Friday, March 16, 2012

David Coppedge and David Klinghoffer

The Pasadena Star-News is reporting that the trial of the JPL employee that worked on the Cassini spacecraft and was accused of pushing intelligent design before he was sacked has begun. Brian Day writes:
David Coppedge, who was laid off from JPL in La Canada Flintridge last year, claims his termination was motivated largely by his belief in intelligent design, and his distribution of documentary DVDs on the subject in the workplace. The theory states that the complexity and order apparent in the universe points to the intervention of an intelligence, rather than the forces of nature and chance alone.

The aerospace company has denied wrongdoing. Coppedge's termination took place during a time when the Cassini program -- a spacecraft mission to Saturn which Coppedge worked to support -- saw about a third of it's employees laid off.
The NCSE has been following this case and has put up their own page of documentation here. Interestingly, the defense case seems to rest on two things: there was a 50% cut in funding in FY 2011 for the Cassini project so that layoffs were inevitable and that David Coppedge was very hard to get along with so that when the layoffs did occur, he was not exactly a moving target. The court recorder quotes Gregory Chin:
Chin received complaints from twenty five different managers about Coppedge's uncooperative attitude and poor interpersonal skills

...“Now you used the word “Personality issues”...what didn't they like about it?”

“His personality in terms of they did not like working with him. They felt he was insincere. They would talk to him. They would believe they would not listen to them and has already formed an opinion about what he is going to do and just ignore them. He was pleasant but they felt he was being insincere about it. And I guess that annoyed them.”
The complaint goes on to list a large number of people who either were frustrated with or chose not to work with Coppedge. As someone who has worked with a coworker who doesn't listen to what you say or to anyone else around them, I can tell you that this makes for an extremely tense and frustrating work environment. This is doubly so if this person is (as was in my case) someone that you have to interact with on a daily basis.

What further comes out in this transcript is that program management had come to Chin and asked that Coppedge be removed from the project:
Q: He said it would be best to get rid of David? A: I cannot be sure of those exact words, but I am paraphrasing. He said “What can we do to get David off Cassini?”
Critical to this testimony is that these conversations took place in the early 2000s and that one of his supervisors, Clark Burgess specifically protected him at the time. When the workforce downsized, and, as they put it, jobs became tight, there was talk of moving him on to other projects. The complaints about his intelligent design support did not appear until 2009. Whether or not he was obnoxious regarding those, if we are to believe the transcripts, there certainly was ample reason to let him go when the money got tight.

David Klinghoffer, of the Discovery Institute, has written on the subject here. Klinghoffer thinks that the case is about the wrong things. He writes:

The LA Times writer is referring to Judge Hiroshige's decision not to hear from a legal scholar (not a religion expert) on the larger context of anti-ID discrimination in academia. Crucially, no one but no one on either side is asking the judge to rule on the scientific status of intelligent design. JPL's legal team and Coppedge's lawyer William Becker have cast the trial very clearly as an employment discrimination case.

In the conclusion of his statement, Becker underlined that it's all about "an employee who was treated differently because of his interest in intelligent design; who acted in a manner he thought was appropriate to protect his rights and his job, and for just that reason his job was taken away from him." (You may wish to check the final transcript for the precise quote.)

Klinghoffer remarks that it is very peculiar that, in all of these criticisms about Coppedge’s conduct, no official records were kept. He writes:
Oddly, though, none of this appears ever to have been documented contemporaneously by any of these folks, in a workplace that was otherwise very good about putting such matters down in writing. Not in reports, emails, written complaints, nothing.
This is not odd, however, if you read the testimony, in which it is noted:
Burgess did not document many criticisms in Coppedge's annual performance to maximize Coppedge's chance to transfer to another project.
Burgess states:
“Part of the transfer scenario that I imagined would be—one thing that would be involved in that would be the review of the documents by his prospective new customer and I didn't want to put too much negativity into the ECAPS.”
The testimony then continues and it records that they were trying to protect Coppedge against further, documented complaints and had even bandied around the idea of terminating him long before the ID charge surfaced in 2009. Coppedge was even advised not to continue with this particular line of conversation with his fellow employees because, in concert with the preceding problems, he was told that it would not go well for him.

