Krauze has written a response to my debunking of the Souder report, and it includes a response from Richard Sternberg to one small portion of my critique. What is most remarkable about the response, I think, is how much is left entirely undisputed. Neither Krauze nor Sternberg even mentions, much less attempts to dispute, the argument that Sternberg acted unethically in regard to the publishing of the Meyer paper, and that truly is the single most important issue. If that much is true, then whatever hostility he met with by his colleagues is entirely justified. And neither of them even tries to dispute my arguments for that conclusion.
And those arguments are many: A) he knew the paper would be, at very best, extremely controversial and would spark many questions about whether it should have been published; B) he had personal ties not only to the very controversial movement for whom this paper’s publishing would be viewed as a major coup, but to the actual author of the paper, with whom he discussed the publishing of the paper before it was ever written when they both presented pro-ID papers at a conference for ID advocates only; C) he not only chose not to recuse himself from reviewing this highly controversial paper over his close personal ties to both the author and subject matter, he actually secreted the paper through the review process, hiding it from all of the associate editors (some of whom were clearly more qualified than him to evaluate it, not to mention not having the ideological and personal entanglements he had to both subject and author); D) he did this in the last issue of the journal for which he would act as editor, knowing that it could not be reversed once it was published and that he would no longer be the editor.
And that’s not all they both leave undisputed. Neither of them disputes that Sternberg was, at very best, exaggerating and distorting the facts when he claimed that his keys were taken away in retaliation for the article being published and that he lost his access to the NMNH collections needed for his research. The combination of these two things left undisputed is very bad; they each cast serious doubt on Sternberg’s credibility and demonstrate a track record of unethical behavior and distorting the truth.
Before dealing with the specific item that Sternberg does dispute, let’s look at some of Krauze’s criticisms. He, like so many other ID advocates, is making a huge deal out of what they call “vicious rumors” allegedly “spread” about Sternberg. He writes:
Sternberg also said that false rumors were being spread about him by both insiders and outsiders of the Smithsonian. This too has been validated by the report. In the above-mentioned conversation with Marilyn Schotte, Jonathan Coddington told her that Sternberg had a degree in theology. This was false: Sternberg’s two PhDs are in Molecular Evolution and Theoretical Biology. In an email from Frank Ferrari (page 20), a previous incident between him and Sternberg is used to sow doubt about whether the Meyer article was even peer-reviewed. This too was false: Roy McDiarmid looked at the review file which revealed that, indeed, the article had been peer-reviewed, and that “there was not inappropriate behavior vis a vis the review process” (page 72). Misinformation was also being spread by people outside the Smithsonian: In an email to associate director Hans Sues, Eugenie Scott, director of the lobby group NCSE, claimed that Sternberg “is, in fact, a YEC [young-earth creationist].” This was also false, as the NCSE has later acknowledged.
Let’s take this one at a time. First, he overstates the claim that Coddington told Schotte that Sternberg had a degree in theology. In fact, the Schotte email only says, “Dr. C. had heard (via rumor) that Dr. S. had two PhDs, one in biology and one in theology.” That was it. There is no evidence, or even a suggestion by anyone involved, that Coddington tried to spread this rumor. He mentioned what he had heard to Schotte, Schotte told him that was not true and that was the end of it. Hardly a “vicious rumor” or “slander campaign”.
The second claim, that an earlier incident between Sternberg and Ferrari was “used to sow doubt” about whether the Meyer article was peer reviewed, is simply false. No one claims that it was not peer reviewed. There was some doubt early on as to whether it had truly been peer reviewed, and by whom, but it was quickly found out by the BSW council that the article was sent out for review (we still have no idea who did the review and whether they were qualified to do the review; I suspect, given everything else we know, that Sternberg intentionally sent it out for review to people sympathetic to ID to make sure the reviews would not be negative).
Notice, however, that neither Krauze nor Sternberg denies the truth of what Ferrari said, that in an earlier situation with a controversial paper, Sternberg tried to skirt the normal peer review process until Ferrari insisted that it be sent out to international reviewers as other articles were. Nor do they dispute that Sternberg then went ahead and published the paper despite all of those reviews coming back against publication. This is another example of an undisputed fact that both undermines Sternberg’s credibility and sense of professional ethics and helps to justify the strong questioning and mistrust he encountered from his colleagues. If, as the editor of a journal, you have a track record of skirting peer review, you certainly cannot cry foul when people question your decisions in this regard.
Now, as for Genie Scott saying that Sternberg was a young earth creationist, the IDers are trying to blow this up into some huge conspiracy or vicious campaign to destroy him; in reality, it was nothing more than a perfectly logical (if ultimately incorrect) inference from what was known at the time. Remember, none of us had heard of Sternberg when all this happened. When it happened, we all were wondering who the heck this guy was and began to look around to find out.
