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At the Muncie Star Press, Casually Slurring Pro-ID Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez

Muncie Star Press.jpgIt's just 9763.03 miles from Muncie, Indiana, to Melbourne, Australia -- practically the next country over, or anyway the next continent if you get rid of the Pacific Ocean. So when Muncie Star Press reporter Seth Slabaugh, who's covered the censorship of intelligent design at Ball State University in Muncie, wanted the lowdown on Ball State's hiring pro-ID astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez he went straight to a professor at Monash University in Melbourne for the poop.

According to this chap, Gonzalez had some kind of inappropriate inside information about a job opening in the same department as the now gagged Ball State physicist Eric Hedin.

Michael J. I. Brown, an observational astronomer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has alleged to The Star Press that BSU's hiring last summer of Guillermo Gonzalez as an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy appears to have been "rigged."

...

Brown told The Star Press: "The number of astronomers who believe in ID/creationism is tiny, so it is unlikely that two ID-believing astronomers (Gonzalez and Hedin) would end up at the same university by random chance. It flags a potentially biased job search. It would be equally unlikely ... if two astronomers who owned chimpanzees ended up in the same modestly sized astrophysics group."

Brown questioned whether Gonzalez had become aware of the position before it was advertised, and Brown also raised questions about how the position was advertised.

"An obvious concern is Gonzalez was aware of the job prior to it being advertised, Gonzalez applied immediately, and no/few other candidates were seriously considered," Brown said. "Gonzalez does have some strong publications ... but it seems all ... are from 2001 or earlier. His publication record since then has been solid but unremarkable."

Sorry, this is just sleazy. Did Slabaugh talk with Gonzalez about any of it before going to press? No, he didn't. Did he independently check up on Brown's claims about Gonzalez's publication record -- which is enviable, as we've documented here in the past? Evidently not. Instead he chatted up this guy in Australia and printed whatever he said.

What the...?

In fact, Dr. Gonzalez has shared with us a letter he submitted to the Star Press in response:

I feel I need to respond to Seth Slabaugh's hit piece on me, "Gora's 'gag order' a top story of 2013: The hiring of a second intelligent design prof is also still being talked about." Seth, via the words of astronomer Michael J. I. Brown, speculates that I knew about the new astronomy position at Ball State prior to its being advertised and that my being hired by Ball State was somehow rigged. I can state categorically that these speculations are false. I responded to a Ball State job advertisement I saw online. No one at Ball State contacted me to invite me to apply to the position. Astronomers use multiple online resources to search for new astronomy jobs; the AAS Job register is just one among several options. As to the claim that I have not published anything of note since 2001, anyone can look up my papers on the NASA ADS abstract search engine and also look up the number of citations of those papers. They will find that I have published many papers since 2001 that have high citation counts. In closing, it is important to note that Seth did not contact me for my comments on his story. 

Apart from the ineptitude of the article, note the irony that neither Brown nor Slaubaugh caught. The argument for design in cosmology is very different from and frankly far more mainstream than in biology. It observes among other things the set of fantastic coincidences in the physical constants that came into play at the Big Bang and that appear very, very finely calculated to nourish the existence of a planet like ours with inhabitants like us.

Brown blabs about what he considers the "'remarkable coincidence' of two astronomers who believe in ID ending up at the same university," leading to the insinuation about Gonzalez's hiring. He detects intelligent design there, a shady "rigged" hiring process -- resulting in two professors with not dissimilar views teaching in the same department, can you imagine -- but not in the existence of the universe and of our planet.

I was not previously aware of the existence of Michael J. I. Brown. Nor until yesterday could I have placed Monash University, or distinguished it from the University of Woolloomooloo. If Seth Slabaugh had been interested in detecting the truth about how mainstream design thinking is in the study of the cosmos, he could have researched the views of scientists like Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes at UC Berkeley, or Owen Gingerich at Harvard who endorsed Gonzalez's ID book The Privileged Planet. But that, like placing a local call to Guillermo Gonzalez -- 1.4 miles away, in case you're curious -- before slurring him, would have been too much trouble.

Well, this reinforces an earlier observation of mine ("Intelligent Design as an Orange Flag"). Where the subject is anything to do with ID, there's a presumption in most of the media that you can say anything you want no matter how wrong and ignorant, with the assurance that, outside of the ID community itself, no one will correct you.

Photo credit: cdpaliga/Flickr.