Jack Cashill, the Worldnutdaily’s resident conspiracy loon, has a column up recounting the Sternberg saga in all its distorted and highly exaggerated glory. He’s swallowed every claim in the Souder report uncritically, and even added a few of his own distortions to the story.
One day students might study this report – damningly titled “Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian” – as a turning point in the history of science. For the time being, however, the report and the scandal at the heart of it attract very close to no attention in the media, let alone in the nation’s schools.
Says Dr. Richard Sternberg, the Galileo of the Smithsonian scandal, “The press has not wanted to touch [the report]. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen.”
Well I’ve noticed it. And I’ve touched it. And I did something Cashill hasn’t bothered to do – read the actual evidence on which the report is based. And I noticed that the claims in the report are flatly contradicted by that evidence time and time again.
What did happen to Dr. Sternberg is shocking even by Washington standards. The damage done to his career is real, irreversible and symptomatic of the lengths the science establishment will go to suppress challenges to the most vulnerable of its paradigms, namely Darwinism and its derivatives.
Utter nonsense. What happened to Sternberg was that he conspired to skirt the normal peer review procedures in order to sneak a substandard and off-topic article in to a journal he was editing, in the very last issue he would have control over, and his unprofessional behavior quite reasonably caused his colleagues to question his actions. There was no damage done to his career at all; before it happened he was employed as a scientist with the NIH; he still is.
For any number of uneventful years, the evolutionary biologist Sternberg was a member in good standing of that very establishment. Employed by the National Institutes of Health in association with the Smithsonian, he served as the managing editor of the Smithsonian-affiliated journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
This is nonsense. He was employed by the NIH; he is still employed by the NIH. His appointment as a Research Associate at the Smithsonian had nothing to do with his job at the NIH; it most certainly was not “in association” with the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian appointment was purely a courtesy, an unpaid position that merely allowed him to have access to the collections of the National Museum of Natural History to do research completely unrelated to his job with the NIH. One simply had nothing to do with the other.
In 2004, Sternberg chose to publish a tightly argued paper by the Discovery Institute’s Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, titled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories.”
Actually, it was a badly argued paper that was quite effectively shredded by the Panda’s Thumb crew. Scientists who specialized in the Cambrian era, like paleontologist Ronald Jenner, also showed the many flaws in the article. For their part, the DI, after promising a 6 part response to the critique, simply gave up on it and didn’t bother after the first two.
Popularly known as the Cambrian Explosion, this relatively brief period of pre-history witnessed the emergence of most forms of complex animal life, seemingly without any evolutionary trail. To date, evolutionary biologists have made little progress in resolving the mystery of their origins.
There’s that silly claim that “most forms of complex animal life” just popped in to existence during the Cambrian; this is simply nonsense. If you asked most people to give examples of complex animal life they would no doubt talk about all kinds of mammals (bears, dogs, monkeys, horses, people) and birds and reptiles and amphibians. Guess what? None of those existed in the Cambrian. Indeed, even the amphibians, the earliest land animals to evolve, would not exist until well over 100 million years after the Cambrian ended.
Now this is where things really get interesting:
Shortly before receiving Meyer’s paper, Sternberg had attended an in-service training module on the ethics of peer review. What Sternberg took away from the training is that the “peers” selected to review a given paper be neither prejudiced against the topic or partial to it for reasons of self-interest.
Although not himself an intelligent design (ID) theorist or an advocate of the same, Sternberg thought the subject worthy of discussion. He identified three fellow scientists who shared his open-mindedness, though none of them was an ID advocate, either. These scientists offered some useful revisions. Meyer incorporated them, and the paper was published in August 2004.
Now this is very, very interesting. First of all, the claim that Sternberg is not an ID advocate is a flat out lie. We know that because he presented a pro-ID paper at the RAPID conference, a conference that was open only to ID advocates. In fact, that conference also featured Meyer presenting a paper on the very subject of the PBSW article and it was at that conference that Meyer and Sternberg began conspiring to get it published in that forum.
Now, one would think that someone who had just been through training on the ethics of peer review would know that if you are editing a journal and you solicit an article to be submitted that you know is going to be controversial, that advocates an idea that you yourself advocate but virtually no one else does, that is being written by a friend of yours, and that is on a subject in which neither you nor the author of the article has any particular expertise, the ethical thing to do would be to recuse yourself from the process of deciding whether that article should be published or not.
Did Sternberg do the ethical thing and recuse himself from the peer review of that paper? Of course not. In fact, not only did he not recuse himself, he made sure that he was the only person on the editorial staff of the journal to even see the article or know of its existence prior to publication. He had no fewer than 4 associate editors with an expertise in invertebrate zoology (almost all life in the Cambrian was invertebrate), but he made sure that not one of them even knew the article had been submitted until after it was published. And he wants to talk about his training in the ethics of peer review?
Lastly, I find it very curious that Cashill claims to know who the peer reviewers were. Sternberg has flatly refused to reveal who the reviewers were. Cashill has no way of knowing anything about those reviewers without knowing their identities, yet he claims to know a good bit about them. Did Sternberg tell Cashill who they were? Or did he just tell them that they’re not ID advocates but were just “open minded” and Cashill swallowed it whole without any evidence? Either is possible. But given that Sternberg dishonestly claims not to be an ID advocate himself when he clearly is, his word in this regard just isn’t worth much at this point.
