Smithsonian-Sternberg affair

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The Smithsonian-Sternberg affair began with uproar over the publication of an article written by an intelligent design (ID) proponent in a peer-reviewed scientific journal loosely affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution (SI),[1] contrary, according the the publisher, to the journal's "typical" process of also having an associate editor involved in the peer-review process.[2] An article titled The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories by ID advocate Stephen C. Meyer was published in the August 4, 2004 volume of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, (PBSW)[3] Richard Sternberg was the managing editor at the journal, and also a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), and the issue was the last he was to work on (he had previously announced his resignation from PBSW).

Contents

Controversy and retaliation

Controversy ensued within hours of publication,[4] with senior Smithsonian scientists referring to Sternberg as a "shoddy scientist" and a "closet Bible thumper."[5] Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a think-tank that promotes evolution, defended the Smithsonian: "They don't care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist,"[6] and "Some [scientists] probably did speak intemperately,"[7] out of frustration and annoyance over Sternberg's editorial role.

Although Sternberg had announced his resignation from PBSW before the controversy irrupted, he continued to work at the Smithsonian as a National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) Research Associate (RA).[8] Sternberg states that he was subjected to a hostile work environment as an RA, and requested that the United States Office of Special Counsel (USOSC) investigate his allegations.[9] The USOSC ultimately concluded in a letter obtained by three media outlets that Sternberg was subjected to a hostile work environment at the NMNH.[10] However, the USOSC closed the investigation without taking further action due to the jurisdictional issue of Richard Sternberg's salary, which was not paid by the Smithsonian.[11] Eugenie Scott, whose organization also consulted with the Smithsonian, countered that "[Sternberg] didn't lose his job, he didn't get his pay cut, he still has his research privileges, he still has his office....You know, what's his complaint? People weren't nice to him. Well, life is not fair."[12] U.S. Representative Mark Souder's staff subsequently issued a report findng that the allegations of a hostile work environment and other retaliations including demotion were backed by "substantial, credible evidence."[13]


The paper by Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," in vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239 of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was published at the discretion of the former editor, Richard v. Sternberg. Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. -- From Official Statement of The Council of the Biological Society of Washington.

Opinions on the Smithsonian Controversy

Critics of teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools have long argued that it is unscientific because no intelligent design paper had been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. David Klinghoffer commented in a Wall Street Journal opinion article: "Note the circularity: Critics of ID have long argued that the theory was unscientific because it had not been put forward in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Now that it has, they argue that it shouldn't have been because it's unscientific."[14]

Sternberg Peer Review Controversy

The Council of the Biological Society of Washington issued a statement that the article in question "was published at the discretion of the former editor, Richard v. Sternberg. Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process."[15]

Sternberg's interpretation of the guidelines for review and publication were different, based on the actual procedures used in the publication of articles during his association with the Council. Instead of assigning the review process to an Associate Editor as was normally, but not always, the case, he assigned the review to himself based on his expertise in different aspects of evolutionary biology.[16]

Sternberg has stated that he reviewed the article with a colleague who is a scientist at the National Museum of Natural History and a member of the Council, and was encouraged to continue the review process. He then "sent the paper out for review to four experts. Three reviewers responded and were willing to review the paper; all are experts in relevant aspects of evolutionary and molecular biology and hold full-time faculty positions in major research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, another at a major North American public university, a third on a well-known overseas research faculty."[17] In line with normal practice,[18] Sternberg will not disclose the names of these individuals, which has led critics to make accusations that he hand-picked these reviewers for a pro-ID bias, despite Sternberg stating that they did not necessarily agree with the paper's author's arguments or conclusions.[19]

References

  1. Powell 2005 p A19, Hagerty 2005, Souder Staff Report 2006
  2. Statement from the Council of the Biological Society of Washington
  3. Meyer 2004, p 213-239
  4. Powell 2005 p A19
  5. Powell 2005 p A19
  6. Powell 2005 p A19, Statement to Washington Post reporter Michael Powell
  7. Hagerty 2005 Recorded statement to National Public Radio
  8. Souder 2006
  9. Souder 2006
  10. Hagerty 2005, Powell 2005 p A19 letter is referred to as a report in Washington Post article, but quotes in this article make it clear that the report was addressed to Sternberg. See also McVay 2005 USOSC pre-closure letter to Sternberg
  11. Powell 2005 p A19, Hagerty 2005, Souder 2006
  12. Hagerty 2005
  13. Souder 2006
  14. Klinghoffer 2005
  15. [1] Statement from the Council of the Biological Society of Washington
  16. [2] Publication process for the Meyer paper
  17. [3] Publication process for the Meyer paper
  18. http://www.rsternberg.net/OSC_ltr.htm
  19. [4] Statement from the Council of the Biological Society of Washington

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