Today is the last day of teaching for me this semester. Running some evaluations for my honors seminar but little else. Yesterday, Origins, Evolution & Creation ended with the final examination – 30 questions in 45 minutes. I told my TA that the first person to finish would do so in nine minutes … and I was bang on the money. Weird.
Some things to take care of and then I can look forward to a summer of writing (at least two papers – one history and one science – and a handful of book reviews) and travel (no Europe this year, just Minnesota and Michigan, the latter twice). I also need to recuperate … it was a relatively tough semester.
Classes started this week. I’m teaching the second half of the Socratic seminar that is required of all honors students at Barrett – you can see the schedule of readings here – and my course “Origins, Evolution and Creation” which is now in its twelfth year. You can read more about that class here. Above are the slides for the first class of “Origins” – an introduction to the course. I tried to record a podcast so you all could listen along, but ran into a problem. If there is sufficient interest (let me know in the comments), I may keep uploading slide presentations as the semester goes on. You’ll need to guess at what I’m saying, but it may be useful none the less
Friday I gave a talk on St George Mivart at the History of Science Society (HSS) annual meeting. All went well and our session – which also discussed Charles Kingsley, Asa Gray and popularizers of Darwin’s ideas – generated good discussion. A bunch of folks came up to me and said that I need to write a book on Mivart, so that was encouraging.
Anyway, I return from the meeting to be faced by a pile of grading. Such is the life academic.
Back on January 1st I posted a list of things that I wanted to achieve this year. Let’s see how I did with six months gone (I’ve added some comments in italics):
- Finish and submit three book reviews over the next few weeks – done and of course new books to review appeared immediately!
- Finish some work for the History of Science Society’s Committee on Education – Eek! Still need to get this finished.
- Have a paper accepted by Pediatrics – As it happens, today I received notification that the paper has finally been accepted. I’ll post something about it when it appears online.
- Teach my Origins, Evolution and Creation course for what must be the eleventh time (Spring) – done
- Give a talk at the University of Oklahoma for their Darwin celebrations (February). – done
- Give a four day seminar on Darwin (also at Oklahoma in February; syllabus is here) – done
- Give a talk on Darwin for the ASU chapter of Sigma Xi (February) – done
- Perhaps attend the ISHPSSB meeting in Australia (July) – Unfortunately, I decided that this was not possible given the cost. Pity really.
- Present a paper at the next History of Science Society meeting on St. George Jackson Mivart as part of a session on Victorian responses to Origin (November) – Our session got accepted and I will be presenting. Now I only need to write the paper!
- Submit a book proposal for a monograph on Mivart. I have a few leads for a publisher and I’m hoping this will be the big task for the Summer. – Thinking this through, I decided it would be better just to write a few papers rather than a whole monograph. So that is the plan now.
- Teach my History of Science since 1700 class for the second time (Fall) – The class is going a head and all 100 places are already taken. Need to tweak that syllabus a little though.
- Begin transcriptions at ASU for the Tyndall Correspondence Project (Fall, funding permitting) – We’re still waiting to hear back from the NSF on this.
- Get promoted to Principal Lecturer. My paperwork is sitting on a desk somewhere and has been for a few months now. – Heard back in May and am now promoted.
- Hopefully get a few new grad students – Have at least one potential student starting in August.
Not too shabby.
My talk at the AHA annual meeting was this morning and it went well (as far as I can tell). There was time for 15 minutes of questions and I guess I spent a further 20 minutes chatting afterwards. All good. As usual, I’ve posted my slides here for anyone that wants to see them. The talk was very similar to the one I gave in Oklahoma – some slides were changed but the thrust of my argument remained the same.
My colleague and friend Kaye Reed has a nice remembrance of Charlie Lockwood in the current issue of Evolutionary Anthropology. I had reason to mention Charlie during my “Last Lecture” and will admit to getting a little choked-up. The article is unfortunately behind a paywall, but any good university library should have access.
Last night I was honored to be the first of three faculty members to take part in the 14th annual Last Lecture series here at ASU. The other two talks are next week. In the interests of completeness, I’m posting the slides here, though they are even more cryptic than usual. See if you can figure out what I said
On Thursday I will give a “Last Lecture” at ASU. I’m one of three faculty chosen by students to deliver a talk as if it were our last ever. Here is a news story about the event and below is the portion referring to me:
Lynch tells his students that an undergraduate degree is only the beginning of a journey of possibilities, not the determinant of a person’s future path. He’ll talk about his own journey as a young Irish scientist who came to ASU to do research and discovered a love of teaching when he was asked to teach a combined science and humanities course.
