1: I asked for permission to quote the emails I received back from the Entomological Society of America conference organizers and was denied. Following their wishes, I won’t quote the emails I received nor post their personal email addresses. I will summarize to the best of my ability. I strongly encourage readers to ask their own questions of them and they may do so at the email I originally pulled from their website: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: This has since changed, partially, see below.
2: There are far better entomologists, biologists, and bloggers out there than me. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a 23 year old entomologist who is just starting a PhD. I’m not particularly eloquent nor as well-read as some of the popular scientist bloggers out there, but I am angered enough about this to write about it still. Please, please email this story on to fellow entomology and evolutionary biology scientists and bloggers, they should know about this too.
The yearly Entomological Society of America conference is the highlight of my academic year. I love it more than stuffing my face on Thanksgiving or catching up on sleeping during Spring Break. The ESA conference means that I get to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and get ideas for research projects. I have gone the past two years and it’s been absolutely instrumental in searching out potential graduate advisers and getting into graduate school. Earlier yesterday I met a stranger on BART (our subway here, sort of) who was wearing one of those ridiculous tshirts commonly sold at ESA. We spent about five minutes blithering excitedly about ESA, that’s how far reaching and important it is to young entomologists.
After the encounter, I decided to look at the online program, which just went up on Friday. Imagine my surprise when I saw this meeting: http://esa.confex.com/esa/2011/webprogram/Session16294.html
Now, this is my first post on this blog, so you should know some things about myself: I’m an evolutionary biologist with equal interests in entomology, paleontology, and parasitology. My favorite class at my undergraduate institution was on the Dover Trial and examining intelligent design (and ripping apart its terrible logic). The idea of teaching Intelligent Design as if it were science in public education makes me furious. The thought of considering it a scientific theory makes me see red.
So I was a little shocked and in some amount of disbelief. Maybe the site was hacked? Maybe a third-party organizer had mislabeled what was originally supposed to be a how-to-confront-intelligent-design-and-fight-it meeting? Or maybe this was a joke entry, and a contest to see who would email the ESA first. Who knows, maybe they would reward me with a free pass to the meeting.
So I emailed the general question address for the conference, here’s what I wrote:
The emails for the committee for the conference haven’t been put up yet, but something caught my attention and I just had to ask about this:
Has there always been an Intelligent Design meeting? Is this something new? I’m a little shocked that this got into the program. I know it’s a “non-sponsored” event, but so are things like the Collections Network, Women in Entomology, and all the mixers. This just doesn’t seem very fitting for a scientific conference. I’m just a student, but I’d like more information on this. Also, for the life of me I couldn’t find any info on Vernon Schmidt, is he an entomologist?
The basic response I got was this (and as my disclaimer reads, this is just a summary): First, the meeting is a non-ESA sponsored meeting. So is the Black Entomologists Social, the Women in Entomology Breakfast, and a whole bunch of university-run mixers that you can find here: http://esa.confex.com/esa/2011/webprogram/INFUN.html. In the interest of diversity, if these events are allowed to occur, a Intelligent Design Entomology Network meeting must also be allowed. Non-ESA sponsored meetings can be set up by any member at http://esa.confex.com/esa/2011/infun/sessions/index.cgi? and are generally outlets for socializing. ESA provides the space and handles scheduling conflicts. Vernon Schmidt is an entomologist, though my google fu was unable to find him. I later looked him up on the member directory after I renewed my membership, he works for a Tobacco company (ESA attracts a lot of agricultural entomology experts, this isn’t that shocking).
UPDATE: Turns out one of the responders has allowed me to quote and can explain ESA’s position much better than I:
…the ESA Networks are open to any ESA member to form any group he/she desires as long as there’s an entomological aspect. The ESA Bylaws state that the Society should “support their interests without any direct regulation or oversight by The Society.”
Thus, we have the the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Entomologists Network, the Women in Entomology Network, the Black Entomologists Network and about 37 others. The Networks are about diversity. The link you sent is for a non-ESA sponsored meeting, just like any of the Networks listed above may choose to have.
Vernon Schmidt is an entomologist and has been an ESA member since 1995. If you want to contact him, you can join the Networks at www.esanetworks.org and write to him.
Here’s an email from the same person after I announced my intention to blog about this:
You can quote me, but I hope that you understand and stress that that this meeting has absolutely nothing to do with the scientific symposia or any official ESA functions, and was not approved by (and does not need approval by) the ESA Annual Meeting Program Committee or any other ESA officials. I also hope that you explained this to the peers you mentioned because failing to do that would be alarmist and inaccurate.
Traditionally, ESA has provided an outlet for members to meet in groups if they desire. Usually these functions are for university alumni, groups like military or forensic entomologists, or anyone else who has an interest in meeting others with similar interests (I mentioned earlier, for example, LGBT, Women in Entomology, Black Entomologists, etc.). They are generally social events, and ANY ESA member is allowed to arrange them (see this page for more info: http://entsoc.org/submit-functions-entomology-2011).
The ID Network has only existed for a couple of weeks, with just one member (Vernon Schmidt). Before you mentioned it, I was unaware of their meeting, and I’m sure most others were as well. By choosing to blog about it, you will probably bring them publicity they otherwise would not have had.
And that’s the extent of responses I’ve gotten so far. I’ll update if anything new shows up, but here are my thoughts so far.
ESA provides space for non-sponsored functions as long as they have an entomological basis. But providing space itself is a form of support. ESA is saying that they support women, LGBT, and black entomologists and their desire to meet and discuss with each other the events and issues of these groups. And they should! These are scientists from classically underrepresented groups that are attempting to gather together, support each other, and make headway in the scientific community. Short and to the point, they are scientists practicing science.
Intelligent Design is not science. Writing about why it is not science isn’t the point of this blog entry and there are far better scientists out there that can explain this to you. Here’s a good website if Intelligent Design is an unfamiliar term, with lots of further reading: http://ncse.com/creationism/general/what-is-intelligent-design-creationism
So now you know why I’m upset. I’ve talked to several entomologists about this and they are also shocked that this meeting is taking place, regardless of whether or not it is a “non-sponsored” event.
At first, I was worried that I might be doing exactly what the emailer is suggesting will happen, creating more attention than this deserves. But this isn’t a public event in the traditional sense of the word- this is a conference for Entomology and those who study this field. They should know exactly what will be at this conference. As members of the ESA, it’s our responsibility to be informed about the meeting that we pay for and thus support. I’m not worried about random people from the internet mobbing a conference they have to pay 560-720$ to get in to as non-ESA members.
ESA members (and interested readers), I pose some questions to you:
1. Do you think ESA should regulate “non-sponsored” events (clubs, mixers, other social events) that take place within the conference hall (I don’t really have a problem with ID supporters meeting at the bar after hours)?
2. If clubs like Women in Entomology and the Black Entomologists society are allowed to meet, is the ESA obligated to give the same support/protection to the Intelligent Design Entomology Network?
3. What do you plan on doing if you see this at the conference?
I’ll post updates as they come. I wouldn’t be surprised if some information I received off the website eventually changes, so I’ve taken some screencaps.