One of the first things that turned up was that he is a member of the Baraminology Study Group (BSG) at Bryan University. That is a group, we all thought, that was made up exclusively of young earth creationists. The term “baraminology” means nothing outside of a creationist context (a “baramin”, they claim, is one of the original “created kinds” mentioned in the Bible; it has no scientific meaning, only a religious one). It was a logical inference, therefore, that he was probably a YEC himself. That turned out to be wrong, according to the head of the BSG, who released a letter saying that Sternberg is not a young earther but that they allowed him to join the group anyway. Okay, fair enough; some logical inferences turn out to be false.
But here’s the irony of this story of the movement that went up a molehill and came down a mountain: remember Behe’s “walks like a duck” analogy? In his now-famous NY Times editorial, Behe wrote:
The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it’s a duck.
The same logic applies far better in this situation. Sternberg walked like a young earth creationist duck and many of us assumed that he was, in fact, a duck. The irony, of course, is that the IDers find this analogy persuasive enough to overthrow 150 years of scientific research and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific world, but when it’s applied in this situation, by god, it’s a howling outrage, a career-destroying smear campaign perpetrated by those evil “Darwinists” (whatever that means).
So is this really the vicious rumor that they’re making it out to be? Of course not. It was not a rumor but an inference (and a very reasonable one at that). And it is mentioned one time in a private email to one person. This is hardly a campaign of nasty rumors. The only thing that was wrong is the claim that he was a young earther. He is a creationist, whether he agrees to be called that or not, just as ID is a form of creationism despite the absurd and strategically-driven denials of the ID advocates.
The sum total of this campaign of “vicious rumors” that Sternberg alleges is this: one was told by one person to another person as a rumor and immediately debunked and never mentioned again. A second was, in fact, true and has gone undisputed. The third was said from one person to another person, and was a perfectly logical inference that turned out not to be true and, once shown not to be true, was never mentioned again. This is hardly the stuff of a defamation suit (which is almost certainly why he has no interest in filing one), nor does it amount to anything approaching discrmiination.
Regarding this alleged misconduct, Brayton repeats the accusations that Sternberg has mishandled specimens and that he had borrowed too many books from the library that could not be found in his office. As I said, we do not know how reliable these accusations are. In fact, Jonathan Coddington, who was much closer to all of this than either Brayton or I, acknowledged that Sternberg “hasn’t (yet) been discovered to have done anything wrong, particularly compared to his peers” (page 42), and that he “has not mishandled specimens, which otherwise would be grounds to monitor him more closely” (page 54).
Krauze has rather cleverly quoted some of these things. For example, he neatly leaves out a key phrase in that last sentence: “As far as I know, Rick has not mishandled specimens, which otherwise would be grounds to monitor him more closely.” Bear in mind that Coddington had no idea who Sternberg was prior to this. When all of this came to light, it was discovered that Sternberg had no supervisor on the staff (his had died two weeks after his RA appointment began). Coddington suddenly discovered that, as head of the IZ department, he, by default, was Coddington’s supervisor – meaning he was responsible for everything Sternberg did at the museum – and he didn’t know anything at all about the guy. Thus, he began communicating with Sternberg and with others to find out who he was and what he did. It was also discovered that Sternberg had a master key, as did many other RAs, and it was decided that this was unacceptable, that RAs should only have access to the specific areas required for their research (master keys allow you even into the private offices of others).
He asked Sternberg to give him a summary of the research he was doing, obviously, and what collections he needed access to. He was told by the curator of the crustacea collections that Sternberg had a problem with taking specimens to his office and keeping them there for months on end. He was told that he had a problem with checking out dozens of books from the library, including some very valuable books that were required by other scholars to be available, and again keeping them for months on end. Indeed, he often would take all of this stuff into his office and then not even show back up for several months.
He was then told by Marilyn Schotte, who was the technician who worked with the staff scientist who sponsored Sternberg (and then died) and was Sternberg’s friend, that she had in fact returned some 50 specimens to the collection that had collected in his office and stayed there for months, to the collections. She also reported that Sternberg lied to her about having made arrangements for the return of all the research material from the libraries. And she reported that he was not curating the specimens correctly because she had to replace alcohol in many of them when she took them out of his office to return them.
Now, despite all of that, Coddington still took a very moderate position. He knew that such mishandling of specimens, while unprofessional and uncollegial, is hardly unheard of in a museum. He knew that those problems alone were not enough to do anything more than to make sure that Sternberg had adequate supervision so they didn’t continue to happen. And that’s what he did. It’s true that Rafael LeMaitre, who was not Sternberg’s superior, wanted more serious action, but he didn’t get what he wanted. Coddington did not allow LeMaitre to get his way. In fact, he made sure that Sternberg would continue to have access to LeMaitre’s collections for his research despite LeMaitre’s objections (LeMaitre is the curator of the crustacea collections; the safety and integrity of those collections was his sole responsibility).
