Censor of the Year: Why Jerry Coyne? It's the Power Differential That Makes the Difference
Let me make clear at the outset: In naming University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne as "Censor of the Year," we at the Center for Science & Culture are not bestowing an honor. While the idea of giving out a "prize" for something so malignant as censorship may sound like a lark, it's not. As CSC associate director John West points out, "This is very serious business. Censorship retards the search for truth and hurts innocent people."
And says Dr. West, "Among die-hard defenders of evolutionary orthodoxy, it's now standard operating procedure." This is how the scientific "consensus" against Darwin skeptics and intelligent-design advocates is maintained -- by fear.
The "award" will be distributed this Wednesday, February 12, for Darwin Day.
Coyne was pivotal in stampeding Ball State University president Jo Ann Gora to issue a campus-wide gag order on teaching about intelligent design in science classrooms. This involved intimidating and silencing a young Ball State physicist, Eric Hedin. That's censorship. But something that really stands out about Coyne's effort is the power differential between himself and his victim.
Here's Coyne, comfortable as could be in what sure sounds like an easy yet highly prestigious position at the University of Chicago. His workload is evidently so light that he has time to blog at Why Evolution Is True what seems like around the clock about frivolous pet topics. While he's ostensibly a scientist, his main passion is bashing religion. Coyne is protected by tenure. He's safe.
On the other hand we have Eric Hedin, at a state school, Ball State in Indiana, with considerably less cachet. Hedin is actively publishing in his field, unlike Coyne, but he is not tenured, and so his professional future is really on the line. His prospects are now far more fragile, thanks to Professor Jerry Coyne. Frittering away time blogging about cute animals and posting cartoons insulting various religions -- as Coyne does -- was not, I'm fairly sure, something that Dr. Hedin would have felt free to do if he was (highly unlikely) inclined to do it.
So we have the powerful, prestigious and above all safe Jerry Coyne, swooping in from the next state to rile up Hedin's employers, Ball State's administration. Why? Because Hedin included a bibliography in an interdisciplinary class that listed some books that were favorable to intelligent design (and others that were critical of it).
Coyne was not only successful in shutting down Hedin, and getting intelligent design shut down on the campus as a whole. He was also a bully, exploiting the difference in power to tyrannize and dominate a vulnerable younger scholar.
Compared to some of our other nominees -- Zack Kopplin, for example, or Jamie Farren -- well, there's no comparison. Kopplin and Farren have targeted educators (school teachers in Louisiana, a college teacher in Texas) who were not less powerful than they. Coyne stands out for using his influence to dominate downward in the academic pecking order. That is just contemptible. It is reprehensible.
Make no mistake, being named Censor of the Year is nothing to be proud of. Having stepped on another, less secure academician in order to please himself, Coyne should be ashamed. He should be hanging his head in embarrassment. But if you go check out his main public activity of late, over at Why Evolution Is True, you can be sure to find him carrying on as usual, fatuous and inane as ever.
I'm now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.
Image of Jerry Coyne adapted from photo by Emma Rodewald/Wikipedia user Fuzheado under Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA-3.0. Usage not intended to imply endorsement.