Francis Beckwith and the cold, cruel realities of tenure

Way back in the dim and distant past, like two years ago, there was a bit of a disturbance in the blogosphere, a minor contretemps after a certain Harvard law student, Lawrence VanDyke, published a “book note” in the Harvard Law Review. It was rank creationist nonsense, a work of pathetic scholarship, and it got publicly shredded by Brian Leiter, and I also got in the act. The book reviewed was an apologia for Intelligent Design by Francis Beckwith. In a later amusing twist, NRO published a defense of VanDyke and Beckwith by an anonymous “Texas free-lance writer”, who it was later discovered was Beckwith’s grad student, Hunter Baker. It’s all tortuous ancient history now, of course, and no one but those few of us involved in the dustup remember it.

What brings it all back is the news that Francis Beckwith has been denied tenure at Baylor. Hunter Baker hasn’t learned his lesson, and has written an overwrought defense, again in a pathetically semi-anonymous way, as “Graduate Student X”.

I have two things to say about it all.

One is to offer my personal sympathy to Francis Beckwith. Tenure is a brutal, evil machine that puts everyone through a hellish torture, and often spits out the deserving and rewards the undeserving. Do not ever judge someone by whether they have got tenure or not—it’s too arbitrary for that, and often represents a kind of insubstantial and subjective matching or mismatching between a person and an institution. So on a personal level, I wish Beckwith well and hope he and his family move on to a satisfying position elsewhere.

The second is that although it is nearly impossible to speculate on what’s going on in tenure committees—he could have been denied tenure on the whim of some old fart with a grudge—it’s hard to imagine that the politics of Intelligent Design did not play some small part in it. Beckwith tied his fortunes to those of the Discovery Institute and the ID movement, and at the very least we can say that that was not enough to salvage his tenure at Baylor. In fact, given that he has a respectable publication record and seems to be a personable fellow, it’s hard to avoid the speculation that they might have wanted to steer Baylor away from the disaster of Intelligent Design. A solid record of publishing large quantities of something that is being shown to be utter crap is not helpful to one’s tenure chances.

Is that a legitimate reason to deny someone tenure? Sure.

We’re all a little less frinky today

Oh, no—the Frinksters (<–dead link) have been kicked out of the scienceblogs stable. This is somewhat disturbing, since I think they were a real plus for the group—science is supposed to be fun and profane and weird, after all—but I am assured that they were not evicted for content, but solely because the authors insisted on maintaining anonymity, which meant that all liability devolved on Seed Media rather than the authors. That does mean we can still make dick jokes (good), but it also says that anonymity here is not supported (bad). I guess that’s the price we’re paying for free hosting.

I think we also now have a great reason to make lots of lawyer jokes.*

Let me just say that the old/new location for the FrinkTank is still in my blogroll and will be staying there, even if they are drunk with power now and are going to be proudly flaunting their dangerous iconoclastic status. And even if they’ve forgotten to re-enable commenting on their blog.

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The Dawkins/Dennett boogeyman

Why would a pro-science op-ed give credence to the words of William Dembski?

William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: “I know that you personally don’t believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God’s greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!”

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Last call

The Koufax voting closes at midnight tonight, so this is your last chance: click through the links below and vote. Or, you can just copy and paste the list below and mail it to wampum @, with the subject “Koufax”.

(Voting is now closed.)

And really, it’s encouraged to make an informed vote for the best candidate here, so I will not be at all chagrined if you vote for some other worthy blog. If I lose, though, the orgy* is cancelled and you might as well tear up your invitation.

*And you ought to see the other attendees…va-va-va-voom.

Let us pray

Here’s another bunch who don’t understand science: an article on research on prayer. You know, the creationists are always complaining that all those scientists out there (waves hand vaguely towards the nearest university) are biased and reject supernatural phenomena out of hand, and that their weird metaphysical research program can’t get any funding. Can we just face the fact that there are plenty of crackpot scientists and sloppy bureaucrats in the world, and that lots of nonsense gets funded and studied?

(More below the fold)

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Nelson’s game

Sometimes, I feel very sorry for Paul Nelson. He’s one of the few creationists who actually tries to engage his critics, and I think there’s a very good reason for that: when creationists try to emerge from the hothouse environment of their “think-tanks” and institutions of ignorance, when they stand before audiences that weren’t bussed in from the local fundamentalist church, they tend to get bopped hard. There is a good reason for that, of course —it’s because they say such remarkably silly things. The exceptional thing about Nelson is that he keeps on saying such silly things.

And he’s done it again, in an article full of misconceptions and half-truths about how science works. It’s a sincere attempt to express his beliefs, I will grant him that, but dang if it isn’t astoundingly wrong from top to bottom. Jason Rosenhouse has already flensed it once, so I’m left with little but a few bones to crack, but hey, that’s fun, too.

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