December 07, 2007

Creationist Post-Doc Who Refused to Author on Evolutionary Bio Grant Sues Woods Hole Institute

Woods Hole Institute is one of the most prestigious centers for marine biological research in the country. Year after year, the people at Woods Hole have contributed to our understanding of the evolution and ecology of ocean life based upon sound scientific principles based upon evolutionary biology.

One of the labs at Woods Hole is run by Dr. Mark Hahn, himself an evolutionary biologist specialized in comparative biochemistry and molecular biology. The Hahn lab is a tremendously productive bunch. The lab's website will give you some idea of just how productive; the list of publications is as long as your arm. Again, all of this work is founded upon evolutionary biology.

Enter a now-professed Creationist named Nathan Abraham. Abraham got an appointment as a post-doctoral researcher at the Hahn lab several years ago, but was fired in 2004 when he announced to Dr. Hahn that he was a Creationist and would refuse to include any material in publication on which he was a co-author if that material mentioned evolution. Abraham was dismissed from the lab and, through an attorney from a fundamentalist legal concern, is suing Woods Hole.

Biologist fired for beliefs, suit says
Woods Hole states creationist stance at odds with work

Nathaniel Abraham filed a lawsuit earlier this week in US District Court in Boston saying that the Cape Cod research center dismissed him in 2004 because of his Christian belief that the Bible presents a true account of human creation.

Abraham, who is seeking $500,000 in compensation for a violation of his civil rights, says in the suit that he lost his job as a postdoctoral researcher in a biology lab shortly after he told his superior that he did not accept evolution as scientific fact.

"Woods Hole believes they have the right to insist on a belief in evolution," said David C. Gibbs III, one of Abraham's two attorneys and general counsel of the Christian Law Association in Seminole, Fla...

Woods Hole officials released a statement saying, "The Institution firmly believes that its actions and those of its employees concerning Dr. Abraham were entirely lawful," and that the center does not discriminate on the basis of religion.

In a 2004 letter to Abraham, his boss, Woods Hole senior scientist Mark E. Hahn, wrote that Abraham said he did not want to work on "evolutionary aspects" of the National Institutes of Health grant for which he was hired, even though the project clearly required scientists to use the principles of evolution in their analyses and writing...

Abraham did not return a telephone call seeking comment. An Indian citizen, he now works at Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

He has a master's degree in biology and a philosophy doctorate, both from St. John's University in New York, a university spokeswoman said. He was hired by Hahn's marine biology lab in March 2004 because of his expertise working with zebra fish and in toxicology and developmental biology, according to court documents. He did not tell anyone his creationist views before being hired. Hahn's lab, according to its website, studies how aquatic animals respond to chemical contaminants by examining ". . . mechanisms from a comparative/evolutionary perspective..."

But on Nov. 17, Hahn asked him to resign, pointing out in the letter that Abraham should have known of evolution's centrality to the project because it was evident from the job advertisement and grant proposal.

". . . You have indicated that you do not recognize the concept of biological evolution and you would not agree to include a full discussion of the evolutionary implications and interpretations of our research in any co-authored publications resulting from this work," Hahn wrote in the letter, which the commission provided to the Globe. "This position is incompatible with the work as proposed to NIH and with my own vision of how it should be carried out and interpreted..."
Hahn and Woods Hole are 100% correct in having dismissed Abraham. Their work is based upon evolutionary biology. Not only did Abraham say he didn't believe in evolutionary biology, he wouldn't be an author on research which demonstrated evolutionary biology. Essentially, Abraham came out and said that he was opposed to doing the very work he was hired to do and so wouldn't do his job, which was to carry out scientific research and report on the results objectively and free of bias. A scientist who refuses to eliminate bias from his/her experiments or the reporting of their findings is no scientist at all. Such work would be worthless at best and deleterious to scientific knowledge at worst, and Abraham had no business pretending to be a scientist and then attempting to sabotage his PI's work. If he refused to consider evolutionary biology in his work, he shouldn't have applied for a position at a lab that does work on evolutionary biology; he should have gotten himself a job at Liberty University in the first place.

Imagine finding yourself in a hospital awaiting surgery only to be told by your surgeon that he wouldn't be using gloves or antiseptics because germ theory was nonsense; there's no mention of bacteria anywhere in the Bible. After running screaming from that hospital, you'd certainly alert the authorities who, in turn, would almost certainly prevent that surgeon from practicing. That wouldn't be a matter of belief, and if the disgraced surgeon filed a lawsuit stating that he'd been fired for his beliefs he'd be laughed out of court, and rightfully so. While there are still people who refuse to accept it, germ theory is a central, organizing tenet of modern medicine. In just the same way, evolutionary theory is a central organizing tenet of modern biology without which, as Dobzhansky pointed out in his famous quote, nothing makes sense. A "researcher" who won't consider it, and won't even discuss it in his work, has no more business in a biological research setting than does a surgeon who opposes germ theory in a hospital.

The attorneys representing Abraham, by the way, appear to be about as competent as that Herman Cummings fellow I wrote about last night. Their website is covered with war-on-Christmas ravings and admonitions about blessings and judgments and other superstitious gumbo. In fact, they not only do legal cases, they also handle prayer requests:
Every month, thousands of personal prayer requests are sent to CLA. Our staff prays over each one individually and collectively in our devotions, but we would ask that this month you join us in asking God to help those who have requested prayer from CLA. As you mention our ministry to the Lord in prayer, remember the cases we are handling this month.
They are, of course, from Florida. Florida seems to be a major spawning ground for fundienutters. Have a look at their case updates page for fun quotes like:
Praise the Lord that information prepared by attorneys for CLA was crucial to prevailing in a religious discrimination complaint filed in IDAHO after a major corporation refused to hire a job applicant because of her religious conviction against working on Sundays.
Yeah, these guys are going to do just great in a case against a research center. Perhaps they can come in and sacrifice a fatted calf at the bench, too. This is almost certain to be laughed out of court.

Mark Hahn and Woods Hole have done a service to science by allowing a bad researcher with a religious agenda to weed himself out. This is what the postdoctoral system is supposed to do, in part, and Hahn and WHOI deserve our commendation and support for having done their job. Abraham, for his part, has certainly retained the right attorney to represent him. They clearly approach law with as much rationality as Abraham approached biological research. I don't suppose Liberty University pays all that well, though, so perhaps Abraham just needed the money; after all, the CLA provides free representation to fundamentalists.

Good luck, Dr. Hahn/WHOI — not that you need it.

Sphere: Related Content