Released Gonzalez e-mails lack context

| 25 Comments

The Iowa State Daily has published a letter by Joerg Schmailian, Professor of Physics and Astronomy arguing the lack of context surrounding the emails released by the Discovery Institute on the Gonzalez tenure case:

In November 2005, I was part of a discussion with colleagues in the department of physics and astronomy that was concerned with the question of whether we should make a public statement that intelligent design is, in our view, not a viable way to pursue scientific research. Parts of this discussion were carried out via e-mail and portions of those e-mails were recently made available to the public through a request by the Discovery Institute, based on the Iowa open records law. In its Dec. 4 issue, the Daily printed parts of these e-mails. I feel more background information is needed to clarify this issue.

Our 2005 discussion was prompted by our unease with the national debate on intelligent design - assistant professor of physics and astronomy Guillermo Gonzalez, a prominent advocate of intelligent design, was doing research in our department, and we received repeated inquiries from outside Iowa State about our views on this issue. We wanted to take advantage of our freedom to express our opinion on this matter and inform the public about the fact that intelligent design is not generally accepted within our department.

During this discussion we came to realize such a public statement could interfere with the upcoming tenure deliberations on Gonzalez. We did not expect our statement to raise questions in case of a positive decision on Gonzalez’s tenure. However, we did realize that in case of a tenure denial, a public statement by members of our faculty could be seen as prejudging the decision.

Some of us argued our statement could be misinterpreted as creating a hostile work environment. I argued instead that we should proceed and make our statement public. No matter what our action, our statement could always be misinterpreted, either as causing a hostile work environment or as being secretive about our plans to write such a statement. In the end, the arguments against going public seemed more convincing to most, and we did not proceed. It appears I was right when I feared our intentions would be misinterpreted either way.

To deny tenure to a colleague is a very painful experience. It literally causes sleepless nights to those who are forced to make a responsible decision. Faculty candidates who are being hired in our department always come with promising backgrounds and terrific accomplishments. The decision to recommend or deny tenure is then predominantly based on research performance while at Iowa State.

As far as I can judge, this was no different in Gonzalez’s case. What I know with certainty is that Gonzalez’s views on intelligent design, with which I utterly disagree, had no bearing whatsoever on my vote on his tenure case.

LETTER: Released Gonzalez e-mails lack context National debate, not issue of tenure, prompted dialogue Issue date: 12/10/07 Section: Opinion

In context the emails suggest that the faculty was struggling with how to publicly respond to questions about Intelligent Design which most see as scientifically infertile, a scientific ‘dead end’. Was Gonzalez’s belief in Intelligent Design a factor or the factor in the tenure decision? I have my doubts about the latter and as to the former, as far as I have been able to determine, only so far as it affected the scientific productivity of the candidate.

25 Comments

Iowa State’s astronomers did the same thing that Lehigh University’s biologists did about their resident intelligent design creationist, Michael Behe. See http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/news/evolution.htm. Does Behe claim a hostile workplace?

Does Behe claim a hostile workplace?

Does anyone know what work Behe has done at Lehigh?

Insofar as I am able to determine, it can only be considered a hostile workplace if they ban the ID proponent from the cafeteria. I refer to this as The Dembski/Baylor Law of Diminishing Lunches.

The Dembski/Baylor Law of Diminishing Lunches.

Would that hypothesis predict the existence of vestigial lunches?

PvM Wrote:

Does anyone know what work Behe has done at Lehigh?

Besides you and most recent PT readers?

Vestigial lunches continue to have an important function as filler for “snack machines” although they no longer fuction as nutrition.

This was predicted by Intelligent Design as a corollary of Dembski’s “We Will Swallow Anything” admendment to the “Law of Diminishing Lunches.”

“Vestigial lunches continue to have an important function as filler for “snack machines” although they no longer function as nutrition.”

So they must be junk lunches, i.e., not designed by a dietitian.

At least the Dembski/Baylor Law of Diminishing Lunches provides a suitable explanation for why that sweater seems so damned big. The Dr.Dr. is malnourished!

