Thursday, February 03, 2005

A Big Part of the Problem...

The Capital Times, a progressive newspaper in Wisconsin, published this column recently. In it, retired botany professor Hugh Wiltis, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, weighed in on the attempts to teach creationism in science classes:


Total lunacy. Embarrassing. A step back into the Dark Ages.

Those are just a few of the things Hugh Iltis had to say this week about the decision a few months ago by the Grantsburg School Board in northwestern Wisconsin to teach creationism in tandem with evolution in its schools.

“It's just an outrage,” says Iltis, the esteemed and still feisty - at age 79 - professor emeritus of botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was one of several readers to respond to a recent column I did on the subject.

“And it's largely due to ignorance, to a generation of people who don't understand evolution and are scared to death about the world we're seeing now,” he says. “Families are breaking apart, there's war everywhere. And so people hook onto the Bible and say that's the answer.”


Actually, though, it was this later excerpt that really caught my eye:


But Iltis notes that there's been no statement from Elizabeth Burmaster, state superintendent of schools in Wisconsin, condemning the board's action. That's especially troubling, he says, considering that Wisconsin got a D for its teaching of evolution in a report several years ago by a professor at California State University at Long Beach. (Minnesota and Michigan got B's.)

Neither, he says, has there been any public criticism from his science colleagues at UW-Madison. And there's been only a smattering of letters in local papers attacking the School Board's action.

The fact that nobody at UW-Madison has issued a statement is both disappointing and baffling, Iltis says, because he knows a number of professors there who feel as passionately about the issue as he does.

Unfortunately, “they don't like to get in the public arena and fight about it.”


Sadly, this is all too true.

It's important to realize in this reagrd that many of the most active promoters of ID are people who effectively make their living from promoting ID. For the scientists who go about fighting them it is a major distraction from their actual work. To have to take time away from research and teaching to go argue with lying ignoramuses is rather galling, to say the least.

But the fight must be undertaken nonetheless.

Dowd on Creationism

I'm not a big fan of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, but her column today makes some good points. She achieves the proper tone of contempt for creationists:


Nipples may be biologically de trop for men, an “expert” on the site notes, but that doesn't mean they resulted from natural selection. They could just as well be a decorating feature of the Creator's (like a hood ornament). Who are we to question His designs, since we cannot presume to comprehend His mind?

The virtual tour of the museum, to be built in rural Kentucky, says its exhibits will explain many such mysteries, like the claim that T. rex lurked around Adam and Eve - “That's the terror that Adam's sin unleashed!” - and how “Noah and his family survive 371 days alone on an animal-filled boat” (“a real 'Survivor' story”).

The philosophy of the Creation Museum, part of the “Answers in Genesis” ministry, is summed up this way: “The imprint of the Creator is all around us. And the Bible's clear - heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God's Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There's no room for compromise.”

Personally, I've decided to stop evolving. No point, really. Evolution is so 20th century.

Coddington Replies

On Sunday I posted this blog entry about a Wall Street Journal op-ed describing the woes of Richard Sternberg. Recall that it was Sternberg who abused his position as editor of a scientific journal to publish, in contravention of normal editorial procedures, a pro-ID article. He has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alledging religious discrimination at the Smithsonian Institution.

Sternberg's supervisor at the Smithsonian is Jonathan Coddington. The op-ed accuses him of discriminating, on the basis of rleigon, against Sternberg. Coddington has now replied to the editorial, in a comment posted over at The Panda's Thumb. I reproduce the entire comment below:


Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.


  1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
  2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
  3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term &;ldquo;sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
  4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
  5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
  6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.


On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington


Of course, a concern for the truth is not something that characterizes pro-ID writing. They will continue to peddle Sternberg's version of the story as if it is received fact, and will give little if any regard to Coddington's version of events. For them sticking to the script is more important than getting it right.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Summers Affair

I have also avoided blogging about the brain-dead comments of Harvard president Larry Summers about “innate differences” being a significant part of the explanation for female underrepresentation in math and science. The comments struck me as a bit rich, considering that Harvard is currently in the midst of a small scandal about its declining ability to retain female faculty. As for the comments themselves, it seems to me that there is zero evidence that something as complicated as “mathematical ability” can be traced back to genetics and there is ample evidence that discrimination and cultural pressures are discouraging some talented women from pursuing careers in math and science.

So the comments were stupid on their merits and foolish given Summers' position as the President of a major university. And they were disingenuous given Harvard's recent problems in this area.

