Dembski Accuses Religion Prof of “Fudging” CV

SCANDAL: William Dembski shockingly reveals that Hector Avalos, in a blog comment, cited a publication he had had in a popular science journal. Does this mean that Avalos gained promotion through fraud? Or does it mean that Dembski is the Ed Wood of smearers?

William Dembski has a scholar of religion in his sights:

The tenure denial of Guillermo Gonzalez by Iowa State University has been much discussed on this blog of late. The tenure of Hector Avalos, religious studies professor and militant atheist at Iowa State University, however, has yet to be broached here. So let’s do it.

Dembski and the Discovery Institute argue that Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his support for Intelligent Design. They note that Avalos has been one of Gonzalez’s critics, and therefore that Avalos’s continued employment by the university must be evidence of persecution against Christians. The Discovery Institute website is particularly incensed by Avalos’s book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, which looks at the sanctioning of genocide in certain Biblical texts. Provocatively, Avalos makes a few comparisons with Mein Kampf, and the DI quote-mines Avalos’s book in order to suggest that he is an anti-Semite as well as a persecutor of the religious. Their “exposé” ends with the sarcastic observation that:

Iowa taxpayers can be relieved to know that ISU is making sure their tax dollars will be spent on worthy scholars like Prof. Avalos rather than disreputable astronomers like Dr. Gonzalez.

An odd ending – I thought that Gonzalez had been denied tenure, not fired.

Avalos responded to the controversy at Pharyngula, where he also addressed the complaint that as a non-scientist he was unqualified to critique ID:

I may not be an astronomer, but my article, “Heavenly Conflicts: The Bible and Astronomy,” passed the editorial review of Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27 no. 2 (March/April, 1998), pages 20-24. There, I critiqued fine-tuning arguments before I even heard of Gonzalez.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the SAME organization that has published, via a sister publication (Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific), some of the work of Guillermo Gonzalez.

So the irony is that it is the scholar of religion whose work passed the editorial review of a legitimate astronomical organization, and it is the astronomer who has not published a refereed article on ID in an astronomical journal.

Dembski pounces:

A couple of points about Avalos’s article. First, he misstates the name of the journal. It is actually called “Mercury Magazine,” and is not the ASP’s academic journal. It is its membership magazine. In fact, ASP does not list as an academic journal but under the category of magazine: That’s why Avalos says it passed editorial muster but not peer-review muster. This way he can fudge on the article’s status but have plausible deniability. This is also evident by his placing in the magazine’s subtitle “The Journal of…” even though it is not there in the actual publication.

…Has Avalos puts this on his CV as a peer-reviewed article? Did this help him get tenure or promotion at ISU?… if Avalos has fudged on the status of this article—and has done so in a very public way—his CV may loaded with this type of fluff. Perhaps it’s time to start hunting for the real witch.

So, the fact that Avalos says that he passed “editorial review” for a scientific publication rather than “peer review” is proof that he wants to us to think his paper was peer reviewed and that, therefore, his entire academic standing is suspect. Avalos has responded, leading to a suitably ridiculous argument in the comments section:

Avalos: Amateur researcher that Dembski is, he probably only looked for the journal on-line. The actual hard-copy I have has “The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific” right underneath the title “Mercury” on the cover of the issue (volume 27, no. 2) March/April 1998 in which I wrote my article.

Mung: Apparently Avalos only researched the cover of the magazine to determine the “actual publication.” Would anyone with an actual hardcopy of the magazine care to share what is inside the magazine wrt to the “actual publication.”

Avalos: Since Dr. Dembski has botched thoroughly this attempt at witch-hunting Avalos, let’s see now how honest he is in admitting his mistakes. Concerning the citation of the article I wrote in Mercury, Dr. Dembski said that the subtitle (Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific) “is not there in the actual publication.” I can prove it is on the issue in which I wrote my article in 1998. It is on the cover. It also is on the masthead inside the cover. So, Dr. Debmski, of the “Newton-of-information-theory” fame, let’s see you issue a plain and honest correction to the MIS-information you have put forth. Will you or will you not issue a public correction for putting forth this misinformation?

Dembski: To Hector Avalos: I’m happy to concede whatever other designations the periodical MERCURY may have. The larger issue is that it is a popular periodical and you cite your piece in it as though it had some leverage against Guillermo Gonzalez and his scholarship. This is patently absurd. Gonzalez is a professional in astrophysics as well as in its larger metaphysical implications. You are an amateur in both. Moreover, the question of just what it took for you to gain tenure at ISU remains. Was your MERCURY piece one of the things you cited as evidence that you should receive tenure? Please answer the question (the timing is right since you were an assistant professor when the piece came out). Was it in fact counted in your favor? If so, why shouldn’t Gonzalez’s PRIVILEGED PLANET count likewise in favor of his tenure? Or do you know in advance (on what grounds? scientific? ideological? philosophical? …) that he’s full of it and you’re not.

Mercury’s style guide includes advice for writers to “keep most sentences short and simple”; another commentator (“Jehu”, who names himself after a particularly sanguinary Israelite king, by the way) hilariously quote-mines this:

So short simple sentences with short paragraphs and lots of active verbs are what you need to get past editorial review at Mercury. Very impressive.

Dembski’s acolytes have also pored over Avalos’s list of publications, and noted some other devestating issues:

“The Ancient Near in Modern Science Fiction: Zechariah Sitchin’s Twelfth Planet as Case Study”

There appears to be a noun missing. Should this be: “The Ancient Near East”?

Another points out that

According to Avalos’s web page, he has not published a journal article since 2003. And he only has 14 listed in his entire career.

This studiously avoids mentioning the eight books and eleven book-chapters on the list (and the fact that ten of the journal articles were published from 1995 onwards). And the Mercury publication, which Dembski uses to suggest that Avalos is dishonest, appears – crucially –  in an extra grouping of “other/invited publications” of a popular nature.

Elsewhere in the comments, Dembski tells us that

…A hundred years from now Gonzalez’s ideas about our place in the cosmos being designed to facilitate scientific discovery will be remembered. Avalos, on the other hand, will be seen as a crank flailing to find justifications for why the evidence of design in the universe is nothing of the sort. A key point to bear in mind: If Avalos is getting promoted for undercutting ID (in popular venues at that), and if ISU denies Gonzalez tenure because of his support of ID, then ISU has not only made up its mind about ID but also undercut academic freedom on this topic.


Gonzalez is not the only tenure-track controversy going on in the USA just now. Mike S Adams is currently suing the Univeristy of North Carolina over the failure to get a promotion – his complaint tells us that he was rated as “excellent” for his research , but his actual publications are not listed. And meanwhile, De Paul University is under pressure to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein, a scholar who is particularly critical of Israel (incidentally, Finkelstein’s work is defended in this very interesting new interview with Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg in Logos).