Wingnuts, North of the 49th Parallel

Education professors are now being asked to provide evidence for the theory of evolution in their grant applications to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, perhaps the main funding body for social scientific and humanistic work in Canada (pronounced “shirk” for you non-Canadians). Read up here and here.

I love that the SSHRC rep said that Alters took the comment about intelligent design out of context. Sure, there may have been other reasons to deny his application, but good lord, if the issue wasn’t whether or not an education professor could “prove” evolution, why mention it as an issue in funding the grant? If Alters’ research program wasn’t up to snuff or if his plan for spending the money (by the way, $40000 sounds like a lot but it is not a particularly huge SSHRC grant in this day and age) was flawed, then by all means turn down the grant. But what business do they have asking him to prove the theory of evolution? It’s a grant about education.

In McGill’s own PR about the opening of Alters’ Centre in 1999, they quote his colleague Graham Bell as saying

When [he] talks to colleagues in his field in the U.S. about the Kansas decision, the consistent reaction is one of “embarrassment.”

Canada dodged a parallel experience thanks to its federal system, notes Bell. “There was a school board in B.C. where a similar sort of thing was going to happen, but the administration of education is a provincial responsibility.”

Well, now it’s got an issue in its federal system.

The idea that the Enlightenment quotient increases north of the 49th parallel is an important part both of liberal and left Americans’ idealization of Canada and of Canadian anti-Americanism. And I sometimes partake of it, let down my guard, and enjoy that I’m up here and not “down there.” But this is a reminder that vigilance is essential in protecting intellectual inquiry from ignorance rooted in religious dogmatism. Everywhere.

4 replies on “Wingnuts, North of the 49th Parallel”

  1. Some of the comments on Panda’s Thumb took the tack of blaming SHRC’s rejection of the proposal on the humanities and social sciences. Some constellation of Sokal Hoax-Wingnuts-Postmodernism, evidently. Of course, nobody noticed that the chair of the committee is a chemist. It’s always nice to see bias and ideology countered by bias and ideology.

    Not that I think that ID is anything but pure bunk, of course.

    Full disclosure: I was the beneficiary of a SHRC grant in ’00, in the form of free lodging and travel to a conference at UBC.

  2. Oops. You’re right. This is to whom I was referring:

    “Janet Halliwell, the SSHRC’s executive vice-president and a chemist by training, acknowledged that the “framing” of the committee’s comments to Alters left the letter “open to misinterpretation.”

  3. Andy, you’re right about the comments. The idea that pomo leads to ID is almost as ignorant as the idea that ID is science.

    As for SSHRC, I’ve benefitted a lot from it, and it’s an important source of funding for my students, which is why I’m concerned about this sort of thing.

  4. SSHRC’s justification for the Alter decision is awful, but knowing the Chair of the committee that adjudicated and a fair amount about how SSHRC committees work, I still think the problem likely stems from the program officer (a SSHRC employee who acts as committee scribe) misrepresenting the committee in the comments (or taking one of the external assessor’s comments and presenting it as the committee’s.)

    In any case, there are no mechanisms whereby the committee could be forced to toe an official SSHRC line concerning the substance of proposals, so even a completely nutty SSHRC committee would be acting in its own name and not representing some kind of new (and, in my view, unimaginable in this historical conjuncture) anti-evolution stance on SSHRC’s part.

    I’m still inclined, at this point, to blame this on incompetence. The other scenario (a gay-activist/Marxist adjudication committee chair being forced to carry out a very recent and unsuspected pro-creationist SSHRC agenda) is too ludicrous to believe.

    My guess: the committee ranked the proposal lower than what became the cut-off point for a grant (rather than “refusing” it, which is not how it works), the Program Officer bungled the summary to the applicant, the applicant seized on one element in the justification, and SSHRC showed spectacular incompetence in the way it handled this. I’d like to read the application and the full comments back.

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