I’m a physics professor at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. Recently I came to work early to find my office door decorated with the word “LIES” written in a childish scrawl across a “I Support Science” Darwin Fish sticker I have in the window of my office door. The graffito, written with a red whiteboard marker, was probably composed by a student the evening before while studying in the building. It was a minor annoyance to remove it because it was written on the frosted matte side of the window that wasn’t really meant to be used as a whiteboard. I notified my Chair and my Dean of the situation. They were sympathetic and obviously found the vandalism inappropriate.
I think it bothered me for all the right reasons. I’m reminded that campus climate is not exactly universally friendly toward certain scientific principles that happen to be in tension with people’s religion. That’s not good. It makes me uncomfortable. But in addition to the message, what makes me feel strange is the willingness to deface a professor’s door at all. Even if someone wrote “cool!” across the fish, it would feel weird. Who does that?
But, I was also able to dismiss it for all the right reasons. When the best argument someone can muster against evolution is an anonymous “LIES” scribbled on a physics professor’s door in the middle of the night, it betrays a lazy and crippling intellectual weakness. The feeble anonymous assertion “LIES” seems a cowardly gasp. It’s a spontaneous act by a creationist that un-coyly says “I strongly disagree with you.” But it is weird language. A lie is a deliberate act to deceive. It implies evolution is like a conspiracy perpetuated by the Science Illuminati. It would be the kind of anti-establishment graffiti someone would see in the 70s. Naturally, I know exactly what it means to write “LIES” across an “I Support Science” Darwin Fish. It is obvious. However, the word choice is funny. I think what they really meant was “WRONG.”
Some peers have shrugged off the defacement with a “kids will be kids” attitude: “Yes, it’s inappropriate, but you sort of had it coming with that provocative sticker.” It is a sad state of affairs when passively declaring support for one of the most evidence-based theoretical frameworks in all of science is considered “provocative.” The most support I’ve received is from the students in my department. They were genuinely shocked at the event and were actually concerned about me, unambiguously condemning the action. One student wrote me a very touching email making it clear that he and the other students stood behind me. Although an unfortunate context, that part really did make me feel greatly supported. It is a privilege to work with such colleagues.
Now back to sacrificing another Schrödinger’s Goat in my weekly ritual to actively perpetuate my sinister New World Order Parameter.