- video parody: Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed
- RichardDawkins.net: Open Letter from Richard Dawkins
- LA Times.com: Marxist professors or sensitive students?
- Expelled Exposed, Part 3: The Expelled Case of Caroline Crocker
- Expelled Exposed, Part 4: Was Guillermo Gonzalez “Expelled”?
- lecture this Sunday: Dr. Craig Stanford
Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed
Anticipating success with their feature film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Producers Mark Mathis, Logan Craft and Walt Ruloff have already leaked a teaser trailer for the film’s sequel. Their “teach the controversy” slogan seemed to work well in getting the general public to believe that Intelligent Design is a viable alternative scientific theory to Evolution, so the team has moved on to promoting other theories that they feel are being suppressed by the scientific community. Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed tells of how Sex Theory has thrived unchallenged in the ivory towers of academia, as the explanation for how new babies are created. Proponents of Stork Theory claim that “Big Sex” has been suppressing their claim that babies are delivered by storks. Furthermore, Stork Theory proponents warn of the serious moral dangers posed by teaching children that sex has a function. They point out that evil dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao all believed in Sex Theory, and they may have even had sex themselves.
There is also a late-breaking new development in the controversy, a new theory called Avian Transportation Theory.
Unlike the original Stork Theory, the modern, sophisticated “Avian Transportation Theory” (ATT) merely points out that there are gaps in the orthodox Sex Theory, and that current sonogram imaging is unreliable. Moreover ATT does not specify that babies are necessarily brought by storks but by “large birds unspecified” (although many individual ATT theorists PRIVATELY believe it is a stork).
Open Letter to a Victim of
Ben Stein’s Propaganda Film
On Friday April 18 I received a disturbing letter from someone who had just seen Ben Stein’s Expelled. I forwarded it to several friends and colleagues, wondering aloud whether this might be an unintended consequence of the film. Richard Dawkins wrote a brilliant reply to my correspondent, posted on his wesite, which is well worth reading. —Michael Shermer
An LA Times DUST UP
Marxist professors or sensitive students?
All last week Michael Shermer and Greg Lukianoff engaged in a daily debate through the Los Angeles Times on academic freedom, tenure, political correctness, speech codes, free speech on college campuses, and the like. The editors encouraged Shermer and Lukianoff to really take the gloves off and take a strong stand.
Shermer is well known to readers of eSkeptic. Greg Lukianoff is a constitutional lawyer and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) which defends the basic rights of students and faculty members on campuses across the country. He is a frequent guest on national TV news programs, radio, and has published articles for The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, as well as many others. He is also a blogger for the Huffington Post.
In this week’s eSkeptic, we present Part 3 and 4 of the articles debunking claims made in Ben Stein’s new documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The first article is by Carrie Sager and Andrea Bottaro. The second article is by Lauri Lebo.
Carrie Sager is Project Assistant at the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, and editor of the Expelled Exposed website. Her book Voices for Evolution, a collection of pro-evolution statements from scientific, educational, religious and civil liberties organizations, will be out this spring.
Andrea Bottaro is an immunologist and Associate Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and in his own opinion he has been involved in the evolution-Creationism controversy for far too long. His works on the matter have appeared in a number of venues, including the group blog The Panda’s Thumb.
Lauri Lebo is the author of The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwinism in Small-Town America (New Press, May 2008, ISBN 1595582088)
The Expelled Case of Caroline Crocker
Academic Freedom Martyr or Pseudoscience Hack?
by Carrie Sager and Andrea Bottaro
“[My supervisor] said ‘nonetheless
you have to be disciplined’, and I lost my job.”
— Caroline Crocker, in trailer for Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Caroline Crocker was a non-tenure track, term contract faculty at both George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College, with a handful of low-level publications from her graduate student years and no post-doctoral research experience when she was prominently quoted in the prestigious science magazine Nature.1 Alas, this was not due to any scientific discovery she had made, but to the fact that she had introduced “Intelligent Design” in her cell biology classes at GMU, and following student complaints had been instructed by her department to stop teaching about either ID or evolution. Later, her contract at GMU was not renewed.
In Nature, Dr. Crocker piously remarked that she did not mean to start a controversy at GMU, but the record shows that she immediately started wearing her mantle of ID “martyr” loudly and proudly, with her name being prominently mentioned by ID advocates on the internet. Within a year, she was the willing and cooperative subject of a long Washington Post article2 which, by highlighting the questionable contents of her lectures at Northern Virginia, may have caused her contract there to also expire without renewal. Since then, she has participated in pro-Creationist documentaries sponsored by Coral Ridge Ministries,3 and is currently featured in the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. As a likely result of her vocal prominence in the ID/Creationist movement, she is now the executive director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a national ID group for students, and according to her web site,4 she lectures to “churches and educational institutions” for fees ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. She is also writing a book about her travails and, under her maiden name, offers tutoring services for students in the Washington, DC area.
