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Richard M. Sternberg

Intelligent design is "one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science...." --Daniel Dennett

Richard Sternberg is an intelligent design proponent who is considered a martyr by other intelligent design advocates like Ben Stein, who stars in and co-produced a movie claiming widespread persecution in academia of scientists who support intelligent design.

There are a number of scientists and academics who've been fired, denied tenure, lost tenure or lost grants because they even suggested the possibility of intelligent design. The most egregious is Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian, the editor of a magazine that published a peer-reviewed paper about ID. He lost his job. --Ben Stein (Newsweek, April 14, 2008)

In fact, Sternberg is still at the Smithsonian (you can email him at his Smithsonian address sternberg.richard@nmnh.si.edu), he didn't lose any job, and he quit as editor before the ID paper was published.

Sternberg is most famous for the Sternberg peer review controversy. In 2001, he became managing editor of a small journal (circulation about 300) called Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. In June 2004, the Proceedings  published a paper advocating intelligent design by Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute. "The issue of the Proceedings in which the Meyer article appears was to be Sternberg's last before stepping down, having resigned in October 2003."* Clearly, he was not ousted for his religious views nor was he fired for publishing Myers's article, since he resigned before the article came to print.

While the journal is a peer-reviewed journal, Sternberg unilaterally selected Meyer's paper for publication. Contrary to the journal's standard editorial practice, no one else reviewed the paper for the journal. The Biological Society of Washington was appalled at Sternberg's action and issued a statement:

Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history. For the same reason, the journal will not publish a rebuttal to the thesis of the paper, the superiority of intelligent design (ID) over evolution as an explanation of the emergence of Cambrian body-plan diversity. The Council endorses a resolution on ID published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which observes that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity. Accordingly, the Meyer paper does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.

Sternberg's reply was: "As managing editor it was my prerogative to choose the editor who would work directly on the paper, and as I was best qualified among the editors I chose myself." According to Michael Shermer, this is not true:

Meyer's article ... deals less with systematics (or taxonomy, Sternberg's specialty) than it does paleontology, for which many members of the society would have been better qualified than he to peer-review the paper. (In fact, at least three members were experts on the Cambrian invertebrates discussed in Meyer's paper).*

Sternberg says he was encouraged to publish the article by an unnamed scientist at the National Museum of Natural History.*

The ID community put a deceptive spin on the whole affair, claiming that the scientific community demands that ID be represented in peer-reviewed literature but when an article is accepted in a peer-reviewed journal, the scientific community roars and demands that it be removed.* The truth is that the paper, while published in a peer-reviewed journal, was not peer reviewed. It was published without review by an editor who resigned before the publication came out.

Sternberg was an unpaid research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History when the peer review controversy came out. He filed a religious discrimination suit against the Smithsonian. The United States Office of Special Counsel dismissed his claim. Thanks to an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer, Sternberg became a mythical figure who was martyred for the faith by the evil secularist Darwinist persecutors.

Republican politicians and intelligent design advocates Rep. Mark Souder and Sen. Rick Santorum went to bat for the Discovery Institute and Souder issued a non-official statement in support of Sternberg's claims of religious discrimination.

The report was commissioned by Souder in his capacity as subcommittee chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, written by his subcommittee staff, but published by Souder as an individual representative without it gaining any official standing by the Committee, which never formally accepted it. This is contrary to oft-repeated claims by the Discovery Institute and other design proponents that the report represents an official position by the Committee supporting Sternberg's claims of discrimination.*

This unofficial Souder report has been discredited but it has become a major playing card in the claim by the Discovery Institute and Ben Stein that Sternberg is a victim of religious persecution.

It is rather appalling that the truth doesn't seem to matter much to the folks at the Discovery Institute or to people like Ben Stein. They are fortunate that the people they are appealing to don't much care for the truth either. As an example, I cite a young blogger named Adam Winters who brags about being a Christian by some god's grace and a Baptist by conviction. His blog is called On the Shoulders of Giants and here is an excerpt from his review of Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed:

The impetus for this documentary was the apparently forced resignation of Richard Sternberg as editor of the Smithsonian associated scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, in 2004 after he published an article citing creationist Stephen C. Meyer and suggesting that intelligent design may be a legitimate explanation for the universe.*

At least four errors of fact occur in this one sentence. Congratulations, Mr. Winters! If history repeats itself, your errors will increase and multiply and spread out unto the four corners of the earth where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

further reading

The Ben Stein Conspiracy

Sternberg Exposed

Creating a Martyr: The Sternberg Saga Continues - Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Colorado Confidential

Rationally Speaking

Bringing the stupid, Denyse O'Leary-style

Richard Sternberg, Casey Luskin, and Gross Dishonesty

Texas Education Agency director of science curriculum fired for announcing Barbara Forrest talk (a real martyr)

The Richard Sternberg Affair -
Intelligent Design at the Smithsonian Institution by Ed Brayton

Last updated December 23, 2013

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