Krauze then goes on to say that the Smithsonian became an “anti-theist snakepit.” The first argument I find absolutely bizarre:
The many rumors about Sternberg’s religious and political views certainly did contribute to the Smithsonian turning into an anti-theist snake pit. One employee bragged about how she had used her son to inflame her local school by making him refuse to “say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the ‘under dog’ part” (page 29).
This was also noted with emphasis in the Souder report, and I just don’t get it. And Krauze plays fast and loose with the facts here. The email says nothing at all about the employee having “used her son to inflame her local school.” In fact, she was talking about the hostility her non-theistic views were often met with elsewhere. Here is the actual text:
After spending 4.5 years in the Bible Belt, I have learned how to carefully phrase things in order to avoid the least amount of negative repercussions for the kids. And, I have heard many amazing things!! 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 letter that I wrote to the prinicipal was immediately forwarded to the lawyer for the school district–aagh.
Where does it say anything about her “using” her son to “inflame the local school”? It only says that her son refused to say the pledge of allegiance (and good for him; if I had a son, I hope he would have the courage to do the same). Most importantly, what on earth does this have to do with Sternberg? This woman is doing nothing more than telling a story to a colleague and it has nothing to do with Sternberg. Because her son refused to say the pledge of allegiance when they lived in a different town, this is harrassment of Sternberg? It’s just bizarre that Krauze and the Souder report make such a big deal out of what is nothing more than a paranthetical story that had nothing to do with Sternberg (indeed, that he would have had no way of even knowing about had the investigation not mentioned it). What on earth this has to do with discrimination or a violation of his civil rights is beyond me.
It’s probably also worth noting here that if we applied the same standards they want applied to the NCSE, Krauze’s claim that the woman deliberately “used her son” to “inflame the local school” by “making him refuse to say” the Pledge of Allegiance – a claim totally unsupported by the evidence – is a far worse “campaign of vicious rumors” than the logical inference that Sternberg was a creationist. There is nothing at all in those emails to suggest that she “used” her son, that she “made” him refuse to say the pledge of allegiance, or that she was deliberately trying to “inflame” the local school; at least the inference about Sternberg had evidence in its favor and was not a blatant distortion of the evidence. And Genie’s inference about Sternberg was only made in a private email, not in a public blog posting that anyone can access.
By their criteria, then, Krauze, Sternberg and the Souder committee report are all engaged in a conspiracy of “vicious rumors” and “blatant falsehoods.” Just as obviously, they are doing so because their Patriotic Establishment will brook no dissent and thus they seek to destroy the career of a Smithsonian scientist based solely on the private expression of her constitutionally protected (see Barnette v West Virginia) beliefs that had nothing to do with her job. Voila! You see how easy it is to create a martyr out of whole cloth? But here’s the thing: my obviously silly claim of the woman’s persecution actually has a stronger basis than their claims about the NCSE’s alleged “vicious rumors.”
And another employee went even further, writing: “Scientists have been perfectly willing to let these people alone in their churches. But now it looks like these people are coming out and invading our schools, biology classes, museums, and now our professional journals” (page 66).
No kidding. Again, how in the world does the expression of this opinion, whether you agree with it or not, amount to discrimination against Sternberg? Yeah, some scientists take a dim view of religion. At a museum, you will probably run into lots of people who take such a view and are happy to express it. So what? They have that right, and their expression of those opinions does not equate to discrimination against the religious.
Now, let’s look at the one statement from Sternberg. He says:
The statement on my website concerning having to move from one space to another “for no good reason” is not related to the move referred to in Coddington’s 28 July 2004 e-mail. I was asked to relocate from an office on the 1st floor of NMNH’s west wing to Brian Kensley’s former office on the same floor, and I gladly complied with it. So there is no dispute with Brayton or anyone else about the lack of connection between Coddington’s e-mail re: the office move and what transpired after 4 August 2004. Instead, my website statement is referring to events that occurred after the move. Within days of relocating Marilyn Schotte informed me that Rafael Lemaitre was pushing the “space committee” to take the office away from me. She strongly suggested that I place most or all of the specimens that I had in the office back into the collections area, as Lemaitre was going to use that against me. That I did. Soon after that-meaning some days-Schotte told me that I could not keep the office, my name was also removed from the door, and to discuss my accomodations with Coddington. I was also informed that I should stay away from the Crustacea Division. I had one face-to-face meeting with Coddington on 13 October 2004. He outlined my options. At best, so Coddington told me, I could have a desk in the short-term visitor’s area though my keys were to be turned over. Rafael Lemaitre was to have complete control over my research at all times. In addition, Coddington stated that should I accept a desk in the short-term visitor’s area, anything that went wrong-say someone lost a manuscript draft or something went missing-would be blamed on me. Anyway, I had no use of the “Kensley” office space after late September. I was referring to the latter events on my website.
