Update: David Coppedge vs. JPL (25 Apr 2010)

Before we give you today’s news, we’ll begin with some background. If you’ve been following this story you can skip these three indented paragraphs:

This is about a suit by a creationist, David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He works for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines.

This is a big case for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). They’re trying to establish some new kind constitutional right — an employee’s “freedom to promote creationism” in the workplace. One of their top legal talents, Discoveroid Casey Luskin, is advising the lawyer for Coppedge — that’s William J. Becker, Jr., who seems to be mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer.

To promote the issue, the Discoveroids are waging a public relations campaign which we described here: The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy. They’ve set up a page devoted to this case: Background on David Coppedge and the Lawsuit Against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This case has just begun, and only the plaintiff’s side has been told. Therefore we’re all guessing about what really occurred at JPL. Our guess is that this case involves little more than a hand-slap, possibly well-deserved, administered to a persistently proselytizing employee after JPL had received numerous complaints. But we don’t know that — and neither do you, dear reader. Not yet.

The only real news has been the behavior of one side’s players and handlers. We’ve been chuckling at the indignation of the Discoveroids. They’re always indignant about something, but here they seem furious that the mainstream media aren’t enthused about this case. It doesn’t occur to them that their frenzied publicity efforts have been wildly overblown regarding a case that appeals only to creationists.

The lack of sympathetic attention from the rest of the world is so troublesome and inexplicable to the Discoveroids that one of them wrote about a Coppedge News Blackout Conspiracy. But the “blackout” doesn’t seem terribly difficult to understand.

To the rational world, the Coppedge case is somewhat analogous to that of an employee who has, for years, subjected himself to a diet consisting exclusively of vending machine snack food. Now — to the discomfort of his co-workers — he’s suffering from uncontrollable intestinal disruptions which, shall we say, generate an unpleasant workplace atmosphere. The employer, being unable to persuade the snack food eater to change his ways, compassionately keeps the flatulent fellow on the job — but transfers him to a private work area where his disorder can no longer afflict others. This seems a decent solution, but the relocated employee perceives his isolation as a personal affront and sues his employer — claiming that he’s a victim of discrimination, and that he’s fighting for the rights of the flatulent.

For most of the world, such litigation would be worthy of a laugh, but it would hardly be regarded as a serious civil rights struggle. The only exceptions would be those dedicated few in the flatulence-rights community, for whom this case would easily be the most important issue of the year — perhaps of the decade. No analogy is perfect, but we think this explains the frustration of the Discoveroids over the press’ indifference to the Coppedge case.

For whatever comfort it may be to the Discoveroids, there’s no news blackout in the world of creationism. The first of the openly creationist outfits to express their sympathy with Coppedge was the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). We described that in our update of 21 Apr 2010, in which we pointed out that this case is “one of those rare occasions when hard-core, young-earth creationists are joining hands in a common cause with the Discoveroids — who like to pretend that they’re not creationists.”

Now it’s the turn of Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. AIG’s reaction to the Coppedge affair appears in their latest weekly news summary: News to Note, April 24, 2010. That’s the feature where they bring us “news from the biblical viewpoint.”

The Coppedge litigation is their lead item. Their write-up starts with a link to the very brief Associated Press story we wrote about earlier. Then they discuss the article appearing in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which we wrote about here, and which appears to be the only news item not artificially generated by the Discoveroid press releases.

In other words, AIG is playing this very cautiously; they’re not merely regurgitating Discoveroid press releases as if they were factual. It’s a very hands-off approach, and they are obviously maintaining their distance from the Discoveroids. For example, after mentioning the opinion of an attorney cited by the the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, who says Coppedge doesn’t have much of a case, they rely on that same paper for the opinion of a Discoveroid. AIG says:

On the other hand, Discovery Institute attorney Casey Luskin, a consultant on the Coppedge legal team, noted, “Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”

If Coppedge was indeed singled out, it certainly suggests his pro–intelligent design views may have been the reason.

Note the skepticism. AIG is saying: “If” Casey is right, it “suggests” that Coppedge’s ID views “may have been” the reason for his treatment.

The AIG write-up has only one more paragraph. The bold font was added by us:

While the details of the case have yet to be disclosed — a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Lab declined to comment because the lawsuit had not yet been delivered — the treatment of Coppedge portrayed by media reports certainly sounds like discrimination on the basis of origins belief. Whether a Los Angeles County courtroom agrees is yet to be seen.

Why so mistrustful, almost scornful? Here’s the reason: After their Coppedge write-up, AIG give a couple of links “For more information.” One of those is to an earlier AIG article: Is the intelligent design movement Christian? They don’t think so, and therefore they don’t like it. Here’s one brief excerpt:

[T]he central problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other. All other problems within the movement stem from this one.

What we get from this is that AIG is reporting the existence of the Coppedge case, but they accord no credibility whatsoever to statements made by the Discoveroids. We don’t doubt that AIG is rooting for Coppedge, but they’re waiting for facts from a more reliable source than a certain “think tank” in Seattle.

[Next update: See Update: David Coppedge vs. JPL (28 Apr 2010).]

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Update: David Coppedge vs. JPL (25 Apr 2010)

  1. Coppedge seems to respect AiG as a Creationist resource. However, AiG is very hesitant to lead their readers to other web sites, even friendly ones. So while Coppedge may not have problems leading his readers to AiG, I doubt that the reverse is true.

