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The Los Angeles Times Grasps the Heart of the David Coppedge Case


The Los Angeles Times published a pretty fair summary of the David Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Lab case that we have covered here in recent weeks. Reporter Ashley Powers did some research by reading our work at ENV:

"It fits another tile in the mosaic that will eventually be recognized as demonstrating that the scientific 'consensus' against intelligent design is the product of intimidation and group think," fellow David Klinghoffer wrote before opening statements in March. "Coppedge has already contributed his tile."
Hey, well said!

I still like that metaphor. As the article says, Coppedge had already contributed his tile before the trial opened. Even if the verdict doesn't go his way, the story is now so thoroughly documented -- in pre-trial depositions and trial testimony -- that nobody can credibly deny it reveals a culture of bias and ignorance directed at intelligent design. As at JPL so too at countless other institutions.

That fact will not go away, regardless of how Judge Hiroshige rules.

How could that be so, you ask? If Coppedge loses, Darwin advocates will say it disproves everything we've written about the case. They will say it demonstrates that the "consensus" against ID in academia really does reflect a careful, unbiased consideration of the scientific evidence and not, as we've said, the blind, institutionalized ignorance of Big Science that infects much of academia. But if it comes to that, Darwin defenders will be wrong.

JPL's skilled legal defense team has cast the story behind the case in strictly personal terms. In their presentation, Coppedge alienated colleagues with his personality, totally independent of his views on intelligent design. As the LA Times puts it:

Coppedge's zest for hot-button topics rankled some co-workers at the facility in La Ca´┐Żada Flintridge, who complained about him to management. But did it eventually cost him his job?

That's the question a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge presiding over Coppedge's wrongful termination lawsuit is expected to decide in the coming months. JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA, contends Coppedge was laid off in 2011 as part of massive cutbacks because his skill set was outdated and his attitude obstinate.

"What happened to David Coppedge -- really what David Coppedge did to himself -- had nothing to do with intelligent design or religion but with his own stubbornness," defense attorney Cameron Fox said during closing arguments this month.

The article refers several different ways to Coppedge's supposedly problematic "demeanor." He received a written warning for "unwelcome and unprofessional" conduct. In the trial, he was portrayed as "judgmental," "harassing," lacking "interpersonal skills." Actually, none of these terms quite fits the portrait of Coppedge that JPL has tried to paint.

Sifting through the material on the case, I've sometimes thought the right description of the "David Coppedge," real or fictional, that JPL presents is someone without the quality that's called, in Hebrew, derech eretz, the "way of the earth."

There's no satisfying English equivalent. A more basic and earthy thing than refined manners, it means the behavior you try to teach your kids before they learn anything else: how to treat other people with respect, gratitude, and above all, restraint.

In the week I spent at the trial, observing and interacting with David Coppedge, I saw nothing to suggest that he's a person deficient in this way. He seemed mild and unobtrusive, a sweet man, not at all the type to give offense.

But I never observed him on the job. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he in fact did conduct himself sometimes with an inappropriate brashness. That would leave untouched the demonstrated fact that his colleagues, at the mention of intelligent design, had a kind of group allergic fit. Not all did, but enough to put his career in jeopardy.

Merely seeking to lend out DVDs on the subject of intelligent design was considered, as supervisor Greg Chin yelled at Coppedge, "pushing his religion." It's possible that someone lacking a certain knowledge of the ways of the world would be particularly vulnerable to triggering a collective allergy like the one to ID. A person more attuned to taboos would keep his thoughts to himself.

But that is exactly the point we've made again and again! The so-called consensus against ID at places like JPL -- and the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Kentucky, Iowa State University, and elsewhere that we've seen discrimination cases play out and be entered into public evidence through the legal system -- is maintained by the force of a taboo, rather reflecting a fair toting up of evidence on both sides.

Greg Chin's calling intelligent design Coppedge's "religion" is itself a key piece of evidence that JPL management, far from having considered the scientific question, reject and despise ID without even knowing what it means.