U.S. House Subcommittee Report Finds Institutionalized Persecution
of Darwin Doubters
by Michael Fishwick
Readers may remember that back in August, 2004, an article was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (volume 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239). That scientific journal is published at the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the paper caused an uproar within the scientific publishing world. Why? Because it broke the self-enforced policing of the modern day materialist orientated scientific establishment. In fact the naturalistic golden rule was broken twice – a blasphemy that could not be forgiven, nor go unpunished.
To begin with, the paper’s author, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, is a well known advocate of Intelligent Design theory. It has long been understood that publishers and editors of scientific journals are ideologically averse to giving journal space to well known ‘renegades’ from the scientific mainstream. First rule broken! Secondly, and more importantly, Dr. Meyer’s paper openly and frankly calls into question the ability of naturalistic theories of evolution to even begin to explain the origin of biological information and its role in alleged macroevolutionary processes. It was an astounding ‘crime’ that the paper’s title “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” hints at: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2177&program=CSC&callingPage=discoMainPage
Such an outrageous ‘crime’ needs an outstanding editor to facilitate. That editor was Dr. Richard von Sternberg. Dr. von Sternberg holds two Ph.D.’s in disciplines within the field of evolutionary biology and should be eminently qualified to recognize a serious scientific paper when he sees one, even if that paper should profoundly call into question the conventional view. Critical examination is, after all, how science is supposed to progress. However, the ‘Powers that Be’ within the ivory towers of evolutionism didn’t quite see it that way. For daring to allow the proclamation that the Emperor is wearing no clothes to be made within the castle walls, Dr. von Sternberg was subjected to a campaign of intimidation, vilification and persecution. In Dr. von Sternberg’s own words quoted from his website: http://www.rsternberg.net/
To summarize what occurred after the Meyer paper was published:
- Efforts to remove me from the Museum. After Smithsonian officials determined that there was no wrong-doing in the publication process for the Meyer paper and that they therefore had no grounds to remove me from my position directly, they tried to create an intolerable working environment so that I would be forced to resign. As the OSC investigation concluded, “[i]t is… clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI.” In addition, it was made clear to me that my current position at the Smithsonian will not be renewed despite my excellent record of research and publication.
- Efforts to get NIH to fire me. Pressure was put on the NIH to fire me.
- Perceived political and religious beliefs investigated. Smithsonian officials attempted to investigate my personal religious and political beliefs in gross violation of my privacy and my First Amendment rights.
- Smeared with false allegations. My professional reputation, private life, and ethics were repeatedly impugned and publicly smeared with false allegations by government employees working in tandem with a non-governmental political advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
- Pressured to reveal peer reviewers and to engage in improper peer review. I was repeatedly pressured to reveal the names of the peer-reviewers of the Meyer article, contrary to professional ethics. I was also told repeatedly that I should have found peer reviewers who would reject the article out-of-hand, in direct violation of professional ethics which require editors to find peer reviewers who are not prejudiced or hostile to a particular author or his/her ideas.
- Creation of hostile work environment.
- Supervisor replaced. I was transferred from the supervision of a friendly sponsor (supervisor) at the Museum to a hostile one.
- Office space. I was twice forced to move specimens from my office space on short notice for no good reason, my name plate was removed from my office door, and eventually I was deprived of all official office space and forced to use a shared work area as my work location in the Museum.
- Unprecedented work requirements. I was subjected to an array of new reporting requirements not imposed on other Research Associates.
- Access to specimens limited. My access to the specimens needed for my research at the Museum was restricted. (My access to the Museum was also restricted. I was forced to give up my master key.)
In sum, it is clear that I was targeted for retaliation and harassment explicitly because I failed in an unstated requirement in my role as editor of a scientific journal: I was supposed to be a gatekeeper turning away unpopular, controversial, or conceptually challenging explanations of puzzling natural phenomena. Instead, I allowed a scientific article to be published critical of neo-Darwinism, and that was considered an unpardonable heresy.
In November, 2004, Dr. von Sternberg filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The OSC found evidence to back up the complaint and stated that it was “clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing” Dr. Sternberg out of the Smithsonian. Despite this finding, a lack of jurisdiction prevented the OSC pursuing its investigation to any greater depth. In August, 2005, however, the case was officially taken up by a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee. Their 29 page report, and a separate appendix, was published on December 11th, 2006, and makes shocking reading. A short summary of its findings follow:
Intolerance and Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian – Staff report prepared for The Hon. Mark Souder, Chairman, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, December 11th, 2006.
- The staff investigation has uncovered compelling evidence that Dr. Sternberg’s civil and constitutional rights were violated by Smithsonian officials. Moreover, the agency’s top officials-Secretary Lawrence Small and Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke-have shown themselves completely unwilling to rectify the wrongs that were done or even to genuinely investigate the wrongdoing. Most recently, Burke and Small have allowed NMNH officials to demote Dr. Sternberg to the position of Research Collaborator, despite past assurances from Burke that Dr. Sternberg was a “Research Associate in good standing” and would be given “full and fair consideration” for his request to renew his Research Associateship. The failure of Small and Burke to take any action against such discrimination raises serious questions about the Smithsonian’s willingness to protect the free speech and civil rights of scientists who may hold dissenting views on topics such as biological evolution.
- Officials at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History created a hostile work environment intended to force Dr. Sternberg to resign his position as a Research Associate in violation of his free speech and civil rights.
- In emails exchanged during August and September 2004, NMNH officials revealed their intent to use their government jobs to discriminate against scientists based on their outside activities regarding evolution.
- The hostility toward Dr. Sternberg at the NMNH was reinforced by anti-religious and political motivations.
- NMNH officials conspired with a special interest group on government time and using government emails to publicly smear Dr. Sternberg; the group was also enlisted to monitor Sternberg’s outside activities in order to find a way to dismiss him. In cooperation with the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Museum officials attempted to publicly smear and discredit Dr. Sternberg with false and defamatory information.
- Secretary Small and Deputy Secretary Burke have exhibited a head-in-the-sand attitude toward wrongdoing at their agency; they have engaged in stonewalling and spin rather than dealing forthrightly with the discrimination that has occurred….. More broadly, 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.
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. Since the treatment of Dr. Sternberg came to light in early 2005, evidence has accumulated of widespread invidious discrimination against other qualified scientists who dissent from Darwinian theory and/or who are supportive of intelligent design. 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.'” 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. While the majority of scientists continue to support Darwinian theory, it is important that neither federal funds nor federal power be used to punish otherwise qualified scientists.