Custom Search

Monday, December 20, 2010

More on the astronomer passed over as "potentially evangelical", from the NY Times.

The friend who sent me the link notes that the article is "only mildly biased":
Both sides agree that Dr. Gaskell, 57, was invited to the university, in Lexington, for a job interview. In his lawsuit, he says that at the end of the interview, Michael Cavagnero, the chairman of the physics and astronomy department, asked about his religious beliefs.

“Cavagnero stated that he had personally researched Gaskell’s religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says. According to Dr. Gaskell, the chairman said Dr. Gaskell’s religious beliefs and his “expression of them would be a matter of concern” to the dean.

Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, so interviewers typically do not ask about an applicant’s faith. Depositions and e-mails submitted as evidence suggest why Dr. Cavagnero may have raised the issue with Dr. Gaskell.

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy.

“Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.”

[ ... ]

Referring to Ms. Shafer’s concern that Dr. Gaskell was “potentially evangelical,” Francis J. Manion, Dr. Gaskell’s lawyer, said: “I couldn’t have made up a better quote. ‘We like this guy, but he is potentially Jewish’? ‘Potentially Muslim’?”

- Mark Oppenheimer, "Astronomer Sues the University of Kentucky, Claiming His Faith Cost Him a Job" New York Times (December 18, 2010).

Have some fun with the idea:

"potentially a union organizer"

"potentially in the boss's pocket"

"potentially violent"

"potentially a Jehovah's Witness"

"potentially a skirt chaser"

Can you do better?

And just when I thought career scientists couldn't get any dozier, this flies past from an astronomer with his head in another galaxy:
Legally, the situation seems simple but not yet clear. It is quite permissible for Kentucky to reject an applicant on the grounds that there is evidence he may not perform the required job well. But it is illegal to reject him on the grounds of his religion per se. The paper trail in the depositions has suggestions of both. So the trial has to decide which of these is the case. Difficult, but perfectly clear.
It is not difficult, actually, and perfectly clear: For the same reasons as a pot of soup plus poop could not be sold as "soup," if they were discriminating against the candidate because of (what someone speculates is) his religion, he has a just cause of action. And if I thought someone was a bigot at that level, why would I pay much attention to claims about the candidate's previous job performance anyway?

It gets better still: Our astronomer muses plaintively about the usual eruption of filth and hate at Pharyngula,
Naturally the Gaskell affair has been leapt on by evolution skeptics and even global warming denialists, but what really depressed me was the discussion on Pharyngula. These are the good guys right ? PZ Myers is a kind of hero, but I was bit shocked how right from the start in this post he set up Gaskell as a straw man, implying that he sued Kentucky more or less at random because of not getting a job, artificially claiming that it was because of an anti-christian bias. This ignores the public evidence that he had a prima facie case that was way more specific than this. Thats why the judge has sent it to trial. The comment stream that follows is, well, aggressive, on both sides of the argument. It contains lots of good points, as well as complete bollocks, but is so full of bile – “thats not what I said, dickhead !!” etc – that I find it hard to read.
Oh, you find it hard to read, do you? Then what do you think of this? Remember, this guy, who practices and encourages that kind of thing, is your kind of hero. You said it yourself.

Our far out astronomer then goes on to blame religious folk for the uncivilized eruptions of Darwinian atheists. So religious folk created your hero, fella? Then quit agreeing with Hitchens that "religion poisons everything." Look, he's your hero, not mine. My heroes fight for justice.


Access Research Network's Top 10 Darwin and Design Science Stories of 2010

Colorado Springs, CO – December 21, 2010

Access Research Network has just released its annual “Top 10 Darwin and Design Science Stories” for 2010.

Gaining top honors on the list was new research that revealed the optimal design of the human eye. Physicists from the Israel Institute of Technology have created a light-guiding model of the retina, which reveals that the glial (or Müller) cells provide low-scattering passage of light from the retinal surface to the photoreceptor cells, thus acting as optical fibers. Researchers concluded “The fundamental features of the array of glial cells are revealed as an optimal structure designed for preserving the acuity of images in the human retina. It plays a crucial role in vision quality, in humans and in other species.” These findings open up potentially fruitful areas for biomimetics research and might find applications in more successful eye transplants and better camera designs.

The gold rush toward biomimetics research (human designs mimicking biological designs) was another top story this year. According to Dennis Wagner, ARN Executive Director “Dozens of articles appeared in the 2010 scientific literature reporting how scientists are learning how to ‘reverse engineer’ living systems.” Examples include: 1) Caltech scientists who are studying jellyfish in order to build a better aquatic pump; 2) German engineers who are building a robotic arm inspired by the design of the elephant trunk; 3) a European team that is building a robotic arm with inspiration from a octopus’s limb; 4) swim suits and ship hulls that are being patterned after shark skin; 5) students at the University of Texas, Dallas, that are trying to harness the chemical sensing capability of bacteria to build synthetic sensors for toxins; 6) researchers at the University of Queensland who are inventing navigation systems that can perform complex maneuvers by imitating the optical flow of honeybee eyes; and 7) researchers that are pursuing new lightweight and high performance materials based on a new spider species found in Madagascar that spins silk twice as strong and twice as elastic as any previously studied. This “toughest biomaterial ever seen” is 10 times stronger than Kevlar. Wagner observed, “Many of these research articles seem to miss the rather obvious point that in order to reverse engineer a system, it had to be engineered in the first place.”

An online version of the ARN Top 10 Darwin and Design stories for 2010 with hyperlinks to original news sources can be found here.


Who links to me?