How Eli Rosenberg, Chair of ISU's Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Concealed Viewpoint Discrimination When Explaining Tenure Denial - Evolution News & Views

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How Eli Rosenberg, Chair of ISU's Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Concealed Viewpoint Discrimination When Explaining Tenure Denial

Tenure votes at the earliest levels are made by a faculty member's department, and they typically set the tone for whether that faculty member will ultimately receive tenure. Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez was first denied tenure by his Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University (ISU) in November 2006, and he soon thereafter received a letter from the Eli Rosenberg, Department Chair, asserting that intelligent design (ID) played only a minor role in tenure deliberations. As Dr. Rosenberg stated:

"Your co-authorship of 'The Privileged Planet' and related activity was raised by several of the external and internal letter writers and discussed briefly in the faculty meetings where your promotion was under consideration."

(Tenure notification letter from Dr. Rosenberg to Dr. Gonzalez, November 18, 2006)

Thus, Dr. Rosenberg tried to downplay the importance of ID, telling Gonzalez that ID was only "discussed briefly." In May, 2007 Dr. Rosenberg again downplayed ID, telling World Magazine that ID "was not an overriding factor in the decision that was made at the departmental level." Around the same time he told Nature that "intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this decision."

These were Dr. Rosenberg's public statements about ID and Guillermo Gonzalez's tenure. But Dr. Rosenberg was also required to author a private Chair's Statement that went into Dr. Gonzalez's tenure file. This Chair's Statement contained instructions to other faculty on how Dr. Rosenberg thought they should vote on Dr. Gonzalez's tenure. Rosenberg's Chair's Statement tells a very different story about whether ID should be an "overriding factor":

[O]n numerous occasions, Dr. Gonzalez has stated that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory and someday would be taught in science classrooms. This is confirmed by his numerous postings on the Discovery Institute Web site. The problem here is that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. ... A valid scientific theory should plant the seeds of its own destruction and be falsifiable. It should point to the way to new discoveries and increase our understanding of the physical world. In this regard Intelligent Design does nothing. ... The fact that Dr. Gonzalez does not understand what constitutes both science and a scientific theory disqualifies him from serving as a science educator. (emphasis added)
Dr. Rosenberg went on to discuss other matters and concluded by giving a "recommendation to deny promotion." Let's compare Dr. Rosenberg's private and public statements below in Table 1:

Table 1: Dr. Eli Rosenberg's Public and Private Statements about ID and Tenure.

Timing and Context of Statement by Dr. Rosenberg about Dr. Gonzalez's tenure:Statement by Dr. Rosenberg about the role of ID in tenure deliberations:
Public Explanation of Tenure Denial to Dr. Gonzalez in Nov. 2006:ID discussed "only briefly"
Public Statement to Nature, Published May 24, 2007:"intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this decision"
Public Statement to Des Moines Register, Published Dec. 1, 2007:Tenure documents included "a few words about intelligent design at the end, and that's it."
Private Chair's Statement in Dr. Gonzalez's Tenure File in November, 2006: A full third of Rosenberg's Chair's Statement in Gonzalez's dossier dealt with ID, stating that Gonzalez's support for ID as science "disqualifies him from serving as a science educator." Here are key excerpts:

"Dr. Gonzalez has stated that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory and someday would be taught in science classrooms. This is confirmed by his numerous postings on the Discovery Institute Web site. The problem here is that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. Its premise is beyond the realm of science. ... But it is incumbent on a science educator to clearly understand and be able to articulate what science is and what it is not. The fact that Dr. Gonzalez does not understand what constitutes both science and a scientific theory disqualifies him from serving as a science educator."

In other words, when making public statements, Dr. Rosenberg claims that ID was merely "discussed briefly" and was "not an overriding factor." But privately his Chair's Statement sounds very different: he instructed other department members that Dr. Gonzalez's view that ID is science "disqualifies him from serving as a science educator." Something that "disqualifies" someone as an educator sure sounds like an overriding factor, and it probably was discussed more than just briefly.

Is Rosenberg Correct about ID and Guillermo Gonzalez?
As seen above, Dr. Rosenberg's primary reason for claiming that ID is not science is the assertion that ID is not falsifiable and makes no predictions. Ironically, Guillermo Gonzalez anticipated that some of his colleagues would mistakenly believe that ID is not science because they would misunderstand it to be unfalsifiable or lack predictive power. As a rebuttal to this charge, in 2005 Dr. Gonzalez published "An Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues" on The Privileged Planet website, which addressed the precise concerns about falsifiability and predictability raised by Dr. Rosenberg. As Gonzalez publicly wrote more than a year before his tenure evaluations:

The argument covers everything from the fine-tuning of the constants of physics to the initial conditions of the Big Bang; from our host star and planetary neighbors to our atmosphere and moon. Our conclusion? The universe is designed not only for life but also for scientific discovery. The argument is falsifiable, vulnerable to the river of data about extrasolar planets, our galaxy, and the larger universe flowing in over the next two decades thanks to missions like Gaia and Kepler. ... Although I would love to see our hypothesis confirmed, in the interim I'm gratified to see our argument the subject of reasoned debate and discussions about what future discoveries would count for or against our position. This is the scientific process at its best.