Part of this is correct: LeMaitre did, in fact, urge his superiors to take Sternberg’s office space away from him; he also failed in that attempt. Having a co-worker distrust you and want you gone is hardly discrimination; if it was, virtually everyone would be discriminated against. The key fact here is that Sternberg never lost office space. He’s leaving out a few important things here. He claims that on October 13, 2004, Coddington told him that “at best” he could have a desk in the short term visitor’s section. But an email in the appendix from October 14th shows that Coddington was, in fact, planning on moving Sternberg either into a newly remodeled space with another RA, or would have him share space with a staff member:
The 124 move I don’t regard as finally decided until the space in 120 is configured and clearly is
pdequate for a long-term visitar. When it passes muster, we’ll move them, because, in effect, IZ fills visitor space from the most anonymous and least intrusive slots inward. Last resort is sharing space with a permanent employee.
At worst, he was temporarily moved until new space was made for him. He got that space shortly thereafter, then he decided on his own to request a move to the VZ department. That, as far as anyone knows, is where he is now and has been since he requested the change. He still has access to the collections and he still has office space. Contrast this to his claims to having had office space, keys and his access to the collections removed, and to his statement to David Klinghoffer that he was “trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career.” The reality is that his office space was moved around as part of a reconfiguration that moved around lots of people, that the only key he lost was the master key he never should have had, and that he is still a researcher there to this day with full access to everything he needs to do his research.
There simply is no retaliation here, nor is there any discrimination. At absolute most, you have the understandable hostility engendered by his unprofessional behavior that brought disrepute to the museum and a failed attempt by one employee to have him fired that was turned back by his bosses. And bear in mind two more reasons why this notion of a hostile work environment is false. First, he didn’t work there. He works at the NIH, not at the NMNH.
His research affiliation at the NMNH is given as a courtesy; it is completely unrelated to his government job and there is not so much as an allegation of anything happening to Sternberg on his job. Second, he hardly ever showed up at the NMNH, and when he did it was typically in the evenings. He would go months at a time without showing up there. It’s hard to have a hostile work environment in a place that allows you to be there as a courtesy and you rarely show up, and even more rarely when there are other people there.
Finally, let me offer up an analogy. There are lots of fringe ideas in science, ideas to which mainstream scientific opinion in the relevant fields is opposed; ID is only one of them. Let’s imagine an analogous situation, where the editor of a mainstream archaeology journal, in the last issue over which he would have control, slips in an article advocating Graham Hancock’s absurd speculations about aliens and the Egyptian pyramids (well, sort of; the article, of course, would really only attack and try to poke holes in the widely accepted and well-tested explanations regarding the pyramids, with the assumption that doing so somehow means that aliens must be the real explanation).
Let’s further imagine that, after the article is published, it is discovered that the editor had conspired with the author of that article to get it published at a conference open only to advocates of “pyramidiocy”, where both he and the author presented papers in favor of the “alien hypothesis”, and imagine still further that the editor had skirted the normal peer review process and taken the entire review process on himself, never allowing any of the associate editors or fellow archaeologists that he knew would, at the very least, find the paper highly controversial and inappropriate, even see it or know that it existed prior to the publication of the issue.
Suppose, then, that the colleagues of this editor are stunned by what went on and, not knowing much about him, they begin to do some digging. They wonder why he did what he did, and try to find out if he had some personal stake in it. Was he, in fact, an advocate of such nonsense? Did he have a track record of controversial and unethical behavior in this regard? Had he hidden all of this from them? These are all reasonable questions to ask in such a circumstance, and any reasonable person would ask them. I imagine that more than a few of his colleagues would argue that this person has no place at their institution, that he advocates an absurd and unsupported mythology rather than genuine science and that his misuse of his position to put the imprimatur of their prestigious organization behind that fringe idea was an embarrassment to the institution and justified his firing.
Imagine that after some discussion of all of this by his colleagues, the administration decides that there is not adequate grounds to do anything to the editor and nothing is done. And that even after the man’s appointment has expired and he has no serious basis for being offered the chance to stay, they still allow him to stay on with the same access to all of their facilities and resources that he has always had. Is this discrimination? A violation of his civil rights? I would suggest that it is anything but, and that he has been treated far more fairly than he deserves to be treated in light of his unethical and unprofessional behavior.