Although in interviews and trailers for Expelled Dr. Crocker and her documentary host Ben Stein repeatedly claim she “lost her job,” the facts show that, less dramatically, her contracts at both GMU and NVCC were allowed to continue through their natural terms and were simply not renewed. Although this indeed must have been disappointing for Dr. Crocker, it is certainly not uncommon: about 70 percent of instructional faculty members at U.S. universities work on term contracts, many as “visiting” or “adjunct” professors as Dr. Crocker was, without any long-term guarantees.5
“And I said I mentioned Intelligent Design on a couple of slides
but I did not teach creationism”
— Caroline Crocker, in trailer for Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Because there is no denying that the pro-ID and creationist material Dr. Crocker taught in her classes, together with her reaction to departmental and public criticism about it, played a role in the events that followed, it is worth examining exactly what she actually told her students. Fortunately, Dr. Crocker has voluntarily provided abundant material about the matter in her contacts with the media.
For instance, in the Washington Post article Crocker is described as initially telling the reporter she would discuss “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” then proceeding to unleash on her NCVV students a barrage of Creationist talking points. Finally, following the reporter’s remark at the end of the lecture that she did not introduce any existing evidence in favor of evolution, Crocker volunteered that she doesn’t believe there is much, and that she doesn’t think it is necessary to teach any at all.
The actual contents of the lecture described in the Washington Post article — by her own admission the same material she had previously taught at GMU — sound like a compendium of discredited arguments from bad Creationist literature. Crocker “told the students there were two kinds of evolution: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution is … quite different from macroevolution. No one has ever seen a dog turn into a cat in a laboratory.” Leaving aside the obvious absurdity of dogs turning into cats being evidence for evolution, this statement is both incorrect and misleading. The term “macroevolution” is used by biologists to describe change above the species level, for which evidence exists in both laboratories and in nature. Microevolution is also not “quite different” from macroevolution: microevolution is a necessary part of macroevolution, and although the extent to which small genetic changes accumulating in a population contribute to the larger changes observed at higher taxonomic levels is a matter of debate among scientists, no one questions that the same type of well-characterized molecular processes (such as DNA mutation and recombination) which cause one to also underlie the other. Most importantly, however, this statement implies that microevolution is the primary evidence for macroevolution, when there is significant and overwhelming independent evidence for the latter in geology, biochemistry, anatomy and genetics.6
Crocker is also reported telling her students that the Miller-Urey experiment, which demonstrated that amino acids and other biomolecules could have formed spontaneously from chemicals on early Earth, and the famous studies on the role of natural selection in peppered moth coloration by the British geneticist Bernard Kettlewell were “irrelevant” or “falsified,” suggesting that scientists are clinging to inaccurate or even fraudulent experiments to prop up a failed theory. The problem is that these reported criticisms, while still popular among Creationists, were debunked long ago by scientists.7 Most importantly, recent replication of the Miller-Urey experiment (with updated conditions), as well as of Kettlewell’s research on moths, have fully confirmed the initial conclusions of both studies.8
Even more damning to Dr. Crocker’s claims is a documentary about her case sponsored by Coral Ridge Ministries,3 a large Christian fundamentalist outfit headed by televangelist James Kennedy. The documentary includes actual slides provided by Crocker (screen captures of which are available online9), and although it’s not known whether she used the same slides while teaching at GMU, the Washington Post article strongly indicates that they were part of her NCVV lectures. Looking at these slides, Crocker shows either a shocking ignorance of evolutionary science, or a rather shameless willingness to distort the truth. The following are just a small sample of her claims:
Archeopteryx [sic] is a bird (like an Ostrich), not a reptobird
Only one complete fossil, and has been questioned as a fraud
Archaeopteryx is indeed classified as a bird by scientists, but this does not preclude it from being a transitional form (it has teeth and a long bony tail, among the large number of reptilian characteristics it possesses that modern birds lack).10 Note as well that “reptobird” seems to be a term entirely of Crocker’s invention.