Does Behe claim a hostile workplace?

Perhaps he’s like Dembski, he does understand the Wedge’s attempt to destroy the methods of science:

In contrast to the respectful review of Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? a decade ago, we now face an academic and scientific world that is increasingly hostile to intelligent design and that seeks to crush it rather than engage it as a serious intellectual project. This may seem unfair and mean-spirited, but let’s admit that our aim, as proponents of intelligent design, is to beat naturalistic evolution, and the scientific materialism that undergirds it, back to the Stone Age. Our opponents, therefore, are merely returning the favor.

[emphases added]

www.designinference.com/documents/2004.04.Backlash.htm

One should note how many things are wrong with even that statement, such as that “naturalistic” is supposed by the IDiots to involve something more than the standard rules of evidence used in courts and science alike, “materialism” barely means anything at all other than as a strawman, and of course science with its methods is the antithesis of the “Stone Age,” and certainly did not exist then. But the main point is not that Dimski understands science, which clearly he does not, merely that he understands that “equal time” is not, and has never been, the goal of ID, rather it wants all of the time. After all, it can’t compete as science, so it has to be rid of science once and for all.

Behe’s astrology statement, while often misconstrued, verges on a similar recognition. So it’s possible that, even if he finds other faculty members to be hostile to him, he does understand why they would be. The leaders of ID are not the rubes that they’re suckering, after all, and whatever their huge areas of ignorance, they do know that they’re pushing to replace science with theism.

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

According to my reading, both the presence of Gonzalez, and his impending tenure decision, was largely what triggered all the outside inquiries, which in turn caused the internal debate. So there is a relationship here. Sounds to me like Gonzalez’ religious zeal had, just as at Lehigh, polarized the ISU faculty. It had set them back on their heels into response mode, forced to take a stand that should never have been necessary, and forced them to do so at a time when whatever they did could be misrepresented and then milked by the DI. I suspect this posture was orchestrated deliberately.

In contrast to the respectful review of Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? a decade ago, we now face an academic and scientific world that is increasingly hostile to intelligent design and that seeks to crush it rather than engage it as a serious intellectual project.

The academic and scientific world was relatively respectful to cold fusion in 1989. But if cold fusion advocates spent the next decade defending the irreproducible results, steadfastly avoiding additional research that could conceivably help them, and devoting most of their resources to flooding the media with misrepresentations of mainstream energy production, then there would be darn good reason to “crush it.”

The academic and scientific world was relatively respectful to cold fusion in 1989.

Of course, there was good reason there to want that hypothesis to turn out to be correct; it would have been extremely useful if it had worked out. I don’t know of any proposed application of “I.D.”, let alone one that’s anywhere near that desirable.

Henry

Frank J Wrote:

The academic and scientific world was relatively respectful to cold fusion in 1989.

:-)

I don’t remember it being “respectful” as much as being “What? What the hell is going on?”

I was working in condensed matter physics at the time. Binding energies in solids (the energies required to hold the molecules together in a solid form) are on the order of a few-tenths of an electron volt (eV). Chemical binding energies are on the order of 1 to 2 eV (e.g., consider a common dry cell). The energy required to completely ionize a hydrogen atom is 13.6 eV.

The energies involved in fusion are on the order of millions of electron volts (MeV). And there are gamma rays with energies of this order that come out of the reaction, and with some reactions, neutrons also. Expecting the binding energies of solids to squeeze atoms enough to fuse them is “suspicious” to say the least.

Naturally we all wanted to know how the screw-up occurred because the media and the money were running away with this. So a lot of rapid effort went into repeating the experiment. It took only a few days for several groups to show nothing happened, and a few more weeks to show that none of the signatures of a fusion reaction occurred. Some additional time was spent on trying to determine how Pons and Fleishmann were “mislead”. That turned out to be pretty mundane.

I didn’t do any of the experiments (I was working on other things at the time) but we all knew obviously that something didn’t smell right.