But what has really prompted me to weigh in on the subject is this column from Town Hall contributor Walter Williams. Bill O'Reilly must be drooling with envy over the sheer quantity of stupidity Williams managed to cram into just a few hundred words.

We will consider the entire essay:


Dr. Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University, has been excoriated for suggesting that innate differences between men and women might be one of the reasons fewer women succeed in the higher reaches of science and math. Adding insult to injury, he also questioned the role of sex discrimination in the small number of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities.

Professor Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biologist, attended the National Bureau of Economic Research conference titled “Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce” where Dr. Summers gave his lecture. She had to leave the lecture, explaining to a Boston Globe (Jan. 17, 2005) reporter, “I would've either blacked out or thrown up.” In today's campus anti-intellectualism, it's acceptable to suggest that genetics explains some outcomes, but it's unacceptable to use it as an explanation for other outcomes. Let's try a few, and guess whether Professor Hopkins would barf.


Yes, I agree that Hopkins' description of her reaction was a bit melodramatic. I don't believe for a second that she was really in any danger of passing out or throwing up.

But the comment about anti-intellectualism is even sillier. What Hopkins, and everyone else, objects to is Summers using his position as the President of Harvard to give credence to a position that is highly dubious scientifically and clearly dangerous socially. It's not as if Summers actually provided any evidence for his opinion, and it is not as if he was merely tossing out an interesting direction for future research. He was acting like it was a done deal that such genetic differences have been identified.

Williams goes downhill quickly from here:


Suppose a speaker said that sickle cell anemia is genetically determined and occurs almost exclusively among blacks. Would Professor Hopkins stomp out of the room, charging racism? What if it were said that a person's chances of being a carrier of the gene for Tay-Sachs disease, a disease without a cure, is significantly higher if he is an Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jew? Would Professor Hopkins barf and charge the speaker with anti-Semitism?


Of course, with sickle-cell anemia we know the precise gene that is responsible for the disease, the particular mutation in that gene that causes the disease, and the phenotypic effect this mutation has. Ditto for Tay-Sachs Disease. There's no evidence close to that in the case of “innate differences” between men and women in math and science.


Jon Entine, in his book “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports And Why We're Afraid to Talk About It” (1999), says, “All of the 32 finalists in the last four Olympic men's 100-meter races are of West African descent.” The probability of such an outcome by chance is all but zero. The genetic physiological and biomechanical characteristics that cause blacks to excel in some sports -- basketball, football and track -- spell disaster for those who have aspirations to be Olympic-class swimmers. Entine says, “No African American has ever qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim or dive team. Indeed, despite a number of special programs and considerable funding that have attracted thousands of aspiring black Olympians, there were only seven blacks who could even qualify to compete against the 455 swimmers at the 1996 Olympic trials.”

Do you suppose Professor Hopkins would charge Entine with racism? The only behavioral genetic explanation that campus anti-intellectuals unquestioningly accept is that homosexuality has genetic origins.


Williams seems to think it's a done deal that African American dominance in a handful of sports can only be explained as the result of genetic differences. This is facile, to say the least. Does anyone believe that Asian dominance in table tennis is the result of superior genetics? Or Russian dominance in chess? Or do you think those are mainly cultural differences?

Of course, Williams' Town Hall colleagues went ballistic when Dean Hamer suggested that there is a genetic component to one's receptivity to religious beliefs. Hamer even produced some bona fide evidence for the claim, pointing to a specific gene and some reaosns to believe that it effects religious belief. But that didn't matter. The right only likes to talk about genetic differences when they can be used to prop up their own idiosyncratic cultural views.

As for homosexuality, considering that homosexual conduct is routinely observed among animals, it is hard to argue that there is no genetic component to it. There is also some direct evidence for a genetic component to such behavior in humans. Despite this, you would be hard-pressed to find a scientist who accepts this premise “unquestioningly.”


What about women in the professions? In my colleague Thomas Sowell's 1984 book “Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality,” there's a chapter titled “The Special Case of Women.” He says, “The economic ramifications of marriage and parenthood are profound, and often directly opposite in their effects on men and women.” Marriage increases male labor-force participation and reduces that of women. Marriage increases career interruption for women but not men. That's important for career advance and selection. If you're a good computer technician, engineer or specialist in the higher reaches of science and technology, and you leave your job for a few years, much of your skills and knowledge will be obsolete when you return. The same obsolescence is virtually absent in occupations such as editor, librarian and schoolteacher. This factor, instead of sex discrimination, might explain some of the career choices made by women.


