Ben Stein's Expelled - Part I

29 August 2007

As some of you may know, Ben Stein has an upcoming documentary film (titled "Expelled"), in which he posits that Intelligent Design theory is marginalized, not because it is scientifically vacuous, but rather because of some sort of atheist conspiracy.

Here's a taste of what's to come from Expelled.

On the film's website, in the News section, you will see animated newspaper headlines flashing across the upper right -hand corner. One of those newspapers reads:

"University Astronomer Forced Out For Inconvenient Belief"


The text reads:
"ESPITE [sp] A STELLAR RESEARCH RECORD, Iowa state university professor Guillermo Gonzalez is being forced out of his job for the expression - outside the classroom - of an inconvenient personal belief"

"No intelligence allowed" is a nice tagline for a film that can't even spell the word "despite." However, there are many, many things wrong with this.

First of all, Gonzalez was never "forced out" of anything at all, whatsoever. Rather, he was denied tenure when he first applied at the University of Iowa.

Second, Gonzalez did not have the "stellar research record" the Discovery Institute and Ben Stein seem to think he did. At least not in a pattern that warrants a grant of tenure.
"Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez's publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

"It looks like it slowed down considerably," said Mr. Hirsch, stressing that he has not studied Mr. Gonzalez's work in detail and is not an expert on his tenure case. "It's not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State."

That pattern may have hurt his case. "Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State," said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university."

That's great that the guy did all this post-doc research. Apparently it was very good work. However, the case for martyrdom is seriously weakened when your research has trailed off during the period relevant for review. And you can't cite all that great research in support of your theory of persecution when the University has a policy of only considering work you've done while employed.

But wait. There's more.
Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research, on planets beyond our solar system and their parent stars...

Mr. Gonzalez said that none of his scientific publications mention intelligent design, aside from The Privileged Planet. He co-wrote the book with a $58,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which paid 25 percent of his salary for three years. The Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to forging links between science and religion, is perhaps best known for an annual $1.5-million prize that is awarded "for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities."

"Iowa was, in a way, endorsing the project through administering the grant," Mr. Gonzalez said.

So the man worked 7 years at ISU, and the only major grant he could secure was from a religious organization to write a book in the popular press that advocated an idea roundly rejected by all major scientific organizations. Fantastic. And he even claimed that the ISU administration "endorsed" his project.

This took up 3 of Guillermo's 7 years at ISU.

Nor did any of Guillermo's grad students complete their PhDs during his stint.
He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work, although a student from the University of Washington, with whom he had previously worked, did finish.

I imagine that Expelled is going to be filled with cases just like this.

(h/t Ed Brayton)


CMT said...

>I imagine that Expelled is going to be filled with cases just like this.<

Come on. Be scientific here. Take each case on its own merit and get at least two opinions per case before making a sweeping judgement.

Watch the film and then do an evidence analysis to see if it stacks up before a sweeping dismissal.

Samuel Brainsample said...

This isn’t science – it’s a blog post about the guy from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Furthermore, I didn’t make any conclusory statements. I just said that “I imagine” Stein will be disingenuous in his film. I’ve written 6 posts on the film now, all based on the trailer, website, and interviews (I have not seen the film and haven’t ever claimed to have seen the film). But still, Stein has gone overboard with Nazi analogies, misled his interviewees, and misrepresented both the Gonzalez and Sternberg affairs (both of which he cites as examples of Nazi-like persecution by “Big Science”).