Joined: Aug. 2005
A recently released Congressional report accuses senior officials at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) of having harassed, discriminated against, and retaliated against research associate and journal editor Richard Sternberg for allowing publication of a scientific paper supporting intelligent design (ID) in 2004.
According to the report, NMNH officials sought to discredit Sternberg and force him out of his unpaid RA position after he allowed an article by Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, to be published in the August 2004 Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed journal of which he was managing editor at the time. While legally separate from the NMNH, Proceedings is governed by a council that includes NMNH scientists and receives public funds from the museum.
Meyer's article, which used information theory to support the argument for intelligent design in biological complexity, sparked controversy. It was the first pro-ID article to be published in a refereed publication, raising concern among some scientists that it might be used to enhance the academic argument for intelligent design.
The Congressional report, prepared by the staff of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources and released Dec. 11, supports Sternberg's claims that NMNH supervisors investigated his political and religious beliefs, sought to discredit him, and aimed to force his removal as an RA by creating a "hostile work environment" after the article was published.
The report suggests legislation is needed to protect the free speech of scientists at the Smithsonian and other federally funded institutions.
"While the majority of scientists embrace Darwinian theory, it is important that neither Federal funds nor Federal power be used to punish or retaliate against otherwise qualified scientists merely because they dissent from the majority view," the report states.
Sternberg, who is also a staff taxonomist at NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information, said he is "thinking hard" about whether to file a discrimination lawsuit. "I do not think any Federal government employee should be discriminated against on the basis of their outside activities or their intellectual views, concerning theories of evolution or any other subject," Sternberg told The Scientist in an email.
The report says NMNH officials and scientists discussed among themselves in emails whether Sternberg "was a Republican," "was a fundamentalist" or "was a conservative."
It also references an Aug. 26, 2004, email from Hans Sues, NMNH associate director for research and collections, to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) seeking help in trying to determine whether Sternberg had misrepresented himself as a Smithsonian employee, as opposed to an RA, because doing so would have constituted grounds for his dismissal.
If I fly the coop some time
And take nothing but a grip
With the few good books that really count
It's a necessary trip
I'll be gone with the girl in the gold silk jacket
The girl with the pearl-driller's hands