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Failure to read the large print

During the first Gulf War there was a story of someone who said they signed up for the education, not to go to war. This was characterised as “failure to read the large print”. (Come to think of it, that sounds awfully Rumsfeldian, doesn’t it?)

The Boston Globe ran a story about Nathaniel Abraham, a postdoc at Woods Hole who was fired after he wrote his supervisor a letter saying that he was unwilling to work on the “evolutionary aspects” of the project for which he was hired.

“My supervisor and I had a follow up meeting during which my supervisor informed me that if I do not believe in evolution, then he was paying me for only 7 to 10 percent of the work I was doing under the grant.”

Abraham said he told Hahn he would do extra work to compensate and “was willing to discuss evolution as a theory.”

But on Nov. 17, Hahn asked him to resign, pointing out in the letter that Abraham should have known of evolution’s centrality to the project because it was evident from the job advertisement and grant proposal.

“. . . You have indicated that you do not recognize the concept of biological evolution and you would not agree to include a full discussion of the evolutionary implications and interpretations of our research in any co-authored publications resulting from this work,” Hahn wrote in the letter, which the commission provided to the Globe. “This position is incompatible with the work as proposed to NIH and with my own vision of how it should be carried out and interpreted.”

(H/T Greg Laden, PZ Myers)

It’s useful to compare this with the Guillermo Gonzalez case – there are real similarities here, but also important differences. In the Abraham case, it’s obvious that he isn’t willing to do the job for which he was hired. Developmental biology is an evolutionary field. It may not be problematic to have a creationist doing technician work – carrying out the experiments, collecting data, maybe even carrying out analyses. But the work of a research scientist is different. A research scientist has to develop hypotheses, design experiments and interpret data. And that’s impossible to do in a case like this.

In the Gonzalez case it’s a littler different – his supporters would probably argue that his being an intelligent design proponent doesn’t amount to refusal to do the job for which he was hired. But Gonzalez was hired as a scientist. Intelligent design rejects the scientific method – if you fail to reject the supernatural, it’s impossible to test any hypotheses. If you reject the underlying premise of what it is to do science, you’re reduced to stamp collecting. (And note the drop in Behe’s publication record after he embraced ID).

Update: I wrote this a few days ago and then forgot to post it.  I figured I’d post it anyway – which just happened to be a good day for it, since Peter Irons has has weighed in on the issue (in an email posted at Pharyngula; Irons really needs a blog…or rather, the world needs a blog written by Irons).


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