UPDATE: More coverage of the Hedin case at
During the Eric Hedin incident (the Ball State University professor who proselytizes about Jesus in his science class), I was contacted by Macaela Bennett, a reporter at the Campus Reform site. She wanted to talk to me about my views on Hedin and his class, and at first I assented. But over the years I’ve learned that, when I get such an inquiry, I should check out who the reporter is working for. And some quick inquiry revealed that Campus Reform, which bills itself as having a noble mission, is actually a right-wing rag dedicated to promoting conservatism and exposing what they see as rampant liberal bias on campuses. But you wouldn’t know that from their mission statement:
Campus Reform, a project of the Leadership Institute, is America’s leading site for college news.
As a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias, abuse, waste, and fraud on the nation’s college campuses.
Our team of professional journalists works alongside student activists and student journalists to report on the conduct and misconduct of university administrators, faculty, and students.
Campus Reform holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity, and public accountability.
More about those “rigorous journalism” standards in a second. The “Leadership Institute,” however, is a conservative organization. As Wikipedia notes:
The Institute was founded in 1979 by conservative activist Morton C. Blackwell. Its mission is to “increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists” and to “identify, train, recruit and place conservatives in politics, government, and media.”. . . While the Institute does not provide instruction in philosophical conservatism, it does encourage its graduates to read classic conservative authors like Edmund Burke and “classical liberal” authors like Frederic Bastiat, as well as more modern conservative thinkers including William F. Buckley Jr., Russell Kirk, Barry Goldwater, and libertarian thinkers such as economists Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek.
And you can get an idea of what Campus Reform is about by reading their tabloid-style (and ugly) front page, which shows a definite conservative slant.
Based on this, my limited time, and my view that the site lacked objectivity, I decided to back out of the interview, suspecting that my words would be used against me in some kind of defense of Hedin’s right to teach intelligent design. I wrote an email to Bennett saying this:
I’m sorry, but I’ve checked out your website, and I find that Campus Reform is dedicated to providing resources for conservative students. After perusing the articles and their content, I do not think that you will do an objective job of writing this article, for that will not comport with your organization’s mission. In fact, I can guarantee that you’ve already decided to defend Eric Hedin and impugn my opinions about his unconscionable mix of science and religion.
So I will not talk to you, and none of this email is to be made public or for publication.
Bennett then went ahead and wrote her story, taking my quotes from my website and an inteview I did with the Muncie (Indiana) Star-Press.
Campus Reform added this headline to the story:
That seemed a bit tabloid-y to me, and a distortion of what I said, as if I equated the harms of creatoinism with the mass killing of the Nazis. In the meantime, the Campus Reform reporter had written to the News Office of The University of Chicago, asking them to comment on my comparison between Holocaust denial and creationism. Here’s her email:
From: Macaela Bennett
Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 11:29 AM
Subject: Comment on Professor Jerry Coyne
I would appreciate a comment on behalf of the University of Chicago regarding Professor Coyne’s comment in reaction to Ball State teaching a “Boundaries of Science Class” in which he compared teaching creationism to denying the Holocaust.
Thanks for your time,
I can’t see what purpose there was for them to write to my “bosses” except to make me look bad, using a comparison that wasn’t what it seemed to be. Fortunately, the University of Chicago wasn’t about to get involved in this, and, as Campus Reform noted, “UC administrators did not respond to Campus Reform’s requests for comment on the incident.”
I then wrote back to Bennett, explaining what I meant by the comparison between creationism and Holocaust denial, which was this: teaching creationism in a science class is teaching lies to students, and is equivalent to teaching Holocaust denial in a European history class. I was concerned that the headline could be read—and I suspect the paper intended it this way—as implying that I thought the harms of teaching creationism were equivalent to the harms of the Holocaust. I don’t, of course.
Angered at Bennett’s attempt to go over my head to my own university, I told her to not contact me further, adding again that nothing I wrote in the email was for attribution or publication.
That request was completely ignored, and the “Campus Reform staff” (what happened to the reporter? ) then produced another article with this logo on the front page:
The article goes on to explicitly quote from the emails I’d written Bennett—the ones that I asked her not to quote. I’ve talked to lots of reporters over the years, and when I say something that I don’t want quoted, I always say “that’s not for publication” right afterwards, and every reporter has respected that. Every one, that is, except Bennett. Campus Reform said this (my emphasis):
Coyne followed up that email with a second email in which he called Campus Reform’s story “distorted” and objected to reporter Macaela Bennett’s decision to request a comment from his employer, the University of Chicago (UC).
“Contacting my University is absolutely beyond belief,” he wrote. “You should be ashamed of yourself. What you ‘do your best’ at is ideology, not reporting. Your behavior comports exactly with what I’d expect for a reporter from Campus Reform.”
