Huge Response to Samizdat Article the Darwinists Tried to Suppress

Bruce Chapman
Discovery Institute
September 7, 2005
Print ArticleThe main tactics of the Darwinist response to Darwin Doubters and intelligent design proponents are, first, to misrepresent the opposition's positions and, second, to try to keep the opposition from speaking for itself. They have managed to get some university professors fired or sidelined, but overall one has to think they have a losing approach that is unfit for survival--at least in this country.

The best example is the attempt to shut down design theorists who appear in peer-reviewed journals. Of course, it has been a standard and hypocritical assertion by groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) that if ID scientists were "serious" about their science, they would publish in peer-reviewed science journals. The Darwinists say this piously to reporters, then do all they can behind the scenes to prevent publication of peer-reviewed articles that are not reliably Darwinian.

They have missed with several such articles lately, however, and their all-out effort to punish Dr. Richard Sternberg, the editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, for publishing a paper on intelligent design by Dr. Stephen Meyer, the philosopher of science who heads Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, has backfired in a particularly spectacular way.

Only about 950 copies of the Proceedings normally are printed.

Apparently, it is unusual for any paper's author to get requests for even a handful of reprints. But after the Smithsonian's post hoc efforts to kill "The Origins of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories"--Meyer's paper--over 400 print copies were requested from Discovery Institute. We were very pleased. Still it took us about nine months to think to produce it prominently on our website, which we did a bit over two months ago. Since then, our tracking shows, over 14,200 copies have been seen, and in many cases, downloaded, online.

That has to make Dr. Meyer's paper one of the top Samizdat science articles of all time. ("Samizdat" was the term used in Soviet days for officially suppressed articles that were distributed secretly by ordinary people, often with home made copies.)

When the Meyer article appeared a year ago last month we fully expected an attempt to discredit its findings. Instead, the brunt of the attack was borne by the editor, not Dr. Meyer, even though Dr. Sternberg would seem to be an unimpeachable expert in his field. After all, he has not one but two doctorates in the very field that is appropriate here, evolutionary biology.

Investigation showed, moreover, that he did, indeed, send the paper out to three peer-reviewers. His superiors, in anxious emails to one another, admitted that he had broken no rules.

Still, under pressure, the Smithsonian cravenly and publicly criticized Dr. Sternberg for publishing the article and then began damaging his career further by kicking him out of his office and removing his access to specimens, a real handicap for a researcher. They even took away his building key. Meanwhile, they trashed his name in private emails, now made public by the Office of Special Counsel to whom Sternberg appealed for help, and ran a bootless inquisition into his personal religious and political background. About all they could uncover, by quizzing the Smithsonian library, was that he was in possession of nearly 50 overdue library books.

The attacks from inside and outside the Smithsonian have definitely crimped Dr. Sternberg's career. It is a shameful story for the Smithsonian that ought to call its scholarly policies and procedures into question, and it shines a light on the National Center for Science Education and its back-alley role in such episodes of censorship.

But I have to acknowledge, though a bit ruefully, that the Darwinist Inquisition has done more to promote the article by Dr. Meyer than anything his colleagues at Discovery Institute ever could have mustered. They have made an outstanding article famous as well.

If, after publication, the Smithsonian had replied to the fulminations of the NCSE and some of its own internal hotheads with a calm reaffirmation--such as, "Well, we do live in a free country, don't we? And if you believe in academic freedom for yourself you do have to support it for those with whom you disagree, don't you?"--the article might have dropped out of notice.

Instead, the censors have provoked distribution of fifteen thousand copies of a science article so far. That may not seem like a lot for big magazines. But it's an historic accomplishment for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The Smithsonian and the NCSE should be very proud.

Bruce K. Chapman, former director of the U. S. Census Bureau and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna, is president of the Discovery Institute.