Posuer Provocateurs: Intelligent Design’s unimpressive “underground railroad”

With the marketing campaign for the anti-evolutionary film Expelled! ramping up, it seems like the Intelligent Design movement is well prepared for its next big PR campaign: whiny, content-free victimhood. While I, among others, missed it when it was first announced in July, the Intelligent Design Undergraduate Research Center (IDURC)’s new Casey Luskin Graduate Award is now one of my favorite entries in this category.

Others have already deftly skewered the sheer absurdity of the award itself, where even the top prize is just a Behe book, a couple of ten dollar bills, and a certificate sure to be chiefly composed of clip-art. But the real point of the award seems to be the on-message persecution posturing: aside from Luskin’s honorary patting of himself on the back, the winners are all being kept dramatically anonymous, “for the protection of the recipient.” In fact, it’s worth quoting the litany of laughable fears in full:

The many students, professors, and scientists who have been denied degrees or tenure, and removed from positions and jobs for no other reason than acceptance of—or even sympathy to—intelligent design theory is very telling of the importance of keeping these bright young minds out of the crosshairs of those opposed to open-minded investigation and critical thought.

Oh, the phony humanity! Of course, this hushed air of secrecy is even more ridiculous in light of the fact that the mystery first-place recipient was so easy to figure out. Given the list of majors, it was almost certainly IDEA Club President Hannah Maxson, a Cornell University graduate already closely involved with the folks at IDURC (making the award even more incestuous). Worse, the fact that Ms. Maxson is already a very public and unabashed ID advocate makes this little vaudeville act about protective anonymity even more ridiculous. That said, I do hope she’s enjoying the book she almost certainly already owned, the two nights worth of bar tabs, and especially the super-duper secret club certificate she can’t show to anyone for fear of unbrightening her young mind. Luckily, next year’s likely winner, IDURC director Sam Chen, now has plenty of time to think up some better prizes to award himself.

Of course, where there are winners, there are also losers. Amongst Intelligent Design creationists who have no chance of winning this prestigious award is Rich Scott, who was profiled in Newsweek a while back. What horrors of oppression did Mr. Scott report?

Scott, despite his initial fears, found no such discrimination in any of West Chester’s science departments. Once his professors found out that he believed in intelligent design, they strove to help him find ways to write his papers without sacrificing either scientific knowledge or his personal beliefs. “They were very impressed that I was willing to take a stand and they helped me a lot.”

Ooooo, that’s not quite the answer IDURC was looking for. Too bad Mr. Scott, maybe you can learn to stay on message next time.

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16 Responses to Posuer Provocateurs: Intelligent Design’s unimpressive “underground railroad”

  1. BK says:

    So, if it’s all just a hoax, how do you explain astrobiologist Guillermo Gonzalez, who was denied tenure at Iowa State University? It certainly couldn’t have been the result of a lack of qualifications. According to Evolution News and Views: “Dr. Gonzalez is a world-renowned astrobiologist and assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University. He has written nearly 70 refereed papers and is the co-discoverer of the Galactic Habitable Zone, which led to a cover story he co-authored in Scientific American and feature stories on Dr. Gonzalez in Science and Nature.” Yet, he was mysteriously denied tenure. No explanation has been forthcoming and even Wired Science, which is no friend to the ID movment, acknowledges that his denial of teunre was probably due to his support of ID and “a shame.”

    Just curious.

  2. Bad says:

    I actually linked a bit about the Gonzalez case up there, though not clearly identified as such.

    To summarize:

    -tenure is not a given for anyone: I’ve seen fantastic professors denied tenure. Most prospective professors do not get tenure.
    -Gonzalez’s publishing record looks good on the surface, but is actually quite hollow: the vast bulk of the papers you cite were not done under the auspices of his time at Iowa State, which are generally the only things relevant to tenure review. He also has very few substantive articles on which he was the primary author.
    -he doesn’t seem to have brought in ANY research grant money (which is perhaps THE biggest deal to a university looking for a long-term relationship), aside from a book and film deal, both aimed at the public.
    -None of the graduates who were underneath him at ISU advanced to the PhD. level during his time there

    In short, even completely forgetting the issue of ID, there are lots of legitimate grounds to see why a university would feel that he wasn’t producing the sorts of things make tenure profitable: it’s one thing to be prolific as a postdoc, where you are often under other people’s research umbrellas. It’s quite another to show that you can continue to produce new work and projects independently. A failure to secure any major grants in all that time is a huge red flag all on its own.