Despite a request from Campus Reform, UC administrators declined to comment on Coyne’s remark.
Coyne ended both emails by demanding his comments remain off the record.
“Do not contact me any more–I mean it!” he wrote at the end of the second email. “And none of what I’ve written here or previously is for quotation or attribution.”
Without a specific arrangement in place, Campus Reform’s considers all correspondences between sources and reporters to be on the record.
Well, I stand by what I said, and am not at all embarrassed by their publishing my remarks. But I was surprised that, for the first time, stuff I’d asked to remain off the record had been published. Contacting my University’s press department, they said told me that technically Campus Reform could publish what I said without a prior agreement, but that that this practice was borderline. The lesson, for me and all of us who talk to reporter, is this:
Do not talk to a reporter without him/her agreeing in advance—before you say a word—that stuff you want off the record will remain so. If they don’t agree, be aware that anything you say, even if you ask for it not to be published right after you say it, is fair game for publication.
At any rate, I’ll have nothing more to do with Micaela Bennett and Campus Reform, whom I consider sleazy and unethical. They can do all their reporting without any comments from me. And I’ve learned something about unprincipled journalists with an agenda. So much for “objective” reporting!
In other Hedin-related news, the Discovery Institute has decided to make him a martyr, and has started a petition (I won’t link to it; it’s easy to find) to defend him for teaching intelligent design. It says this:
“We, the undersigned, urge the administration of Ball State University to support Prof. Eric Hedin’s academic freedom to discuss intelligent design and related issues in the classroom. We call on you to reject demands by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to censor or punish Dr. Hedin for exercising his right to free speech.”
They don’t mention that Hedin’s “punishment” (if he gets sanctioned at all) is not for exercising his right to free speech, but for abrogating the right of his students to be free from Christian proselytizing in a public university, and, especially, their right to be taught real science in a science class without learning about Jesus and discredited science instead. The Discovery Institute also has a few choice words about the ignorance of yours truly, and accuses Ball State of letting Hedin “twist in the wind” as the investigation of his course continues.
Well, since I know the Discovery Institute reads this website, searching for choice morsels to use against me, let me ask them this: where is the positive research program on Intelligent Design that you once promised us was “right around the corner”? Where are all those peer-reviewed papers substantiating the need for a “designer” (one whom you all know is the Christian God)? Why are all your views published in books and not the scientific literature?
In their hearts, ID advocates know that they’ve failed to come up with the evidence they need to substantiate their views, and so they’re forced instead to defend teaching creationism in schools, just like their forerunners Duane Gish and Henry Morris. They are absolutely pathetic.
Finally, over at EvolutionBlog, my friend Jason Rosenhouse has weighed in in the Hedin case. While he finds Hedin’s course a religously-based incursion into science, he adds that Hedin’s proselytizing is “arguably unethical” and should be taken into account during promotion and tenure. But he also feels, as do P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, that Hedin should be allowed to continue teaching his Jesus-infused science course:
As bad as this course appears to be, trying to shut him down would be even worse. When the creationists start arguing that it’s a first amendment violation for a biology department to teach about evolution, we want them to be laughed at. I think it’s better just to glare at him in faculty meetings, and let him teach his course.
I disagree. There are no First Amendment grounds for teaching evolution in a science class; there are First Amendment grounds, or so I think, for prohibiting teaching Christian views in a public university’s science class. And I certainly think that, freedom of religion aside, Hedin’s course should be shut down as a course for which students can get science credit, as it’s simply not what it purports to be. It might be reconfigured as a philosophy class, but even then it would, in its present structure, be one-sided and an embarrassment to Ball State.
Although Hedin and the university defend his course by saying that it presents several sides of an issue in a way that will stimulate student thought, they’re clearly wrong: the course gives a one-sided view of the universe as reflecting the actions of a Christian god. There are no readings by those who deny God’s involvement in biology or physics: people like Sean Carroll, Victor Stenger, Steven Weinberg, or Larry Krauss. Nobody at Ball State has even attempted to answer that objection.
As for this course not violating the First Amendment, it’s not so clear to me. I’m not a lawyer, and neither are most of the people who say that public universities are exempt from First Amendment restrictions that apply to public grade schools or high schools. It would be interesting to see this issue adjudicated, as I don’t think it really has been—certainly not by the U.S. Supreme Court. But there are lower court decisions implying that public-university professors don’t have a right to promote their own religious views in class.
But regardless of what happens legally, Hedin’s course is an embarrassment to his department and to Ball State. It is not a science course and should not be portrayed as one. No professor has the right to force his/her religious point of view upon students. I certainly wouldn’t do that with my own disbelief, and if I did I would deserve to be rebuked and told to stop it.
There have been other students complaining about Hedin’s Christian proselytizing in that class, but those views will come out shortly.