Contrary to what Dr. Crocker’s slide suggests, there are several well-preserved Archaeopteryx fossils, and while it is true that a few people (none of them a paleontologist or biologist) claimed in the 1980s that the original fossil was a fraud, the allegation was quickly shown to be baseless (even the pre-eminent Creationist organization Answers in Genesis lists this as an argument against evolution that should not be used, because it is clearly false!)11
Eohippus is same as modern-day hyrax
Eohippus is an extinct transitional form in the horse family lineage, while the hyrax is a small mammal with some primitive characteristics, part of the larger group of original African mammals (which includes diverse animals such as aardvarks, elephants and manatees). The identity of the hyrax and the eohippus is an old claim from Young Earth Creationists, but simply looking at the two types of skulls makes it obvious that these are two completely different animals.12
In another slide, titled “Scientists are confused”, Crocker offers the following quotes:
Gould and Eldridge [sic] (evolutionists): “There is no validation of the position that speciation causes significant morphological change.”
Werner [sic] von Braun (rocket scientist): “It is unscientific to teach evolution only.”
This is an example of the long tradition of Creationists misusing quotations from legitimate scientific sources.13 We could not verify the von Braun quote here, but even assuming it is genuine, it is unclear why one should pay particular attention to the opinion of the long-dead German rocket scientist with respect to evolution and the teaching thereof. As for the first quote, the correct, original version is: “But continuing unhappiness, justified this time, focuses upon claims that speciation causes significant morphological change, for no validation of such a position has emerged.”14 In this case, while Dr. Crocker’s slide gives the impression that eminent evolution scientists expressed doubts and confusion about the evolutionary concepts of speciation and morphological change, what Gould and Eldredge were discussing was specifically whether the two evolutionary phenomena (speciation, i.e. the reproductive isolation of two closely related lineages of organisms, and changes in their morphology) should be expected to occur at the same time, as well as whether and how the former was necessarily associated with the latter. After discussing the implications of the various possibilities in light of the fossil record and their own evolutionary model of “punctuated equilibria”, Gould and Eldredge argue for a successful explanation:
We believe that the solution to this dilemma may be provided in a brilliant but neglected suggestion of Futuyma. He holds that morphological change may accumulate anywhere along the geological trajectory of a species. But unless that change be “locked up” by acquisition of reproductive isolation (that is, speciation), it cannot persist or accumulate and must be washed out during the complexity of interdigitation through time among varying populations of a species. Thus, species are not special because their origin permits a unique moment for instigating change, but because they provide the only mechanism for protecting change.14
Hardly the words of “confused” scientists!
To speak to the larger point, it is simply false to claim that teaching about Intelligent Design and Creationism in higher education institutions is not allowed. In fact, quite ironically, the ID-supporting web site ResearchID.org proudly lists “100+ universities and colleges” that officially include “intelligent design in their lesson plans”15 and probably even more academic institutions discuss other forms of Creationism, such as Young- and Old-Earth Creationism and other creation myths from various cultures. These courses examine ID and Creationism objectively and in their appropriate context, and their instructors do so openly. The problem with Dr. Crocker was that she attempted to sneak ID and Creationism in classes where they did not belong, and to teach obvious scientific falsehoods in order to support them.
If Caroline Crocker was unable or unwilling to teach accurate science, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College were entirely justified in judging her performance negatively, and in not renewing her contracts. Caroline Crocker is not a victim of scientific persecution, but the students who took her courses are victims of misinformation.
- Geoff Brumfiel, Intelligent Design: who has design on your students’ minds? Nature 434, 1062–1065 (28 April 2005)
- Shankar Vedantam, Eden and Evolution, Washington Post, Sunday, February 5, 2006
- Coral Ridge Ministries, The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education
- Keith Holler, The Future of the Contingent Faculty Movement, Inside Higher Education, November 13, 2007
- Douglas Fox, Primordial Soup’s On: Scientists Repeat Evolution’s Most Famous Experiment, Scientific American, March 28 2007; http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/11/peppered-moths-1.html
- Gould, SJ and Eldredge, N, Punctuated equilibrium comes of age. Nature 366, 223–227, 1993; available in its entirety at www.sjgarchive.org/library/text/b16/p0179.htm and following pages.
Was Guillermo Gonzalez “Expelled”?
Intelligent Design and Tenure
at Iowa State University
by Lauri Lebo
On December 3, 2007, Casey Luskin and Rob Crowther of the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute huddled in a small conference room of Iowa’s capitol building in Des Moines. Before a group of about 25 people, they were there to discuss astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez’s response to Iowa State University over its decision to deny him tenure.