What a bizarre paragraph! Everything Williams is describing here has to do with differences our culture imposes upon men and women, not innate differences. No one is claiming that overt discrimination is the only explanation for unequal gender representation in certain professions.

Many of the cultural norms that are relevant here are themselves pernicious and groundless. For example, there is far more pressure on young girls to conform than there is on young boys. And many people simply take it for granted that it is the woman, and not the man, who should stay home with the baby. I have no doubt that these facts affect the career choices of many women. But is that much of an imporvement over outright discrimination?

Williams seems to have lost track of the argument he is making. He started out by defending the idea that genetic differences are partly responsible for differing achievment of men and women in the sciences. Now it seems he just wants to persuade us that something other than overt discrimination is responsible for these differences.


But what about the flap over Dr. Summers' suggestion that genetics or innate differences might play a role in the paucity of women in science and engineering? It's not that important whether Dr. Summers is right or wrong. What's important is the attempt by some of the academic elite to stifle inquiry. Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are pursued and tested, and stand or fall on their merit. Suppression of ideas that are seen as being out of the mainstream has become all too common at universities. The creed of the leftist religion is that any difference between people is a result of evil social forces. That's a vision that can lead to the return to the Dark Ages.


Yawn. No one is trying to stifle inquiry. The problem is that Summers was not inquiring into anything. He was acting like there is nothing to inquire about because the question has been answered. And he chose an entirely inappropriate venue in which to make his claim. That is the problem with what he said. Since that doesn't fit well into the right-wing script, so they go straight to the inflammatory talking points instead.

Finally, let me close with this. I have no doubt that our genes influence our behavior in all sorts of subtle ways that we are only beginning to understand. But there is a fundamental and obvious problem in trying to study this subject. We know that our culture and upbringing have a profound influence on our lives. As a practical matter it is very difficult to isolate which gender and racial differences have a genetic component and which are the products of culture. We also know that genes and culture interact in complex ways that are barely understood. Furthermore, there are siginficant and dangerous social consequences to getting it wrong in this area.

That's not a reason to shy away from this research, quite the contrary. But it is a reason for non-expert college Presidents, especially at our most prestigious schools, to tred lightly when addressing this issue.

The Iraqi Elections

I've been debating with myself whether to do a post about about the Iraqi elections. Happily, in today's L.A. Times Arianna Huffington said pretty much exactly what I was thinking. Here's an excerpt:


It's impossible not to be moved by the stories coming out of Iraq: voters braving mortar blasts to cast ballots; election workers counting votes by the glow of oil lamps; teary-eyed women in traditional garb proudly holding up their purple-ink-stained fingers.

It was a great moment. A Kodak moment. And unlike the other Kodak moments from this war — think Saddam Hussein's tumbling statue and Jessica Lynch's "rescue" — this one was not created by the image masters at Karl Rove Productions.

But this moment, however moving, should not be allowed to erase all that came before it, leaving us unprepared for all that may come after it. The triumphalist fog rolling across the land has all the makings of another “Mission Accomplished” moment.

Forgive me for trotting out Santayana's dictum that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but, for God's sake, can't we even remember last week?

So, amid all the talk of turning points and historic days, let us steadfastly refuse to drink from the River Lethe, which brought forgetfulness and oblivion to my ancient ancestors.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Silent Treatment

From today's New York Times:


Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

“She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it,” he recalled. “She told me other teachers were doing the same thing.”

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.


Sadly, this is old news. States can write whatever standards they want, but that doesn't always translate into good education in the classroom. That doesn't mean the standards are unimportant (as the article notes elsewhere, there are many teachers who would love to teach creationism overtly, and would happily use an ambiguous standard as an excuse for doing so), but it does mean the battle doesn't end there.

Fundamentalists see themselves as uniquely good in a world of secular evil. Their greatest fear for their children is that they will be corrupted by non-Christian influences.

I have blogged about this before, but I will never forget the mother I heard call into a Christian radio program who said, obviously distraught, “My family recently suffered a devastating tragedy. Unlike the previous caller, my child isn't dead, but to me it feels just as permanent. Recently my son called home and told me he had become an atheist.”

