When Why Evolution Is True, a Website with about 9,000,000 views a year, voices allegations undermining the reputation of an academic at a state university, it is no light matter. Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Ball State University (BSU), who was hired by the university in 2013. In an article dated January 4, 2014, Professor Jerry Coyne not only recycles old allegations about Dr. Gonzalez which have been refuted again and again, but he gives unwarranted credence to new ones made by a man who doesn’t even know Dr. Gonzalez.
Why Dr. Gonzalez was really denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007
Coyne denigrates the academic achievements of Dr. Gonzalez, noting that he was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2008 (actually, it was 2007) and suggesting that the reason for this was not his advocacy of Intelligent Design (as Dr. Gonzalez had alleged), but “his lack of scholarship, students, and his poor funding” – a totally false allegation which has been thoroughly refuted in an Evolution News and Views post by John West, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, which shows that Dr. Gonzalez had published 68 refereed articles in science journals, that in 2006, the year he was up for tenure, Gonzalez published more total articles than all other tenured astronomers at Iowa State University, and that he managed to attract no less than $172,000 in outside grants while he was at ISU. Coyne’s information is therefore badly out-of-date. Indeed, as far back as December 2007, Evolution News and Views published an article by Casey Luskin, which quoted from a “smoking gun” document, showing that Dr. Gonzalez was denied fair tenure process by hostile colleagues who plotted behind his back, suppressed evidence, and then misled the public. According to Internal e-mails and other documents obtained under the Iowa Open Records Act:
* Dr. Gonzalez was subjected to a secret campaign of vilification and ridicule by colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who explicitly wanted to get rid of him because of his pro-intelligent design views, not his scholarship.
* Dr. Gonzalez’s work and views on intelligent design were repeatedly attacked during department tenure deliberations.
* Dr. Gonzalez’s colleagues secretly plotted to evade the law by suppressing evidence that could be used against them in court to supply proof of a hostile work environment.
* One of Dr. Gonzalez’s colleagues admitted to another faculty member that the Department of Physics and Astronomy had violated the principle of academic freedom “massively” when it came to Gonzalez, while other colleagues expressed qualms that their secret plotting against Gonzalez was unethical or dishonest.
* Dr. Gonzalez’s department chair misled the public after the fact by insisting that “intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this decision” — even though he had privately told colleagues that Gonzalez’s support for intelligent design alone “disqualifies him from serving as a science educator.”
* In voting to reject tenure for Dr. Gonzalez, members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy all but ignored recommendations made by the majority of their own outside scientific reviewers, who thought Gonzalez clearly deserved tenure.
Readers who would like to know more may be interested in reading this background story on Dr. Gonzalez. It is a devastating expose of the academic deceit that took place at a state university, over six years ago.
Dr. Gonzalez: well and truly up to the job
Professor Coyne’s badly misinformed article also cited a report by Seth Slabaugh in the Muncie Star Press (January 2, 2014), in which Dr. Michael J. I. Brown, an observational astronomer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, was quoted as suggesting that Dr. Gonzalez was not up to the job he got last year, when he was hired as an Assistant Professor of Astronomy by Ball State University:
“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. [JAC: 2001 was when Gonzalez was hired at Iowa state. When you begin your first job, the “publication” clock starts anew and your tenure depends on what you accomplish between the time you’re hired and when you come up for tenure.] His publication record since then has been solid but unremarkable.”
I have to say that this is pure and utter rubbish. In fact, even if you only look at articles published by Dr. Gonzalez after he arrived at Iowa State University, it turns out he still produced 25 since 2002 – which is 67% more than the 15 articles that were normally supposed to demonstrate research excellence, according to the standards of the physics and astronomy department where he worked.
He has published more peer-reviewed journal articles than all but one of the faculty members granted tenure this year at ISU — across the university as a whole, not just his department. In fact, Gonzalez has more peer-reviewed journal articles to his credit than all but five faculty members granted tenure at ISU since 2003. In addition, he exceeded his department’s own tenure standards, which define “excellence” in terms of publications in refereed science journals, by more than 350%…In 2006, the year he was up for tenure, Gonzalez published more total articles than all other tenured ISU astronomers. Moreover, Dr. Gonzalez has more per-capita citations in science journals and per-capita scientific publications than any other tenured astronomer at ISU since 2001, the year he joined ISU. In other words, Gonzalez outperformed the very astronomers that voted against his tenure… Meanwhile, his work has been featured in the world’s most prestigious science journals, Nature in 2002 and Science in 2004. He co-authored a cover story for Scientific American in 2001, and he is co-author of a 2006 peer-reviewed Cambridge University Press textbook, Observational Astronomy. He is clearly impacting the next generation of scientists, as his ideas about the Galactic Habitable Zone have even been incorporated into two astronomy textbooks by other authors.