(Guillermo Gonzalez, "An Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues," June 29, 2005.)

It's obvious that Guillermo Gonzalez clearly understands that scientific theories must be falsifiable and tested in light of new data, and it's clear that he views his privileged planet hypothesis as meeting those criteria for being a scientific theory. Indeed, Dr. Gonzalez tried to stave off precisely the types of misunderstandings about ID that Dr. Rosenberg repeats when arguing that Gonzalez should be denied tenure. Yet Rosenberg addressed none of Dr. Gonzalez's arguments, blandly asserting that "Intelligent Design does nothing" to make falsifiable predictions and ignoring the fact that Dr. Gonzalez's essay shows that he clearly understands that good science is both predictive and falsifiable.

Did Dr. Rosenberg even read Gonzalez's "An Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues"? We may never know. But it seems clear that Dr. Rosenberg has turned out to not be one of the "open minded colleagues" to which Dr. Gonzalez tried to address his letter.

Subjugating Academic Freedom to Personal Prejudices
Both Guillermo Gonzalez and Eli Rosenberg believe that science must be testable and falsifiable. Gonzalez believes ID is testable and falsifiable, while Rosenberg believes it isn't. While Dr. Rosenberg is entitled to his view, does it follow that he is entitled to claim that Dr. Gonzalez's view that ID is science "disqualifies him from serving as a science educator" and therefore Gonzalez must be denied tenure? Not unless Dr. Rosenberg is to discount Dr. Gonzalez's academic freedom, which ISU's Faculty handbook says is "the foundation of the university."

Dr. Gonzalez's view may not be the majority view, but it is also not part of the lunatic fringe. As he recounts in his "An Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues," The Privileged Planet has received praise from various prestigious scientific sources:

Though controversial, the book has received positive endorsement or reviews from such leading scientists as Cambridge's Simon Conway Morris, Harvard's Owen Gingerich, and David Hughes, a Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society. ... Design theorists, as they define themselves, are simply those arguing that purposive activity is scientifically detectable somewhere in nature. By this standard, a number of prominent scientists are design theorists, though they would never label themselves thus. ... For example, physics Nobel Laureate Charles Townes (by no means a self-identified design theorist) recently wrote the following in The Wall Street Journal: "What is the purpose or meaning of life? Or of our universe? These are questions which should concern us all. As a scientist, I have been primarily trying to understand our world--the universe, including humans--what it is and how it works. Of course, if the universe has a purpose, then its structure, and how it works, must reflect this purpose." Townes goes on in the essay to call for a "serious intellectual discussion of the possible meaning of our universe."

Townes and I probably disagree about some issues. Here, however, there is a meeting of the minds. Scientists can study the cosmos and argue from the evidence to different conclusions. As long as they can formulate a plausible hypothesis and put their arguments in empirical harms' way--as philosopher of science Del Ratzsch has put it--there should be no talk of banishing anyone to outer darkness.

There is undeniable academic legitimacy to Dr. Gonzalez's ID work, as he recounts that it "has received positive endorsement or reviews from such leading scientists as Cambridge's Simon Conway Morris, Harvard's Owen Gingerich, and David Hughes, a Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society." Again, Gonzalez's view may be the minority view, but it does not deserve to be banished to the "outer darkness." In short, it deserves academic freedom.

More ISU Faculty Disregard Academic Freedom
Dr. Rosenberg stated that Gonzalez's ID views were "discussed briefly in the faculty meetings where [his] promotion was under consideration." If that statement is true, it is irrelevant, for (as we have already discussed) there exists an abundance of e-mails showing that ID was discussed extensively outside of the official tenure deliberations. Documentation shows that his department members communicated behind Dr. Gonzalez's back, calling Dr. Gonzalez's pro-ID views "intellectually vacuous," "more than just vacuous," and expressing their hope that ID would experience "self destruction." They mocked Gonzalez's ID work, saying they would study it only while "under medication" and that Gonzalez should be lumped with "idiot[s]" and "religious nutcases." His colleagues drafted a statement condemning ID with the purpose of discrediting Gonzalez and "giv[ing] Gonzalez a clear sign that his ID efforts will not be considered as science by the faculty" because ISU "is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas."

Indeed, Gonzalez's colleague John Hauptman explicitly admitted that he voted against Dr. Gonzalez's tenure because "Intelligent design is not even a theory." He further said, "I participated in the initial vote and voted no, based on this fundamental question: What is science?" Does that sound familiar? It parrots the same reasoning that Dr. Rosenberg put in his Chair's Statement in Dr. Gonzalez's tenure file, where Rosenberg wrote: "The fact that Dr. Gonzalez does not understand what constitutes both science and a scientific theory disqualifies him from serving as a science educator."

At ISU, it seems that academic freedom really means the freedom to agree with everyone else in your department. These scientists disregarded the academic freedom of scientists to support the view that ID is science. Whether you agree or disagree with ID, two things are clear: ID played a important role in Guillermo Gonzalez's tenure evaluations, and Eli Rosenberg tried, and failed, to suppress that fact.


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