....TBS: Tell us a bit about your life before your difficulties at George Mason University and their exposure in Expelled. Where did you get your degrees? In what fields of study? What sort of career as a biologist had you envisioned? When did you start entertaining "politically incorrect" views and what were the first glimmers that they were going to get you into trouble?
ICC: I started university at a community college in Ankeny, Iowa, when I was 16 yrs old. After I obtained my Associate Degree, my family moved to England and I went with them. I then studied at Warwick University for a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and virology, graduating with a 4.0 grade average (when translated to the American system). Then, after a break to have my children, I did a Master's in medical microbiology at Birmingham University. Finally, my Ph.D. was in immunopharmacology; the thesis was on an evaluation of the effect of glucocorticoids on T-cell function and phosphodiesterase activity. To accomplish the work for a doctorate from Southampton University under Martin Church, PhD, DSc, I had to bring in my own funding, so I had a nice foretaste of what work as a professor would involve. I generated ideas, wrote proposals, contacted and corresponded with potential sponsors, planned and performed experiments, organized and interpreted data, wrote reports, published numerous peer-reviewed articles, presented the work at scientific meetings, and brought in grants—thus funding my own Ph.D. and a significant amount of the work of the department where I was based, Creighton University Allergic Disease Center.
My goal and dream was to be a tenured professor at a major university—after all, I already had proven myself able to bring in grants, do research, and write. However, because I was based at a medical school, the only teaching experience I received was when I taught part of an immunology class for allergy fellows, co-organized and implemented a basic immunology course for our department, and supervised and trained graduate students. For this reason, when my family and I moved to the DC area, I decided to spend some time teaching, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I taught a variety of biology courses until 2006, when the pressures resulting from my Darwin-doubting ways meant I had to leave teaching. In 2006 I began a postdoctoral fellowship investigating the signal transduction pathway from the T-cell receptor to activation of NF-κB using molecular biological techniques, confocal microscopy, and Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer analysis.
I began to entertain "politically incorrect views" while I was studying for my PhD. Basically, I did not see how evolution by random mutation and natural selection could lead to the kind of intricate nanotechnology that I was seeing inside a cell. Aspects of evolutionary theory conflicted with what I knew of science. I've heard people say that eventually we will figure out how mistakes in copying lead to increased information, but that belief takes more faith than I have. I think that it might make more sense to just evaluate the scientific evidence and follow where it leads rather than try to fit the new evidence about the copious amounts of information found in cells into a theory that was suggested over 150 years ago when cells were thought to be simple blobs of protoplasm.
When I began to teach, I noticed that the assigned textbooks were written in a way so as to encourage students to memorize, rather than critically assess, some of the information. I did not think this practice would lead to their success in future biology classes nor in their chosen careers in science. Therefore, in keeping with Yale recommendations on teaching controversial subjects, my habit was to teach students "not to argue from authority and to link their claims and assertions to appropriate evidence whenever possible."
For example, when teaching about the function of steroids in cellular communication, I had the students go beyond the text and encouraged them to speculate on the possible side effects of hydrocortisone. In the same way, in the single cell biology lecture where I presented the information the textbook provided on evolution and the origin of life, I suggested that the students critically assess the claims made. I asked questions like, "Is microevolution is a legitimate ‘proof' of macroevolution?" or "How much does the synthesis of a racemic mixture of individual amino acids in a closed system add to a discussion of the origin of life?" I encouraged them to think about what they were being taught, making it clear that disagreeing with the professor was okay—provided they backed their opinions up with science. The students enjoyed this method of teaching and clamored to get into my classes. Their letters can be found in my book Free to Think: Why Scientific Integrity Matters.
My first inkling of trouble was the day that my supervisor called me into his office and told me that I was going to be disciplined for allegedly "teaching creationism." That was not true. In fact, I had not even given the offending lecture during the previous semester. My supervisor was acting on a report from one student who refused to put the complaint in writing. A copy of the document where he admits this fact is in my book. A week after Free to Think was published I found out that the student who made the false allegations about me had been previously suspended from GMU for intimidating other students and for cheating—perhaps this is why she did not put anything in writing. Nonetheless, the grievance procedure, which is fully documented in my book, was a farce, my three-year contract was switched for a one-year, and my job at GMU was over.
TBS: After George Mason University, what happened next? Describe going on the job market once your unorthodox views about biological origins became known. What obstacles did you face? How did you cope?
ICC: After I lost my job at GMU, I taught part-time at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) where the departmental supervisor is a lovely lady who does not discriminate based on one's personal views on evolution. However, one day, soon after a story about my situation came out on NPR, I overheard some administrators instructing my supervisor there to get rid of me. "We don't want her type here." She objected and defended me to them, but I did not want to take advantage of her kindness.
I resigned my position at NVCC in December 2006 and started a postdoctoral fellowship conducting cell biology research for the Department of Defense. After only a year, that job was terminated due to "lack of funding," despite the fact that I was hired to work on a three-year NIH grant-funded project. I tried to find other research and/or teaching positions and did get interviews but, perhaps because the Washington Post published an article about my plight, even when I got offers they were withdrawn within a couple of weeks. An employee at the National Institutes of Health later told me that I am blacklisted, so I gave up on my dreams of being a professor and turned my attention to other endeavors......