    But I guess it’s pretty easy for Evolution News and Views to claim that the decision was “mysterious” if they simply don’t mention any of this information. And did they really claim that “no explanation was forthcoming”? That seems highly misleading as well: the Iowa wrote Gonzalez the usual official letter detailing their review process (and these letters are always confidential, because the review boards don’t want to hurt the careers of people they reject by publicly pointing out their faults). If he wanted to, Gonzalez could publicize the letter. I’m not aware of him having done so. Given that, the supposed air of “mystery” around his failure to get tenure looks a little stale.

    Could his support of ID have been a significant factor? You’re right that we don’t really know for sure: but then, we largely don’t know because Gonzalez hasn’t released the letter explaining the board’s reasons, so whose fault is that?. The mere fact that other people at the university have criticized him for his ID views is not evidence that he was discriminated against: arguing that ID is not legitimate science is, well, legitimate. Nor are all the ways in which someone’s career in ID could play into judgments about their scholarship illegitimate: if for instance, the board felt that his publication efforts had “tapered off” because he had been and probably would be spending time being a celebrity in the ID movement, isn’t that legitimate? That’s the sort of thing that got Cornell West in trouble at Harvard, for instance.

    Finally, is Gonzalez really even the big co-point man on GHZ ideas, as presented, and is that really even a big new idea unique to him? No: the issue of habitable areas in the universe is a rather old subject on which new research and suggestions come out all the time. Here, for instance, is an article on it that doesn’t even mention him. Here’s an entry from an online encyclopedia of astrobiology about habitable zones that also doesn’t mention him or his research, and yet cites plenty of research on habitable areas in the universe that date back before his work. There’s also the issue of the GHZ still being mostly conjecture at least as it regards to the details of potential life: there lots of ongoing new developments and criticisms that make any one suggestion of a particular GHZ quickly obsolete.

    Now, this is not to say that he hasn’t made important contributions to the work in this area, but presenting it as some sort of grand new theory is to yank it quite out of the context of the larger research areas it is an ongoing part of.

    Separate from all this, of course, is the issue of whether promising to spend lots of time on ID really is an appropriate way to judge a scholar in any case. Unless ID proponents can come up with a research program related to their claims, it’s still not clear why ID should be taken seriously in, well, scientific research positions as opposed to philosophy positions. What’s the lab work going to be? Can anyone explain that? Isn’t that important to work about before complaining that no one will sponsor it?

    Furthermore, what if the arguments being made by this or that ID proponent really are deceptive and grossly misrepresentative as seemingly the majority of their colleagues allege? Isn’t it possible that there are places and times where ID proponents engage in actual academic misconduct, just as many scientists and academics in other fields are, and are hurt by this? If true, don’t people have the right to think less of them as scholars for it?

    If anything, what’s surprising is that even when ID proponents do do things like this, they still don’t seem to get the sort of “oppression” that the movement is always screaming about. Sternberg, for instance, for all the hullabaloo, basically just got criticized a lot, and most of the criticism wasn’t even public until he publicized other people’s emails to each other. Nothing has changed insofar as his status that wasn’t already scheduled to happen (for instance, it was to be his last issue as editor in any case before he slipped the Meyer paper in). Arguably, what he did would have justified some sort of penalty in any other field or situation, and yet… pretty much nothing.

    The lesson is that just because you CAN spin and make all sorts of claims, doesn’t mean the spin is legitimate. Anyone can make a case for systematic persecution: that doesn’t make the case always a valid one. Sometimes, you’re just dealing with not only some drama queens, but some drama queens who are making so much noise as part of a rather savvy political strategy to gain extra attention and try to convince people that they are unheralded genius rebels, held down because of the jealousy of others.

  3. BK says:

    Well, I find Ed Brayton to be a dubious source at best.

    I agree that a professor need not be granted tenure, but the ISU guidelines for granting tenure give a basis for granting and denying tenure and the committee which oversees the granting of tenure are not free to ignore their own standards. What do these standards say? “The evaluation is based on the candidate’s record of teaching, service and scholarly research during the time of the candidate’s appointment at Iowa State, using standards and expectations set by the candidate’s faculty colleagues in his/her academic department. The review begins in the candidate’s academic department, where a recommendation on tenure and promotion is generated by a faculty vote. The process includes consideration of recommendations by reputable persons in the same area of study, but who are not at Iowa State.” Apparently, they had the vote and it was sent to the committee for review, so the question is whether his “record of teaching, service and scholarly research during the time of the candidate’s appointment at Iowa State” meet those requirements.

    According to the Trinity LawSchool blog, it did:

    “Gonzalez has some 350 percent more peer review articles then required by the ISU standard and from “2001 to 2007 [his articles] rank the highest among astronomers in his department according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists” . Indeed to add insult to injury, the very text book used by the university staff in the Astronomy department is co-authored by none other than Guillermo Gonzalez.”