Joining them were the assistant professor’s attorneys and state Sen. David Hartsuch, a conservative Iowa Republican. The university was risking a lawsuit, they hinted darkly, pending the rejection of an appeal to the Board of Regents. The Discovery Institutute and Gonzalez’s assertion is that there were “secret tenure deliberations” to oust Gonzalez because of his support of intelligent design.
Despite the initial fanfare, no lawsuit has yet been filed. Instead, Gonzalez’s tale is featured in the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which purports to uncover the fact that university scientists around the country are being persecuted for their pursuit of intelligent design-related research. The problem is that the film makes a rather spurious argument. While Gonzalez’s support of intelligent design, as it related to the role it played in his academic performance, appears to have been considered in the review process, a closer examination of the details reveals other factors led to the denial.
For instance, filmmakers neglect to bring up the fact that in all his years at Iowa State Gonzalez had only brought in only a tiny amount of grant money when compared to the funding brought in by his colleagues. Nor do they mention the fact that Gonzalez failed to mentor a single one of his students at Iowa State through to their Ph.D. Nor does it tell viewers that while initially his publication record was terrific, during his years at Iowa State, it had significantly dropped.
Issues of tenure are complicated. Much is at stake, not only for the professor under review, but the university as well. The decision is whether or not to grant an employee a position for life. During the intense scrutiny of the process, the candidate’s performance and accomplishments are carefully reviewed in order to assess future potential and value to the university. Grant funding, the number of scientific papers published, the quality of the research and the prestige of the publications, and the performance of one’s graduate students are all considered. Tenure is not automatically granted and it is folly to treat it as if it were so. Of the twelve candidates in the Iowa State physics department in the last decade, four were denied.1
Born in Havana, Cuba, Gonzalez came to the U.S. and received his Ph.D. in astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington. Working with his colleagues in Washington, he published many papers early in his career and his work was considered initially to be quite promising. In 2001, he joined the faculty in Iowa State’s Astronomy and Physics Department as an assistant professor of astronomy.
A year earlier, Gonzalez received a Templeton grant to research material for The Privileged Planet (Regnery Publishing), a pro-intelligent design book co-written by Jay W. Richards, which argues for a creator based on the fact that “the laws of physics are too precisely ‘fine-tuned’ for the existence of complex life.”
While filmmakers and the Discovery Institute make much of Gonzalez’s 68 peer-reviewed papers published throughout his career, a look at the date of the publications reveals that his productivity had begun to drop off dramatically while he was still at University of Washington and before he joined the faculty at Iowa State.2 By the time he had completed The Privileged Planet in 2004, his published work had dropped precipitously. The work he has published in recent years was based on re-evaluations of data he had previously collected or other people’s data.3
In addition to his declining publication record, Gonzalez brought in far fewer research grants than his colleagues. The average tenured faculty in Iowa State’s physics and astronomy department collected $1.3 million in grants during their first six years. Gonzalez brought in, at most, $200,000 during the same amount of time, $64,000 of which was used to pay a doctoral student at a different university and $58,000 of which was for The Privileged Planet. As his tenure documents were up for review, the Discovery Institute promised him a five-year, $50,000 grant.4
Gonzalez said he did not currently have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research. And even though he had been at Iowa State since 2001, none of his graduate students had completed their doctoral work at the time tenure was denied. It’s also important to note that while Templeton Foundation awarded Gonzalez the grant, the money was to be used “to support scientific research on the dynamical and compositional properties of the sun with respect to other local stars.”
In a June 29 letter to the Chronicle for Higher Learning, Pamela Thompson, a vice president at the John Templeton Foundation wrote, “Professor Gonzalez made it sound as if in some way the John Templeton Foundation had supported his study of intelligent design. This is not true. The foundation does not support research programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge.”
But in Expelled, Gonzalez supporters ignore these points and, instead, argue this is a case of academic bullying. At the December press conference, the Discovery Institute’s Luskin and Crowther released university e-mails that purported to reveal a bias against Gonzalez’s belief in intelligent design. Dr. Eli Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, wrote in Gonzalez’s tenure dossier, according to the material released by the Discovery Institute, “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.”5
But that Gonzalez’s colleagues had long opposed intelligent design was certainly no secret. In the summer of 2005, 120 Iowa State science professors issued a statement denouncing intelligent design as contrary to science.6 Their position is no different than those of Michael Behe’s Lehigh University colleagues, who have posted a similiarly worded declaration on their Department of Biological Science’s web page. While personal beliefs should not taken into account in the tenure review process, a proficiency in understanding the basic rules of science stands out as a significant, fair and necessary consideration.