    Let’s not forget that Coppedge isn’t really the sort of design proponent that the DI likes. His web material is openly YEC, complete with all the properly Christian trimmings. Once those facts are plainly on the table, DI will run away, perhaps submit an amicus brief, but mainly waiting for the inevitable court defeat. Then they’ll play the martyr card again, and attempt to eviscerate the decision, echoing their behavior in the wake of the Dover decision.

    And meanwhile … there’ll be no attempts to scientifically research within the Creationist framework of ideas.

  2. rubble says:

    Let’s not forget that Coppedge isn’t really the sort of design proponent that the DI likes. His web material is openly YEC, complete with all the properly Christian trimmings. Once those facts are plainly on the table, DI will run away …

    They had to be aware of all that before they agreed to let Casey advise Coppedge’s lawyer, and before they embarked on their public relations campaign. It’s difficult to figure out why they’re climbing all over this.

    The only thing I can figure out is that Coppedge is employed by JPL — one of the few creationists who seems to work at a respected outfit. Well, I’m told there are some at NASA too. Anyway, by promoting his connection with JPL, they’re trying to make some kind of point. Perhaps they’re still flogging the “Expelled” theme. I donno. Maybe their angle will be more clearly revealed as this thing progresses.

  3. retiredsciguy

    SC: “Perhaps they’re still flogging the “Expelled” theme.”

    Sure sounds like it.

  4. retiredsciguy says: “Sure sounds like it.”

    The next step is an interview at Fox & Friends. A job for Steve Doocy.

  5. Curmudgeon: They had to be aware of all that before they agreed to let Casey advise Coppedge’s lawyer, and before they embarked on their public relations campaign.

    I’m not convinced that they were aware. Becker recently claimed: “Intelligent design is not religious speech and David Coppedge doesn’t believe it’s religious speech …” The DI hasn’t qualified those remarks at all. And let’s face it, a Coppedge page like this one doesn’t jump out on a Google search.

    Even if they were aware, the case suggests playing the expelled card. This plays well with some of the general public. I suspect that the DI is attempting to marginalize “Darwinists” as freedom-haters, much as GWB did in referencing the terrorists.

    Curmudgeon: It’s difficult to figure out why they’re climbing all over this.

    There may be a confluence of factors responsible. Casey’s law license is based in California; in principle, he knows California law best, which has to help in this case. Becker’s role in the AFA case almost certainly influenced Becker’s decision to call the DI for legal help. The DI pushes the specific videos mentioned in the lawsuit. And as you mentioned, JPL is a high-profile science organization, making it a ripe target for playing the expelled card. There are probably other factors involved as well.

    Curmudgeon: Maybe their angle will be more clearly revealed as this thing progresses.

    The prize for the DI is a role for God in scientifically acceptable explanations, as a means of revolutionizing the culture within the United States. I don’t have any trouble seeing how support of the Coppedge case is a step in that direction.

  6. JPL Scientist

    I am a JPL scientist working on Cassini. It is obvious to me that the Coppedge case is primarily about keeping a job. Cassini is going to downsize next year, and about 50%of the IT staff is going to be laid off. Coppedge’s lawsuit is a preemptive strike to preserve his job – it would really be embarrassing (and legally messy) for JPL to fire someone who is in the process of suing them them over a civil rights issue. When Coppedge joined the Lab in 1997, no one knew he was a creationist. Now, that it’s all over the web, he could never get another job at JPL or in any other scientific organization.

  7. JPL Scientist, good of you to drop in. Your “preemptive strike” theory is most interesting. Is there any actual information about his behavior on the job that you’re free to tell us?

  8. JPL Scientist

    Even though we are on the same mission (Cassini), I don’t work closely with David. He’s in IT (info. tech.), and I’m a mission scientist. He does make a big deal about his opinions on Intel. Design – he’s an in-your-face kind of guy – but people here are just too busy (and uninterested) to pay much attention. My impression is that he is an average employee, but since he is a support person rather than a scientist, he’s quite expendable. One issue is that many non-JPL scientists complain to JPL about the posts David makes on various websites about creationism. He identifies himself as a JPL person and implies he has insider information. JPL is understandably sensitive about using its name for suspect causes. He also pretends to be a scientist or researcher, which he is not by any means.

  9. JPL Scientist says:

    He also pretends to be a scientist or researcher, which he is not by any means.

    Somehow, that’s not a surprise.

    Hey, I’ve been looking around and I can’t find any information — is JPL a federally-chartered corporation, or part of Caltech, or what? It’s not only a mystery to us, but Coppedge and his lawyers don’t seem to know either.

  10. JPL Scientist

    JPL is a federally-funded research center that is also a Division of the California Inst. of Technology, a private university. Caltech runs JPL for NASA. JPL is considered a NASA Center, but we are the only Center where the employees are not civil servants. We are Caltech employees.

  11. JPL Scientist says:

    … we are the only Center where the employees are not civil servants. We are Caltech employees.

    That makes Coppedge’s claim that he’s suffering discrimination by a government agency rather dubious. We’ll have to wait as it plays out in court.

  12. Gabriel Hanna

    That makes Coppedge’s claim that he’s suffering discrimination by a government agency rather dubious.

    Is there ever any claim by a creationist that isn’t?

    Can they never say “I’m just a guy who changes computer tapes for rocket scientists at a place that does work for the government”?

    No, they’ve got to say “I’m a SCIENTIST at JPL and the GOVERNMENT wants to fire me”.