevrons traded out for brackets, so the server won’t get confused), since someone incompetently placed it so that the banner would block almost all of it.

    ‘Course, it’s taken out of context, which context was (IIRC) PZ commenting on the trailer these liars put out specifically to inform people about what the movie would cover. So I like their “description” of PZ as “fabulist” and discussing a movie he’s never seen. Sure, he’s seen enough to know that it’s a mangled combination of BS, paranoia, and pushing the buttons of the religiously deluded, because these dolts gave him precisely the information upon which he could express such an opinion.

    They are kind of fun, though, because they never even think to rise above the abysmal level of dishonesty and stupidity in which ID is based. I’m just sorry that nothing I wrote shows up on their “intelligent quote of the day”. Probably partly because they were too censorious to post some of it, partly because, unlike themselves, I actually supported my statements.

    Yes, it’s OT, but, as the Rolling Stones sang, “I like it.”

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  25. #25 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 3, 2007

    PZ:

    They don’t have a case.

    (In a strangled voice, as if trying to remain mild-mannered)

    No, of course they don’t. Though largely a bunch of lawyers, the DI are unusually chickenshit about actually seeking legal redress for their alleged grievances. But here’s a news flash: they aren’t interested in making a case: what they want to make is political hay that they can then feed to their fellow travelers, feeding their sense of outrage and paranoia against the ‘Darwinists’ and thereby eliciting more tax-deductible donations to their little enclave of professional liars for hire.

    Instead of debating the facts of their ‘case’ with them, why don’t we just try daring them to do something with their alleged ‘case’? All of us, let’s start calling their bluff! Let the scientific community, en masse, send Gonzales and his would-be supporters an open challenge: put up or shut up. Either go to the mat, and try to prove you’ve been somehow wronged, or shut the hell up.

    Somehow, I think double-dog daring them in public while repeatedly reminding all of the observers that the ones we are baiting are largely attorneys will be more effective than actual debating them. At this stage of the game, why dignify anything they have to say about either science or the arcana of the tenure process? Instead, mock them, taunt them, bait them for their lack of effectiveness at practicing law. Rub their noses in their own….

    Hmm. I seem to have gotten a blood transfusion from CalGeorge, or something. Now mainlining St. John’s wort….ah…that’s so much better.

  26. #26 RBH
    December 3, 2007

    I really wonder if Gonzalez knows how thoroughly he’s being screwed by the DI.

  27. #27 truth machine
    December 3, 2007

    “Gonzalez’s backers have insisted that he lost out on tenure, and will lose his job at the end of the school year, because of his religious beliefs and his advocacy for intelligent design.”

    But I thought his backers hold that ID isn’t religion? (And if they are referring to some other religious beliefs, what are they and where were they mentioned in connection with tenure?)

  28. #28 Bad
    December 3, 2007

    I believe that Intelligent Design will go down in history for one thing at least: the invention of a new logical fallacy: the reverse ad hominem.

    Hmm… I feel tempted to squeeze the word “Nelson” or “Suplex” into there somewhere for some reason…

  29. #29 Bobby
    December 3, 2007

    #18, #19
    Exactly

    How can this simple logic be so.completely.lost on them?

    It probably isn’t. Rather, they’re counting on it being lost on their followers.

  30. #30 Munch
    December 4, 2007

    “…Do I consider the remarks before I went up for final tenure review that my software work was insufficiently biological a case of bias against me? No. It was fair warning of what some of my peers considered a strike against me (or in some cases, a plus), and I had the opportunity to shift my focus before the final decision.

    Gonzalez was fully aware that he was engaging in extra-disciplinary activities that were not winning him friends. … ”
    In other words, the idea of taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, an idea many of Gonzalez’ wingnut supporters have no problems with in other contexts.

  31. #31 tenure dilemmas
    December 4, 2007

    its not even negative letters. I had one letter that said I was very good (not excellent), the others all said excellent, kept me from getting promoted that year (got it later thank goodness). Tenure only works (and i think it usually does) if the bar is set very high. remember this is establishing a one way permanent contract between the university and the professor. The professor can opt to leave, but the university is stuck with you.

  32. #32 Kseniya
    December 4, 2007

    Also, I was sure D’Souza’s degree was in Philosophy from somewhere…but Wikipedia doesn’t say.

    He graduated PBK from Dartmouth College, with a degree in English, in 1983.

  33. #33 MAJeff
    December 4, 2007

    He graduated PBK from Dartmouth College, with a degree in English, in 1983.

    Weren’t he and li’l Annie Coulter at the Dartmouth Review at the same time? I seem to recall them doing something like tape recording a gay student meeting and outing all of the students.

    These are not good people.

  34. #34 Kseniya
    December 5, 2007

    Jeff,

    I agree with your assessment of the character of the people involved, but your facts aren’t quite right, though I promise the truth won’t disappoint you.

    AFAIK:

    Coulter was never involved with the Dartmouth Review. She founded the Cornell version, and so had nothing to do with Dartmouth (though as you probably know, she did date D’Sousa at one time).

    The DR did publish a transcript of a covertly taped meeting of the gay student’s group at Dartmouth. It seem that nobody was outed by the ensuing article, for the only names mentioned were those of the group’s officers, which were already on public record.

    The person who pulled this stunt was an undergrad named Teresa Polenz. The College considered taking disciplinary action against her, but declined on the grounds that the college did not have “a clear and precise enough regulation under which to judge conduct of this kind.” Quite unexpectedly, however, the state attorney general decided to pursue a motion to prosecute her under a state wiretapping statute. The case was eventually dropped.

    It appears that this tacit legitimizing of the Polenz tactic opened the door for her ideological descendant and future Dartmouth Review editor Laura Ingraham, who pulled the same stunt on at least one occassion, and sent copies of the tapes to the parents of the participants.

    So as contemptible as Coulter is, her hands are clean on this particular charge. It’s D’Souza, Polenz, and Ingraham you want.

  35. #35 MAJeff
    December 5, 2007

    i knew much of the grouping (they are a little swarm, aren’t they…wingnut welfare is productive, I’ll say that for it) but had forgotten many of the details. Thank you.

    And to think, these fuckwits have the temerity to lecture the rest of the nation on ethics and morals.

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