Unintelligent Design

Hostility Toward Religious Believers at the Nation's Museum Originally published at National Review

NOTE: The Washington Post has followed up on this bit of breaking news and published a piece on Sternberg, Controversial Editor Backed

Read David Klinghoffer's January 2005 story on Rick Sternberg, "Branding of a Heretic".

The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure of which every American can legitimately feel a sense of personal ownership. Considering this, I’d imagine widespread displeasure as more Americans become aware that senior scientists at the publicly funded Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have reportedly been creating a “hostile work environment” for one of their colleagues merely because he published a controversial idea in a biology journal.

The controversial idea is Intelligent Design, the scientific critique of neo-Darwinism. The persecuted Smithsonian scientist is Richard von Sternberg, the holder of two PhDs in biology (one in theoretical biology, the other in molecular evolution). While the Smithsonian disputes the case, Sternberg’s version has so far been substantiated in an investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency.

A lengthy and detailed letter from OSC attorney James McVay, dated August 5, 2005, and addressed to Sternberg, summarizes the government’s findings, based largely on e-mail traffic among top Smithsonian scientists. A particularly damning passage in the OSC letter reads: 

Our preliminary investigation indicates that retaliation [against Sternberg by his colleagues] came in many forms. It came in the form of attempts to change your working conditions…During the process you were personally investigated and your professional competence was attacked. Misinformation was disseminated throughout the SI [Smithsonian Institution] and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false. It is also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI.

Meanwhile, on the basis of the “misinformation” directed against him, Sternberg’s career prospects were being ruined.

Offensive Proceedings

What exactly was his offense? Some background is in order. In a January Wall Street Journal op-ed, I reported the story of how Sternberg, a Smithsonian research associate, suffered as a result of his editing a technical peer-reviewed biology journal, The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

The journal is housed at the Smithsonian, though it’s nominally independent. For his part, formally, Sternberg is employed by the National Institute of Health, though his agreement with his employer stipulates that he may spend 50 percent of his time working at the Smithsonian. So when the August 2004 issue of the Proceedings appeared, under Sternberg’s editorship, Sternberg’s managers at the Smithsonian took a keen interest in a particular article–the first paper laying out the evidence for ID to be published in a peer-reviewed technical journal.

Continue Reading at National Review

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.