Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Richard Sternberg, false martyr for intelligent design

Ed Brayton reviews the new report to Rep. Mark Souder which argues that Richard Sternberg of the Smithsonian Institution, former editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was a victim of persecution. The evidence in the report itself fails to support that conclusion, which appears to be politically motivated.

Brayton finds that:

1. What little ill-treatment Sternberg may have gotten (in fact, all of the comments expressing distrust and anger at Sternberg and urging his dismissal were made not to his face, but in private emails that he never saw) was largely self-inflicted, the result not only of his violation of procedures in regard to the Meyer paper, but in regard to several other instances of professional malfeasance and prior examples of poor judgement as PBSW editor.

2. The evidence does not support the conclusion that Sternberg was discriminated against in any material way. At absolute worst, he was greeted with professional mistrust and anger on the part of some of his colleagues, who were upset that his actions in regard to the Meyer paper brought disrepute to the Smithsonian and to them as associates. Disapproval and criticism, of course, are not the same thing as discrimination nor are they a violation of his civil rights.

3. Sternberg has grossly exaggerated several alleged instances of "retaliation" in the early days of the scandal. In particular, he claimed that he had his keys taken away, his access to the Smithsonian's collections taken away, and lost his office space. In reality, the keys and office space were exchanged as part of larger museum changes and he retains the same access today that all others in his position have.

4. The accusations, in particular, against the National Center for Science Education - that they conspired with Smithsonian officials to "publicly smear and discredit" Sternberg - are not only not supported by the evidence in the appendix, they are completely disproven by the emails contained therein.

5. All of that leads to the only possible conclusion: that this is a trumped-up report orchestrated by political allies of the Discovery Institute, particularly Rep. Mark Souder and former (I love saying that) Sen. Rick Santorum. They have put out a report that simply is not supported by the evidence and was designed, intelligently or otherwise, to support the disingenuous PR campaign that includes the attempt to position themselves as victims of discrimination.

Read the details at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. By my reading, the Smithsonian would have been well within its rights to give Sternberg the boot on the basis of his violations of policy and failure to take proper care of museum specimens which he had taken from the collections and was keeping in his office.

UPDATE: An earlier description of the Sternberg affair may be found here and here.

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