Re: Smithsonian Situation

From: Pim van Meurs <>
Date: Thu Aug 18 2005 - 15:33:29 EDT

William Yates wrote:

> Hi--
> I read today of the results of the U. S. Office of Special Counsel's
> investigation regarding the actions taken against Richard Sternberg
> for his editorial work in approving Stephen Meyer's article "The
> Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories."
> Current article:
> An earlier article:
> I do not support Intelligent Design but the actions taken by the
> Smithsonian against Sternberg in retaliation for this article are
> shocking and reprehensible. Especially of concern were the actions
> takne to discern his religious and political views.
> Comments?
> --Bill Yates
What actions were taken that were reprehensible or shocking in your
opinion? Remember these are preliminary observations and the Smithsonian
has not given its perspective on what happened.

For instance: There are some interesting discrepancies such as the
access to the master key but without disclosure from both sides, it is
hard to determine what happened.

    Jonathon Coddington (Sternberg's supervisor) wrote:

    At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.

    James McVay OSC Opinion wrote:

        “they denied your access by taking your master key.” The museum
        “prevented you from having the same access to the research
        specimens,” access “given to others [who] do not have the same

Due to lack of jurisdiction the OSC may not have had the opportunity to
report on the Smithsonian side of the story. And thus we may need to
wait to see what happens next. As the OSC was unable to take statements
from the SI, the preliminary conclusions may need to be in proper context.

What if the SI people were concerned by the impact of the publication of
the Meyer article? After all the ID proponents have been touting the
paper as a major coup?
I understand that following the publication of the Meyer paper there was
quite some concern among the Smithsonian scientists and I believe for
good reason as the paper by Meyer suffered from some significant flaws.

At the moment we are relying on the reporting of a few who seem to have
been privy to the OSC's letter to Sternberg.

Panda's Thumb has added it's 'spin'


However, one particularly entertaining part of the opinion occurs when
NCSE’s advice to Smithsonian staff is discussed. Among the Smithsonian
staff, there was evidently a fair bit of outraged email discussion of
Sternberg’s actions — Sternberg had, after all, just involved the PBSW
and the Smithsonian in an internationally-noticed scientific scandal,
and had guaranteed that the PBSW and Smithsonian would now have their
good names put on Discovery Institute bibliographies and talking points
for the foreseeable future. In NCSE’s limited contact with individuals
at the Smithsonian, we gave our usual advice (also found in the PT
critique of Meyer’s paper
<>), namely: don’t
overreact, and instead focus on criticizing the scientific problems with
Meyer’s article and Sternberg’s editorial decisions. In the OSC
complaint, this gets portrayed as some kind of scandal. Keeping in mind
that these sentences seem to involve the dubious procedure of the OSC
somehow reading the minds of a group of people, I quote the OSC opinion:

    Eventually, they [the Smithsonian higher-ups] determined that they
    could not terminate you [Sternberg] for cause and they were not
    going to make you a “martyr” by firing you for publishing a paper on
    ID. They came to the conclusion that you had not violated SI
    directives and that you could not be denied access for off-duty
    conduct. This was actually a part of the strategy advocated by the
    NCSE. (OSC opinion, p. 5)


So let's assume the worst case scenario that SI people discussed how to
deal with the situation and did question political or religious
motivations. What actions were taken? The SI came to the conclusion that
no SI directives had been violated and that they were not going to make
Sternberg a martyr.

<quote>Richard Sternberg says that although he continues to work in the
museum's Department of Zoology, he has been kicked out of his office and
shunned by colleagues, prompting him to file a complaint with the U.S.
Office of Special Counsel.</quote>

Q: Was Sternberg kicked out of his office?
Q: Was Sternberg shunned by his colleagues and for what reason?
Religious reasons, the editorial decision to allow publication of the
Meyer article?

<quote>Sternberg charges he was subjected to discrimination on the basis
of perceived religious beliefs</quote>

Or on the basis of perceived poor editorial judgement? It's unfortunate
that ID and religion are so tightly linked but if ID is as its
proponents claim separate from religion then how does one determine on
which basis Sternberg was 'shunned'?

<quote>Hans Sues, the museum's No. 2 senior scientist, denounced Meyer's
article in a widely forwarded e-mail as "unscientific garbage."</quote>

Suggesting that it was the poor quality of Meyer's article which caused
some concern.

Coddington's comments

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 "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
Received on Thu Aug 18 15:34:55 2005

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