Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Exposing ExpelledExposed: Part I. The Case of Dr. Richard Sternberg

(Please read the Introductory article immediately preceding this post. In fact, this post was written with the assumption that the you will read the Introduction first. This post contains material that cannot be understood without reference to the background information in the Introduction. For instance, abbreviations are used in this post without explanation. Blogger's spellcheck is not working at the moment. Since I do not know when it will be fixed, I choose to publish this article now. )

Expelledexposed's section on Dr. Richard Sternberg, under a heading entitled "Summary", claims that neither Sternberg's salary nor his working conditions were adversely affected by the publication of the Meyer paper. This summary (which contains no citations) further states that his real troubles stemmed from Sternberg's own workplace violations that warranted his dismissal from the SI. These "violations" refer to the charges that Sternberg mishandled SI laboratory specimens and failed to return over fifty overdue library books. Throughout expelledexposed's section on Sternberg, it asserts that he failed to follow proper editorial procedures in publishing the Meyer paper. This last charge will be examined first.

Lets look at the evidence. Expelledexposed links to a statement from the BSW, publisher of the journal PBSW, in which the Meyer paper appeared. This statement claims that Sternberg failed to follow proper editorial practice by not submitting the paper to peer-review before its publication. In fact, according to expelledexposed, Sternberg was not even the best qualified to manage the review process of the Meyer paper. Expelledexposed links to Ed Brayton's blog Dispatches From The Culture War, which claims that Sternberg's expertise is in Taxonomy, which is unrelated to the subject matter of the Meyer paper. Yet according to Sternberg's website, Sternberg has two PhDs in evolutionary biology: one in Molecular (DNA) Evolution and another in Systems Theory and Theoretical Biology. I am definately a layman when it comes to these matters, yet it seems obvious to me that Sternberg's expertise extends beyond Taxonomy. Sternberg himself denies that he is a taxonomist. (See Sternberg, here, and here.)

How does Sternberg respond to the charge he mishandled the review process? On his website, Sternberg states that among the BSW staff, he was best qualified to handle the review process. He claims that this is standard procedure and that he had acted in the same fashion on similiar occasions. Sternberg claims he discussed the Meyer paper on three different occasions with another member of the BSW Council. This individual urged Sternberg to publish the paper. In addition, the Meyer paper was subjected to the standard peer-review process by three Evolutionary and Molecular Biologists, who suggested revisions to Meyer, who then made significant changes to the paper. According to Sternberg, it is unethical to reveal the names of the peer-reviewers, and so he refused to do so. (See Sternberg, here and here.)

What can we determine at this point? Sternberg's critics claim that Sternberg refused to follow standard procedures in processing the Meyer paper. Sternberg maintains that he did. Who should we believe? Expelledexposed relies solely the official statement of the BSW that Sternberg violated the editorial process. This webite's authors would have us accept this statement without question. They assume that lazy readers would see this statement as evidence, and not pursue the available evidence any further. They expect us to say to ourselves: "Gosh! If the BSW claims Sternberg acted improperly, he must have done so."

Yet Sternberg's website contains two quotes from the then-President of the BSW confirming that Sternberg followed proper procedures. One quote is from an e-mail to Sternberg dated 8/24/04: "Finally, I got the [peer] reviews and agree that they are in support of your decision [to publish the article]." The other quote, also an e-mail from the then-President to Sternberg, refers specifically to whether Sternberg should have undertaken to handle the review process himself: "The question came up as to why you didn't pass the ms [manuscript] on to an associate editor and several examples were mentioned of past editorial activities where a manuscript was dealt with directly by the editor and did not go to an associate editor and no one seemed bothered..." (For these quotes , see Sternberg, here and here.)

We need not only rely on Sternberg for quotes from the this same individual exonerating Sternberg on this issue. In the Appendix, the following memo from this very same individual says "I have seen the review file and the comments from the 3 reviewers on the Meyer paper. All three with some differences among the comments recommended or suggested publication. I was surprised but concluded that there was not inappropriate behavior vs a vis the review process. Whether one would consider the reviews appropriate is another issue and I would be pleased to share my views on that if you so desire." (Appendix, p. 72) The NCSE, which is responsible for expelledexposed, has to know that this memo is in the Appendix, yet chose to charge Sternberg with violating PBSW editorial procedures anyway. This is a clear violation of ethics and any standard of truth-telling.

Yet there is more to the to the story concerning this matter. Expelledexposed cites the statement from the BSW as firm evidence that Sternberg violated editorial practices concerning the Meyer paper. However, expelledexposed fails to mention that the NCSE sent a sample draft of that statement to the President of the BSW. (Appendix, p. 73-74) Whether it was proper for the NCSE to be assisting the BSW with drafting a statement I cannot say. Yet when expelledexposed presents the final statement as evidence concerning Sternberg's actions, it should have disclosed the involvement of the orginization that sponsors expelledexposed.

