At a scientific workshop I met with some graduate students late at night out on the beach. We were standing around, listening to the crashing surf and discussing... well I don't know what.
The topic turned to the recent "academic freedom" laws and I found myself in complete diametric odds with a Ph.D. candidate in our program. While I have been fighting these laws that permit opinion and pseudoscience to be taught along side with scientific evidence of evolution, this student supports this legislation 100%. He thinks (to paraphrase) that it is a great idea to allow anyone to teach children whatever they want, because science will sort it out and kids should be exposed to religious opinions taught as facts comparable to those that support evolutionary interpretations.
I'm not going to go through the 3 hours of often heated discussion on this matter. I feel that it is necessary to teach evidence and science in science class, not opinions of alternative, non-evidence-based concepts that solely exist to attack evolutionary theory. Period. Of course, this guy has rather strong political leanings that supersede his ability to implement logic and reason, hypothesis testing and data, in his decisions. This "scholar" also claims that climate change science is complete garbage, placing him in opposition to the conclusions reached by the National Academies of Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and tens of thousands of scientists worldwide. Here's a guy that can't see scientific evidence if it is inconsistent with his political worldview. This is unacceptable in a discipline that depends on weighing the quality of data and incorporating it non-selectively into a sound interpretation. He shows that he is unable to do this and should be disqualified from receiving any higher degrees in science.
He may be best served with a degree in Theology or Philosophy. These areas thrive on considering non-evidence-based concepts in resolving our collective worldview, and work independently of science.
I told him that I would do everything in my power to not allow him to receive an advanced degree. I absolutely will fight this vigorously. In his plan he will soon have the credibility of a Doctor of Philosophy Degree, conferred by my institution. With this new credibility he will go into the world and fight science and reason- the very basis of his degree!
The discussion got most heated when we discussed the age of the earth and I said that it was between 4.39 and 4.50 billion years old. In a sarcastic and challenging way he insisted that it was closer to 6 billion and that's what he believes and that his data are just as good as those I "choose to believe".
That's when the gloves came off. I told him that after the meeting we both would scan the peer-reviewed literature for papers estimating the age of the earth. If he could generate more articles that indicate 6 billion years than I can that support the 4-billion conclusion then I would resign. Likewise, if I can produce more proof of my assertion, I wanted him to resign. Sounded fair to me! This is science- the basis of the degree we are about to confer!
Of course this is when the whole thing blew up, I walked away and he made some snide remark as I left. Yes, he clearly respects those that are trying to foster his scholarship.
Now am I wrong to hold his feet to the fire that he created? Do I publicly challenge him in his thesis defense? I think so! If he is going to use a degree conferred by the institution I work for to defame scientists and attack science, then he deserves to be held accountable and possibly not receive the degree in the first place.
In a perfect world I'd get to influence the publication of the work associated with his thesis. I would write a review that recommends "REJECT because I think that flying monkeys from space should be included in his discussion of the data", because we want freedom to see all points of view, even if there is absolutely no evidence for them.
Maybe he'll change his mind. Unfortunately, here is a bright, generally nice guy that just doesn't understand science and the scientific method. How can we allow him access to an advanced degree, when he'll use that degree to fight science and reason?
Am I overreacting? I think not.