Henry and Mike,

By “respectful” I don’t mean that they weren’t “given a hard time,” as most new ideas are, and ought to be. But it’s the subsequent activities that makes the ID community uniquely brazen, even among promoters of pseudoscience.

Interestingly, it would seem from this link that activity in cold fusion continues fairly enthusiastically, that something genuinely IS happening (perhaps not fusion?). I’ve read several articles (admittedly aimed at ignorami like myself) saying very carefully that the existence of a reaction of some sort is now beyond doubt, widely replicated, but there remains plenty of doubt as to whether this reaction can be put to any practical use. Fleishman and Pons were indeed seeing something real.

So the comparisons with cold fusion are, that “cold fusion” is a misnomer BUT the reactions are real, they can be reproduced, there’s been active research continuing all along, that it wasn’t a screw-up and wasn’t faked. As you say, it’s real science at work.

Contrast to ID, which was never based on any lab results, never the target of any research, never had any theoretical underpinning, and is a statement of religious doctrine rather than a misunderstood scientific observation.

The moral is simple: If you want scientific respect, do some science. You don’t lose respect for being wrong.

john:

So they must be junk lunches, i.e., not designed by a dietitian.

That should be ‘non-coding’ lunches.

Flint:

The moral is simple: If you want scientific respect, do some science. You don’t lose respect for being wrong.

I love this line - I think it’ll be part of my new signature file…

In any case, ID has been described as “not even wrong” - a major smackdown in scientific circles. Here’s a great link to this very point:

Intelligent Design: It’s Not Even Wrong

Surely the only correct way to create a hostile workplace for an ID fan is to give him a Strategic Wedgie?

Flint:

So the comparisons with cold fusion are, that “cold fusion” is a misnomer BUT the reactions are real, they can be reproduced, there’s been active research continuing all along, that it wasn’t a screw-up and wasn’t faked. As you say, it’s real science at work.

Contrast to ID, which was never based on any lab results, never the target of any research, never had any theoretical underpinning, and is a statement of religious doctrine rather than a misunderstood scientific observation.

The moral is simple: If you want scientific respect, do some science. You don’t lose respect for being wrong.

Certainly the phenomenon Pons and Fleishmann were claiming to have produced was bogus from the start. Cold fusion is still a pipe dream at best.

On the other hand, if there are other small, improbable surface effects (as some of the papers that have been pointed out are trying to explore), there may be some legitimate science to still be done. There are still questions that can be formulated and tested in the lab.

However, I don’t believe anyone in the physics community is anticipating anything “spectacular” to come of this work, and certainly not a new source of energy that will save civilization or have any particular strategic value. The results of the experiments are down in the noise of experimentation. If they never rise above that level, they can’t be taken seriously. The explanations for the lack of neutrons and gammas in these reactions look to be an extremely improbable stretch, and the reasons offered don’t appear to be consistent with gamma and neutron energy dissipation seen in many other reactions. My own bets would be against these explanations.

But, indeed, the main difference between what is going on here and what goes on with ID is that even in this speculative realm of surface reactions there are questions that can be formulated and tested (even though they are highly unlikely effects). In ID, there is absolutely nothing except professions of sectarian dogma with no supporting theories nor any hope of evidence. That is why ID is being advanced using bully politics and pseudo-scientific tactics instead of real science.

And giving “cold fusion” more respect than ID is indeed a real insult to ID (as it should be).

Frank J Wrote:

Henry and Mike,

By “respectful” I don’t mean that they weren’t “given a hard time,” as most new ideas are, and ought to be. But it’s the subsequent activities that makes the ID community uniquely brazen, even among promoters of pseudoscience.

:-)

Frank:

I understood what you were saying and I appreciated the subtle humor (as my smiley was supposed to indicate). I was simply recalling the skeptical astonishment and disbelief at the bizarre situation we all felt was developing at the time.

