Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bloggers on Paul Mirecki

More bloggers on Paul Mirecki:

WITCH HUNT IN KANSAS. The author comments: "[Kansas Rep.] Landwehr is right about one thing. This all is religious bigotry. But the bigotry comes from her side. Right wing 'Christians' have been trying to force their fundamentalist religious beliefs on the people of Kansas for too long now. When someone stands up to them, they cry foul and hide behind some bizarre banner of religious persecution. It’s a joke, though not a very funny one. "

Mark Goodacre on Paul Mirecki: assault, the media, and protection. He says, "Perhaps because I am now in American higher education myself, I find this report pretty depressing. The thought that a professor has now had to absent himself from class because of media harrassment, and that his colleagues and students are being interviewed on his character and integrity, is a very unhappy situation. I have long since ceased from releasing any personal information (address, phone number etc.) on phone-books, the web and so on (and I am surprised that Mirecki has been less careful) and this story hardly discourages me from that kind of course of action."

John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts, a postdoctoral research fellow in the philosophy and history of biology, writes:
1. ID [intelligent design] is mythology. It is not only not science, but it fulfils one of the major functions of a mythos - to organise and unify a community against outsiders. Mirecki was right to teach it that way, and right to put it in religious studies, for there is no other motivation or feature of ID than the religious.

2. Mirecki's email was obnoxious, but in no way unjustified or immoral or contrary to decent ethical standards. Religious people make much worse comments about "godless atheists" every day, and in America, they (and he) have that right constitutionally. The apology ought to have been enough to settle this, in a civilised nation. And it was in a private forum. He didn't broadcast it to the nation, Altevogt did. Is it a surprise that Mirecki thinks fundamentalists are often stupid bastards? I do, and many others, a lot of whom are Christians of a more reasonable kind, also do. So what is at issue? That he said to those he had a reasonable expectation shared those values what he thought? Bad man! Bad bad man!

3. Mirecki has academic freedom, or ought to, to teach what he wants without interference from lobby groups or the majority. His peers - those who are professionals in his discipline - are the ones who are fit to judge his actions; not some politician or religious opponent. Threatening the freedom of academics by withholding funding is the reason why universities got out from under church control in the first place.

Mark Maynard suggests, "Perhaps, it occurs to me, we’re entering an era in which the right not only demands more of a presence in academia (as we’re seeing more and more), but in which liberal faculty are 'held accountable' for their unpopular beliefs. This event in Kansas might not, in other words, be an isolated event - the work of 'a few bad apples.' It could be a harbinger of things to come." I certainly hope not, but it is also one of my fears.

And on Daily Kos, several postings about Paul Mirecki.

1 comment:

  1. Since I live in England, I know nothing about this other than what I read on the internet, of course. But it all sounds a bit strange. I ask, with much diffidence, whether you are sure you're supporting the right side here?

    The reports I have read say that Dr Mirecki chose to create a set of lectures as part of a degree course at Kansas University to study "Intelligent Design," using his powers as head of department of Religious Studies. Since he is not a scientist, is he qualified to teach on this subject? I gather that it has come to light that his sole motive for this action was intentionally to give widespread public offence, and to attack other political or religious groups in the state. He also associated the department and the university with his actions.

    All this sounds truly terrible to me. What responsible scholar will make his own discipline stink in the nostrils of the general public? Worse yet, if I understand it: he was responding directly and publicly to actions in the local legislature. Is picking quarrels on politics or religion with local politicians what academics are paid for?

    I have always imagined that academics are funded by the general taxpayer in order to study objectively in their field. This gives their statements within their discipline a certain authority, depending on the degree of scientific precision possible. Thus physicists rank higher in public esteem than sociologists, for instance.

    But if an academic should abuse his position to create a fake course, does this not attack the integrity of the academy? To misuse this aura of authority for no other purpose than political or religious spite -- will this not diminish the authority of all academics everywhere? Had the course gone ahead, wouldn't the degrees of all who attended the university been tainted, since their degrees were awarded in part for a course devoid of academic value?

    Does this not also affect those passing through this department? After all, once it is understood that credits at KU could be awarded for ideological rather than academic reasons, how do those from such a university stand in the eyes of others? Yet don't we all want the highest possible standards of objectivity and integrity, the best reputation for our discipline?

    Of course the physical attack on Dr Mirecki must be condemned, if the facts are as he has represented them. But the damage to the reputation of scholarship seems to me to be more serious. It is a very serious matter when a professional scholar sets out to make scholarship stink in the nostrils of the general public. Should the public be influenced to think 'religious studies' merely a pretext for a hate creed? If so, do you think that public will or should continue to pay for this?

    Now I know that most people will decide whether they agree with or oppose Mirecki on non-academic grounds. He has intervened in a matter on which almost everyone has strong feelings, after all! But I would ask that we leave that aside. Imagine it was a dispute about tiddlywinks or something -- is what he did acceptable? From the point of view of the interests of scholarship and the promotion of learning, his actions seem most damaging. Fortunately he chose to insult those who could answer back -- and the Kansas legislators are now asking what is wrong in KU. This will limit the damage in the public eye, by showing that a scholar who does wrong is accountable. But surely it should never come to this?

    Probably I have the wrong end of the stick entirely. No doubt matters have not been correctly represented in the press in various degrees. But... it seems to me that unless this is totally wrong, then Paul Mirecki has done something truly unprofessional, for dreadful, dreadful reasons.

    Would you mind if I asked you to consider again whether the interests of scholarship and of those who love learning, are well served by defending such disreputable actions? There is no issue of academic freedom here: not unless academics are to be permitted to misbehave with impunity. My own views count for nothing, it is true. But... should scholars use their positions to insult the public? Really?

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