Washington University professor dumped from oil spill team over writings

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | 1:48 p.m. CDT; updated 1:02 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 10, 2010

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis scientist who was among a select group picked by the Obama administration to pursue a solution to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been removed from the group because of writings on his website, the U.S. Energy Department confirmed Wednesday.

Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz was one of five top scientists chosen by the Department of Energy and attended meetings in Houston last week.

Though considered a leading scientist, Katz's website postings often touch on social issues. Some of those writings have stirred anger in the past and include postings defending homophobia and questioning the value of racial diversity efforts.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu was not aware of Katz's writings before selecting him for the panel, spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said. It was not immediately clear how the department became aware of the writings.

"Dr. Chu has spoken with dozens of scientists and engineers as part of his work to help find solutions to stop the oil spill," a statement from the Energy Department said. "Some of Professor Katz's controversial writings have become a distraction from the critical work of addressing the oil spill. Professor Katz will no longer be involved in the Department's efforts."

Katz did not respond to a phone message and e-mail seeking an interview. The extent of work he performed on the oil spill recovery effort was not immediately known.

In a website posting titled "In Defense of Homophobia," Katz wrote about the AIDS epidemic.

"The human body was not designed to share hypodermic needles, it was not designed to be promiscuous, and it was not designed to engage in homosexual acts," he wrote. "Engaging in such behavior is like riding a motorcycle on an icy road without a helmet. It may be possible to get away with it for a while, and a few misguided souls may get a thrill out of doing so, but sooner or later (probably sooner) the consequences will be catastrophic. Lethal diseases spread rapidly among people who do such things."

In another posting, Katz questioned the value of diversity efforts.

"The diversity movement is racist at its core," he writes. "When dealing with people we should be concerned with intellect, talent, character and accomplishment. People aren't dogs or cattle; race matters only to racists."

A.J. Bockelman, director of PROMO, a St. Louis-bases advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, applauded the decision to remove Katz.

"It's disappointing at a time like this that when all Americans need to come together and focus on relief efforts and recovery efforts in the Gulf, someone divisive was placed in a position of power," Bockelman said.

A spokeswoman for Washington University declined comment. The university said in a statement that its guidelines allow personal pages by students, graduates, faculty or staff members as long as they comply with the law and do not involve copyright infringement, constitute libel or harassment, or contain illegal materials.


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Ellis Smith May 19, 2010 | 2:32 p.m.

Obviously one should not attempt to stop an oil leak unless one has been certified to be politically correct. Scientific and technical expertise mean nothing; only political correctness matters.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 20, 2010 | 7:29 a.m.

Let's examine a hypothetical situation. You have a life-threatening medical condition that requires surgery, and there are few surgeons who have successfully performed the operation required.

One of those surgeons is located in St. Louis, a reasonable distance from Columbia. Having scheduled the surgery you discover that this surgeon holds what are in your opinion objectionable political views, perhaps even voicing his views on a web site.

Would you cancel the operation?

Most folks would not. They would say that while they didn't agree with the surgeon's political philosophy their concern was his ability to successfully perform the required operation.

Most people aren't idiots. Those who make decisions based on political correctness ARE idiots!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 20, 2010 | 1:01 p.m.

Even the term "political correctness" indicates an intolerance for differing views.

And I agree - Katz' ability as a scientist is completely separate from his views on politics and society. I find this action quite a chilling precedent, in fact.


(Report Comment)

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