I think that mindset is very common in many of these smaller Southern and Midwestern towns, where religious fundamentalists are a dominant majority. Raising children is about protecting them from non-Christian influences, not about exposing them to a variety of ideas or giving them the intellectual tools to do great things in life. The public schools begin with two strikes against them, since they are run by the secular government. Add evolution to the mix and school becomes an all-out assualt on their child's soul.

This worldview is insane, it glories in its resistance to facts and logic, and it is absolutely exasperating to deal with, but it is no less common for that. In many states a majority of the people either accept this view of the world, or sympathize with those who do.

Anyway, P. Z. Myers has already done my railing for me in this post. I'll simply close by pointing out that this is the reason tenure exists. It would be impossible to be a professional scientist in the red states without it.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Around the Blogs

Here are a few entries at other blogs that have caught my eye recently:

Biologist Sahotra Sarkar comes to the same conclusion as I did about the Wall Street Journal op-ed I analyzed in yesterday's post. You can find the link here. Here's an excerpt:


As biologists, as well as ordinary citizens of a democracy who are presumably ready to defend freedom of speech, what should our position be? The first point to emphasize is that, by short-circuiting the normal review process as Editor of a journal, Sternberg is guilty of professional misconduct. Second, this professional misconduct is of a type that calls into question the integrity of the scientific process on which we rely every day when we trust each other’s work published in peer-reviewed journals. Third, it is therefore entirely reasonable to have doubts about the scientific integrity of Sternberg’s own work. Consequently, not only is it reasonable to “ostracize” him in the rather weak sense of refusing to collaborate with him (one of Klinghoffer’s complaints). In fact, if we care about the veracity of our own results, it would be unwise to collaborate with or rely on Sternberg. It is thus entirely to be expected if Sternberg finds himself isolated at the Smithsonian (as Klinghoffer alleges).


Philosopher John Wilkins offers this fine post taking Michael Ruse to task for his overly simplistic treatment of the question of whether evolution is a religion. An excerpt:


Worse still, Ruse continues to talk about "evolutionists", as if we were a set of ideologues marching in concert. There was such a movement - it tended to focus more on Schopenhauer and Hegel at the end of the nineteenth century than on Darwin, and it was largely based on a pre-Darwinian understanding of transmutation. Bergson and Spencer are two representatives, and Teilhard was a late flowering of what was by then a largely mystical belief in progress. I never understood why Huxley and Simpson gave it credence either.

But today, there are battlelines drawn that are quite different. “Evolutionist”, if it means anything at all, means a philosophy that drew on evolution as an inspiration for idealist (in both senses) philosophy. It was roundly rejected in analytic Anglo-American philosophy, as described in

Cunningham, Suzanne. Philosophy and the Darwinian Legacy. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1996.


Finally, while not technically a blog, don't miss this fine article from Slate about the Lawrence Summers controversy. Recall that he is the President of Harvard who casually suggested recently that some of the disparity between men and women in math and science has to do with “innate differences” between the sexes (i.e. genetic differences). The Right, which was horrified by the suggestion that there was a genetic component to one's receptiveness to religious belief, has predictably declared that Summers is just a lonely and courageous truth-seeker being pilloried by the mindless minions of political correctness. Slate contributor Meghan O'Rourke explains why that is nonsense:


This matters because, whatever the influence of genetics may turn out to be, there is no doubt that the enduring social consensus that women are on average worse than men in math and science plays a major role in shaping women's careers and their career choices. It does so in two ways: through discrimination and through socialization. Contrary to the pie-in-the-sky assumptions of many of Summers' media defenders, studies show that discrimination against women in the academy is alarmingly widespread, if often unconscious.


Exactly right. Go read the whole article.

Mooney Sums it Up

Over at The American Prospect Chris Mooney has written this fine essay describing the recent history of the anti-evolution movement. Nothing new for those who follow these things closely, but a fine summary nonetheless.

Leko Wins Wijk aan Zee

When last we saw Grandmaster Peter Leko of Hnugary, he was losing the fourteenth and final game of his World Chess Championship match with Vladimir Kramnik, the defending champion. By winning that final game Kramnik tied the match and kept his title.

Well, Leko didn't stay down for long. He has now won the annual chess tournament at Wijk aan Zee, in the Netherland. Along with the annual tournaments in Linares, Spain and Dortmund, Germany, it forms a sort of “Grand Prix” of chess tournaments. Leko took clear first.