Given what has happened since, these scientists have chosen to remain anonymous to preserve their careers. After considerable review of the files, however, no one questions the legitimacy of the process.
That’s an even bigger lie. Virtually everyone at the NMNH questions the process, for the obvious reasons stated above. And also because this was not the first time Sternberg had skirted the normal peer review process. On another paper, known as the Nizinski manuscript, Sternberg had to be badgered into sending it out to the normal peer reviewers for such a paper, then he went ahead and printed it despite all of the reviews arguing against publication.
Coddington’s own plan was to meet with Sternberg and “hint that if he had any class he would either entirely desist or resign his appointment.” When Sternberg failed to take the hint, Coddington and colleagues settled on a bold plan of petty revenge, death by a thousand academic cuts.
For Sternberg to keep his research associate position, he would have to detail the exact research projects he would be working on, the papers he planned to write, their schedule of completion, the journals to which he would be submitting, a complete list of the specimens and materials he would be using, the catalog numbers for those specimens and materials, the times and dates he would plan to use them, and even his planned office hours.
Let’s call this one lying by omission. What is Cashill omitting? A hell of a lot. Like the fact that Sternberg had been doing his work at the NMNH for nearly 3 years with no supervision; his sponsor had died 2 weeks after his Research Associate appointment began (an RA position is defined as one which works closely with a staff scientist there). Coddington had no idea who Sternberg was. Sternberg was in the habit of showing up only at night, and often went months at a time between visits.
Coddington suddenly finds out he has someone in his own department without a sponsor and no one at the museum has any idea what he’s actually doing there. He’s got reports from Sternberg’s research assistant that he kept hundreds of specimens in his office at a time without properly curating them and that he had some 50 books checked out from the library and had ignored repeated requests to return them and then lied to her and said he had done so when he hadn’t.
No one else in the department wanted to be his sponsor, so as the chair of the invertebrate zoology department, it fell on Coddington to be his default sponsor for the remainder of his RA appointment. But the only thing he knows about Sternberg at that point is his unprofessional handling of specimens and research materials and his unprofessional behavior as editor of the PBSW. Is it any wonder that Coddington wanted Sternberg to bring him up to speed on exactly what he was doing there, what research materials he needed and what research was actually being done?
Finally, yielding to the paranoia, Coddington asked that Sternberg relinquish his set of master keys. As the House Report notes, his colleagues were “very uncomfortable” with Sternberg having keys. “They were afraid that he might break into their offices, stealing or disturbing their materials.” The fact that Sternberg had worked there for the last five years without incident pacified no one.
This is all nonsense. In fact, the whole facility was being rekeyed for security purposes. It had been discovered that Sternberg and a few others had master keys to the facility, keys that not only gave access to all the collections but to the private offices of every person there. That’s a security nightmare. And here’s the kicker: Sternberg was notified that he would have to turn in his keys before the Meyer article was ever published. That’s right, folks. Having to turn in his keys had precisely nothing to do with the controversy; it was planned before anyone even knew about his actions on the Meyer article.
All of that is in the emails that the Souder committee used as the basis for their reports; the fact that they and Cashill are still pretending that he had his keys taken away in retaliation despite the fact that he was informed by email, along with a bunch of other people at the NMNH, about the situation before the issue ever came up just goes to show you how dishonest they are willing to be to build a false case for martyrdom. If the truth doesn’t support the claim, then lies will do; after all, they’re lying for Jesus and that’s okay.
When Sternberg asked if the other research associates were being subjected to the same treatment, Coddington replied, “This is not about the other RAs. This is only about you.” He continued, “You are being treated differently, but you know perfectly well why you’re being treated differently.”
Another distortion. This was not in the emails at all but is only Sternberg’s recounting of a conversation. But that conversation was about having to give Coddington a detailed description of his research work and what access was required. Again, given that Sternberg had been working with no staff supervision whatsoever, that virtually no one at the museum even knew who he was and that he had been holding hundreds of specimens in his office and mishandled them, is this really such an odious requirement? Coddington suddenly had full responsibility for a man he didn’t know, in fact who was known by virtually no one there, but who had a track record of malfeasance in regard to the NMNH collections. You can bet your ass I’d want to know what research he was actually doing and with what materials.
Today, Dr. Richard Sternberg hangs on at the National Institutes of Health by his fingernails. “I have a position,” he says wryly.
This is hogwash. Even Sternberg has never even alleged that anyone at the NIH, where he actually works, has ever said so much as a cross word to him over what happened at the Smithsonian. Indeed, he filed charges with the OSC and the OSC said they had no jurisdiction over it because the RA appointment was not his job, the NIH is his employer. If Sternberg had any evidence at all of anything that threatened his job at the NIH, he would surely have given it to the OSC so they wouldn’t drop his case.
All of this is one big fraud. Despite his extraordinarily unprofessional and dishonest handling of this entire situation, absolutely nothing happened to Sternberg. He still has the same access to the collections at the NMNH that he always had. Indeed, even after his RA position ran out they offered him a Research Collaborator position so he could continue his research there; given his actions, he hardly deserves that. And he continues to work at the NIH as he always has without so much as a hint of any risk to his job there at all. In the end, despite his appalling behavior throughout this ordeal, Sternberg has gotten off without any damage at all to his career. That’s the real story here.