St George Jackson Mivart

Friday I gave a talk on St George Mivart at the History of Science Society (HSS) annual meeting. All went well and our session – which also discussed Charles Kingsley, Asa Gray and popularizers of Darwin’s ideas – generated good discussion. A bunch of folks came up to me and said that I need to write a book on Mivart, so that was encouraging.

Anyway, I return from the meeting to be faced by a pile of grading. Such is the life academic.


SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009


SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 went off wonderfully yesterday. Big thanks to Jim Lippard for doing such a wonderful organizational job.

The picture above is me beginning my 20 minute gallop through the issue of academic freedom and the intelligent design movement. Shorter – and undoubtedly more coherent –  version is:

  • Evolution is not an unchallengeable orthodoxy within science and major areas (of evolution as fact, the pathway of evolution, and its mechanisms) have been challenged in the past by researchers working within the field. These researchers used the institutions of science (peer reviewed journals etc) to bring about change.
  • Despite the claims of the DI, there is no evidence that there is active suppression of ID proponents in any way that would prevent them challenging the status quo using the institutions of science. There is no evidence of the academic freedom of ID supporters being infringed.
  • There is currently no theory of ID and it is likely that any theory of ID would eventually have to fallback on supernatural action and thus violate the bedrock principle of methodological naturalism. Given the success of MN and its centrality to modern science, this would most likely mean that any ID theory would fail to convince the scientific community.
  • The appeals to “academic freedom” to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution are spurious and indicate the lack of a positive argument for intelligent design and its ultimate reliance on supernaturalism.

Slides are here.

SkeptiCamp Phoenix

SkeptiCamp Phoenix beings in a few minutes. Jim Lippard has all the details and Magic Tony, one of the presenters, will be live-blogging the event, and there may also be twittering at #skepticamp. I’ll be adding bits and pieces as the spirit moves me.

Unchallengable Orthodoxies

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Unchallengeable Orthodoxies conference hosted by the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor Law School in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. Lots of interesting discussion on academic freedom, scientific practice and suchlike. I presented a 20 minute case study on why I felt that evolution was not an unchallengeable orthodoxy and why creationist claims about being stifled or expelled do not hold up when examined in light of scientific practice and the history of science. It’s a talk that I’m working up into a longer version to be presented at the American Humanist Association Annual Meeting in June. That meeting is here in Tempe, and PZ Myers is to be receiving the Humanist of the Year award.

Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in Academia and Science

Next week there is a big conference here at ASU – hosted in conjunction with University of Cambridge – examining the concept of “Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in Academia and Science.” The general purpose of the conference is:

  • To critically examine the precept that American and British universities and the scientific communities in these countries are, and should be places, in which people are free to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” (Quoting 1975 Statement of Yale Committee on Freedom of Expression).
  • Specifically, the conference will investigate if there are in fact “unchallengeable orthodoxies” in these communities, and to the extent there are, whether there should be.
  • Case studies of restrictions on ideas and research on racial differences, treatment of dissenters about global warming and the exclusion or marginalization of those who believe in creationism or intelligent design.

I am offering the case study on creationism/ID. I’ve been asked to be as neutral as possible and to restrict myself to laying out the claims and counterclaims of both sides without any normative interjections. And I’ve only got twenty minutes to do so. The participants are largely trained in the law, so this should be an interesting experience.

There is a public session on Thursday evening covering the topic of “Academic Freedom and the Treatment of Dissenting Ideas in the Modern University.” More details here.

SkeptiCamp Phoenix

The following is shamelessly lifted from Jim Lippard’s blog:

On March 28, SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 will take place at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Participants include Mike Stackpole of the Phoenix Skeptics on “Practical Techniques for Street Skepticism,” John Lynch on “Academic Freedom and Intelligent Design,” and Tony Barnhart on “Methods of the Pseudo-Psychic.”

The event is sponsored by the Skeptics Society/Skeptic magazine, the Center for Skeptical Inquiry/Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and by the James Randi Educational Foundation. It will be the fifth SkeptiCamp, after two in Colorado, one in Vancouver, and one in Atlanta.

For more information on the event, see the SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 wiki page, the SkeptiCamp Phoenix registration site, or the SkeptiCamp Phoenix Facebook page.

I’ll be there, and so should you if you are an Arizona skeptic. Register at the registration site to attend. As of tonight, there are 28 attendance slots available. It’s a one-day event but we hope to be heading for beers afterwards, so there should be plenty of opportunities to chat.

SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009

Jim Lippard is organizing SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009. A SkeptiCamp is “a conference whose content is provided by attendees. Where BarCamp is focused on technology, SkeptiCamp instead focuses on topics of interest to skeptics, including science, critical thinking and skeptical inquiry.” The event is planned for February 21st and I’ve already agreed to talk on “Academic Freedom” and the Intelligent Design movement. If you are an Arizona skeptic, or even from further afield, wander on over to the Camp Wiki and sign-up either to attend or present.

There’s a FaceBook group as well, by the way.