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Federal Probe Confirms that Viewpoint Discrimination is Alive and Well at the Smithsonian

The Washington Post today breaks a major story about the federal probe into the persecution and harassment suffered by evolutionary biologist (twice over no less), Dr. Richard Sternberg. What, you might ask, could get scientists so riled up? Well, Sternberg is suffering the equivalent of a 21st century inquisition for having had the courage to buck the Darwinian establishment and publish a pro-intelligent design paper by CSC Director Dr. Stephen Meyer, himself a Cambridge University educated philosopher of science. The firestorm of a pro-ID paper appearing in a peer-reviewed biology journal has been reported elsewhere but I’ll try to recap the situation briefly here to put this in context.

In August of 2004, The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, then edited by Sternberg, published an article, entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” by Dr. Meyer. In that piece Meyer argues that the theory of intelligent design explains the origin of the genetic information in new life forms better than current materialistic theories of evolution, and provides a thorough critique of the current theories. (More on Meyer’s article here.)

Immediately, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and others began whining about how such a thing could have been allowed to happen. At the same time they began to falsely claim the article wasn’t peer-reviewed. They attacked Sternberg’s qualifications and questioned his expertise. All Sternberg also suffered behind the scenes at his places of employment at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the National Institutes of Health.
In January of this year, David Klinghoffer broke the story in the mainstream media about the persecution of Sternberg with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (The Branding of a Heretic). It also announced that the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) would begin investigating Sternberg’s charges against some colleagues at the Smithsonian.

As the Washington Post reported today (and Klinghoffer broke this story earlier this week, as well), the OSC has finished its investigation. Due to a jurisdictional technicality that office cannot pursue the matter further, but they have written a detailed letter to Sternberg that corroborates his charges and presents startling information about the scope of harassment he has been forced to endure. In short the OSC letter states that “retaliation came in many forms,” and says that the OSC was able to find support for many of Dr. Sternberg’s allegations, including:

  • A hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing him out of the Smithsonian.
  • Sternberg’s religious and political affiliations were investigated.
  • Sternberg’s scientific education, background and writings were investigated.
  • Attempts were made to deny Sternberg workspace within the Smithsonian.
  • Misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian and to outside sources.

Astonishingly, it appears that the whole effort to attack Sternberg was, if not concocted by the NCSE then certainly undertaken with their direct involvement. The OSC investigation found that:

  • Members of NCSE worked closely with the Smithsonian and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) members in outlining a strategy to have Sternberg investigated and discredited within the Smithsonian.
  • Members of NCSE e-mailed detailed statements of repudiation of the Meyer article to high level NMNH officials.
  • NCSE recommendations were circulated within the Smithsonian and eventually became part of the official public response of the Smithsonian to the Meyer article.

Dogmatic Darwin defender Eugenie Scott, the NCSE’s executive director, seems to think such recriminations are appropriate if one dares to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy. Indeed, if you do so you had better expect to be investigated and persecuted. (We have the same pattern in other academic freedom cases around the country.)

Scott, of the NCSE, insisted that Smithsonian scientists had no choice but to explore Sternberg’s religious beliefs. “They don’t care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist,” Scott said. “Sternberg denies it, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it argues for zealotry.”

If it acts like a witch hunt, and looks like a witch hunt, it probably is a witch hunt.

Meanwhile, e-mails obtained by the OSC reveal a mentality among top Smithsonian managers that literally despises the perceived religious and political positions of other Americans. The report posted on Sternberg’s website —— is revealing. Let’s see where all the libertarians come out on this.

Early on in this scandal there were those who claimed that Sternberg had lied about the paper being peer-reviewed. Sternberg’s comments last year should have set this to rest. In an interview with The Scientist Sternberg confirmed that Meyer’s article went through the standard peer-review process and the three peer reviewers of the paper “all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major U.S. public university, and another at a major overseas research institute.”

Now, the Office of Special Counsel has investigated and corroborates this, stating that Sternberg:

“complied with all editorial requirements of the proceedings and the Meyer article was properly peer-reviewed by renowned scientists.”

In fact, all the allegations and misinformation about Sternberg were determined to be bogus. The OSC determined that Sternberg had not violated any Smithsonian directives and should not be denied access or work space. Indeed the Smithsonian itself found all of the allegations against Sternberg to be false, but no retractions have ever been issued.
The Darwinian hierarchy must be frightened of something to resort to the sorts of tactics that Sternberg has had to face. And, unfortunately, I bet that we are just seeing the beginnings of the backlash against ID proponents and Darwin skeptics.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.



__editedRichard SternbergSmithsonianWashington Post