[asa] Nature on Gonzalez Tenue

From: Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com>
Date: Wed May 23 2007 - 20:34:14 EDT

Darwin sceptic says views cost

Geoff Brumfiel
blames setback on his support of intelligent design.

He's a young astronomer with dozens of articles in top journals; he has made
an important discovery in the field of extrasolar planets; and he is a
proponent of intelligent design, the idea that an intelligent force has
shaped the Universe. It's that last fact that Guillermo Gonzalez thinks has
cost him his tenure at Iowa State University.

Gonzalez, who has been at Iowa State in Ames since 2001, was denied tenure
on 9 March. He is now appealing the decision on the grounds that his
religious belief, not the quality of his science, was the basis for turning
down his application. "I'm concerned my views on intelligent design were a
factor," he says.

Advocates of intelligent design are rallying behind Gonzalez in the latest
example of what they say is blatant academic discrimination. "Academia seems
to be in a rage about anything that points to any purpose," says Michael
Behe, a biochemist and prominent advocate of intelligent design at Lehigh
University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "They are penalizing an associate
professor who's doing his job because he has views they disagree with."

But other researchers think that the department's decision was entirely
justified. "I would have voted to deny him tenure," says Robert Park, a
physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park. "He has established
that he does not understand the scientific process."

Gonzalez's early career was far from controversial. He graduated with a PhD
from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1993 and did a postdoc at the
University of Texas in Austin. "He proved himself very quickly," says David
Lambert, director of the university's MacDonald Observatory. He and Gonzalez
co-authored several papers on variable stars, and Lambert says that while
there, the young Cuban immigrant was an impressive scientist. "He is one of
the best postdocs I have had," he says.

In 1996, Gonzalez returned to the University of Washington to do his second
postdoc, and again distinguished himself producing two papers1,
linked a star's metal content to the presence of extrasolar planets
around it. The papers are still highly cited, and they have encouraged other
researchers to search for planets around metal-rich stars.

The 43-year-old astronomer is also a deeply religious evangelical Christian,
and his faith has shaped his views on science. He considers himself a
"sceptic" of Darwin, and says that his Christianity helps him to understand
Earth's position in the Universe. "Our location in the Galaxy, which is
optimized for habitability, is also the best place for doing cosmology and
stellar astrophysics in the Galaxy," he says. In other words: "The Universe
is designed for scientific discovery."

Gonzalez refrained from mentioning his beliefs in his teaching and
peer-reviewed works, but in 2004, he co-authored a book entitled *The
Privileged Planet*, which included many of his pro-design
He has since travelled the country delivering talks that support the thesis
of his book.

His work did not go unnoticed at Iowa State. In 2005, Gonzalez's rising
profile led a group of 131 faculty members to sign a petition disavowing
intelligent design. "We were starting to see Iowa State mentioned as a place
where intelligent-design research was happening," says Hector Avalos, a
religious-studies professor who helped lead the signature drive. "We wanted
to make sure that people knew the university does not support intelligent
design." Avalos adds that they did not name Gonzalez directly, and he takes
no position on the astronomer's tenure.

Nevertheless, proponents of intelligent design point to the signature drive
as evidence of a widespread academic hostility to those who support the
idea. "There is a pattern happening to everybody who's pro intelligent
design," says one pro-design biologist, who declined to be named because his
own tenure process has just begun. "The same thing could happen to me," he
says. "I don't want to get into trouble."

But Park says that a researcher's views on intelligent design cannot be
divorced from the tenure decision. Anyone who believes that an intelligent
force set the Earth's location doesn't understand probability's role in the
Universe, Park argues. Such a person is hardly qualified to teach others
about the scientific method. "We're entrusting the minds of our students to
this person," he says.

But not all scientists agree. "Nothing I have seen in his refereed papers
leads me to believe his beliefs are impinging on his science," says David
Lambert. "I would have said he was a serious tenure candidate."

 Eli Rosenberg, who chairs Iowa State's physics department, concedes that
Gonzalez's belief in intelligent design did come up during the tenure
process. "I'd be a fool if I said it was not [discussed]," he says. But, he
adds, "intelligent design was not a major or even a big factor in this
decision." Four of twelve tenure candidates have been turned down in the
past decade, he says. "We are a fairly hard-nosed department."

Iowa State's president Gregory Geoffroy is now reviewing Gonzalez's appeal.
He has until 6 June to make his final decision.

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Received on Wed May 23 20:34:38 2007

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