Casey Luskin is currently in the middle of a multi-part “rebuttal” to Michael Shermer’s review of Expelled. In the latest installment of his whine, Casey (again) brings up the case of Richard Sternberg. Sternberg, some of you might remember, orchestrated the publication of a pro-Intelligent Design paper near the end of his term as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
As punishment for this heinous crime, Sternberg suffered the indignity of not getting fired from the unpaid editorship that he had quit months before the paper actually appeared. His punishment further included the cruel and unusual steps of not dismissing him from his unpaid position as a Smithsonian Research Associate, not declining to renew the unpaid position when the term expired, and not firing him from his paid job at NIH. The draconian nature of the consequences that he ultimately suffered – some of his colleagues said bad things about him – obviously makes him the ideal example of an open-thinking scientist railroaded by the Darwinian Inquisition.
I’m not going to deal with the vast majority of Casey’s attempt to obfuscate the real events that surrounded the whole Sternberg affair. He raises absolutely no new points, and all of the points that he does raise have been rebutted before. Instead, I’m going to focus on two points in Luskin’s post where he massively misrepresents things that other people wrote.
The first example comes very early on in the post. Casey wrote:
The editor who oversaw the publication of that film was Dr. Richard Sternberg, who subsequently was harassed, intimidated, and demoted because he broke ranks with the unwritten (or sometimes written) rule among Darwinists that you must keep ID out of the journals.
The link in the quote does not take you to a page where a journal explicitly says that pro-ID papers will not be accepted. For that matter, it does not take you to a page that implicitly says that a journal won’t take any pro-ID papers. The link does not actually have anything to do with journal articles at all. It’s a link to a page that contains an AAAS resolution on Intelligent Design that talks about why it’s not appropriate for ID to be taught in the schools. As Casey is well aware, there are substantial differences between a scientific journal and a secondary school. (For starters, one of them usually consists of words that are printed on paper and bound in some form or another, while the other is typically some sort of building.) There is simply no way that the statement can remotely be construed as a “written rule” that “you must keep ID out of the journals.”
The second example comes not long after that point. Casey quotes from a Biological Society of Washington statement that was issued shortly after the publication of the Meyer paper. For clarity, I’ll highlight Casey’s selective quoting with boldface.
To attack Meyer’s article, Shermer cites the NCSE-inspired statement from the BSW stating that, “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.” Shermer should have applied some of his famous skepticism here, because that statement is in fact a falsehood: Eugenie Scott herself admitted that “other editors have not always referred all articles to the Associate Editors, and because editors justifiably have discretion,” and therefore the BSW should not “come down too hard on Dr. Sternberg for errors in the procedure followed in accepting this article.” (See Report, pages 25-26.) Shermer conveniently spares the BSW from skepticism over Eugenie Scott’s behind-closed-doors concession, which contradicts the BSW’s public statement.
There are actually multiple problems with what Casey said. The first is that Casey somehow managed to miss a fairly basic point: saying that other editors sometimes also failed to have an associate editor review a paper does not contradict a claim that this was the usual (“typical”) practice. I’m not going to be too hard on Casey for that one, though. He might not have tried to claim that the statement was a “falsehood” simply because he’s a pathetic little twit who would deny the identity of his own mother if he thought it would advance the anti-evolution cause. He could merely have a such a massive reading comprehension deficit that he is unable to recognize the difference between the words “typically” and “always”.
The second problem with Casey’s statement is more substantial. Casey truncated the quote at a point that makes it appear that the council was claiming that it would have ruled the paper out because Sternberg did not have an associate editor review the paper. He accomplishes this feat by adding a period to the quote where one does not exist in the original:
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. For the same reason, the journal will not publish a rebuttal to the thesis of the paper, the superiority of intelligent design (ID) over evolution as an explanation of the emergence of Cambrian body-plan diversity.
As it turns out, the council actually said that they would have turned down the paper because it dealt with a subject that was far outside what the journal normally publishes. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington is a journal that publishes systematics papers. These are papers that basically deal with how organisms get sorted. The vast majority of the papers published in this journal consist of the description of new species of organisms – usually living, but occasionally fossil. The issue of the journal that the Meyer paper appeared in is (with that one glaring exception) typical for the journal. As you can see from just a list of the titles, his paper stands out like a sore thumb:
- Pseudopaguristes shidarai, a new species of hermit crab (Crustacea: Decapoda: Diogenidae) from Japan, the fourth species of the genus
- A new species of Procambarus (Crustacea: Decapoda: Cambaridae) from Veracruz, Mexico
- Brackenridgia ashleyi, a new species of terrestrial isopod from Tumbling Creek Cave, Missouri (Isopoda: Oniscidea: Trichoniscidae)
- New species and records of Bopyridae (Crustacea: Isopoda) infesting species of the genus Upogebia (Crustacea: Decapoda: Upogebiidae): the genera Orthione Markham, 1988, and Gyge Cornalia & Panceri, 1861
- Three new species and a new genus of Farreidae (Porifera: Hexactinellida: Hexactinosida)
- The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories
If you look at the table of contents for the issue before, the issue after, the current issue, or (as far as I can tell) any other issue, you’re going to see a lot of papers that deal with things like describing new species and genera, and absolutely nothing that has to deal with anything that bears even the faintest resemblance to the things Meyer was writing about. Simply put, this is not a journal that you would expect to find the Meyer paper in.
That, of course, brings us to the very obvious question: why did Meyer submit his paper to a journal that had never, ever published anything remotely like it? Casey, Ben Stein and the rest of the Expelled propagandists, Meyer, and Sternberg have been avoiding this question like the plague, probably because they are painfully aware that there is no good answer to that question.