Science 101

Following a discussion of employment law this week a student sent me this article: Biologist fired for beliefs, suit says. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute fired postdoctoral researcher Nathaniel Abraham from his position in the biology lab because he believes “that the Bible presents a true account of human creation.” Abraham was hired to work on a project that “studies how aquatic animals respond to chemical contaminants by examining ‘. . . mechanisms from a comparative/evolutionary perspective,'” did not inform anyone that he does not believe the fundamental tenets of evolution underlying the research, and was fired when he disclosed this fact.

Is belief in evolution a bona fide occupational qualification for this position? Woods Hole fired him because of his religious beliefs, yet his beliefs are fundamentally incompatible with his job responsibilities. How could he even take such a job? It would be like an adherent to Christian Science–which treats illness through prayer rather than medicine–being trained as an oncologist. The article puts it this way: “‘A flight school hiring instructors wouldn’t ask whether they accepted that the earth was spherical; they would assume it. Similarly, Woods Hole would have assumed that someone hired to work in developmental biology would accept that evolution occurred. It’s part and parcel of the science these days.'”

5 Replies to “Science 101”

  1. Dave Wisker

    Abraham was hired as a postdoctoral researcher in a lab whose grant was specifically for work in evolutionary biology. He was not just a lab tech, who simply ran experiments. As a post doc he was expected to produce research within the framework of the project funded by the grant. He therefore was expected to actually write up his results (as a co-author) for publication, which includes placing the results in the evolutionary framework of the research done by the lab’s primary investigator. Abraham refused to do this. It’s not as if his results contradicted evolutionary theory. He simply refused to do the work for which he was specifically hired, a significant part of which required interpreting the results in an evolutionary context. I find it hard to believe he did not know this going in.

  2. Rich Z

    It seems a little odd that the bio lab didn’t perform any background checks on its employees but rather just assumed that all the workers would believe in evolution. Albeit, as in the case of the flight school, such an obvious requirement for the job should allow the bio lab some freedom to assume such things.

    It’s even stranger that Abraham would go and actually work at this bio lab since he didn’t believe in evolution. When he applied for the position at the bio lab, he must have known that they supported evolution and therefore should have been deterred. Instead, he goes ahead and works there anyway.

    I think in this case, belief in evolution IS a bona fide occupational qualification for this position since the project specifications stats that they’d be studyin the aquatic animals from “a comparative/EVOLUTIONARY perspective”.

  3. YasminNouri

    II don’t understand why the Institute hired Nathanial Abraham to work in a biology lab from the beginning. It’s strange that the institute only realized Abraham’s belief when he announced it. No one realized his beliefs in the scope of his employment? What a very interesting biology lab..

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