“The key to success is to take opportunities when they present themselves, no matter how they draw you outside your formal training,” says Lynch, who was named Arizona Professor of the Year two years ago by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “I’ll talk about the joys of Nietzche, the politics of evolution and pains of grading, with adventures along the way.”
Malvika Sinha, a student who nominated Lynch, says during the freshman honors Human Event class he asked difficult, challenging questions that prodded students to think about things from a completely different angle. He helped each student become a better writer and thinker, continually raising the bar higher.
Feel free to turn up if you are in the Tempe area and looking to kill an hour or two. The talks will be at 7:30pm in the Pima Room of the Memorial Union. There’s a reception at seven.
Now I better get back to figuring out what I want to say!
SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 went off wonderfully yesterday. Big thanks to Jim Lippard for doing such a wonderful organizational job.
The picture above is me beginning my 20 minute gallop through the issue of academic freedom and the intelligent design movement. Shorter – and undoubtedly more coherent - version is:
- Evolution is not an unchallengeable orthodoxy within science and major areas (of evolution as fact, the pathway of evolution, and its mechanisms) have been challenged in the past by researchers working within the field. These researchers used the institutions of science (peer reviewed journals etc) to bring about change.
- Despite the claims of the DI, there is no evidence that there is active suppression of ID proponents in any way that would prevent them challenging the status quo using the institutions of science. There is no evidence of the academic freedom of ID supporters being infringed.
- There is currently no theory of ID and it is likely that any theory of ID would eventually have to fallback on supernatural action and thus violate the bedrock principle of methodological naturalism. Given the success of MN and its centrality to modern science, this would most likely mean that any ID theory would fail to convince the scientific community.
- The appeals to “academic freedom” to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution are spurious and indicate the lack of a positive argument for intelligent design and its ultimate reliance on supernaturalism.
Slides are here.
SkeptiCamp Phoenix beings in a few minutes. Jim Lippard has all the details and Magic Tony, one of the presenters, will be live-blogging the event, and there may also be twittering at #skepticamp. I’ll be adding bits and pieces as the spirit moves me.
I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Unchallengeable Orthodoxies conference hosted by the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor Law School in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. Lots of interesting discussion on academic freedom, scientific practice and suchlike. I presented a 20 minute case study on why I felt that evolution was not an unchallengeable orthodoxy and why creationist claims about being stifled or expelled do not hold up when examined in light of scientific practice and the history of science. It’s a talk that I’m working up into a longer version to be presented at the American Humanist Association Annual Meeting in June. That meeting is here in Tempe, and PZ Myers is to be receiving the Humanist of the Year award.
Next week there is a big conference here at ASU – hosted in conjunction with University of Cambridge – examining the concept of “Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in Academia and Science.” The general purpose of the conference is:
- To critically examine the precept that American and British universities and the scientific communities in these countries are, and should be places, in which people are free to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” (Quoting 1975 Statement of Yale Committee on Freedom of Expression).
- Specifically, the conference will investigate if there are in fact “unchallengeable orthodoxies” in these communities, and to the extent there are, whether there should be.
- Case studies of restrictions on ideas and research on racial differences, treatment of dissenters about global warming and the exclusion or marginalization of those who believe in creationism or intelligent design.
I am offering the case study on creationism/ID. I’ve been asked to be as neutral as possible and to restrict myself to laying out the claims and counterclaims of both sides without any normative interjections. And I’ve only got twenty minutes to do so. The participants are largely trained in the law, so this should be an interesting experience.
There is a public session on Thursday evening covering the topic of “Academic Freedom and the Treatment of Dissenting Ideas in the Modern University.” More details here.
The following is shamelessly lifted from Jim Lippard’s blog:
On March 28, SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 will take place at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Participants include Mike Stackpole of the Phoenix Skeptics on “Practical Techniques for Street Skepticism,” John Lynch on “Academic Freedom and Intelligent Design,” and Tony Barnhart on “Methods of the Pseudo-Psychic.”
The event is sponsored by the Skeptics Society/Skeptic magazine, the Center for Skeptical Inquiry/Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and by the James Randi Educational Foundation. It will be the fifth SkeptiCamp, after two in Colorado, one in Vancouver, and one in Atlanta.
I’ll be there, and so should you if you are an Arizona skeptic. Register at the registration site to attend. As of tonight, there are 28 attendance slots available. It’s a one-day event but we hope to be heading for beers afterwards, so there should be plenty of opportunities to chat.