The problem with Gonzalez’s belief in intelligent design is that, as Judge John E. Jones III ruled in his landmark 2005 decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a “reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, would reach the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.” His words echo the official position of the American Astronomical Society, the major U.S. organization for professional astronomers, which states:
In recent years, advocates of “Intelligent Design,” have proposed teaching “Intelligent Design” as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, “Intelligent Design” fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.
It should be noted that in the interest of academic freedom, Gonzalez may legitimately disagree with the position of his professional society. But when he makes such remarks as, “The questions that I ask in my Intelligent Design research are perfectly legitimate scientific questions,” it’s hard to ignore the fact that he is saying his work in intelligent design needs to be judged on its own merits. Also, he included The Privileged Planet in his dossier, making it evident that the tenure committee was to consider it as part of his body of work.
The message is clear: Gonzalez and his supporters tout his work as it relates to intelligent design. If so, than his record of significant work on the subject should be taken into account as to whether to grant him tenure. As it is, he has produced little beyond The Privileged Planet. However, the Discovery Institute’s Luskin and Crowther argued at the press conference that when it comes to judging the scientific validity of Gonzalez’s research, it is unfair to take intelligent design into consideration. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t his colleagues be permitted to consider how much time he was spending on non-scientific pursuits instead of more productive research?
The point of Gonzalez’s story is that Expelled and the Discovery Institute want to treat those professors embracing scientifically vacuous ideas as martyrs. They’re not. And even as they raise an outcry over the legitimate issues of tenure, they ignore the very real mistreatment of professionals who have truly lost jobs over intelligent design. For example, on the same day that Discovery Institute was holding its press conference, the New York Times ran a story about Christine Castillo Comer. The Texas Education Agency’s director of science had just been fired for forwarding an e-mail about a talk by Barbara Forrest on the subject of intelligent design’s creationist links — “a subject on which which we must remain neutral,” according to Comer’s dismissal letters.
Comer’s firing over an e-mail about a talk by Forrest, who during the Kitzmiller trial provided damning testimony exposing the intelligent design community’s creationist connections, comes at a time when the Texas Board of Education is rewriting its state educational standards in an effort, scientists believe, to make them more critical of evolutionary theory. Yet despite the very strong appearance of persecution by anti-evolution officials, Expelled and the Discovery Institute have not said anything on Comer’s behalf in the name of academic freedom.
Even though intelligent has been thoroughly rejected by the professionals in his field, Gonzalez’s defenders say his anti-scientific views and research should not be judged in his tenure decision. Such a notion is as ridiculous as arguing that physicians should ignore a fellow professional’s refusal to follow the rules of germ theory. Yet, they remain silent when a veteran educator is fired for political reasons by people who want to use intelligent design and its latest evolved incarnation of “teaching the controversy” as a wedge to drive their religious views into science class.
The irony, of course, is when colleagues actually do hold intelligent design up to the same standards of scientific scrutiny that its adherents publicly demand, Expelled and the Discovery Institute are the first ones to cry foul.
- “Darwin Sceptic Says Views Cost Tenure.” Nature, published online: May 23, 2007
- Neurotopia v. 2.0, Dec. 6, 2007, A Handy Graphic/Timeline of Gonzalez’s Publication Drop
- Mid-Iowa News Group: Tenure Process was Unfair, Dec. 4, 2007
- Panda’s Thumb, More on Gonzalez Tenure Denial, Dec. 3, 2007
- The Chronicle of Education, 120 Professors at Iowa State U. Sign Statement Criticizing Intelligent-Design Theory, August 26, 2005)
this Sunday’s lecture …
The Parallel Lives of Great Apes & Dolphins
with Dr. Craig Stanford
Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 2:00 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech
Apes and dolphins: primates and cetaceans. Could any creatures appear to be more different? Yet both are large-brained intelligent mammals with complex communication and social interaction. In the first book to study apes and dolphins side by side, Maddalena Bearzi and Craig B. Stanford, a dolphin biologist and a primatologist who have spent their careers studying these animals in the wild, combine their insights with compelling results that teaches us about another large-brained mammal: Homo sapiens. Noting that apes and dolphins have had no common ancestor in nearly 100 million years, Bearzi and Stanford describe the parallel evolution that gave rise to their intelligence … READ MORE about this lecture >
READ MORE about other upcoming lectures >
Important ticket information
Tickets are first come first served at the door. Sorry, no advance ticket sales. Seating is limited. $8 Skeptics Society members & Caltech/JPL Community; $10 General Public.