Saturday, December 17, 2016

Let's Rename the Discovery Institute to the 'Re-writing History Institute'

I have to wonder what passes for a scholarship at the Discovery Institute (DI).  One of their most common, and typically disreputable, tactics involves a fanciful re-telling of events from the past. Their collective 'recollection' of the Dover Trial is something I've commented on regularly, their re-baptizing historical figures -- such as Thomas Jefferson and Alfred E. Wallace -- as Intelligent Design proponents is another example.  When you look at all the effort they keep spending trying to vilify Charles Darwin as the sole person responsible for Hitler and the Holocaust and you really do get the idea that there is absolutely no one at the DI who bothers with actual history or even what they might remember from grade-school history classes.

I don't know if you are familiar with alt-history, it's a genre of fictional literature where a historical event's outcome is changed and the story that follows chronicles those changes and subsequent events.  For example What if Germany had won World War II, or if the South had won the Civil War.  Amazon Prime Video has an alt-history series called "The Man In The High Castle" about Germany and Japan splitting the United States following a very different WWII.  Alt-history is usually big events with widespread changes and it can make some interesting reading.

The DI's version of alt-history isn't for entertainment, well not intentionally.  Rather than make it clear that it is an alternate version of past events, they present their version as if it actually happened that way.  A good example is their latest from the 'Anti-Historical Society' of the DI.  we have them placing NASA in the middle of a lawsuit that wasn't against NASA to begin with.  They are again trying to market alt-history by re-writing the David Coppedge lawsuit.  Here's their post, "NASA on Trial: David Coppedge Fell Victim to Anti-ID Zeal at America's Space Agency", by one of their regular mouthpieces, davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.

When I say the lawsuit didn't involve NASA, what I mean is Coppedge was an employee of Caltech, not NASA.  NASA was the customer of the CalTech who runs Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).  Now anyone who knows about government contracts, the government doesn't have much say in hiring and firing.  If the people assigned by CalTech can do, and are doing, the job, the government will say very little.  I know, I spent 20 years as a contractor working on over 12 different projects.  The government-side of that relationship can actually get themselves in trouble if they interfere with the decisions of the contractor, as long as the job is getting done.  The lawsuit itself didn't even name NASA as a plaintiff:

 Do you see NASA listed?  I don't, but since when does the DI allow facts interfere with their re-writing of history.

Before getting into their post, you might think back for a few about David Coppedge.  He was a JPL system administrator who worked there for 12 years (hired in 1996 as a contractor and later directly for CalTech/JPL) before his religious zeal started getting him in trouble.  He was considered senior because of the length of employment and was given an additional responsibility as a Team Lead, which was an unpaid administrative position.  Apparently he wasn't performing it well and there were multiple reports of harassment over California Proposition 8 (gay marriage) and Intelligent Design.  It was the harassment that caused his problems, not his religious beliefs.  If you read the decision you will find that his religious beliefs were well known and weren't a bar to being hired as a contractor and then eventually hired directly with JPL.  If you are familiar with the contracting world, a contractor that gets hired by a client usually shows superior performance and reliability, but you have to keep your skills current and handle your responsibilities.  When you don't, well you find yourself looking for work, just like Coppedge!

Things seemed to start Coppedge's downhill slide when he was first removed from an unpaid additional duty because he wasn't doing it well.  He sued for that, claiming religious discrimination.  Later he was let go as part of downsizing at JPL and he added all that to his suit.  In a nutshell, he became a poor employee, who had a habit of harassing other employees over his religious and homophobic beliefs, did not get a long well with customers, and didn't keep his skill set current -- so when his current project was downsized -- he was let go.  There was no evidence of religious discrimination, other than in the mind of Coppedge and his lawyers . . . Oh, and apparently the Discovery Institute.  If you want more, you can search this blog, there are too many posts to list.  Or, better, you might read the decision in his lawsuit.  It reveals a great deal about Coppedge and why he was removed from a position and eventually let go.  From reading the DI's latest, apparently they haven't bothered reading the decision.