Mike,

Hey, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, that Fleishman and Pons let their hopes distort their observations - that they got carried away. To me, the real issue there had to do with the relationship between science and commercial interests. A good deal of science is done in labs of large companies seeking commercial advantage, and scientific advancement at these labs is locked up in the “trade secrets” bin. Not very open.

And if there had been anything substantive to the initial “cold fusion” claims, that would have been the grandaddy of brass rings for whoever owned the (secret) technology. As I recall, F&P themselves didn’t seek to publish their results and invite replication, but rather sought to sell their technology to the highest bidder, to be kept under wraps. My reading is, it didn’t become the topic of the sort of cottage-industry research it gets now, until it was stone obvious that any commercial potential was too unlikely, or too far down the road, to bother hiding.

I myself am, uh, discouraged from patenting anything I invent until it no longer retains any commercial advantage. But that’s an entirely different issue, unrelated to creationism.

Flint Wrote:

And if there had been anything substantive to the initial “cold fusion” claims, that would have been the grandaddy of brass rings for whoever owned the (secret) technology. As I recall, F&P themselves didn’t seek to publish their results and invite replication, but rather sought to sell their technology to the highest bidder, to be kept under wraps. My reading is, it didn’t become the topic of the sort of cottage-industry research it gets now, until it was stone obvious that any commercial potential was too unlikely, or too far down the road, to bother hiding.

Oh I agree completely. I have worked on proprietary company projects and classified military projects and no one will ever know who made what contributions to the research and the technology. The payoffs were high in those cases.

Those of us who have been close to those secret circumstances also know that a lot of obviously dumb ideas get funded and money goes down the rat hole. Even “peer review” gets distorted.

In the case of Pons and Fleishmann, the publicity and the potential commitment of public money were enormous, but many in the science community were pretty sure someone was going to get burned because the science didn’t make sense. And, of course, such major commitments of public money have consequences that ripple through time and future research possibilities.

One of the most important parts of peer review on research proposals is to make the best use of public money on research questions that are judged to be important and have a reasonable chance of answering current questions. That has to be a matter of experience and judgment by members of the research community. Not every idea can be funded, so some people take their funding requests to places that are willing to take risks, or in a few cases, to the people with more money than brains.

And you also raise another important point; a lot of discoveries take place in organizations other than those we tend to associate with open research labs (e.g., universities). The judgments that go into funding ideas come from many sources, not just “pure academic peer review”. These assessments are complex, the motivations are complex, and the rationalizations for continuing on risky paths are complex. When these are brought into the discussions about what constitutes “good research”, the public can get a very confused picture of what science really is. Pseudo-science capitalizes on this confusion and sometimes gets funded pretty well, especially if it promises billion fold returns on investment or leverages Pascal wagers.

All this just makes it harder for responsible members of the science community to educate the public about pseudo-science. Charlatans evolve defenses and strategies too.

Going back to Glen D’s comment that “of course science with its methods is the antithesis of the “Stone Age,” and certainly did not exist then.”, this smacks of stoneageism and is based on insufficient evidence. We have no clear evidence of religion at that time, but the alignments of the standing stones that give the megalithic era its name strongly indicate their use as scientific instruments for recording and predicting astronomical phenomena. Including the winter solstice - season’s greetings to all! :)

Matthew Lowry Wrote:

In any case, ID has been described as “not even wrong” - a major smackdown in scientific circles.

Exactly. Which is why I keep saying that we need to follow up the usual “ID ‘is’ creationism” with “but it’s not ‘classic’ creationism.” The latter refers to old-fashioned YEC and OEC, which are wrong in the sense that they make tesable claims of what the designer did when. And those claims fail. IDers are aware that those claims fail, and contradict each other to boot, so ID, after knocking down the usual “Darwinism” strawman, adds only the thoroughly useless “some designer did something at some time.” Which can never be proven wrong.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on December 12, 2007 11:08 AM.

Iowa Citizens for Science Press Release on Gonzalez Case was the previous entry in this blog.

Never trust a creationist ellipsis — Hector Avalos on the Gonzalez emails is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter