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May 26 2013

Uh-oh. Now Victor Stenger disagrees with me

I’m sticking by my guns, though. Stenger thinks that Eric Hedin, a professor at Ball State, should be fired have his classes cancelled for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense. I don’t.

While agreeing that the course is "bad science" and its material of "abysmal quality," in his April 25 Pharyngula popular blogger and biologist PZ Myers defended Hedin’s right to teach what he wants, citing academic freedom.

Laurence A. Moran, professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto agreed with Myers in his blog Sandwalk appearing the same day. Moran said, "I defend the right of a tenured professor to teach whatever he/she believes to be true no matter how stupid it seems to the rest of us."

Well, Moran and Myers are wrong. Academic freedom does not imply that an instructor is free to teach material that is demonstrably false. Most campuses provide a "free-speech area" for that purpose.

I think treading on the content of a university-level course sets a dangerous precedent. If we’re going to start firing professors who teach things that are wrong, we’re all going to be vulnerable; there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error. Shall we encourage the right-wingers to start accumulating lecture notes and using every error and revised datum to instigate legal proceedings against professors they don’t like? Shall we inhibit discussion of material that’s controversial or on the very edge of science in our upper-level courses?

I should think we atheist professors should be on our guard against this. I don’t promote atheism in the classroom, but I do present a strictly natural/materialist understanding of biological processes; I advocate for a well-established scientific theory called evolution that a frighteningly large fraction of the general public have judged to be wrong. Do we seriously want our courses subject to review by some podunk Republican lawyer in our towns? Do we really want to open the door to having to think about our course material from the perspective of whether it’s considered actionable by the local priesthood?

Going after a course for its ideology is a terrible mistake. Bringing in outside lawyers to shape the curriculum of a discipline is a disaster.

Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague. He is not contributing to the education of the students in his class; if we had someone like that at my university, he’d be considered a massive problem who was disrupting the progression of our student’s education. And if the university refuses to deal with it, if the rot spreads, it should be publicized so that prospective students know they won’t get adequate instruction, and it should also be brought to the attention of accreditation agencies.

I want the evaluation of university faculty to be in the hands of our peers, not the local tea party chapter, the local council of churches, or for that matter, the local Democrats or atheist meetup. I’m really surprised that any professor would want their work opened up to criticism by a public that isn’t equipped to understand the topics, and welcomes circumventing peer review.


Scratch my opening comment: he doesn’t want him fired, just to have his class cancelled. That’s less disastrous, but again, that’s also still taking to legal measures to interfere with what should be an internal matter. I’m also not clear on what standing anyone other than a student in the class has to take legal action.

Let me repeat, too, that I’m not saying what Hedin is doing is OK: it’s godawful incompetent teaching and bad science. My concern is with how we take action against it.

56 comments

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  1. 1
    Asher Kay

    PZ Myers: pragmatist.

  2. 2
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    If we’re going to start firing professors who teach things that are wrong, we’re all going to be vulnerable; there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error. Shall we encourage the right-wingers to start accumulating lecture notes and using every error and revised datum to instigate legal proceedings against professors they don’t like?

    Er… That’s a bit of a stretch there. The topic was what professor is currently teaching.

    Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague.

    Yeah, the author of the article is suggesting that the problem with the professor is that he is infusing his lectures with Christianity, not just that he is a Christian.

  3. 3
    raven

    They definitely should move Heldin and his course to some other department. Philosophy or Religious Studies or some such. Square pegs and square holes and all that.

    What he is teaching isn’t science.

    It isn’t even xianity per se. It’s oogedy boogedy fundie death cult xianity, a minority group of toxic cults within the religion.

    I don’t see that he should be fired though.

    1. If he has tenure, bad professors are just the collateral damage of academic freedom. It happens. One of my old professors got tenure and went off the deep end of mental illness and alcoholism. It got so bad that the department ordered him to take a year off and get treatment. Which didn’t do much and they ended up carrying him as dead weight for 30 years. This BTW is common, I’ve seen it a few times. Anyone remember the late J.A. Davison of U. of Vermont (IIRC).

    2. It just makes him a martyr to the oogedy boogedies.

  4. 4
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Victor Stenger:

    Now, if Ball State cancels the class the story is over — unless Hedin decides to sue.

    The author of the article isn’t even asking for Hedin to be fired, just for this particular class to be canceled.

  5. 5
    Chris Clarke

    PZ, your problem is you’re just too damned nice.

  6. 6
    Bill

    I completely agree with you. Academic freedom is the very reason for tenure. Do we really want to see a precedent that can be used to discipline or terminate professors based on what they teach about climate change (for example). And of course there is also the fact that firing him would create a martyr.

  7. 7
    ChasCPeterson

    Most campuses provide a “free-speech area” for that purpose.

    what?

    Do we seriously want our courses subject to review by some podunk Republican lawyer in our towns? Do we really want to open the door to having to think about our course material from the perspective of whether it’s considered actionable by the local priesthood? Going after a course for its ideology is a terrible mistake. Bringing in outside lawyers to shape the curriculum of a discipline is a disaster.

    There it is. I tried to make the same point at Coyne’s yesterday but folks don’t seem to want to hear it.

  8. 8
    dickspringer

    I am with you.

  9. 9
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    There is no call for him to be fired. As the article states, there is legal precedent to prevent professors from teaching what they want:

    ” When I was at the University of Hawaii, an instructor was teaching courses in parapsychology in which he claimed, “telepathy is a skill documented around the world.” He said he would aid his students in developing their psychic skills to enable them to defend themselves against “invading minds,” and “stand protected in haunted places.”

    Several professors and members of the community protested that this was not accepted knowledge and should not be presented in a university course. The courses were cancelled. On September 1, 1988, the instructor filed a lawsuit, Civil No. 87-0150, in the United States District Court for the State of Hawaii claiming he had been deprived of his constitutional rights.

    In his decision published on August 31, 1988, Judge Harold Fong dismissed the case with prejudice. Relevant to the Ball State situation, the judge wrote:

    “The classroom is not a public forum”

  10. 10
    jerrycoyne

    P. Z., you’ve completely mischaracterized what Victor said in his link. Nowhere in that post does he call for Hedin to be fired (and neither have I).

    In your previous post on this issue, you also suggested that Ball State had done about as much as it could with Hedin:

    “This kind of thing happens. I’ve known of a couple of cases where faculty go ’round the bend and start flaking out in the classroom, and there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.”

    They did not deal with him internally, even after they called the problem to their attention.

  11. 11
    kevinalexander

    Couldn’t they just put stickers in his texts saying that these are just theories?

    Kidding aside, I agree with PZ. You should definitely shine a bright light on the nonsense that Hedin is teaching, if only to warn prospective students that there is no science in his ‘science’ course. Firing him goes too far as it sets a precedent that could be cited in less clear cut cases.

  12. 12
    Gojira74

    “Firing him goes too far as it sets a precedent that could be cited in less clear cut cases.”

    Who said he should be fired?

  13. 13
    sadunlap

    In the documentary Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky describes how a holocaust denier hoodwinked him. The French government attempted to stop the publication of the denier’s book then Chomsky took the denier’s side because he had great reservations about state-sanctioned history. It’s very uncomfortable to find yourself on the “wrong” side of the line between dreadful crap peddlers and reputable scholars. Unfortunately, that’s where these fights start and unscrupulous politicians will try to push the line further into rational and reasoned academic output. Best not to set the precedent in the first place.

  14. 14
    brianpansky

    also this “skepticism = fear” stuff

    yes, shouldn’t we be afraid of delusion?

  15. 15
    Argle Bargle

    Since Hedin is an Assistant Professor he’s not likely to have tenure. The time to take action is when the tenure committee is considering him.

  16. 16
    calliopejane

    All of our faculty have a bare-minimum standard of teaching courses in accordance with accreditation requirements. If a professor is teaching in such a way that our program/college could lose its accreditation, and steadfastly insists on doing so, that is indeed a serious problem that merits disciplinary hearing.

    But this is now politically charged, so possibly that should be avoided. While giving him inconsequential electives may be an attempt to contain his damage, I think the best solution would be to do as Raven suggested above, move the course to a more appropriate department like philosophy or religious studies. That would avoid making a martyr of the guy for the fundies, while also avoiding delivering garbage to students who paid tuition and enrolled in a class to learn something about science.

    Have students complained? If I signed up for an honors-level science course (even an elective) and I got this garbage, I would be pissed!

  17. 17
    ChasCPeterson

    They did not deal with him internally, even after they [s/b 'we'?] called the problem to their attention.

    Not yet, anyway.

    The time to take action is when the tenure committee is considering him.

    oh, there are ways of not having to wait until then. Denial of reappointment turns out to be much easier and less messy thatn waiting to deny tenure.

  18. 18
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    On September 1, 1988, the instructor filed a lawsuit, Civil No. 87-0150, in the United States District Court for the State of Hawaii claiming he had been deprived of his constitutional rights.

    In his decision published on August 31, 1988, Judge Harold Fong dismissed the case with prejudice.

    Wow. That’s some serious prejudice on the part of the judge if the case was dismissed the day before it was filed.

  19. 19
    ChasCPeterson

    Jerry Coyne is correct above, however, in pointing out that PZ is wrong about Stenger advocating firing the guy. He does not do so. Like Coyne, he murmurs darkly that legal action may become necessary (at the moment the university is investigating). Apparently this legal action is to be based on the Establishment clause.

    I don’t see his Hawaii precedent as binding on the university or department. It just means that if they decided to take action, then the guy wouldn’t be able to invoke free-speech rights.

  20. 20
    tomh

    Professors can certainly teach as much bad course material as they want, as long as their superiors approve. There is no law against teaching bad science, or history or anything else. What they can’t do, as public employees, teaching at a public school, being paid with taxpayer money, is to promote and proselytize their particular religious viewpoint. That’s the reason why lawyers are needed and why this should be settled in court.

  21. 21
    Ichthyic

    For those that remember, it might be worth recalling what happened to John Davison when he started trying to teach his “proscribed evolutionary hypothesis” to his biology students.

    He wasn’t fired, but the problem surely was resolved…

    I can provide links to John’s old manifesto, if you want to see the level of “information” involved.

  22. 22
    Ichthyic

    I don’t see his Hawaii precedent as binding on the university or department.

    it’s not a binding precedent to begin with, it IS a guiding one though.

    But, IIRC, it would only even be a guide at all IF Hedin decides to legally challenge whatever action the uni decides to take.

  23. 23
    naturalcynic

    @jerrycoyne:

    Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.

    Limiting the courses that Hedin teaches is a good idea, however lower level survey courses are used by non-science majors to fulfill breadth requirements. This is what Hedin is apparently doing with this course and in this situation can do more damage to the general population’s views than if he were teaching primarily to biology majors who would have more sense than the survey course student. Survey courses usually at a large university have large numbers of students, so an anti-science viewpoint about evolution or climate change may be the only viewpoint that is presented – making it possible for that student [voter, potential school board member, humanities teacher]] to have a permanently scarred view of the subjects.
    The department should try lo restrict Hedin from teaching to large numbers of relatively naive underclassmen. Maybe the department should have a sort of trial-by-fire for senior students that have been previously well-trained in evolution to show them the horseshitviews that they will be getting out there in the “real world”.

  24. 24
    brive1987

    “Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague.”

    Third option is that he be dealt with for teaching Christian infused science -no?

    It is equivocation not to acknowledge that the issue here is course content. And the specific problem is that’s it’s not just factually wrong but that it’s wrongness comes from (his) ideological christain inputs.

    And the further issue is this is a publicly funded university not acting on this teacher of religiously predicated science.

    When issues of free speech (albeit complicated by the special pleading of “tenure”) vs church state separation in the public (funded) square clashes, there should only be one outcome consistent with a secular worldview.

    These aren’t hard core post grad academic students are they? This isn’t an academic document about to be subjected to peer review is it? This is a course presented with considerable authority to kids a only a few years out of school. This is pure teaching in a classroom.

  25. 25
    ChasCPeterson

    Limiting the courses that Hedin teaches is a good idea, however lower level survey courses are used by non-science majors to fulfill breadth requirements. This is what Hedin is apparently doing with this course and in this situation can do more damage to the general population’s views than if he were teaching primarily to biology majors who would have more sense than the survey course student.

    I agree with this.
    Ideally, the department, or its curriculum committee, should own the non-majors survey course(s) and mandate a syllabus that’s reasonably consistent no matter who’s teaching, then require those who teach it to go by the book.

  26. 26
    rrede

    As a professor in literature and languages who teaches (at a small university in rural Texas), African American Literature and Women Writers (among other marginalized literatures), and a graduate course in gender theory, I know from past experience that there are those who’d like to shut that down for me being “wrong” (as one student wrote on the Women Writers’ evaluation: “I never expected to have to read work by African American women and lesbians in a Women Writers course.).

    I agree, there’s definitely a case for internal and professionally trained review.

    OTOH, those suggesting the class be moved to another department: the class might be moved to another department, but if a professor has their credentials in sciences, I doubt they’d be allowed to teach a theology course — lack of appropriate credentials (in the US at least). My university is coming up on one of the accreditations by the regional accrediting unit, and we’ve been looking hard at credentials issues.

  27. 27
    raven

    OTOH, those suggesting the class be moved to another department: the class might be moved to another department, but if a professor has their credentials in sciences, I doubt they’d be allowed to teach a theology course — lack of appropriate credentials …

    That could be a problem.

    A bigger problem with the idea of moving him is…he might be too wacko for even the philosophy and religious studies departments. Even they might not want him.

    It’s called kicking the can down the road and hoping.

    Hitchens rule again: Religion poisons everything. Including a Department of Physics for Cthulhu’s sake.

    And it is all rather pointless. It isn’t like the students have never heard of fundie xianity. Given how god soaked Indiana is, they couldn’t have escaped it if they tried.

    PS: What did U. of Vermont do with JA Davison who did something similar. Anyone know? IIRC, they gave him an office and desk and no responsibilities whatsoever or something.

  28. 28
    Hank_Says

    PZ:

    …there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error.

    The differences between you and Hedin are that you would’ve been teaching the best data available at that time and that you changed what you taught based on improved/updated data, whereas Hedin is teaching material that was publicly debunked as religious pseudoscience years ago and ruled as such in Dover. If you can’t teach not-science as science in a high school, surely you should not be able to do so at a tertiary institution.

    And while it may well be the case that professors have the freedom to set their own curricula and indulge their interests and passions, surely any student should have an equivalent freedom to be taught content that’s not falsely advertised. One thing everyone seems to be in agreement over is that this course is both not scientific and is unapologetically evangelistic.

    Having said that I don’t think Hedin should be fired. Just asked to move the course out of the science curriculum or amend it; if he can’t or won’t, he should drop the course. Optional or not, depicting this one-sided pseudoscience course as science is a crime against truth and integrity, if not strictly against the law. Ball at least ought to be concerned with the former if the latter isn’t applicable.

  29. 29
    Alex SL

    I have read through Stenger’s piece and failed to find the part where he argues that Hedin should be fired. Coyne (and now Stenger) are saying that this course should not be taught as science, that’s all.

  30. 30
    brive1987

    #29 Alex

    In this specific case I think PZ is edging over the slippery slope.

    I don’t believe too many republican lawyers would line up for church state cases – which is all that’s being argued for here (assuming the board of the public uni takes no action).

    I would have assumed we would have granted the premis that tenure does not trump the constituation and that tertiary students in public funded spaces should be as protected (while learning new info) as the average 4th grader.

    Slightly at a tangent, I see pz has crossed out the word “fired” in his intro para but not his main body text.

  31. 31
    tomh

    I don’t know why anyone would think that the Ball St administration is interested in doing anything about Hedin. After all, they hired him out of an Evangelical Christian college, where everything is infused with Christian faith. For instance, the biology department is advertised as, A FAITH-INTEGRATED STUDY OF LIVING THINGS, (their italics). After ten years, Ball St certainly knows his teaching methods, and must approve, since they’ve never raised any objection. The only way anything will change is by threat of legal action, which I would hope is carried through.

  32. 32
    tbp1

    At my university, even tenured full professors teach what they’re assigned to teach. The higher ups usually get first dibs at the “fun” courses, but still, they don’t get to just teach whatever they want. Moreover, although even untenured profs are usually given a certain amount of leeway to allow for personal teaching style and interests, if the department chair/dean/whoever-is-in-charge decides that everyone teaching Intro to Whatever 101 will use the same textbook, assign the same projects and give the same tests, then that is the way it is done. I teach music composition and theory. While I have a lot of discretion with my composition students about style and aesthetic issues, if I started to teach that C-E-G spelled out an Ab minor chord, rather than a C major chord, or that range of the standard flute extended to the bottom-space A in the bass clef, I would be in big trouble. Unless I am misreading these articles, Ball State could simply assign him to other courses, and monitor their content. If he is competent at teaching what he was actually hired and assigned to teach, and his research within his discipline is adequate, then, with some very narrow exceptions, his religious, political or other opinions expressed outside of class should be off-limits. But if he insists on dragging them into class, or refuses to teach what he is assigned to teach in an appropriate manner, then all bets are off.

  33. 33
    pHred

    At my institution:

    It is the policy of the university to maintain and encourage full freedom, within the law, of inquiry, teaching, and research. In the exercise of this freedom faculty members may, without limitation, discuss their own subject in the classroom; they may not, however, claim as their right the privilege of discussing in their classroom controversial matter that has no relation to their subject. The principle of academic freedom shall be accompanied by a corresponding principle of responsibility. In their role as citizens, employees have the same freedoms as other citizens. However, in their extramural utterances employees have an obligation to indicate that they are not institutional spokespersons.

    The bold is in the original. If I suddenly started teaching about the ineptitude of the republican party in my classes I would get into all sorts of trouble. We actually talk about all sorts of controversial stuff like birth control and climate change in my class but they are “in my field.” From my institutions perspective there is considerable open territory between “don’t do anything because of academic freedom” and “get rid of him” though honestly they probably would cancel his courses and assign him to something where he couldn’t do much damage. Most of the institutions I have been at do not view academic freedom as an absolute.

  34. 34
    WithinThisMind

    As long as he is being honest about what material is being presented in his class and it is categorized appropriately, no, I don’t think he should be ‘censored’.

    But I also don’t think he should get to falsely advertise his class. If I signed up for a class on say, biology, and got a syllabus full of bible-babble, I would be rightly pissed and demanding a refund and compensation for my course schedule being disrupted. And the class should not be given course credit as a ‘science’ course if it is not teaching science.

  35. 35
    brive1987

    #34. He is being paid to teach science. For all I care he can choke and gorge on tenured academic freedom in the classroom and beyond – as long as it is relates to ideas that are scientific.

    He doesn’t get to “recategorise” his content into a new spiritual discipline and still draw his salary and claim special privileges.

  36. 36
    ramaus

    Options for Ball State:

    Change the name of the course and course description to describe what is being taught.

    Drop the course.

    Hand the prof a well designed proper course outline.

    If it ‘s not science don’t give science credit for taking it.

    I can’t believe a prof can agree to teach a science class and then substitute an astrology or religion class.
    If the class is represented as ‘at the interface between science & religion’ maybe some students will gladly pay to hear how religions treat science.

  37. 37
    Karen Locke

    But, PZ, universities rewrite curricula all the time. A decade ago, when I was taking upper-division geology courses to make up for my lack of knowledge in the subject, there was a 4-unit igneous and metamorphic petrology course, with one lab per week, and a 3-unit sedimentology class. Now there’s just a petrology class, 5 units, that covers ig/met AND sedimentology and has two labs per week. The students are reeling — that’s too much info to cover in one semester — the professors are reeling, trying to cram too much into the syllabus — and it’s just a bad idea. But one that was mandated by the university.

  38. 38
    raven

    Well no one remembers JA Davison, a weird biology prof at UVermont.

    He was mostly before my time and posted on creationist forums that I avoid. He was obnoxious enough and weird enough to get banned from a lot of forums.

    Davison went off the rail, after his daughter died young or so some people say. I absolutely can’t confirm this except to say it is hearsay.

    I just did a google search and this came up from a poster who posts here and posted on this thread earlier today.

    Pharyngula: 33.
    Ichthyic 4 May 2012 at 9:43 pm (UTC -5)

    I think it’s a bit dishonest to pretend to be sad about an idiot dropping dead.

    that’s the actual sad thing though.

    He wasn’t an idiot.

    He had a daughter that died in the 80s, and it triggered a severe mental breakdown in him.

    before that, he was a well published scientist; with at least one article published in Science, IIRC.

    He never recovered from the death of his daughter, and eventually the University of Vermont was forced to remove him from teaching duties.

    I know at least one member of his family tried to help him, but John alienated him by ridiculing and attacking those efforts in public, on several blogs.

    No, this is not a case of an idiotic, ignorant authoritarian personality run amok. This is a genuine case of a mind beat to pieces and not recovering.

    I always felt just as sorry for Davison as for Dennis Markuze; with the same conflicted feelings in response to their extreme hatred and negative behaviors.

    both needed help.

    If they have tenure, as a last resort you just have to stop them from teaching. This isn’t the first time things like this have happened. It happens a lot and not just religious fanatics preaching cult xianity when they should be teaching science.

  39. 39
    ChasCPeterson

    But, PZ, universities rewrite curricula all the time….blahblah…and it’s just a bad idea. But one that was mandated by the university.

    ‘Universities’ do not rewrite curricula. ‘Universities’ do not mandate curricula. Committees do. As long as the committees are composed of appropriate faculty, all is OK.
    Again, the problem is the idea that curriculum should be subject to attack from outside lawyers. No. Faculty should determine the curriculum. That’s the only issue here.

  40. 40
    Daniel Schealler

    DEEP RIFTS™

  41. 41
    tomh

    Again, the problem is the idea that curriculum should be subject to attack from outside lawyers. No. Faculty should determine the curriculum. That’s the only issue here.

    That’s the only issue you see. Some people think the fact that a public school is using taxpayer money to proselytize and promote a particular religion is an issue. In fact, if it goes to court, that will be the only issue.

  42. 42
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Some people think the fact that a public school is using taxpayer money to proselytize and promote a particular religion is an issue.

    This isn’t high school or lower, and is not as required class, or the state/school district politically dictating the science curriculum. Not quite the black/white situation some folks make it out to be.

  43. 43
    Ichthyic

    ‘Universities’ do not rewrite curricula. ‘Universities’ do not mandate curricula. Committees do. As long as the committees are composed of appropriate faculty, all is OK.

    The committees I was on just discussed possibilities and which new information/changes should be included or not. No mandates. The final curriculum was always left up the primary instructor.

    OTOH, I was never on a committee where the instructors involved in a particular curriculum were anything other than interested in producing the best information, and ways of presenting it, possible, so I would have to say I have no direct experience of seeing what happens when an instructor “goes rogue”, though what I was told at the time was that if something goes off the rails, typically department heads deal with it first.

    and of course, that was only for the larger classes. most of the smaller classes (less than 30 students), there were no committees. Again, if there was a problem, department heads might get involved.

    The university itself, as administrative overseer, really was never involved in the discussion of curricula, only in fallout arising from any controversies that spilled outside of the classroom that might have legal or financial repercussions to the university as a whole.

  44. 44
    tomh

    This isn’t high school or lower, and is not as required class, or the state/school district politically dictating the science curriculum. Not quite the black/white situation some folks make it out to be.

    The fact that it isn’t high school seems irrelevant, if ID is religion in high school it doesn’t suddenly become science in college. Many high school science classes aren’t required, either. And a state school, on the public dime, is indeed dictating the science curriculum. As far as black/white, it seems to me that the Hedin defenders, PZ, et.al., are the ones who see it in black/white. I certainly don’t, which is why I think it should go to court. Let a judge or jury decide if it’s legal to preach religion in the guise of science at a public university with taxpayer money.

  45. 45
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    What concrete steps can we take towards a day dawning where our first priority in designing or deploying any tool to defend ourselves and what we value is not, “how effectively can the Rat Fucks turn it against us?”

  46. 46
    Marcus Ranum

    If they have tenure, as a last resort you just have to stop them from teaching.

    I’ve kinda wondered – other than his colleagues disowning him, how has Lehigh handled Behe? After reading his Dover testimony, in which he admitted he’s ignorant, I can’t see anyone wanting to study under him.

  47. 47
    Felix

    #46
    Jill E. Schneider, Ph.D, Lehigh University: “We stand by our principle of academic freedom. Professor Behe maintains his position as a senior faculty member by teaching biochemistry to undergraduates and fulfilling other university service obligations. Our biology department, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Science agree that ID is not scientific and should not be presented as science in any science curriculum. We have made no attempt to suppress his points of view.”
    http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/schneider/evolution.htm

  48. 48
    kieran

    How has this course survived external review, I know here part of the external examiners role is to review course content as a peer review mechanism. Is that not carried out in the states?

  49. 49
    Holms

    I think treading on the content of a university-level course sets a dangerous precedent. If we’re going to start firing professors who teach things that are wrong, we’re all going to be vulnerable; there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error.

    I think there is a major distinction that you have overlooked here. Whatever progress has been made in these ten years, it remains that what you taught back then was in strong accord with contemporary knowledge. It was taught as true back then because it was, at the time, the closest approach to the truth available. Scientific progress may have rendered some of that obsolete since then, but then, that is how scientific progress works.

    Creationism on the other hand is demonstrably wrong right now and thus has no justification to exist at all in any curriculum, except perhaps some kind of social science / comparative religion sort of area.

  50. 50
    Holms

    What concrete steps can we take towards a day dawning where our first priority in designing or deploying any tool to defend ourselves and what we value is not, “how effectively can the Rat Fucks turn it against us?”

    That day, I think, will never come. There will always be people wanting to rig / exploit / etc any system whatsoever. Safeguarding against such misuse will always be a necessary consideration.

  51. 51
    garnetstar

    If I taught alchemy in my chemistry class, it’d be a violation of my contract and of professional ethics.

    My contract implicitly includes that I will teach accurate chemistry that is accepted by the scientific community at that time. I have an ethical responsibility to teach what the students signed up for, and what they are paying a lot for. They need that chemical knowledge to prepare for careers or succeed in their various majors.

    When the current state of knowledge is improved, and what I’d been teaching is proved wrong, I’ll teach that. No bureaucrat or outside meddlar can fault my teaching, as long as what I taught was accepted science at the time. We used to teach that there were only two forms of carbon, graphite and diamond. No one has come around fussing because buckyballs and nanotubes were more recently discovered.

    The department would first deal with this internally, attempting to persuade me to drop alchemy and do my job. If I continued, I’d be fired, and I’d lose in court, and so I should.

    No, academic freedom doesn’t mean one can teach anything.

  52. 52
    ChasCPeterson

    The department would first deal with this internally, attempting to persuade me to drop alchemy and do my job. If I continued, I’d be fired, and I’d lose in court, and so I should.
    No, academic freedom doesn’t mean one can teach anything.

    No, it doesn’t.
    It does mean that, as you say, it gets dealt with internally. Not by nonprofit-hired lawyers bringing legal action against the university.

  53. 53
    garnetstar

    Well, in this case, there’s the question of keeping church and state separate in a public university. That wouldn’t come up in my subject (there’s no constitutional prohibition on teaching nonsense, just religious nonsense, at a public school.) So, the secular organization may be acting properly in suing on those grounds.

  54. 54
    Marcus Ranum

    @#47:
    Jill E. Schneider, Ph.D, Lehigh University:

    So “other than disowning him” – nothing. I guess it depends on whether he’s actually teaching something that he and they knows is bullshit. I appreciate the dilemma, but it’s got to suck when you work hard to teach what you understand to be true and one of your colleagues is so intellectually honest he’s clinging to ideas from the age of alchemy. Gets a bit hard to see how the university is valuing truth in that situation. Veritas Vos Liberabit and all that.

  55. 55
    katansi

    “there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error.”

    There is also a clear difference between something that is false NOW as opposed to something that WAS the best understanding 10 years ago. If you were still teaching ideas proven false in a science classroom why should your job be off limits? There has to be a balance between allowing for dissent and the teaching of complete bullshit. Not all academics, tenured or not, actually deserve to keep their jobs. There’s a huge grey area in merit that needs to be considered. If he’s teaching something demonstrably false that is a terrible thing to defend. It’s like cops and the Thin Blue Line where they break their own oaths of service to the community to stand up for fellow police officers who are doing wrong. That would be a worse trend to set than firing a shitty professor who doesn’t just buck the trends but actually teaches bad science. Where’s the consideration that he’s failing to do his job in doing that? You get to make bad decisions that affect your own life, you are somewhat up for grabs when those bad decisions affect others.

  56. 56
    sonorus

    This spring I taught my first college class. I had taught before as a TA, but this was my first time to fly solo. I chose the content, the readings, the listening assignments, etc, BUT I stuck to the topic of the course. Had I decided to talk about something completely unrelated, they would have been well within their rights to fire me (at least in my opinion, no idea what the state law would be). I took my responsibility seriously and did my best to make sure my students were as educated on the subject as was possible in one semester. I don’t have much patients with professors who want to talk about their personal lives or deviate from the syllabus too much. I’m in favor of academic freedom and I’m grateful that my department head trusted me to decide how much time to spend on various topics and which works to discuss in greater depth. I think that’s important. But I also don’t think academic freedom means giving professors carte blanche.

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