    So, what evidence exists that the decision to deny tenure was based on his writing in favor of ID? Again, according to the Trinity Law School website, there was a petition started by an Hector Avalos of the school based on the fact that he had written in favor of ID.

    “. . . on the heels of the denial of tenure was a petition headed up by Hector Avalos the professor of religious studies and also an avowed atheist urging ““all faculty” at ISU to “uphold the integrity of our university” by “reject[ing] efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.”

    Additionally, at least one of the people who voted against his tenure admitted to doing so because he had written about ID.

    “Yet, the university still considered [the Privileged Planet] when discussing Gonzalez evaluation at the university; Professor John Hauptman, another department colleague, honestly admitted that he voted against Gonzalez because of The Privileged Planet… conceded that the rejected professor “is very creative, intelligent and knowledgeable, highly productive scientifically and an excellent teacher.””

    So, when you say that there isn’t evidence that he was discriminated against because of his ID views, I don’t think that is accurate.

    The talk about research grants is a red herring. It is not part of the basis for tenure that the University may rely upon according to its own stated standards. The notion that the majority of his writing may have been before he began to work at ISU may have some merit, but it appears that he still produced more at ISU than the standards required and his work was apparently good enough to be cited by other astronomers equally as much as most other articles written by other astronomers at the university.

    Moreover, do you really think that releasing the University’s reasoning would establish the cause of the denial? Certainly the University is going to state other reasons for the denial, but that doesn’t mean that those reasons are the real reasons for the denial. Consider that when other businesses give excuses for firing an employee where discrimination is alleged, the stated reasons for firing the employee would simply be seen as the business’ stated justification (which may, in fact, be true), but nothing more.

    And no, I (obviously) don’t think that the claims by the proponents of ID are as “deceptive and grossly misrepresentative” as their colleagues believe. Of course its possible that they engage in academic misconduct, but there is no evidence that they have done so that I have ever seen.

    Anyway, I think that you are being entirely too dismissive of this issue. I am sure you think I am being entirely too accepting. I think that time will tell which of us is right.

  4. Bad says:

    Well, I find Ed Brayton to be a dubious source at best.

    Why? Can you cite some reasons that show him to be a dubious source?

    In any case, he’s only reporting actual facts: facts that your source saw fit to simply not include in their breathless press releases.

    Your response also doesn’t really seem to respond to anything I said. I already noted why his publication history is not, in fact, as impressive as it seems, and you simply restated the “seems” part without covering the deeper analysis of when those papers were published, under what research program, and whether they were substantive papers with him as the primary author (most of them were not). Again, the articles in the comparison are not a relevant standard because the bulk of them come from before his position at ISU, after which his rate goes down.

    You cannot simply dismiss the issue of grants. It is part of the basis for ISU to consider (it may not be a requirement to try to get tenure, but it most certainly is a huge measure by which to show excellence). Again, tenure committees are looking for evidence that professors can provide for the university: that they can spearhead new initiatives and research projects. According to wikipedia, the average grant procurement for people getting tenure in his departments was 1.3 million dollars. Gonzalez’s best case scenario would be $22,661, but most wouldn’t even count that as it wasn’t for primary research but rather for a book aimed at a popular audience.

    Again, there is a substantial body of evidence that provides ample grounds for not giving him tenure. Nothing you or the EnaV site has said has done anything but try to spin or avoid those issues.

    Avalos’ petition was not to remove Gonzalez from the school or deny him tenure: it was to criticize his Intelligent Design claims, which many of his colleagues felt misrepresented science. That is well within the bounds of fighting ID.

    Your quote about Hauptman “admitting he voted” isn’t a quote at all, but instead a misleading interpretation by the Discovery Institute. Hauptman did say that Gonzalez’s work on his ID book factored into his decision, and indeed, in light of Gonzalez’s failure to secure grants and his lowering output, the fact that he spent his time working on that instead of making up for his grants is, again, a very legitimate factor to consider, not a discrimination based on simply not liking his views. If a university is looking at a person who a) promises to do work on claim that has so far presented no plausible research application for, and shows no sign of doing so b) instead of getting grants, spends lots of his time promoting and writing books on this claim, it is most certainly legitimate to consider this fact. Universities do not, as I noted, want to grant tenure to people whom they expect, by their recent track record and own tenure defenses, will neglect the schools financial and research interests in order to spend their time promoting ideas outside the academy. As I noted and I’m noting again, this complaint is of the same sort as the one against Cornell West, at Harvard, and just as legitimate. West was not criticized and ultimately let go because Harvard had some bias against spoken word albums and Tv appearances (which is what he was spending his time doing). It was because while he did those things, he wasn’t doing his job: producing research, advancing grad students to PhDs, bringing in grants and so forth.

    If, like Michael Behe, Gonzalez had spent his time at ISU producing lots of grant projects and new research directions, that would be one thing. If he had even proposed some actual research projects regarding Intelligent Design, even that might have at least been something. But he didn’t do any of that, and no amount of misleading statistics can obscure that reality.

    >And no, I (obviously) don’t think that the claims by the proponents of ID are as “deceptive and grossly misrepresentative” as their colleagues believe.

    Well, I do. From quote mining to gross misrepresentation of scientific work and indeed the basis of science, the honesty quotient from the ID camp is extremely low.

    I think that time will tell which of us is right.

    People only ever appeal to time when they run out of appeals to evidence and logic.

  5. [...] whales, and why Intelligent Design can’t get no respect A commenter expressed incredulity about my claim that ID proponents engage in deception and gross misrepresentations of [...]

  6. BK says:

    Well, when you say “Your response also doesn’t seem to respond to anything I said”, it shows that we really have nowhere to go. But I will add that I only appealed to time as a way of trying to be nice. You have simply chosen to back one side without proper warrant. That’s my view, anyway. Thanks for the conversation.

  7. Bad says:

    Well, when you say “Your response also doesn’t seem to respond to anything I said”, it shows that we really have nowhere to go.

    Shrug: I said that because you simply dismissed unavoidably crucial evidence (like grants) as unimportant, or restated the original claims that I’d already debunked. I’m not sure how else one would respond to that.

    And I’m not trying to back a side without warrant: I’m showing people the warrant, plain and simple, instead of the highly edited and misleading account given by En&V.

  8. Bad says:

    Just for historical reference, here is the Iowa state document that explains why Gonzalez’s appeal failed (remember, BK claimed that the denial was “mysterious” and that “no explanation was forthcoming” yet this appeal process had long ago already issued this press release)

    As I noted, it documents all sorts of reasons for why Gonzalez was not keeping up with his early promise. It also confirms that Gonzalez was given a far more detailed explanation (kept confidential for HIS BENEFIT). If he wants to continue to claim that the denial was not warranted on the facts, then he should release this document publicly so that everyone can evaluate the evidence. His refusal to do so can only be explained by the fact that the letter documents in detail plenty of legitimate reasons for the denial of tenure, and thus fatally undermines his claim that he was discriminated against just because he supports ID, or even more implausibly, as the film Expelled claims, just because he is a believer at all.

  9. [...] ID martyrs: he doesn’t even give a hint of the opposing view that these cases have been grossly misrepresented for PR purposes. As I noted in my first post on Expelled, focusing nearly exclusively on victim-hood is a very [...]

  10. [...] and “testing” stuff that makes science science. Playing the victim, particularly when the posture is often outright phony, still isn’t much of a substitute for having good arguments or evidence. Plenty of scientists [...]

  11. [...] Baylor’s Lariat covers ID wesbite controversy, proudly featured in “Expelled” For anyone who still thinks that Baylor Christian University asking a Professor Marks not to host his ID website on their servers unless he includes disclaimers about it not being an official Baylor project is the greatest intellectual crime against science since they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake, there’s a long article on the subject over at Baylor’s campus paper, the Lariat. Fair warning: it doesn’t really cast much additional light on this extremely vacuous controversy. It mostly paints the entire affair as a bunch of bureaucratic squabbles over grant procedures, personal irritation with finding Dembski sneaking back onto campus, and the university getting pissy that Marks was spending all his time on promoting ID instead of working in his contracted area of expertise (computer and electrical engineering) and producing deliverables for the department (sound familiar?). [...]

  12. [...] fellow, who presumably would face reprisal from rampaging Darwinist mobs were his identity known (Sam Chen, angling for his own hilarious award, perhaps?). “After all these guys are asking some pretty dangerous questions, suggesting that Darwinism [...]

  13. slpage says:

    It was interesting to note that in his response to your pointing out that Gonzales’ publications were all the result of his post-doc work and not original research during his probationary period that BK replies with some whining from a law firm about the number of publications he had. I could hear the Whooshing sound from here.

  14. [...] And what’s in there? After all this screaming and carrying on, not much. The picture remains pretty much as we left it: the vast majority of the problems raised with him were about his failure to thrive as an [...]

  15. [...] the position that these allegations are based on misrepresentations, exaggerations, and even some downright deliberate theater. If you narrate a boxing match by carefully neglecting to mention the blows of one of the athletes, [...]

  16. [...] existence of such a person and not, you know, reveal the name of the winner. That’s because, as I noted last year, the apparent true purpose of the award is to gain press off of the supposedly [...]

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