As most of you have probably heard, Dover, PA (site of the latter-day Scopes Monkey Trial) sent its pro-Intelligent Design school board packing in one fell swoop, replacing them with pro-evolution candidates. Meanwhile, the Kansas Board of Education has ruled in favor of teaching ID and has actually decided to rewrite the definition of science so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. There are times when Middle America strives mightily to live down to the worst stereotypes bandied about by the liberal elites.
In other news, Pat Robertson makes a monkey out of himself.
Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds comments on an NPR story about the travails of Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health and editor of a small scientific journal loosely affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, who has found himself under fire for publishing a pro-ID article by Discovery Institute fellow Stephen C. Meyer (who has a Ph. D. in the history and philosophy of science). Sternberg, who has all the bona fides of a biologist, has repeatedly denied being an ID supporter. He also claims that he was subjected to all manner of persecution for publishing the piece, including false allegations of misconduct, denial of office space and access to specimens, and pressure on the NIH to fire him. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel apparently found these claims to be substaniated, though the Smithsonian’s Jonathan Coddington has denied them.
Glenn Reynolds says he is “deeply unimpressed” by ID, but appalled by the “scientific McCarthyism” deployed against Sternberg. Richard Bennett takes Glenn to task for giving credence to a phony claim of persecution:
I don’t know what motivates Reynolds to make martyrs out of the enemies of science, but it’s a completely unsavory enterprise, and the NPR story is silly.
I have read Richard’s earlier posts on the story and some of the linked materials, and so far, I’m not sure what to make of it. I agree that promoting pseudoscience is not the same as intellectual dissent. However, it seems to me that Richard’s acceptance of the Smithsonian’s denials is a bit too uncritical. Richard also claims that the Meyer article was not “properly peer-reviewed” (the office of Special Counsel has apparently found otherwise) and that Sternberg is associated with Young-Earth Creationism. This last bit, which certainly raised my eyebrows, is interesting. It seems that Sternberg is indeed an editorial board member of the Baraminology Study Group, a “Young-Earth creationist” organization. The BSG says that while Sternberg spoke at its 2001 conference and agreed to serve on its board, he has made it clear to the group that he is not a Young Earth creationist or any kind of creationist at all, and that Sternberg’s role is to provide a skeptical vetting of BSG materials.
As far as I can tell, Sternberg is a scientist who does not share creationist or pro-“Intelligent Design” views but believes in a dialogue with the “other side.” Personally, I think such a position is ill-judged; it promotes the appearance of a serious scientific debate or disagreement where there is none. I think it was rather infelicitous that Sternberg gave the ID’ers the gift of a peer-reviewed article in a “real” (if obscure) scientific journal as a notch in their belt. But still, is Sternberg’s unwise decision appropriate grounds for professional persecution? It should be noted that Wesley Ellsbery, of the pro-evolution website The Panda’s Thumb, has written that if Sternberg’s claims of retaliation (as recounted by David Klinghoffer in a Wall Street Journal op-ed) are correct, “it would be a large breach of ethics and a justified complaint.” So I think Glenn has a good point here. Let’s get all the facts on the table.
Update: Richard Bennett replies, conceding that he may have been too tough on Sternberg, but also notes that by his own admission Sternberg appointed himself to be the editor of the Meyer paper:
The fact that Sternberg appointed himself to edit Meyer’s paper raised some eyebrows and suggested an absence of impartiality. The peer-review process has been reviewed, and apparently wasn’t obviously flawed, but it would be interesting to know who the reviewers were even if it’s unconventional. If Judy Miller can testify about Libby with his consent, the peer-reviewers can go public on their own.
It’s possible that the reaction to Sternberg’s publication of Meyer’s paper was out of proportion, just as it’s possible that Sternberg’s description of the reaction is extreme, but the paper itself is so thin that its very publication in the Proceedings calls the editorial process into question.
Agreed. It would be helpful to hear from the peer-reviewers in this case.
Update: Richard Bennett links to a statement by the Biological Society of Washington, the publisher of the journal in which the Meyer paper appeared. The statement says that “contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor,” solely at Sternberg’s discretion. Richard believes this proves “Sternberg’s abuse of the review process.” Actually, this is more an issue of the editorial process at the journal; we still don’t know the story behind the peer review. Did Sternberg stack the deck by cherry-picking pro-ID reviewers who’d be likely to green-light the paper? I, for one, certainly want to know more.