academic freedom Culture Darwinism Intelligent Design Science

Free speech may not be essential to government but it is essential to science

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Readers may well remember Adam Perkins, a scientist who has spoken out on the importance of free speech in science. Why? From Sarah Chaffee at ENST:

Adam Perkins, King’s College London lecturer in Neurobiology of Personality, was scheduled to deliver a talk at his institution. But King’s College cancelled the event because they considered it too “high risk.” What was he going to say that was so “risky” that he needed to be shut down?

He starts off with a bang. “We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, or test tubes or even Large Hadron Colliders. These are merely tools that help us to accomplish a far greater mission, which is to choose between rival narratives, in the vicious, no-holds-barred battle of ideas that we call ‘science’.”

Perkins makes an interesting reference to Darwinian evolution. Although one cannot deduce whether or not he’s a critic, and it would be safe to assume not, it is nonetheless interesting that he chose to include natural selection as a subject where scientific “argument” and “debate” are “allowed.” More.

Well, if Perkins does not want Darwinian evolution to continue to be a dogmatic religion of science, rather than a science, he had better be prepared to allow scientific “argument” and “debate” about it.

Perkins reflects on the episode personally here.

Discovery Institute has started a new website called Free Science in response to events in recent years:

Up until 2013, physics professor Eric Hedin taught an interdisciplinary honors seminar at Ball State University (BSU) called Boundaries of Science.

This was not a straight physics or cosmology class, but an elective interdisciplinary course designed to “emphasiz[e]… the relationships of the sciences to human concerns and society,” and it explored scientific evidence for intelligent design, among other topics related to science and faith. The course bibliography included materials from scholars who both supported and disagreed with intelligent design. These individuals spanned the faith spectrum. Hedin had prepared the class in accordance with university regulations through the usual processes.1

However, biologist Jerry Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation caught wind of this and complained in a letter to the president of BSU, accusing Hedin of proselytizing and teaching Christianity. Their sources were anonymous complaints found on RateMyProfessor.com, which has no verification for whether a reviewer actually took a Professor’s courses or not. But comments about Hedin’s class submitted to BSU by his actual students painted a far different picture.

Violating its own procedures, BSU appointed a special ad hoc committee stacked with hostile faculty to investigate Hedin. Despite receiving a petition signed by more than 7,000 people urging BSU to defend Hedin’s academic freedom, the university ultimately cancelled Hedin’s course. More.

For whatever reason, free inquiry is no longer considered an important characteristic of universities. Ask Bret Weinstein how interested his students were in learning biology as opposed to nearly assaulting him over campus politics he was trying to avoid.

There is a critical difference between free speech in politics and free speech in science. Political theory may not include the right to say what one thinks. Governments can last a long time without it, given enough informants, thugs, and lackeys.

But science simply cannot function as such if no one is allowed to question the status quo. Constant questioning is integral to the discipline. And one certainly cannot allow current stakeholders to control which questions may be asked.

See also: Why science needs free speech

“Erased” paleontologist Bechly gets support from Science and Health Council

and

Michael Ruse: Christianity and Darwinism as rival religions

2 Replies to “Free speech may not be essential to government but it is essential to science

  1. 1
    Allan Keith says:

    Violating its own procedures, BSU appointed a special ad hoc committee stacked with hostile faculty to investigate Hedin. Despite receiving a petition signed by more than 7,000 people urging BSU to defend Hedin’s academic freedom, the university ultimately cancelled Hedin’s course.

    I think that you might be confused as to who is responsible for the courses in a university. The professors are obviously involved in developing them but the department and the university are ultimately responsible for whether or not they are offered. In short, they approve the curriculum.

    Research is another story. There is obviously politics involved in who gets hired and who gets tenure, but that is nothing new. Researchers, however, should be able to research anything they like. But, until you obtain tenure, nobody is going to conduct research in anything that is a political mine-field. Nobody is going to conduct research on the intellectual superiority of one race over another, or try to resurrect alchemy or phrenology. Once they receive tenure, however, the department has very little direct influence on what is researched. But, obviously, there are still ways to reign in tenured professors. Again, none of this is new.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but full-blown freedom of research and speech, even if given, will not change reality. If you are a scientist studying evolutionary biology and keep insisting that ID is a better explanation, with no ability to test the mechanisms that have never been proposed, you will find your funding dry up. Mostly because doing so is bad science, not because of any conspiracy to stifle scientific research.

    The issue of student protests interrupting or interfering with invited speakers at a university is a different issue. Yes, interfering with the speaker is impacting the speaker’s freedom of speech. But preventing these protests interferes with the freedom of speech of the students. My gut feeling is that you go where the money is. The speakers are not paying to be at the university, the students are. I would tend to err on the side of the students, but I would also ensure that the level of protests were within acceptable bounds. Easier said than done.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    Allan:

    If you are a scientist studying evolutionary biology and keep insisting that ID is a better explanation, with no ability to test the mechanisms that have never been proposed, you will find your funding dry up.

    Only if the people offering the funding are as scientifically illiterate as you. Mechanisms have been proposed. And when compared to natural selection, design is a mechanism. And we observe design in action every day. Not only that genetic algorithms us Intelligent Design concepts.

    But even that is moot as then student just need to present the methodology to test the concept of design and then use it for any and all biological systems and subsystems covered under the curriculum.

    What we don’t see is anyone testing natural selection to see if it is the designer mimic Darwin said. No one has ever done any research to see if that is so.

    It’s sad how out of one side of its mouth Allan says he is a scientist and out of then other it proves it is scientifically illiterate and a bluffing equivocator

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