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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.

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