Casey Luskin is upset. Iowa Citizens for Science responded to Luskin’s press conference on behalf of Guillermo Gonzalez a few weeks ago with their own press release, a release which mentioned that “None of his [Gonzalez’s] graduate students had completed their programs.” Luskin complains that the statement wasn’t removed in response to an email from Luskin to Iowa CFS, which stated:
Again, that statement is completely false. The truth is that in 2001, soon before Gonzalez left the University of Washington (UW) join the faculty at ISU, he served as the primary advisor to a UW doctoral student in astronomy, Chris Laws. Gonzalez served as Laws’ primary scientific advisor over the course of Laws’ entire doctoral thesis, and Laws successfully graduated from UW with a Ph.D. in astronomy in December, 2004. Gonzalez also served on the committee of another Ph.D. student at UW, Rory Barnes, and this student also successfully graduated in 2004. You may want to also correct this false information as well and issue a retraction immediately.
Nor did the release change when Dr. Gonzalez’s attorney (and a major Huckabee backer in Iowa) repeated that complaint. “ICFS,” Luskin writes, “has gone into deep stealth mode and has sent him no reply. At present, this false claim remains uncorrected on the ICFS press release.”
But does it even need a correction?
Note what Luskin is actually claiming. He is saying that Chris Laws got a degree in 2004 from the University of Washington (not ISU, where Gonzalez was a professor that that time). He doesn’t say that Laws was a student of Gonzalez, nor that Gonzalez was the mentor or major professor for Chris Laws. He isn’t giving us any reason to think that Laws was a student of Gonzalez in any normal sense, just that Gonzalez was the “primary science advisor” for Laws. “Primary science advisor” is not a term I encountered in my academic career. Politicians have science advisors, of course, but graduate students are presumed not to need science advice.
Chris Laws did indeed get his doctorate at the University of Washington in 2004, for a dissertation entitled “The chemically peculiar nature of stars with planets: Searching for signatures of accretion in stellar photosphere.” The standard format for a thesis is for a page near the beginning to list signatures from a student’s committee, and this thesis is no different. That page from his dissertation is shown below the fold.
There are indeed four signatures on that page, but Gonzalez is not one of them. Suzanne Hawley is listed as the chair of his dissertation committee. The chair of a student’s committee is generally understood to get credit for graduating a student. In the acknowledgments section, Gonzalez is indeed mentioned as “primary science advisor” (whatever that is), while Hawley is acknowledged as his “mentor” (again, the title usually given to the person responsible for a student’s progress).
This is not, of course, to say that Gonzalez played no part in what Laws did. But if the Disco. Inst. is going do dance a jig over a line in a press release about how “None of his graduate students had completed their programs,” it would help if they could point to students that Gonzalez actually was responsible for, not students at a different university, with a different major professor.
While we’re at it, if they are going to complain about the release claiming that “Gonzalez’ rate of publication had dropped off dramatically since he joined the ISU faculty,” it would help their response if they would actually address the change in his publication rates before and after he was on the ISU faculty, not just look at his publication rate while at ISU. Check out the figure above, produced by John Lynch, or what the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last June:
To compare different professors, The Chronicle calculated for each one a measure of scholarship called an h‑index, devised by Jorge E. Hirsch, a professor of physics at the University of California at San Diego. A scholar with an h‑index of 5 has published five academic papers, each of which has been cited by least five other papers.
Mr. Gonzalez has a normalized h‑index of 13, the second highest of the 10 astronomers in his department. The only person who ranks higher is Curtis J. Struck, a professor with an h‑index of 17.
Under typical circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.
“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” says Mr. Hirsch, stressing that he has not studied Mr. Gonzalez’s work in detail and is not an expert on his tenure case. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”
That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” says John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.
When considering a tenure case, faculty committees try to anticipate what kind of work a professor will accomplish in the future. “The only reason the previous record is relevant is the extent to which it can predict future performance,” says Mr. Hirsch. “Generally, it’s a good indication, but in some cases it’s not.” …
David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. At that time, says Mr. Lambert, “he was quite productive, one of the better postdocs I’ve had, and I’ve had 20 or 30 over the years.”
But he is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert says, recalling that a few years ago, he reviewed a paper that Mr. Gonzalez had submitted to Reviews of Modern Physics, a leading journal in the field.
Mr. Lambert recommended that the journal not accept the paper. “I did not think it was up to the [standards of] Reviews of Modern Physics,” he says.
In other words, his productivity dropped off substantially since joining the ISU faculty. As Iowa Citizens for Science noted, “The decline in Gonzalez’ productivity corresponds to the time when he began writing and promoting intelligent design.”