Friday, December 07, 2007

Fired for (not believing in evolution) promising to do sucky science

The Boston Globe reports on a story about a post doc (Nathanial Abraham) from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was fired recently, apparently because he does not believe in evolution. Apparently, even though Abraham was supposed to focus on comparative and evolutionary studies in the lab of Mark E. Hahn, at some point Abraham told Hahn he did not believe in evolution.

This raises the question - that the Globe asks
"Can people work in a scientific field if they don't believe in its basic tenets?"
I think the answer in this is a bit slippery. If someone does not believe in evolution, but in their work still uses evolutionary analyses and perspective I am not sure what one should do. But Abraham apparently went further and said he would not even discuss evolution in papers on the project. This is reflected in a letter from Hahn quoted in the Globe:
". . . You have indicated that you do not recognize the concept of biological evolution and you would not agree to include a full discussion of the evolutionary implications and interpretations of our research in any co-authored publications resulting from this work," Hahn wrote in the letter, which the commission provided to the Globe. "This position is incompatible with the work as proposed to NIH and with my own vision of how it should be carried out and interpreted."
This then becomes more than "not believing" in evolution outside of work. This is clearly a stance that could jeopardize the quality and integrity of the papers coming out of the project (imagine if I said I was going to write all genome papers from now one based on my belief that DNA is not the material of inheritance but instead that membranes are).

So this looks like a case where the issue is much clearer than in some other cases reported recently. Abraham basically was telling his boss "I vow to do sucky science." And for this, I think it is perfectly reasonable that he got canned.

PS - Thanks for Iddo Friedberg for pointing this story.

Also - see PZ Myers' post about this for much more detail.

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