Evolution in the News - February 2005
by Do-While Jones

Retaliation

Scientists speak out against evolution at their own risk because religious persecution abounds in academia.

In our October, 2004, Evolution in the News column titled “Driving a Stake into the Heart of Evolution”, we told you about an article written by a creationist, Stephen Meyers, published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The editor of that journal was Dr. Richard Sternberg. We observed, “Notice that Sternberg is no longer the editor. Is that just a coincidence?”

One of our members alertly sent us a link to an article by David Klinghoffer entitled “The Branding of a Heretic” in the January 28, 2005, issue of the Wall Street Journal. In it, Klinghoffer wrote

The question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) may be presented to public-school students alongside neo-Darwinian evolution has roiled parents and teachers in various communities lately. Whether ID may be presented to adult scientific professionals is another question altogether but also controversial. It is now roiling the government-supported Smithsonian Institution, where one scientist has had his career all but ruined over it.

The scientist is Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The holder of two Ph.D.s in biology, Mr. Sternberg was until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, where he exercised final editorial authority. The August issue included typical articles on taxonomical topics--e.g., on a new species of hermit crab. It also included an atypical article, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories." Here was trouble.

It then goes on to talk about the article itself, much as we did, but it includes more information on the retaliation than we knew.

Mr. Sternberg's editorship has since expired, as it was scheduled to anyway, but his future as a researcher is in jeopardy--and that he had not planned on at all. He has been penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, his religious and political beliefs questioned. He now rests his hope for vindication on his complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of perceived religious beliefs. A museum spokesman confirms that the OSC is investigating. Says Mr. Sternberg: "I'm spending my time trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career."

Mr. Sternberg begged a friendly curator for alternative research space, and he still works at the museum. But many colleagues now ignore him when he greets them in the hall, and his office sits empty as "unclaimed space." Old colleagues at other institutions now refuse to work with him on publication projects, citing the Meyer episode. The Biological Society of Washington released a vaguely ecclesiastical statement regretting its association with the article. It did not address its arguments but denied its orthodoxy, citing a resolution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defined ID as, by its very nature, unscientific.

Why do they refer to Dr. Sternberg (who holds two Ph.D.s in biology) as “Mr.”?

Klinghoffer concludes:

Darwinism, by contrast, is an essential ingredient in secularism, that aggressive, quasi-religious faith without a deity. The Sternberg case seems, in many ways, an instance of one religion persecuting a rival, demanding loyalty from anyone who enters one of its churches--like the National Museum of Natural History.

We could not agree more.

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