In his article, Professor Coyne also made several statements about Dr. Gonzalez, calling into question his integrity and insinuating that Ball State University had rigged his appointment as an Assistant Professor:
…BSU’s recent hiring of ID advocate Guillermo Gonzalez may have involved someone in the university who likes intelligent design, as well perhaps a bit of duplicity in the hiring process…
The timing of the hiring is also odd, and the university admitted (see below) that Gonzalez was given advance notice of the job before other candidates heard about it. In fact, he applied for the job before it was even advertised. That’s a sign that the University (or rather, the Department of Physics and Astronomy) wanted him. It’s also strange because the job ad itself that specifies what materials you are supposed to submit, so Gonzalez must have also seen the ad before it was published…
To me, the timing smells fishy. It’s clear that someone at Ball State must have wanted Gonzalez and contacted him before the job was advertised. I don’t know who the other candidates were, so I can’t say whether Gonzalez was the best qualified. All I can say is that someone clearly had him in mind before the search was announced. And now Ball State University is graced with two ID creationists out of the 16 tenure-track faculty in its department of Physics and Astronomy.
Who is Dr. Brown?
To back up his assertions, Coyne cited as evidence allegations reported by Seth Slabaugh in an article in the Muncie Star Press on January 2.
The article by Slabaugh, which was quoted at length by Coyne, reported on allegations by Dr. Michael J. I. Brown, 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.'” I should point out that in recent years, Dr. Brown has taken an active role in confronting what he regards (rightly or wrongly) as pseudoscience, whether it be denial of the Big Bang or global warming denial (see here, here, here and here). Given his dismissive remarks on “evolution denial” in his article on the Big Bang, it’s fairly easy to surmise what his views on Intelligent Design would be.
Of astronomers and chimpanzees
In the article, Dr. Brown was quoted as saying: “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.” (Eric Hedin is an assistant professor of physics at Ball State University.)
Nice line, Dr. Brown, but you’re not even close to the mark. According to Wolframalpha.com, there were 1,240 people employed as astronomers in the United States, as of 2009. There are about 80 scientists who are either professional academics or have Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy, and who signed the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwinism statement, expressing their skepticism of “the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” I’d wager that there are probably many other astronomers and physicists in the United States who are quietly skeptical, but didn’t want to draw attention to themselves or place their careers at risk by signing. While there are over 700 pet chimpanzees in the United States, it is highly unlikely that any of them are owned by professional astronomers, who comprise just 0.0004% of the population. Methinks Dr. Brown was exaggerating more than a bit.
Dr. Gonzalez responds to the allegations made by Dr. Brown
On January 3, Dr. Gonzalez replied to Seth Slabaugh’s article in a letter to the Muncie Star Press, titled, Hiring at Ball State not ‘rigged’. (Dr. Gonzalez also shared the contents of the letter with David Klinghoffer, who reproduced it in an article at Evolution News and Views, published on the same day.)
The letter read as follows:
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.
Professor Coyne’s article belittling Dr. Gonzalez appeared on January 4, after Dr. Gonzalez’s letter had appeared in the Muncie Star Press, and after David Klinghoffer, who had reproduced it in his article at Evolution News and Views. But perhaps Coyne hadn’t seen the letter or David Klinghoffer’s article. Would he publish a politely worded retraction, if he was alerted to the existence of these reports? I decided to find out, by informing him about them, myself.
I attempt to alert Professor Coyne – who does exactly nothing
In a comment to Professor Coyne’s article at 9:54 a.m. on January 4, I wrote:
There are two sides to any story. You might like to read this:
The link was to David Klinghoffer’s article at Evolution News and Views, dated January 3. My suggestion was greeted with withering scorn from other commenters.
Professor Coyne cannot claim that he did not notice my comment, as it was placed in moderation after I had sent it. It must therefore have been cleared by him.
Finally, I note that the article in the Muncie Star Press, which was quoted by Professor Coyne in his article, drew attention to the fact that the job that Dr. Gonzalez was hired for wasn’t advertised on the American Astronomical Society’s website until March 1, and that the deadline given for applications was July 1, “which may have resulted in potential applicants not choosing to apply until it was too late.” I am in no position to comment on that claim, which was made by Dr. Brown. But even if it were true, it would in no way reflect on the character of Dr. Gonzalez. He didn’t place the job advertisement; Ball State University did.
It is now 8:47 p.m. on Sunday, January 5, 2014, in Chicago, and 3:47 a.m. on Monday morning in Poland, where he is currently holidaying. Will Professor Coyne have the grace to acknowledge, when he gets up on Monday, January 6, that he got his facts wrong? Time will tell.