Damagingly, however, Chin admits he yelled at Coppedge and created a “hostile work environment” for him. He also called Intelligent Design religion and that he was not to promote his religion in the workplace. This gave Coppedge the ammunition that he needed for the lawsuit. That does not negate the problems that JPL had with Coppedge, however.

Klinghoffer ends his article by writing:
The real question before Judge Hiroshige comes down this: Who is David Coppedge? The Coppedge that JPL depicts seems completely at odds with the Coppedge that I've come to know slightly since coming down here to Southern California and that other people tell me about. The idea that this guy could "harass" anyone is just not credible to me at the moment.
Maybe, but even if the harassment charge doesn't hold water, it doesn't mean that he was a good employee or easy to work with. JPL's defense focused on the actual problem: that Coppedge was too hard to get along with, not the Intelligent Design ruse that the Discovery Institute and Coppedge are foisting in an effort to cry wrongful termination.

When the money got tight and layoffs had to happen, JPL did what any good business would: they let go of what they considered to be a problem.

Now playing: Susan Ashton - A Rose Is A Rose
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  1. One relevant point, maybe the most important point, is that Coppedge was not hired as a scientist on the project. He was a computer system administrator. His scientific opinions were and are irrelevant to the project. His job was to keep the computers and network working properly and it was in the that context that a lot of people couldn't get along with him. It looks like the DI has taken on another losing project. I can't see any way that the court can end up ruling for him, since it is apparent that a lot of his coworkers were not happy with the way he was doing the job he was hired to do.

  2. Yes. It seems, once again, that the DI has bet on a horse that is not going to place and now that that looks likely, they are complaining that the horse race is fixed. How predictable.


    David Coppedge blogs at:

    Creation Evolution Headlines

    Stretching Credibility in Evolutionary Stories

    Baloney Detector

    Slaughter of the Dissidents
    by Dr. Jerry Bergman

    Evolution: The Creation Myth of Our Culture

    Evolution: The Grand Experiment

    Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy

    Alfred Russel Wallace

    Darwin's Heretic (2011)

  4. None of those sites cast doubt on the veracity of evolution. The creation myth of our culture arguments have all been shown to be false.

    At no time did Alfred Russel Wallace recant of his findings of natural selection despite his later misgivings of how evolutionary theory was misused.

    The "creation evolution headlines site" continues to spout the "Ashamed of those embarrassing systematic gaps in the fossil record, the trade secret of paleontology?" nonsense (who writes that site anyway? It sure isn't obvious from any of the links) that keeps getting blown out of the sky by palaeontologists.

    The Foxnews article on the Coppedge trial did not address the principle point of the trial—that Coppedge was let go because he was hard to get along with and management had been trying to let him go for years.

  5. "None of those sites cast doubt on the veracity of evolution. The creation myth of our culture arguments have all been shown to be false."


    11. How do geologists and paleontologists explain microfossils of pollen, spores, angiosperms, gymnosperms, and at least one winged insect, in Eocambrian (Upper Precambrian) rock?

    "At no time did Alfred Russel Wallace recant of his findings of natural selection despite his later misgivings of how evolutionary theory was misused."

    23. Edward Blyth, English chemist/zoologist (and creationist), wrote his first of three major articles on natural selection in The Magazine of Natural History, 24 years before Darwin's "Origin of Species" was published. Why then do evolutionists think of natural selection as Darwin's idea?

    Blyth didn't attribute God-like qualities to natural selection, as some evolutionists do today. At least some are willing to admit: "Natural selection can only act on those biologic properties that already exist; it cannot create properties in order to meet adaptational needs." Noble, et al., Parasitology, 6th ed. (Lea & Febiger, 1989), p. 516.

  6. “How do geologists explain microfossils of pollen...”

    Keven Henke does that very well.

    “Edward Blyth, English chemist/zoologist (and creationist), wrote his first of three major articles on natural selection”

    That is good. It simply means that more than just Darwin and Wallace were thinking along these lines, giving the idea of natural selection even more strength than it had. It is easy to say that one person got it wrong. It is harder to say that (at least) three independent thinkers did.

    Noble's description of natural selection is dead on. That is exactly what every evolutionary biologist thinks. There are no God-like qualities to natural selection. It would be a mistake to think that there are.