June 11, 2007


Evolution and dissent (David K. DeWolf, June 11, 2007, Boston Globe)

You might think that a public high school is a poor venue for controversies in science. But even in higher education political and ideological agendas are threatening academic freedom. For example, Guillermo Gonzalez, a talented astronomer at Iowa State University, was recently denied tenure. Gonzalez has published 68 scientific papers, more than three times the number normally expected for tenure in his department. His college textbook on astronomy was published by Cambridge University Press. His work has been featured in top scientific journals, including a cover story in Scientific American.

But in 2004 Gonzalez co authored a book, "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery," which made the case for attributing the life-sustaining features of our planet to something other than random chance. This was too much for some colleagues at ISU. A petition was circulated by a religious studies professor and signed by 120 colleagues, affirming their rejection of "all attempts to represent intelligent design as a scientific endeavor."

Some may have the illusion that science is devoid of politics. But whether we debate the efficacy of a pharmaceutical drug, the risks of electromagnetic radiation, or the potential benefit of embryonic stem cells, financial and ideological agendas are not easily set aside. As bad as political correctness may be in the humanities and social sciences, we should be particularly alarmed by a threat to the right to dissent from the "mainstream" when it comes to scientific knowledge, often a critical component of our public policy.

In a culture where only 13% claim to believe in Darwinism, it's sort of odd to refer to the skeptics as the dissenters, even if Academia is the last redoubt of the credulous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2007 7:03 AM

I doubt all 120 faculty who signed the petition were physicists, so where are Gonzalez's colleagues? You know, the ones who might be expected to understand the difference between facts and opinion. Our colleges and universities are no better than our public schools in the integrity department.

I hope the ACLU is preparing a suit against the university.

Posted by: erp at June 11, 2007 8:24 AM