Monday, October 20, 2008

Exposing ExpelledExposed: Part II. The Case of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez

(The author recommends that you read the Introduction to this series before reading this post. Matters merely alluded to here would be fully understood by reading the Introduction. Also, a few abbreviations are used in this article without explanation; the end of the Introduction will tell you what they mean.)

Imagine that you are a prosecutor in a criminal trial and I am the defendant. As you question me, I assert my innocence; I make an unequivocal statement as to my version of the facts. On further questioning, you then hear me give a totally different account of the facts in question. You then pounce on this inconsistency: "Sir, you cannot expect anyone to believe that two totally different accounts of the events in question are both true. You cannot give the Court two different, conflicting testimonies. Tell us, which version is the truth, or are both false?"

This hypothetical situation illustrates the position expelledexposed takes in regard to the case of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez. Dr. Gonzalez, who was interviewed by Ben Stein in Expelled, claims that he was denied tenure at Iowa State University (ISU) because of his work on Intelligent Design (ID.) Expelledexposed takes issue with these claims, attempting to explain their version of the truth with two opposing versions of the facts. Expelledexposed's section on Gonzalez denies that his work on ID was the reason for him being denied tenure. Then it claims that it was perfectly reasonable to factor in his work on ID in considering whether to grant him tenure. Expelledexposed even links to an article on the subject containing quotes from those involved in the process; both quotes confirm that Gonzalez's views and work on ID was discussed. The other quote is from a professor who admits he voted against granting Gonzalez tenure for his work on ID, despite Gonzalez's impressive academic record.

Neither side of this issue denies that Dr. Gonzalez has an impressive record in his field. According to an article in The Weekly Standard, which expelledexposed links to, Gonzalez's record is impressive indeed:

"According to a Smithsonian/NASA astrophysics database, Gonzalez's scientific articles from 2001-2007 rank the highest among astronomers in his department according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists. He has published 68 peer-reviewed articles, which beat the ISU department standard for tenure by 350 percent. He has also co-authored a standard astronomy textbook, published by Cambridge University Press, which his faculty colleagues use in their own classes." (Some Internet sites take issue with the "350 percent claim.")

One would think that ISU's Physics Department would grant tenure as soon as possible to someone with Gonzalez's record. However, Gonzalez co-authored another book, this one on ID, called "The Privileged Planet." The book's thesis is that for life to have developed on Earth, an innumerable amount of preconditions would have to have existed beforehand. For life to have developed then can be better explained by ID than the blind chance advocated by Darwinian Evolution. As we shall soon see, this advocacy of ID played a part in ISU's denial of tenure.

As in its treatment of Richard Sternberg, expelledexposed expects its readers to take certain evidence at face value. In the case of Sternberg, it was the denial by the BSW that the Meyer paper had been peer-reviewed. In this case, we are to put our total trust in the Official Statement of ISU's President that Gonzalez's views on ID played no part in the denial of tenure. According to the statement, Gonzalez's creative output in his field declined during his time at ISU, indicating that his early promise would not be met. The criteria used to determine whether to grant tenure consisted of refered publications, the amount of research funding and grants received, the number of graduate students supervised and evidence of future promise in astronomy. Expelledexposed reproduces a graph from a blogger it links to which is supposed to show the decline in output on the part of Gonzalez. While a decline in output may have been a factor, are we to believe without question that this was the sole factor?

Expelledexposed makes the point that gaining tenure at major research institutions is difficult. It links to a post on Ed Brayton's blog Dispatches From The Culture War. Brayton is contemptuous of Gonzalez's claims. He rightly describes the process of granting tenure as a game of crap shoot; people are denied tenure for a host of reasons. This blog cites the story of another astronomer who was denied tenure in spite of a very impressive record. This person did not whine, but applied for and received an appointment elsewhere. How does expelledexposed expect its readers to react? Probably something like this: "Like, oh my gosh, I never knew it was so hard to get tenure. Why doesn't Gonzalez get over it? Those who deny Evolution in the 21st century must be, you know, conspiracy buffs."

Like, excuse me, is this evidence? Is the fact that tenure is hard to come by to be taken as incontestable evidence that ID was not a factor in Gonzalez being denied tenure at ISU?

Lets suppose you take a close relative to the Doctor for a regular checkup. The Doctor prescribes medication for your relative. Five minutes after taking the prescribed dose, your relative drops dead. When you confront the Doctor with a malpractice suit, he defends himself this way: "Life is a risky business. It always ends in death. Even if you have no bad habits and avoid illness, you will die of old age. Your body will just wear out. The fact that we all die is evidence enough that my treatment did not constitute malpractice. It was just his time to go. Life is like a game of crap shoot." You would not be so stupid as to accept this explanation. Neither should we be so in believing that the difficulty to gain tenure is is to be taken as all the evidence we need that ID was not a factor in the specific case of ISU denying Dr. Gonzalez tenure.

Expelledexposed points out that those who vote on applications for tenure do so anonymously. Therefore, expelledexposed tells us, we can only speculate as to the factors involved in denying Gonzalez tenure. Yet The Weekly Standard Article cited by expelledexposed features two quotes from two ISU professors involved. One professor confirmed that the Physics faculty discussed "The Privileged Planet." "I would be a fool if I said it was not" he is quoted as saying. But he denied that the book was a big factor in the decision. Then the magazine quoted another professor who stated that Gonzalez "is a very creative, intelligent and knowledgeable, highly productive scientifically and an excellent teacher." Yet this professor voted to deny Gonzalez tenure BECAUSE OF "The Privileged Planet." Are we to conclude that this was the only one who voted to deny tenure based on Gonzalez's views on ID? Expelledexposed cited this article. Did the web site's authors expect that no one would actually read it? Did they think their criticism of the article would make readers think it was not worth reading?

Whether Gonzalez's advocacy of ID was a factor in ISU denying Gonzalez tenure, expelledexposed wants to have it both ways. First, it denies that his work on ID prejudiced his colleagues against him. Then it backtracks: It asks if it would have been unreasonable for ISU to consider Gonzalez's work on ID when it voted on giving him tenure. Expelledexposed's answer: No. Its rationale is that ID is not really science, so Gonzalez's work in this area should not be considered legitimate scholarship in his field. His work on ID is cited as a reason for his decline in output by expelledexposed. To do work on anything connected with ID is a distraction from true scientific endeavors. Expelledexposed quotes a statement from the American Astronomical Society denying ID is a worthy alternative to Darwinian Evolution as evidence that its argument is correct.

So, on the one hand, Gonzalez's work on ID played no part in ISU's decision to deny him tenure. His claims to the contrary reveal a persecution complex common among creationists. At least, that is what some evolutionists would have us believe. Ed Brayton's post on Gonzalez attributes this to the creationists' religion whose founder suffered an "alleged act of martyrdom."

But on the other hand, if his views on ID were a factor, so what?

Can you imagine yourself as a defense attorney pleading your clients case before a jury: "My client is innocent of the crime of murder. But if he did do it, so what? The victim had it coming!" I am sure your client would have grounds for an appeal.

Expelledexposed wants to convince you that Dr. Gonzalez's views and work on ID played no role in ISU' decision not to grant him tenure. Yet there is evidence to the contrary in the Weekly Standard article expelledexposed links to in the form of quotes from those who participated in the process. So expelledexposed carries the caveat that even if it did, this was justified because ID is not true science. While arguing two sets of facts, expelledexposed portrays Gonzalez as someone with a persecution complex. Do we need anymore reason to doubt the websites veracity on anything?

Part III will appear in a few days.

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