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A new report from the U.S. House of Representatives has condemned officials at the Smithsonian Institution for imposing a religious test on scientists who work there. And it suggests their attacks on a scientist who just edited an article on intelligent design are just the tip of the iceberg of an industry-wide fear of anything that suggests man might not have come from a puddle of sludge.
Dr. Richard Sternberg
The report, which cited a “strong religious and political component” in the dispute, was prompted by a complaint from Dr. Richard Sternberg, who holds biology doctorates from Binghamton and Florida International universities and has served as a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
It was prepared for U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the subcommittee of criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, and easily confirmed Sternberg’s harassment and discrimination allegations that his managers criticized him, created a hostile work environment for him, and now have demoted him because of the article, which he didn’t even write.
The report, called “Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian,” suggests that a special federal law giving scientists “freedom of speech” regarding evolution and other theories might be needed to protect Sternberg and others.
“Because of the Smithsonian’s continuous refusal to take action in the Sternberg case, Congress should consider statutory language that would protect the free speech rights regarding evolution of scientists at all federally-funded institutions,” the report recommended.
The Sternberg case came to light in 2005, but “evidence has accumulated of widespread invidious discrimination against other qualified scientists who dissent from Darwinian theory and/or who are supportive of intelligent design,” the report continued.
“In November, 2005, for example, National Public Radio reported that it had talked with 18 university professors and scientists who subscribe to intelligent design. Most would not speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs. One untenured professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia wrote that talking to NPR would be, quote, ‘the kiss of death.’ Another said, ‘There is no way I would reveal myself prior to obtaining tenure,'” the report found.
“In another case, the president of the University of Idaho issued a letter forbidding faculty from teaching alternatives to Darwin’s theory in science classes there. The widespread hostility of many scientists to criticisms of Darwinian theory makes further violations in this area by federally-funded institutions likely,” it concluded.
John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute told WND it’s simply egregious that federal officials can use federal time, federal resources, federal money and federal influence to stamp on anything that doesn’t agree with their own personal beliefs and faith.
Stephen Meyer (Courtesy Discovery Institute)
The clash arose after Sternberg, who edited the scientific journal “Proceedings” that legally was separate from Smithsonian but occasionally got some public support, published a peer-reviewed article by the Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer, who is a proponent of intelligent design.
Sternberg told a reporter that evolutionary scientists were discussing the issue, and he thought it worth bringing to the table for discussion.
He said his superiors were enraged and tried to force him to leave the institution, and when he wouldn’t, as the report now confirms, an e-mail campaign approaching defamation was launched to discredit him.
The new congressional report notes that “Smithsonian scientists” assembled a plan “to punish Dr. Sternberg by seeking to remove him as a Research Associate,” and also conspired “to publicly smear him with false information on government time using government e-mails.”
“NMNH officials have made clear their intent to prevent any scientist publicly skeptical of Darwinian theory from ever being appointed as a Research Associate, no matter how sterling his or her professional credentials or research. This intent – made clear in e-mails from 2004 – was most recently made evident when Dr. Sternberg was told he could not renew his Research Associateship, but could instead apply to be a Research Collaborator, a position, which … was reserved for ‘academically less qualified associates,'” the report said.
“This is discrimination, plain and simple,” it found.
Sternberg’s complaint to the Office of Special Council, which protects federal employees from untoward actions because of their viewpoints, was unable to result in action because technically he was not an “employee.”
But the congressional report made up for that in its scathing condemnation of the Smithsonian.
“Specifically, the OSC found that had Dr. Sternberg been protected by Title V of U.S. Code, the NMNH staff would have violated Section 2303 (b) (10) referring to the prohibition on personnel to discriminate against an employee for non-job related activities. Additionally, the OSC found that ‘there is a strong religious and political component to the actions taken after the publication of the Meyer article,'” the new report said.
The OSC report told Sternberg: “Our preliminary investigation indicates that retaliation came in many forms. It came in the form of attempts to change your working conditions and even proposals to change how the SI retains and deals with future RAs. During the process you were personally investigated and your professional competence attacked. Misinformation was disseminated throughout the SI and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false. It is also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI.”
“After two years of denials and stonewalling by Smithsonian bureaucrats, a congressional investigation now confirms a campaign of harassment and smears against evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, whose only ‘crime’ was his honest skepticism of Darwinian dogma,” said West. “It’s outrageous that the federal government would sanction such blatant discrimination. This is clearly an infringement of Dr. Sternberg’s free speech rights.”
Sternberg, according to the report, said it’s now clear he was “targeted for retaliation and harassment” specifically because he allowed publication of an article critical of neo-Darwinism “and that was considered an unpardonable heresy.”
The report said Smithsonian officials acknowledged they wanted to pressure Sternberg to leave and did so by making his life there as difficult as possible. And the report said there’s nothing innocuous about a “supervisory authority inquiring into Sternberg’s religious and political beliefs.”
The organization also grilled Sternberg on whether he “was religious,” “was a Republican,” “was a fundamentalist,” and “was a conservative.”
The report also reveals the federal officials conspired with officials at the National Center for Science Education to “spy” on Sternberg.
West said the treatment to which Sternberg was subjected would be the equivalent of a federal supervisor telling an employee: “We found out you’ve gone to a ‘gay’ rights rally, therefore you can’t have access to our facilities.”
“If that happened people would be up in arms,” West told WND.
But in this case, one other scientist even joked about those beliefs from the “Bible Belt,” and mockingly reported, “the most fun we had by far was when my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the ‘under dog’ part…”
In the original article, entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Meyer argued that the theory of intelligent design explains the origin of the genetic information in new life forms better than current materialistic theories of evolution.
Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.
The Discovery Institute is a national, non-profit, non-partisan policy and research organization. It has programs on a variety of issues, including regional transportation development, economics and technology policy, legal reform, and bioethics.
It also was involved in another issue in just recent days, when it issued a report that confirmed a historic judicial ruling against intelligent design theory hailed as a “broad, stinging rebuke” and a “masterpiece of wit, scholarship and clear thinking” actually was “cut and pasted” from a brief by ACLU lawyers.
The Discovery Institute report said one year ago, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones’ 139-page ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover declared unconstitutional a school board policy that required students of a ninth-grade biology class in the Dover Area School District to hear a one-minute statement that said evolution is a theory and intelligent design “is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”
But an analysis by the Discovery Institute concludes about 90.9 percent – 5,458 words of his 6,004-word section on intelligent design as science – was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU’s proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” submitted to Jones nearly a month before his ruling.
The Smithsonian could not be reached for comment.
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