June 2, 2007

Gonzalez' tenure - Only mostly dead

Okay, so that's over. Guillermo Gonzalez' appeal of his tenure denial has been turned down by Iowa State University president Gregory L. Geoffroy.

Well, not entirely over, since Gonzalez can file another appeal, this time with the university regents. But his tenure hopes, at least at ISU, are certainly looking very gray. And he can thank his buddies at the Discovery Institute for their help in ensuring that ISU denied him. They did their level best to publicly humiliate Gonzalez in the process of turning him into a martyr, and so created such a furor around his department that it was virtually certain he could never go back there. Now one has to ask oneself, what mainstream Astronomy/Physics department would have him?

And so another soldier for (some twisted form of) Christianity falls on his sword - or, more accurately, was shoved.

For my money, it was the DI itself, by way of its Wails and Moans webpage, that sealed the deal. In one entry which attempted to refute the suggestion that it was Gonzalez' inability to bring in funding that dropped him off the tenure radar, they produced evidence of his funding-finding success. This included three examples,
"2. Contrary to some reports, Dr. Gonzalez did receive outside grant funding during his time at ISU:

From 2001-2004, Dr. Gonzalez was a Co-Investigator on a NASA Astrobiology Institute grant for "Habitable Planets and the Evolution of Biological Complexity" (his part of the grant for this time period was $64,000).

From 2000-2003, Dr. Gonzalez received a $58,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation. This grant was awarded as part of a competitive, peer-reviewed grant process, and his winning grant proposal had been peer-reviewed by a number of distinguished astronomers and scientists.

Earlier in 2007, Dr. Gonzalez was awarded a 5-year research grant for his work in observational astronomy from Discovery Institute (worth $50,000)."
In an earlier post on this issue I said this: "In the consideration of possible tenure, ISU needs to (and I assume has), analyze the trajectory of Gonzalez' career and make an educated guess as to how much his theological proclivities might eventually distract from his academic obligations. They have every right, and responsibility to potential students, to do so." I still believe this to be the salient point considering Gonzalez' possible tenure, not his publication record or how many Ph.D. candidates he's produced. The university takes a significant risk when it grants tenure to a professor, and it is obligated to anticipate to the best of its ability whether a tenure applicant might be heading for the deep end. For a science instructor, the "deep end" can reasonably be characterized as excessive credulity regarding non-natural phenomena. In that light, let's look at the DI's examples of Gonzalez' ability to secure funding.
  • Co-Investigator on a NASA Astrobiology Institute grant for "Habitable Planets and the Evolution of Biological Complexity" (his part of the grant for this time period was $64,000). There nothing particularly alarming here, although in retrospect it's easy to see that this dovetails with his work on showing how privileged the Earth is - a credulous notion if ever there was one. Even more important, though, is the fact that the principle recipient of this grant was Peter Ward (UW), not Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a member of Ward's group which totaled over 50 people.
  • A $58,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation. The Templeton Foundation is well known for funding projects that they think might link spirituality and science in some grand metaphysical sense. This is from their Mission Statement - "The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity." This isn't an indictment, the TF does fund some legitimate science, but it's another provocative data point.
  • A 5-year research grant for his work in observational astronomy from Discovery Institute (worth $50,000). The DI hacks were so hard up for evidence that they included their own grant to Gonzalez in this very spare list. There is no question what the DI funds - religiously motivated investigation of evidence for "design."
Now being generous and accepting all of this on its face, not only is this meager amount of grant money ($172K) barely worth mentioning, there is clearly a trend here that would put any committee evaluating tenure on alert . If, in the process of determining suitability, an instructor's potential areas of focus are considered then certainly the examples above are cause for concern in granting tenure to a science professor. It's not Gonzalez' personal religious convictions that are the problem, it is his penchant for mixing them into his science
(for God's sake, he included "The Privileged Planet" as part of his tenure application!). That's just bad science, and is, in my opinion, excellent cause for denial, especially as the arc of his career suggests it will only get worse.

Of course the DI shills will continue to whine about "academic freedom," as does the shrillest shill on this issue, John West...
“President Geoffroy has clearly demonstrated that academic freedom is not as important to Iowa State University as passing an ideological litmus test.”
...as even more of Gonzalez professional life is left in ashes on the funeral pyre. But clearly this isn't about Gonzalez' academic freedom, it's about the academic freedom of potential ISU students to be exposed to the best in science instruction, not someone's personal philosophy.

And in the end the "intelligent design" marketing machine will get something even more valuable to them than a tenured ID-touting professor. They'll have a continuing opportunity to build up those persecution points of which they are so enamored. Heck, maybe they'll convince G.G. to appeal to the ISU regents and keep this blustery bonanza going indefinitely.

After all, there might still be some life left in the poor guy.


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