Monday, October 23, 2006

Buy me out 

That appears to have been the decision between Professor Steven Jones and Brigham Young University. The physicist whose research into whether the two airliners flying into the World Trade Center on 9-11 really DID cause it to fall has taken early retirement to continue his research.

In an interview with The Chronicle on Sunday, Mr. Jones said he decided to leave the university because "I felt that I could do my research and speak out more freely this way." He said he was not pressured to leave and had already been offered a job at another institution, though he declined to identify it, saying nothing was definite yet.

He said, however, that his first priority would still be his research.

"I want to get to the bottom of this the best I can within the year," he said. "Whether I'm right or wrong, I think these issues on 9/11 need to be freely investigated."

He declined to comment on the details of his retirement package, saying only that he had been told that it was fairly standard.

It doesn't appear to be a force-out; the school says they were approached by Jones for the buyout last month. I find it interesting that BYU's reason for putting Jones on paid leave was that his research was not subject to professional peer review, so instead Jones places his article in a book which, according to the Chronicle was "reviewed before publication by two physicists and two other scholars." What are the chances the reviewers included any skeptics of Jones' claims?

It seems to me that if Jones fairly represents that he spoke for himself and not BYU, then his statements were protected under academic freedom. Rather than debating the merits of his charges, shouldn't Jones have had the right to speak for himself as long as he distanced BYU from his views whenever possible? If, on the other hand, he used his academic post as an appeal to authority, the university should have the right to sanction him ... but it shouldn't use the peer-review claim in this case.