A couple of years ago, browsing as usual the bulletin board outside our main office, looking for interesting talks and conferences, I noticed some odd advertisement. Apparently UBC has some sort of Christian student club, which occasionally has talks about various topics in theology. Some advertisements for these talks, to be held at the student union, were put up on our bulletin board. So, I took them down with the excuse that it is irrelevant, and that it is covering perfectly interesting announcements. The talks were not related to physics, were not taking place in our building, easy case to make. End of that story.
The next case I recall was an email circulating in our department, from the head’s office, offering free tickets to Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled” (no link, sorry). Again, one can argue that creationism is not precisely something that has to be promoted by a scientific organization, or at least one can wonder if buying legitimacy should not cost more than few movie tickets. But, really, what is the harm? The department did not endorse the guy’s “theory”, I was told, and did not force anyone to take those tickets. Do I really want to be an enemy of free speech, not to mention be such a killjoy?
Yesterday, I find in our bulletin board an advertisement (followed by an email invitation) to a talk by the esteemed creationist (and to everyone’s pride, a graduate of the department) Hugh Ross. It is taking place in the physics building, the abstract is full of scientific sounding gibberish, and apparently on the website of his “Reasons to Believe” organization, Dr. Ross is listed as a visitor to the physics department. To add insult to injury, it was covering up the announcement for Art McDonald’s extremely interesting upcoming talk. All in all, a clear victory in the attempt to market this nonsense as legitimate science.
So, what do you think should (or is likely to) happen? in return for your thoughts I will keep you posted, and if the mood strikes me (which is pretty unlikely), I might even share some thoughts about slippery slopes, and how navigating those came to be part of our business.
update: Turns out that the group in question rented a venue from UBC, in the physics and astronomy building, to hold the event. It was not invited by anybody affiliated with the department. Nevertheless, on their website and in various advertisements the talk is listed as taking place in the physics department, and Dr. Ross is listed as visiting us (with a link to the department’s website). Blurring the boundaries is a skill, you have to admire it.