Brayton on Sternberg

Ed Brayton has the must-read post of the day.

Remember Richard Sternberg? He’s the former editor of the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. A while back he published a pro-ID paper in the journal. Sternberg was a research associate at the Smithsonain Institution at the time. It quickly became clear both that the paper itself was total garbage, and that the normal editing procedures of the journal had not been followed in its publication.

The result was a big black eye for the Smithsonian and for the journal. But things got worse when Sternberg began alledging discrimination and reprisals for his decision to publish the paper. Conservative Indiana Congressman Mark Souder, head of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, has now issued a report on the matter. Unsurprisingly, the report claimed to find evidence confirming Sternberg’s allegations. The Discovery Institute has been crowing about it. Their headline on the subject claims, wrongly, that Sternberg was demoted for his views on evolution.

Happily, Ed took the trouble of actually reading the report and the evidence upon which it was based. He discovered – surprise! – that the DI spin is utter nonsense. Not only is Sternberg not vindicated by the evidence presented in the report, he is in reality made to look very bad indeed. Here’s Ed’s summary of his conclusions:

The report has two parts: the report itself and an appendix, which contains the evidence upon which the report is based, primarily emails and letters from Smithsonian administrators, staff, Sternberg himself and the NCSE staff. If you take the time to read through the appendix, which is quite large, it doesn’t take long to figure out what is really going on here. Comparing the evidence in the appendix to the conclusions in the report leads one to several conclusions:

1. What little ill-treatment Sternberg may have gotten (in fact, all of the comments expressing distrust and anger at Sternberg and urging his dismissal were made not to his face, but in private emails that he never saw) was largely self-inflicted, the result not only of his violation of procedures in regard to the Meyer paper, but in regard to several other instances of professional malfeasance and prior examples of poor judgement as PBSW editor.

2. The evidence does not support the conclusion that Sternberg was discriminated against in any material way. At absolute worst, he was greeted with professional mistrust and anger on the part of some of his colleagues, who were upset that his actions in regard to the Meyer paper brought disrepute to the Smithsonian and to them as associates. Disapproval and criticism, of course, are not the same thing as discrimination nor are they a violation of his civil rights.

3. Sternberg has grossly exaggerated several alleged instances of “retaliation” in the early days of the scandal. In particular, he claimed that he had his keys taken away, his access to the Smithsonian’s collections taken away, and lost his office space. In reality, the keys and office space were exchanged as part of larger museum changes and he retains the same access today that all others in his position have.

4. The accusations, in particular, against the National Center for Science Education – that they conspired with Smithsonian officials to “publicly smear and discredit” Sternberg – are not only not supported by the evidence in the appendix, they are completely disproven by the emails contained therein.

5. All of that leads to the only possible conclusion: that this is a trumped-up report orchestrated by political allies of the Discovery Institute, particularly Rep. Mark Souder and former (I love saying that) Sen. Rick Santorum. They have put out a report that simply is not supported by the evidence and was designed, intelligently or otherwise, to support the disingenuous PR campaign that includes the attempt to position themselves as victims of discrimination.

Brayton meticulously backs up each one of these assertions. I recommend giving a careful reading to the entire post. It’s a fine piece of work, but you will find yourself pausing periodically while you struggle to get your temper under control. As Ed’s report makes clear, not only did the Smithsonian not discriminate against Sternberg. They actually showed remarkable patience with an employee who routinely flouted their standard procedures, and displayed many instances of poor professional judgment.