The science writer is 46-year-old Forrest Mims III, from Seguin in Texas.
Mr Mims was asked in 1989 to write three trial articles for Scientific American’s ‘The Amateur Scientist’ column. This column helps readers build science equipment and perform experiments.
Mr Mims and the staff at the magazine expected the trial articles to lead to permanent work if they were satisfactory.
Mr Mims is a science writer of 20 years’ experience. By December 1990 he had had more than 500 articles published in 62 magazines and newspapers. These include Science Digest, The Wall Street Journal, Science 85, and National Geographic World. He was chief technical writer for Radio Shack, and has written a column for Modern Electronics since October 1984. He has written 70 books with total sales exceeding three million copies, and has received numerous awards, including one for developing an infrared eyeglass travel aid for the blind.
Scientific American’s editor, Jonathan Piel, told Mr Mims that what he had written was ‘first rate’.
He is a conservative Christian who accepts the biblical account of creation and rejects evolution.Mr Piel sent a copy of the Scientific American Cumulative Index to Mr Mims on 7 July 1989 and wrote on it ‘Best regards to a great Amateur Scientist’. The three trial articles were published in June, August, and October 1990.
But Mr Mims happened to mention to Mr Piel that he also wrote for some Christian publications. Mr Piel asked him his beliefs about evolution. Mr Mims says he replied that he is a conservative Christian who accepts the biblical account of creation and rejects evolution. He says that because of this he was denied future work with the magazine.
Mr Mims says that a senior editor of the magazine also asked his views on abortion. ‘What do these things have to do with my record as a science writer?’ he asked.
The American Civil Liberties Union has swung its support behind Mr Mims and attacked Scientific American’s ‘intolerance’.
Managing editor of Scientific American at the time, Armand Schwab, says of Mr Mims’ articles: ‘The trial columns he sent were quite good, and his proposal outlining future projects was impressive.’
Mr Mims’ proposal was to write articles on measuring the length of lightning bolts using light sensors and thunder-pulse recorders, on building a home observatory to view sunspots, an ultraviolet radiation monitor, a remote control camera, and a home seismometer to record earth movements. None of his articles discussed creation or evolution.
Some of the reactions to Mr Mims’ dismissal:
Dr Sheldon Krimsky, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC, says a person’s religious beliefs ‘should not influence decisions about publication of scientific articles unless the beliefs are reflected in the articles.’
Arthur Salsberg, editor of Modern Electronics, publishes a column by Mr Mims. ‘His personal beliefs have nothing to do with the work he does’, Mr Salsberg says. Two other writers for his magazine are creationists.
American Civil Liberties Union acting director, Lamar W. Hankins, told the president of Scientific American, Claus-G. Firchow, that the ACLU found the magazine’s action ‘disturbing’. He urged Mr Firchow to stop the apparent blacklisting of Mr Mims immediately.
Former Scientific American associate editor, Tim Appenzeller, says Mr Mims ‘is involved in projects of testing and measurement, and if they don’t work, readers know it.’ Mr Appenzeller is now senior editor at The Sciences magazine. He says there is no doubt about Mr Mims’ qualifications to write ‘The Amateur Scientist’ column. ‘I was among those who felt we should have hired him’, he says.
Secretary of Jews for Morality, David Miller, says his group regards it as ‘entirely outrageous that Scientific American feels compelled to deny Mr Mims his constitutionally protected freedom of belief by denying him employment.’
In a telephone interview about the incident published in The Wall Street Journal, Mr Piel was asked if Mr Mims was a victim of religious discrimination.
Mr Piel replied, ‘Scientific American has never discriminated against anyone for religious reasons.’ He declined to elaborate or answer other questions.
Mr Mims told Creation magazine the controversy over his dismissal has attracted so much attention that for more than a month he was unable to do much writing because of phone calls and visits from the press.
‘This controversy is purely a personal matter, and it is far from over’, he says. ‘I still hope to be reinstated.’ Mr Mims points out that with the current attitude of Scientific American, even the founding editor of the magazine, Rufus Porter, wouldn’t get a job on the magazine now. Mr Mims quotes founding editor Porter as saying on 28 August 1845: ‘… without prejudice … let us, as rational creatures, be ever ready to acknowledge God as our Creator and Preserver.’
Mr Mims says, ‘These remarks of the founding editor imply that even he could not work at the magazine today.’