In 2004, Richard von Sternberg was editor of a journal that published a paper by “intelligent design” advocate Stephen C. Meyer. The society that published the journal issued a statement saying that the paper’s inclusion had been a mistake, and that they would tighten up the review and acceptance process. Afterward, Sternberg would complain that he was a victim of religious discrimination. Since then, ID advocates have made much of the alleged poor treatment of Sternberg, turning his name into a verb: to be “sternberged”, in their view, is to be stripped of “academic freedom”, the ability to take unpopular stances and express edgy and even antisocial opinions without fear for one’s job and other elements of normal day-to-day living.
That makes it sound like ID advocates are taking a stand for a principle.
But that would be the wrong impression.
“Academic freedom” is just a piece of convenient rhetoric so far as ID advocates are concerned: useful when they feel an ID advocate needs some cover, and trampled on whenever someone in academia says something that they don’t like.
Or is claimed by another ID advocate to have said something that they don’t like.
And so we come to the unfolding case of U. of Texas professor Eric Pianka, who seems to revel in inflammatory rhetoric concerning the earth’s human population and how the indications are that we are due for a “crash” — the sudden (ecologically speaking) death of most of the population. Pianka gets graphic in his talks, and speaks about the Ebola virus and its 90% mortality figures. He speaks of the likelihood, or even inevitability, of the high-mortality strain of Ebola, which currently is only transmitted under restricted forms of contact, to mutate into a strain that has airborne transmission. Pianka believes that this event is likely and will turn into a global loss of 90% of all human life.
So, based on the principle of academic freedom, one would predict that ID advocates would be fully behind Pianka in saying unpopular, perhaps even unkind things. One would be wrong, and have to cough up that bottle of single malt scotch or whatever wager one might have on the matter, lest one be considered a welcher by one and all.
Enter Forrest M. Mims III, electronics gadgeteer extraordinaire (he wrote the various guides you can buy at Radio Shack with the circuit diagrams), who got to hear Pianka hold forth at a meeting of the Texas Academy of Sciences. Mims is now convinced that Pianka is doing more than describing the likely whimper of the end of the world: Mims claims that Pianka is encouraging scientists to build a pandemic agent and purposely unleash it on the world. Yes, that’s right, Mims is saying that scientists can’t be trusted because they may be involved in a personal biowarfare program whose aim is to depopulate the earth of humans.
Pianka has told Mims in correspondence that Mims has completely misunderstood his remarks. This has not satisfied Mims.
Mims has reportedly filed two petitions with the TAS over the incident.
Enter William A. Dembski, bigtime ID advocate. Did he pause for a moment to consider whether Mims, a fellow who has exagerrated things before, might have the wrong end of the stick? Did he consider that academic freedom was something that applied to people he didn’t agree with? What we do know about the possible answer here is that he reports this as his action in the matter:
As soon as this is posted, I’m going to have a chat with the Department of Homeland Security. [Called them — They are aware of it; it will be interesting to see if they do anything about it.]
Hey, way to support academic freedom! You go, Bill!
So the next time one of the ID advocates gets in your face about “academic freedom” as if they think it means something, just say, “Remember Pianka?”