Politics Rules Bio-Science Too
Dr. Richard Sternberg knows all about the kind of abuse global warming skeptics have endured at the hands of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in the brewing “Climategate” scandal.
Five years ago, Sternberg challenged the most vulnerable of the science establishment’s paradigms, namely Darwinism and its derivatives, and learned first hand the lengths that establishment will go to suppress dissent.
For any number of uneventful years, the evolutionary biologist Sternberg was a member in good standing of that very establishment.
Employed by the National Institutes of Health in association with the Smithsonian Institution, he served as the managing editor of the Smithsonian-affiliated journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington .
In 2004, Sternberg chose to publish a tightly argued paper by the Discovery Institute’s Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, titled The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories.
In brief, Meyer contended that neo-Darwinism has failed to provide a convincing explanation for the relatively sudden and massive infusion of new genetic information into the fossil record popularly known as the Cambrian Explosion.
Shortly before receiving Meyer’s paper, Sternberg had attended an in-service training module on the ethics of peer review.
What Sternberg took away from the training is that the “peers” selected to review a given paper be neither prejudiced against the topic or partial to it for reasons of self-interest.
Sternberg identified three such scientists to review Meyer’s paper. They offered some useful revisions, and the paper was published in August 2004.
In publishing Meyer’s paper, Sternberg had merely hoped to provoke a good discussion. He was “absolutely not expecting” the hell that rained down upon him with the paper’s publication.
The road to hell was paved with email. But even by Climategate standards, the email campaign to punish Sternberg was a cruel and catty one.
One zoologist colleague, for instance, asked their common department head, Dr. Jonathan Coddington, why the heretical Sternberg should be allowed to keep an office, especially one with “a name on it.”
Prejudiced to the point of paranoia, the zoologist demanded that his own office “be re-keyed.”
Coddington handled the affair with all the courage and conviction of a Pontius Pilate. “At present I am not tossing him out,” he told his colleagues of Sternberg. “Do you want anything done?”
Coddington’s own plan was to meet with Sternberg and “hint that if he had any class he would either entirely desist or resign his Appointment.”
When Sternberg failed to take the hint, Coddington and colleagues settled on a bold plan of petty revenge, death by a thousand academic cuts.
For Sternberg to keep his research associate position, he would have to detail every move he made short of bathroom breaks.
When Sternberg asked if the other research associates were being subjected to the same treatment, Coddington replied, “This is not about the other RAs. This is only about you.”
Coddington continued, “You are being treated differently, but you know perfectly well why you’re being treated differently.”
One obvious reason for Sternberg’s special treatment was what a subsequent House Committee Report described as “a general anti-religious culture existing at the Museum.”
Once the Meyer article was published, Coddington and others began to probe into Sternberg’s background, asking around to see if he were a closeted “religious fundamentalist” or, God forbid, a “Republican.”
In an email of solidarity sent to Coddington, Research Associate Sue Richardson openly complained about her own unhappy tenure in the “Bible Belt.”
Wrote Richardson, “The most fun we had by far was when my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the ‘under dog’ part.”
The House Report asked rhetorically, “Would similar expressions of disparagement have been tolerated by Smithsonian officials if directed at a racial minority?”
That answer is obvious. A more pointed question would be whether Smithsonian officials would have tolerated comparable comments about Muslims or even Jews. That answer is obvious too.
These same officials colluded with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a pro-evolution advocacy organization, to discredit the beleaguered editor.
“I will keep an eye on Dr. (von) Sternberg,” wrote the Smithsonian’s Dr. Hans Sues to the NCSE’s Eugenie Scott in a not so subtle ethnic slur.
The extent of the anti-Sternberg collusion--“ on government time and with government resources”-- the House Committee described as “alarming.”
Nor did Sternberg’s colleagues limit their pique to those who needed to know. Indeed, they sent word of his heresy to scientists around the world.
Wrote one Dutch scientist back to a Smithsonian colleague: “These people are coming out and invading our schools, biology classes, museums, and now our professional journals. These people to my mind are only a scale up on the fundies of a more destructive kind in other parts of the world.”
Ah yes, “these people.” Some of them publish papers on intelligent design. Others fly planes into the World Trade Center.
The Smithsonian’s continuous refusal to take action in the Sternberg case prompted the House Committee to recommend Congressional action to “protect the free speech rights regarding evolution” among those scientists working at federally-funded institutions.
Now, if Congress would only do the same for honest climate scientists.
[This piece originally appeared at http://www.errantskeptics.org/]
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