ID proponent denied tenure

Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer at Iowa State University who is best known as an Intelligent Design proponent, has just been denied tenure. So far it seems unclear what role ID played in this denial, though it’s a real possibility since Gonzalez has been active and reasonably productive in mainstream astronomical research.

In the fall of 2005 I invited Gonzalez over to give a straight astronomy talk to my physics department and an ID talk for my interdisciplinary “Weird Science” class. Now, I’m not an astrophysicist and I can’t judge the quality of Gonzalez’s astronomy. But it seemed decent enough. I can judge ID claims, and there’s nothing in Gonzalez’s ID advocacy that I find impressive. But I figure academics should be able to have interests beyond what brings in immediate grant money. More importantly, they should be allowed to be wrong, even grossly wrong, in claims they make. The price of encouraging originality and free thinking is that you have to tolerate a certain amount of mistaken notions.

Whichever way this turns out, I suspect science is going to suffer for it. A tenured Gonzalez would likely have been an even more forceful ID figure in public. In an environment where ID has become much more of a nasty ideological movement than an intellectual minority view, that would not have been good either for Iowa State’s reputation or for the public understanding of science. But now, with Gonzalez case poised to become a conservative cause célèbre, mainstream science again loses out by being portrayed as a rigid orthodoxy. And if there is even some substance to such an allegation, there are deeper reasons to worry. More is bound to come out; perhaps Iowa State has legitimate concerns about the quality of Gonzalez’s mainstream astronomical research or other considerations that affect tenure. I just hope this was not about ID alone. If so, I’ll be inclined to think that the ID proponents have point here.