Clear second place went to two-time defending champion Viswanathan Anand of India. Anand, you might recall, had his own shot at the World Championship, against Gary Kasparov, in 1995. Kasparov was in top form that year and beat Anand handily.

Clear third went to Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov. Topalov has been a top player for many years, though he will probably be best remembered for being on the losing end of a “Game of the Century” candidate against, surprise!, Gary Kasparov.

Kramnik finished in a big tie for fourth, raising questions once again about how motivated he is when his title isn't on the line.

For more about the tournament, click here (Scroll down).

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Scalia to the Wise: Christianity Not For You!

Here's Agape Press columnist Matt Friedman reporting on a recent speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a humdinger of an indispensable speech for people of faith who are wondering when they are ever going to catch a break from their culture.

Summary: bad treatment to be expected. Get used to it.


The standard martyr pose of the religious right.


Addressing the Knights of Columbus Council 969 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Scalia said that belief in biblical Christianity is, well, foolish. “For the son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that He rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed ....”


Of course, using “wise” as an epithet is something you'd hope would be beneath a Supreme Court justice.

More to the point, however, is this theologically sound? Every Christian bookstore I have ever visited has acres of shelf space devoted to Christian apologetics. These are books claiming that an honest consideration of the evidence should lead a rational person to conclude that Christianity is correct. God's blessings are supposed to be available to anyone, wise or not, who willingly receives them. Why would God so arrange things that education and rational thought make it more difficult to perceive his Glory?


Scalia makes an important point, of course. Basic Christian orthodoxy is outrageously beyond the understanding of a this-world rationality. Born of a virgin, resurrection, supernaturality, a next-world judgment.

Preposterous ... idiocy ... comforting only to the shallow-minded. These are the thoughts of so many of the intellectual elite. One wonders: if this impossible faith were merely a conglomeration of implausible doctrinal assertions, might not people consider believers foolish but only in a quaint, innocuous manner?

But there seems to be today a vehemence, an ugly mean-spiritedness of the mockers when they speak of Christians and their biblical affirmations -- how to explain that?


For ugly mean-spiritedness it is hard to top what outifts like Agape Press say about atheists.


It is not the unpalatable doctrine that has the non-believers shouting invectives through their proverbial foaming mouths. No, it is unpalatable doctrine applied. Christians, you see, believe that the teachings of scripture belong not merely in the church and around dinner tables, but in the marketplace and the state capitols and in the media and even in the Oval Office.

That is what unnerves so many of the academicians, the irreligious power brokers, the old media and the Democratic Party post-election. These people, these Bible-thumpers, actually think that their ethical beliefs ought to be adopted by ... everyone.

Gasp.


Ya think? That people are hostile towards the religious right because they want to force everyone to live their lives as they do? Let me commend Mr. Friedman on some brilliant investigative reporting there.

Likewise, I'm sure Mr. Friedman has no objection to people supporting the separation of church and state in the privacy of their own homes. It is when they actually expect other people to respect that separation that Friedman starts whining about oppression.

It was an Op-Ed, Not an Article

Here's Discoevery Institute blogger John West opening his own blog entry on the subject:


Today's Wall Street Journal is running a shocking article reporting on an alleged campaign of harassment and intimidation by Darwinists at the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian Institution.


As anyone who reads the Wall Street Journal knows, there is a big difference between the news section and the editorial section. The former is one of the best news divisions in the country. The latter is cartoonishly right-wing and unreliable. It was just an honest bit of carelessness by Mr. West to confuse the two, right?

And here's Wests's closing:


And people wonder why some scientists are afraid to openly express their skepticism of Darwin's theory?


You can openly express your skepticism all you want. Just don't embarrass the people you work for by abusing their trust. Don't use the journal you edit as a platform for promoting poor scholarship.

Sternberg, Again

For those who have forgotten, Richard Sternberg is the former editor of The Procedings of the Biological Society of Washington. He was the one who decided to publish a pro-ID article by Stephen Meyer. I did several blog entries at the time (see here and here) in which I documented that Sternberg did not follow the normal editorial procedures of his journal, and left a lot of unanswered questions about how above-board the review process for the article actually was. I also linked to a decisive refutation of the major claims of the paper provided by Alan Gishlik, Nick Matzke and Wesley Elsberry. I also pointed out that the editorial board of the journal, none of whom were told about the article before it appeared, unanimously condemned the decision to publish the article.

