Monday, April 17, 2006

Striking A Brave Blow For Freedom Of Inquiry

From Telic Thoughts:

Biologist and associate professor PZ Myers explains why Francis Beckwith does not deserve tenure:

I get to vote on tenure decisions at my university, and I can assure you that if someone comes up who claims that ID 'theory' is science, I will vote against them. If someone thinks the sun orbits around the earth, I will vote against them. If someone thinks fairies live in their garden and pull up the flowers out of the ground every spring, I will vote against them. Tenure decisions are not pro forma games, but a process of evaluation, and I'd rather not have crackpots promoted. Beckwith may be a nice fellow with a commendable publication record, but when it gets right down to it, his untenable position on intelligent design puts him smack in the middle of the tinfoil hat brigade. And that position on ID is a focus of many of his publications, so it is certainly a legitimate criterion for judging him.

Later in the comments section, Myers rationalizes his closed-minded position as follows:

It's a matter of whether it screws up their ability to do their job. People have a right to do any crazy damn thing that doesn't harm others outside the workplace…but when they're advocating lunacy in their profession, then it's bye-bye time.

This, of course, is muddled thinking.

The tenure review process is designed to determine whether someone has “the ability to do their job.” The junior faculty member has six years to construct a track record of success. During these six years, the junior faculty member acquires teaching evaluatons from students and colleagues. The junior faculty member acquires grants and sets up a lab with a productive research program. The junior faculty member develops a reputation of collegiality and service within the department and the university. If claiming that ID 'theory' is science means you are part of the "tinfoil hat brigade" and this interferes with one’s ability to do their job, this should impact negatively on these conventional criteria used to vote for tenure. In other words, Myers's criterion is an extrinsic litmus test. If thinking that ID is science is as bad as he says it is, the candidate’s ability to secure good evaluations, grants, and publications will be compromised and Myers’s criterion is redundant and superfluous. If the candidate is able to succeed according to the conventional measures for tenure, Myer’s criterion is falsified and becomes nothing more than an attempt to institutionalize his prejudice.

But let’s not stop here. Either Myers is a lone crank or his views are shared by others in academia. If it is the latter, the sociological implications are immense. A commmon argument against ID is that it presents no research and publications in the mainstream peer reviewed literature. But Myers is one of those peer reviewers. Since he has admitted he would deny tenure to someone who thinks ID is science, it stands to reason he would also deny the hiring of any ID proponent. Yet to conduct ID-based research to generate preliminary data for grant funding purposes, the person is in essense declaring his belief that ID is science. In other words, an attempt to get a ID-based research program off the ground is reason, according to Myers, for kicking you out of academia.


Michael Poole said...

That criticism does not make a lot of sense. The ultimate job of a professor is not to elicit good evaluations, grants or publications -- those are just tools. The ultimate job of a professor is to broaden the horizons of knowledge -- in that professor's field, in the minds of students, or both. Because of that, claiming that ID is science -- when even ID advocates like Michael Behe acknowledge that it is not -- impairs a professor's job performance.

Michael said...

Hey, I just stumbled her from Dembski's blog and I have a quick comment about peer review and ID. It's true, a main criticism is that ID has produced no peer reviewed literature and guys like PZ are reviewers; but the point of that criticism is that ID will never get peer-reviewed and accepted because peers think it's a bunch of crap. Pulling out ID's peer reviewed status is a response to the fact that ID has been published in various forms; the criticism is basically, so what if you got a book publisher to publish it because all your peers completely disagree.

As to grant getting, the Discovery Institute has enough money to fund a moderate to big lab for years; as do private companies who have their own grant-readers. ID can start there.

Matteo said...

Michael (second comment),

Thanks for stopping by. Frank Tipler has written a good article about the peer review process. It appears in Dembski's book "Uncommon Dissent". I think it is also available here (PDF):

Also, I think that a book like "Darwin's Black Box" effectively becomes massively peer reviewed after publication. Quite a lot on both sides has been written about it, with arguments and rebuttals available all over the web. The book and its arguments have received vastly more scrutiny than any paper tucked away in some specialized journal. Not much different than what happened to Darwin's book, which also wasn't "peer reviewed" in any formal sense before publication.

BTW, I don't regard Darwinists as "owning" the basic data of experimental science (molecular biology for example), data which more and more points to a design inference. That data does, in fact, come out in peer reviewed journals, and it's not the fault of IDists that it is badly misinterpreted as supporting Blind Watchmaker evolution.

To anyone who asks, "Where are the experiments?", I answer, they're being done all over the world, day in and day out, by researchers relatively unconcerned with the whole Darwin/ID controversy. Hardcore Darwinist idealogues simply insist that they be the sole interpreters of all this experimental data, even though they had very little to do with generating it in the first place.

Michael said...

No doubt there are problems with peer review. But the supression of "new ideas" is not a bad thing. I know, that sounds crazy. But if you have a new idea that you can't get published in a Science or a Nature, you try to get it published in a smaller journal. But beyond that, you go to meetings and physically pursuade people. It's difficult, but this "grassroots" effort helps to ensure that science doesn't move too fast and roughshod in some crazy far-out there way. It doesn't promote orthodoxy as much as it promotes confidence. A lot of papers rushed to press in vanity journals turn out to the horribly, horribly wrong. But until William Demsbki is short on funding (he isn't) and until he has tried to get his work published in a mainstream journal (he hasn't), he has nothing to complain about.

Second, it's not that "Darwinists" claim to be sole aribiters of data intepretation; when looking at the data you must not ignore vast chunks of it. Not all intepretations are valid.

Anyway, I won't belabor the point. You've got a nice blog here and I really don't want to do a drive-by to you. But I will say one more thing, because I considered it a mission to convince fellow Catholics of a few things. Seriously, and I mean seriously, think about the philosophical implications of ID. Dembski's philosophy is poisonous and his science vacuous.