In November 1998, the Yale community was shocked and disgusted to discover that Antonio Lasaga, a renowned geology professor and master of Saybrook College, possessed video cassettes and thousands of Internet images of child pornography. We later learned that Lasaga had molested children in the videos, some of which were taped in Yale buildings, and that he had molested one boy in particular for five years.
Lasaga was arrested shortly thereafter, pleaded guilty to federal charges in February 2000 and was finally fired by Yale after President Richard Levin and a university tribunal stalled for more than a year. Two weeks ago, Lasaga pleaded no contest to six state felony charges and faces up to 110 years in prison.
Whatever penalty the judge hands down to Lasaga at his scheduled sentencing Jan. 28, the former professor — who has already been given a 20 sentence by a federal judge –will likely be spending much, if not all, of the rest of his life in jail. While we hope Lasaga’s heinous crimes will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, the question of his future as an academic is more controversial.
Despite being confined to his house and denied the use of a computer, Lasaga has continued to contribute to the science of geology.
This February, at least one article, which he co-wrote with a Pennsylvania State University professor, is slated to be published in the respected journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. When Lasaga’s articles were first received, Frank Podosek, the journal’s editor, rejected them on the grounds that publishing his work would undeservingly elevate Lasaga professionally and personally. The journal’s sponsors later overruled Podosek’s decision, and the articles were selected for publication.
The sponsors were right to overturn the ruling — academic research should be evaluated solely on the content of the scholarship.
Of course, editors should review the histories of researchers who submit work, but only to scrutinize factors related to professional ethics and academic integrity. Naturally, the work of scholars with conflicts of interest or records of academic dishonesty should be analyzed more closely than the work of more well-established academics.
But there is no direct correlation between moral failings in a scientist’s personal life and his scientific integrity, assuming that his work is entirely unrelated to his perversions.
In this case, Lasaga’s crimes undeniably condemn him to ostracism, but they do not make him substantially more likely to commit academic fraud than any other of his fellow scholars.
Lasaga cannot and should not belong to a university community ever again, but his research, if deemed to be of substantial academic quality by experts, should remain circulating in academic circles. After all, contributing some good to the field of science is the least Lasaga can do to pay society back for the despicable deeds he has done.