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Sex, Fruit Bats, and Politically Correct Zoology at an Irish College

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Author's Note: This case has set off quite an international debate, both for and against Dr. Evans. As I linked to below in the updates, you can check out the charging documents and findings in this case here, and see the discussion by following the #Fruitbatgate thread on Twitter. While everything I have read still indicates to me President Murphy badly mishandled the case, I encourage you to make up your own minds.

I had heard of "the love that dare not speak its name," but I had no idea it referred to the sexual habits of fruit bats. According to a professor at University College Cork in Ireland, however, sharing with colleagues a peer-reviewed article about observed oral sex among fruit bats was enough to get him put on double secret probation.

Printed below in its entirety is a letter from the censured professor, Dr. Dylan Evans, explaining what happened and asking people to join a petition protesting his ludicrously unjust punishment. (Hat tip to Steven Pinker of Harvard for forwarding this along.)

Subject: Please help me fight the sanctions imposed on me by University College Cork

Dear Colleagues,

The President of University College Cork, Professor Michael Murphy, has imposed harsh sanctions on me for doing nothing more than showing an article from a peer-reviewed scientific article to a colleague.

The article was about fellatio in fruit bats. You can read it online at http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0007595

It was covered extensively in the media, including the Guardian - see http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/nov/10/oral-sex-bats-improbable-research

The colleague to whom I showed the article complained to HR that the article was upsetting. I had been engaged in an ongoing debate with the colleague in question about the relevance of evolutionary biology to human behaviour, and in particular about the dubiousness of many claims for human uniqueness. I showed it the colleague in the context of this discussion, and in the presence of a third person. I also showed the article to over a dozen other colleagues on the same day, none of whom objected.

HR launched a formal investigation. Despite the fact that external investigators concluded that I was not guilty of harassment, Professor Murphy has imposed a two-year period of intensive monitoring and counselling on me, and as a result my application for tenure is likely to be denied.

I am now campaigning to have the sanctions lifted. I would be grateful for your support on this matter. I have created an online petition at:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/freedebate/

I'd be grateful if you sign the petition and ask your colleagues to do so. If you also felt like writing directly to the President of UCC, his address is:

Professor Michael Murphy
The President's Office
University College Cork
Cork
Republic of Ireland.

Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Dylan Evans
----------------------------------------------
Dr. Dylan Evans
Lecturer in Behavioural Science
School of Medicine
University College Cork,
Cork, Ireland.

Anyone who has read previous entries of mine here on The Huffington Post already knows that even the most inadvertent offense can lead to students and faculty members being charged and often found guilty of various campus crimes. (Do I need to mention again the student punished for "openly" reading a book?)

But thankfully, here in the United States we have the awesome protections of the First Amendment to vindicate the rights to both free speech and academic freedom. Ireland, to my knowledge, does not have such powerful protections, leaving Dr. Evans in a bind.

So it is up to us to let the misguided President Murphy know that running an institution of higher education means placing the search for knowledge above the sensibilities of the inordinately squeamish. Ridicule sometimes wins where common sense fails, so I encourage you to spread the word about this case, write President Murphy, and sign the petition.

Seriously, President Murphy: A lot of facts about animals are weird, gross, and in this case, sort of funny. But if you're going to be a grown-up at a grown-up university, you really need to, well, grow up.

UPDATES: I just received the official documentation from Professor Evans. You can judge for yourself: http://felidware.com/DylanEvans/. While the accuser alleges more than the Fruit Bat article was at play, it was the incident that inspired the complaint, and which President Murphy targets in particular and in a very odd way. While the additional details are helpful I ultimately agree with the letter from the Irish Federation of University Teachers http://felidware.com/DylanEvans/ifut.pdf.

Also you can check out the article in New Scientist about the incident (NEW on Monday, May 17).

This incident is also promoting some fierce and interesting discussion through social networks. If you want to follow some of it check out the #fruitbatgate thread on Twitter.

AND Irish Times reports: "Authorities at UCC wrote to Dr Dylan Evans, a lecturer in behavioural science at the school of medicine, yesterday to advise him that they are initiating disciplinary procedures over the posting of confidential material on the web."

A thoughtful and critical opinion of the case by originator of the hash tag #Fruitbatgate, Stephen Kinsella. (NEW on Tuesday, May 18)