Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Science's Bouncers

National Review summarizes an amazing and under-reported story about Richard von Sternberg, a widely-respected biologist who holds PhDs in theoretical biology and molecular evolution, who was suddenly blacklisted by his colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution.

His transgression? Sternberg, as editor of the peer-reviewed technical journal The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, allowed a peer-reviewed paper by Stephen Meyer, PhD (Cambridge) to be printed making the case for Intelligent Design theory.

As David Klinghoffer writes in the NR piece:
However strong you think the argument is for Intelligent Design — and I'm no scientist — most reasonable people would agree that an ID theoretician should, without fear of retaliation, be allowed to state his case for the consideration of fellow scientists. This was the view held by Sternberg, who isn't himself an advocate of ID. However, according to the OSC's [U.S. Office of Special Counsel] investigation, when the Meyer article was published, Sternberg's managers were outraged and a number of them sought a strategy that would make him pay.

Writes [James McVay, attorney for the OSC, which has been investigating the case and which sent a letter to Sternberg on August 5 confirming his suspicions]: "Within two weeks of receiving the Meyer article in the Proceedings, four managers at the SI and NMNH [National Museum of Natural History] expressed their desire to have your access to the SI denied." A typical internal e-mail on the subject fumed, "I hope we are not even considering extending his access to space." (All quotations from e-mails given here are taken from the OSC's letter to Sternberg.) Another expresses frustration that a good pretext for dismissing him had so far not been identified: "As he hasn't (yet) been discovered to have done anything wrong,... the sole reason to terminate his appt seems to be that the host unit has suddenly changed its mind. If that's OK w/NMNH, let me know and I'll send him a letter stating so." One manager huffed, "Well, if you ask me, a face-to-face meeting or at least a 'you are welcome to leave or resign' call with this individual is in order."
It's not enough to try to disprove Intelligent Design on the scientific merits. To even consider the question is to violate the faith orthodoxy established among the "empirical" scientists. A trial is held in absentia, and the heretic is excommunicated.

Of course, that's not quite the picture we get of our cool, rational, just-the-facts-ma'am heroes in labcoats on programs like "Nova." But ask yourself: why would people who claim to be pursuing the truth work so feverishly, not to disprove the theory, but rather to make sure certain questions can never even be asked?

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