Klingy has forgotten to mention a few things, like the harassment of his co-workers, the customer complaints about Coppedge's work, the conflicts with management, and  . . . best of all . . . Coppedge's own acknowledgement that the people who weren't downsized were superior to him in their skills.  No, the only thing klingy is interested in is painting the man as a martyr for the cause, the Intelligent Design (ID) cause.  it's pretty evident when klingy says things like:
"He had taken a shine to Illustra Media's series of documentaries laying out the evidence for ID in biology and cosmology."
That's a rather tepid view of his interest.  He was an Creationist/ID supporter well before his job at CalTech, it was a known quantity and didn't stop them from hiring him.  But does klingy mention that the trouble with Coppedge's employment started after he was doing more than just offering his opinions, that he was pressuring people to the point of harassment and even had a list of people showing that he needed to approach them again . . . Again?  That his harassing behavior was further exposed when he complained about the Holiday Party not being called a Christmas Party multiple times, or that his opposition to California Proposition 8 caused him to accuse one of his managers that 'he must hate children!'.  No, none of that matters to klingy, just that after years of employment, klingy thinks is ended because of his 'shine' to a set of DVDs about ID.

This isn't the first time klingy has tried to re-write history about Coppedge, the last time was just this
past May, "Time to Re-Write History . . . Again". The last time klingy said that:
"Coppedge's claims that his advocacy of Intelligent Design (ID) was always done in 'the most respectful, appropriate manner' and 'If anyone expressed disinterest, he says, he immediately backed down'"
Yet the testimony from his co-workers found that the opposite was true, he not only was persistent, but had a list of people to approach again . . . approaching someone again isn't something I would consider 'respectful and appropriate'.  The decision specifically stated:
" . . . the evidence reflects that Coppedge was less skilled than those retained, regarding the skills needed on Cassini going forward; Coppedge himself testified that the other SAs [System Administrators] were more expert in these areas."
Yes, so this time around the DI is changing the tune a bit, claiming that:
"Coppedge made the mistake of misjudging one coworker's attitude. Soon she was complaining about him to their supervisor, and before you knew it, the HR department was conducting a full-scale witch-hunt. A mild-mannered individual for whom advancing NASA's mission was a long-held dream come to true, David Coppedge was the witch."
First of all, klingy, it wasn't just one complaint, but multiple, and mild-mannered individuals do not behave as Coppedge did, to the point of having to apologize to at least one manager.  HR also didn't get immediately involved until the managers saw a pattern of behavior.  Once the pattern was established, JPL needed to take action.  Coppedge's religious beliefs might be his rationalization for his behavior, but it was that unprofessional and harassing behavior that got him disciplined and it was his less than stellar skill set that got him downsized.  But klingy and the DI will never admit it.
I do have to laugh at this line:
"Coppedge tells his own story for the first time. "
That's not particularly true either.  Coppedge told his story over and over again to anyone who would listen, he also told his story in court.  The problem is his story didn't match the facts, but --  once again -- when do facts seem to matter to the DI?

In my opinion, religious beliefs do not trump personal and professional responsibilities.  Coppedge, among the other pseudo-martyrs the Di likes to parade, allowed their belief set to drive their behavior until they crossed personal and professional boundaries.  Too often they believe that their religious beliefs will protect them from repercussions, much like the pedophile priests once believed.  Politicians might be afraid of losing votes by holding religious nut-jobs accountable, but businesses can't really afford to keep such people on the payroll.  Coppedge is a bully, and as such was held accountable and removed from a position of administrative responsibility.  His firing was primarily related to his lack of the needed skillset, by his own admission.

Imagine the lawsuits if JPL failed to take action against Coppedge's bullying?  Do you think his harassment wouldn't have escalated over time?  Does it ever not escalate once the harasser believes they will not be held accountable?  What would the impact to CalTech and JPL if they kept poor performers on the books?  Government organizations hire other organizations for their expertise, not for poor performance.

In this case, CalTech did the right thing, the court made the right ruling, and the DI just can't accept it so they do what they always do . . . spin!

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