Saturday, February 1, 2003

Good science

Texas Tech University biology professor Michael Dini has been accused of religious discrimination based on his personal policy for giving students letters of recommendation. According to his web site:

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences. Why do I ask this question? ...The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution, which includes both micro- and macro-evolution, and which extends to ALL species. How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is... heavily based on biology? ...So much physical evidence supports the evolution of humans from non-human ancestors that one can validly refer to the "fact" of human evolution, even if all of the details are not yet known. One can deny this evidence only at the risk of calling into question one’s understanding of science and of the method of science. Such an individual has committed malpractice regarding the method of science, for good scientists would never throw out data that do not conform to their expectations or beliefs.

First, I always understood that letters of recommendation were optional - as in, the professor doesn't have to give you one if she doesn't want to. And I think that is reasonable. But does this mean that professors should be able to use whatever criteria they want to refuse a recommendation? Is there no sort of accountability?

According to the Liberty Legal Institute handling the complaint, "Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs [in creationism]."

I've always thought that a person can *understand* ideas and not agree with them. But as soon as I don't agree with certain perspectives, they inform my perspective in negative, rather than positive, terms. In other words, my position evolves in (at least partial) opposition to perspectives with which I disagree, and my *actions* will relay this opposition.

I've also never had a problem with notions of evolution and creationism running parallel to each other - but I do find it problematic if we are asked to choose one *or* the other, as if they are opposite ends on a spectrum of Truth.

Should a scientist have to *believe* in evolution? To me, that appears to be a question of faith rather than of science - but it does draw out the possibility that scientific method is not always as objective as it claims to be.


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