Regarding Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the Ben Stein documentary that I referred to below, we have two conflicting stories. One, as apparently told by the documentary, is that Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health and (former) editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was responsible for the publishing of a “a pro-intelligent design article” by one Stephen C. Meyer. Meyer is referred to as “a proponent of intelligent design” by NPR, but as “director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute” by the Institute itself.
It appears that the film, according to this site “claims that Sternberg was ‘terrorized’ and that ‘his life was nearly ruined’….” Further: “The paper ignited a firestorm of controversy merely because it suggested intelligent design might be able to explain how life began.”
Sternberg says his colleagues and supervisors at the Smithsonian were furious. He says — and an independent report backs him up — that colleagues accused him of fraud, saying they did not believe the Meyer article was really peer reviewed. It was.
Eventually, Sternberg filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal employees from reprisals. The office launched an investigation. Ultimately, it could not take action, because Sternberg is not an employee of the Smithsonian.
But Sternberg says before closing the case, the special counsel, James McVay, called him with an update. “As he related to me, ‘the Smithsonian Institution’s reaction to your publishing the Meyer article was far worse than you imagined,'” Sternberg says.
McVay declined an interview. But in a letter to Sternberg, he wrote that officials at the Smithsonian worked with the National Center for Science Education — a group that opposes intelligent design — and outlined “a strategy to have you investigated and discredited.” Retaliation came in many forms, the letter said. They took away his master key and access to research materials. They spread rumors that Sternberg was not really a scientist. He has two Ph.D.’s in biology — from Binghamton University and Florida International University. In short, McVay found a hostile work environment based on religious and political discrimination.
After repeated calls and e-mails to the Smithsonian, a spokesman told NPR, “We have no public comment, and we won’t have one in the future.”
The anti-Expelled site has a different take:
Expelled doesn’t even get the paper’s subject right. The paper was not about how life began; it was about the Cambrian Explosion, which occurred about three billion years later. The greater error is claiming that the discussion of ID generated the controversy. There was an understandable outcry from members of the Biological Society of Washington over the embarrassing publication of what they recognized as poorly-written, inaccurate science in their journal. The argument presented in the Meyer paper had previously been reviewed and rejected by scientists. Seeing this shoddy science in their journal indeed “ignited a firestorm”, but not for the reasons given in Expelled. For more on why the paper was bad science, see the review published on the Panda’s Thumb blog and the review in the Palaeontological Society Newsletter.
The first question asked by BSW members was “how did this paper ever get published?” According to the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg failed to follow proper procedure in publishing the paper: “Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history.” The BSW withdrew the paper in embarrassment, emphasizing that the paper was substandard science. It commented that the society endorsed “a resolution on ID published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2002/1106id2.shtml), which observes that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity. Accordingly, the Meyer paper does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.”
Though Sternberg claimed that he was the best qualified to handle the review process, science blogger Ed Brayton notes that this is not the case: (Quote omitted)
The fact that Sternberg published the Meyer paper in his second-to-last scheduled issue as editor, and that he didn’t follow normal procedure, suggests that he knew that his actions and the paper would be seen as objectionable by his fellow scientists.
The Claim: “In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)
That is correct per the WSJ piece.
But it’s apparently not true:
According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”
The Smithsonian wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, observing, “Dr. Sternberg’s characterization of his work conditions and treatment at the Smithsonian is incorrect. He was never denied office space, keys or access to the collections.”
In a January 30, 2006, letter responding to Sternberg’s concerns, Smithsonian Deputy Secretary & Chief Operating Officer Sheila Burke explained:
“As you know, as part of an effort to enhance security at the Museum, all researchers were asked to return their keys in 2004, and were issued coded identification badges to provide access to non-public areas. The badge you were issued, which provides general access to doors and elevators, is still operative. If you have any problems gaining access to conduct your research, however please contact the Security office at NMNH. In accordance with NMNH policy, please return your old keys as soon as possible to your sponsor, Dr. Vari.”
In short, Sternberg has turned two bits of bureaucratic minutiae affecting an entire division of the museum – a switch from keys to ID badges and a routine shuffling of office space – into a conspiracy to undermine him personally.
There’s more, and I suggest you follow the leads, but the way it appears to me is that Richard Sternberg pulled a fast one – for whatever reason – and it resulted in a firestorm of criticism that he has since blown out of proportion – with the willing assistance of the Discovery Institute.
And this isn’t one-sided, either. Watch this YouTube video of what happens when you oppose support of Intelligent Design:
You can bet that didn’t turn up in Expelled.