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Irony Watch: "Censor of the Year" Jerry Coyne Now Supports...Academic Freedom?

Shortly before I sat down to write this, journalist Sam Schulman tweeted:

"Has form" means that Coyne has expertise in bullying, which he does.

Did Sam read my mind? On my inquiring, Sam's answer is no -- which is a good thing, since anyone who is able to read my mind is cordially invited to STOP THAT right now. Sam was referring to the irony that even as Jerry Coyne and other much more sensible figures have rightly decried Brandeis University's decision to rescind an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree, with Brandeis having been pressured by the Council on American Islamic Relations and similar voices, Jerry Coyne the newly announced champion of academic freedom and free speech is exactly the guy who succeeded in pressuring Ball State University to censor physics professor Eric Hedin. Coyne did so in partnership with the hateful atheist pressure group Freedom From Religion Foundation.

At his blog Why Evolution Is True, Coyne writes:

Damn, did she deserve that degree! Brandeis's behavior is reprehensible and cowardly. President Lawrence, are you not ashamed of your university?

Our colleague Josh Youngkin complains that on reading this, his "irony meter exploded." An irony meter is a very expensive precision instrument. Coyne really owes it to Josh to compensate him for his loss.

The censoring of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been widely and correctly criticized. In The Weekly Standard, William Kristol points to the "craven capitulation" of Brandeis president Fred Lawrence. Commentary editor John Podhoretz calls it "disgustingly laughable." All true.

But I wonder. Hirsi Ali is a hero. However, having her honorary degree revoked by Brandeis University did not in itself, I would guess, hurt her much. Yes, it startled, disappointed, even disgusted her. But did it silence her except in this one instance? Did it intimidate her and keep her from stating her views forcefully at a later date and in a more congenial, less craven venue than Brandeis University? I doubt it.

Compare her situation to Eric Hedin's. Dr. Hedin's professional life as a scientist still trembles on the edge of extinction. That's because Jerry Coyne and the FFRF succeeded in bullying Ball State president Jo Ann Gora into banning discussion of intelligent design -- or anyway, discussion that doesn't consist of denouncing ID -- in Ball State's science classrooms. Similarly, other scientists on other campuses with heterodox thoughts on Darwinism are surely now on notice, if they didn't already realize it, that expressing their thoughts will endanger their careers.

For Coyne, of course, the difference between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Eric Hedin is that Hirsi Ali is an atheist and critic of a particular religion, Islam.

For myself, I find the bullying of a relatively powerless and vulnerable person (Hedin) much more contemptible than the bullying of a relatively powerful, influential, and popular personality.

Whatever irritation Hirsi Ali suffered at the hands of Brandeis University, you can be quite sure it is little compared to the very personal anxiety and fear that Eric Hedin did and, I would venture to assume, still does. Fortunately for her and for her cause, Hirsi Ali has powerful and persuasive supporters. Other than in this one case, she will not be silenced. Dr. Hedin, for the offense of including books for and against intelligent design in a bibliography for an interdisciplinary course, remains silenced while his publicly identified friends so far consist of four Indiana state legislators, and us.