Well, he's back. According to this op-ed from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Sternberg, who works for the Smithsonian Institution, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Council alledging religious discrimination. Let's consider a few excerpts from the op-ed:


The offending review-essay was written by Stephen Meyer, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology. In the article, he cites biologists and paleontologists critical of certain aspects of Darwinism--mainstream scientists at places like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. Mr. Meyer gathers the threads of their comments to make his own case.


As documented by Gishlik, Matzke and Elsberry (see here), many of Meyer's citations were inaccurate or distorted. He was also very selective in his choice of papers to cite. The fact that Meyer's paper was very bad as a work of scholarship is certainly relevant to assessing whether Sternberg has been treated unfairly.

Picking up where the last quote leaves off, we find:


He points, for example, to the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, when between 19 and 34 animal phyla (body plans) sprang into existence. He argues that, relying on only the Darwinian mechanism, there was not enough time for the necessary genetic “information” to be generated. ID, he believes, offers a better explanation.

Whatever the article's ultimate merits--beyond the judgment of a layman--it was indeed subject to peer review, the gold standard of academic science. Not that such review saved Mr. Sternberg from infamy. Soon after the article appeared, Hans Sues--the museum's No. 2 senior scientist--denounced it to colleagues and then sent a widely forwarded e-mail calling it “unscientific garbage.”


I won't rehash here the many reasons why the Cambrian explosion argument is a lot of nonsense.

I love the “beyond the judgment of a layman” line. It's a sleazy way for the writer, David Klinghoffer, to introduce scientific-sounding arguments without having to vouch for their legitimacy. Also sleazy is the description of the article as peer-reviewed, when we know the journal's normal editorial procedures were not followed, and a lot of questions remain about how honest the review process was.

The next part of the article, if accurate, is genuinely disturbing:


Meanwhile, the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Mr. Sternberg's supervisor. According to Mr. Sternberg's OSC complaint: “First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. . . . He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; . . . he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?' ” The supervisor (who did not return my phone messages) recounted the conversation to Mr. Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: “There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down.”

Worries about being perceived as “religious” spread at the museum. One curator, who generally confirmed the conversation when I spoke to him, told Mr. Sternberg about a gathering where he offered a Jewish prayer for a colleague about to retire. The curator fretted: “So now they're going to think that I'm a religious person, and that's not a good thing at the museum.”


If this account is true then I would agree that Sternberg has been the victim of bad treatment. His religious and political affiliations are nobody's business but his own.

There is no question that he abused his position as journal editor to promote a favored religious/political agenda. That is his offense. Whether it's a serious enough offense to merit professional sanctions I'll leave to others to decide. But it is his actions, and not his beliefs, that should be judged.

Having said that, I can understand why many who work at the museum would be suspicious of very religious people. The loudest voices representing Christianity right now are uniformly anti-science and anti-intellectual. Is it any surprise that the curators of one of the best science museums in the world would feel threatened by such people?


In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs. Mr. Sternberg was also assigned to the close oversight of a curator with whom he had professional disagreements unrelated to evolution. “I'm going to be straightforward with you,” said Mr. Coddington, according to the complaint. “Yes, you are being singled out.” Neither Mr. Coddington nor Mr. Sues returned repeated phone messages asking for their version of events.


But singled out for what? Was he being singled out because of his religious views, or because he abused his position as editor?

I find it hard to believe that a powerful museum curator would ever say something so blunt as what is described here, and I notice we have only the claims of Sternberg's complaint to support the veracity of Klinghoffer's description. I'll wait until we have more information before making a judgment.


Mr. Sternberg begged a friendly curator for alternative research space, and he still works at the museum. But many colleagues now ignore him when he greets them in the hall, and his office sits empty as “unclaimed space.” Old colleagues at other institutions now refuse to work with him on publication projects, citing the Meyer episode. The Biological Society of Washington released a vaguely ecclesiastical statement regretting its association with the article. It did not address its arguments but denied its orthodoxy, citing a resolution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defined ID as, by its very nature, unscientific.


Here, alas, I have no sympathy for Mr. Sternberg. I'm not surprised that old colleagues would now be unwilling to work with him. I know mathematicians who serve on the editorial boards of various journals. If one of them ever abused his position in the way Sternberg did his, I would not be inclined to work with them.

As I pointed out earlier, the Biological Society of Washington did not merely say the article was unorthodox. They pointed out that Sternberg did not follow the regular editorial procedures of the journal.

The rest of the article descends into more standard ID talking points. Read them at your own risk.