As to the charges that Sternberg mishandled SI specimens and had as much as 50 overdue library books still in his possession, whatever the truth is in these matters, his conduct did not warrant his dimissal from the SI. Yes, the Appendix contains evidence of heated opinion on these subjects among some of Sternberg's colleagues. Yet the Appendix contains no more than 5 written opinions from Sternberg's superiors at the SI that Sternberg engaged in no conduct that called for discipline or dismissal. The first: "As the BSW is, legally speaking, an external activity, we cannot use Sternbergs mishandling of the Meyer paper to revoke his status as a Research Associate. The SI Directive lists only a few points that are deemed sufficient cause for that purpose, and none applies to Sternberg." (Appendix, p.19) The second: "I already heard about (von) Sternberg's editorial exploits...As Sternberg has not broken any of the rules listed in the SI directive regarding RA's, there is nothing we can do at this point." (Appendix, p. 20) The third: "...This issue has now been dealt with at length, and the NMHH will not take action against Sternberg as he has not violated the SI-approved terms for Reaserch Associates..." (Appendix, p. 51) The fourth: "As far as I know, Rick has not mishandled specimens, which otherwise would be grounds to monitor him more closely." (Appendix, p. 54)

The fifth written communication introduces us to another aspect of expelledexposed's dishonesty. On page 50 of the Appendix, we read the following statement form one of Sternberg's superiors at the SI: "Sternberg has not broken any rules applicable to Smithsonian Research Associates; we just have to wait until his current term expires." If Sternberg broke no SI rules, why does the SI want to let him go? Clearly some sort of action unfavorable to Sternberg was being discussed, or why would they have to wait until Sternberg's term as an Research Associate expired? Another communication from a Sternberg superior answers this question: "...Note that Sternberg's actions as editor have nothing to do with his crustacea research, and we cannot in fact or apparently 'retaliate' for the first through the second. Until his research associateship expires, he should receive fair and equal treatment as such." (Appendix, p. 51) This communication clearly shows that there was a effort to fire Sternberg from the SI due to his handling of the Meyer paper, and as the other communications show, Sternberg engaged in no conduct warrenting dismissal. Expelledexposed clearly is guilty of falsely claiming that Sternberg was in no way retaliated against for having the Meyer paper published. And it is daring in its dishonesty by citing the Appendix as vindication for its claims. Certainly the authors of this website confidently expect no one will wade through the 74 page collection of memos, e-mails, and policy statements and that the allegations made by the website will be taken at face value by lazy readers.

Which leads us to a further issue of dishonesty. Nowhere in its highly unflattering portrait of Sternberg does expelledexposed acknowledge that the websites parent organization, the NCSE, was charged by the with conspiring with SI Officials to get Sternberg fired from the SI. The put it this way: "In cooperation with pro-evolution National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Museum officials attempted to publically smear and discredit Dr. Sternberg with false and defammatory information." (, p.5) The SI was using government time and resources in cooperation with the NCSE to ruin Sternberg's career, looking at Sternberg's activities outside the SI, hoping to find something that would give them a legitimate reason for firing Sternberg. One SI official wrote to a top official at the NCSE: "[f]rom now on I will keep an eye on Dr. [von] Sternberg, and I'd greatly appreciate it if you or other NCSE specialists could let me [know] about further articles by this gentleman in areas poutside (sic) crustacean systematics." (, p.6) For expelledexposed to publish the negative portrayal of Sternberg's conduct without acknowledgeing the NCSE's role in the effort to discredit Sternberg is clearly a selected disclosure of publically available information to affect public opinion negatively toward Sternberg and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Expelledexposed does feature ONE of the communications between the SI and the NCSE. The website quotes a communication from the NCSE as stating that Sternberg should not be penalized for his religious beliefs, but only for his handling of the Meyer paper. (Sternberg's website states that he is not an Evangelical Christian who accepts Biblical Creationism. The issue of the religious beliefs of those claiming to have been persecuted for any connection to Intelligent Design will be examined in a later post.) Expelledexposed claims that Ed Brayton examined the Appendix and he states that the documents in the Appendix exonerates the NCSE of collusion with the SI regarding Sternberg. Yet the Appendix contains six pages of communications between the NCSE and the SI strategizing how to deal with Sternberg. (Appendix, p. 30-35) To be fair, the NCSE did write "I guess the big question is whether he is a good enough scientist to remain there. If his non-creationist work is good, then I think he deserves the job. If not, and if others are let go under the same circumstances, let the chips fall where they may. But none of us are after this guys job. This isn't the point of this exercise, in my opinion. (Appendix, p. 30) (No one is after his job if he is not a creationist.) Yet, in this same communication, the NCSE speculates upon what Sternberg's motivation may have been for publishing the Meyer Paper and how to procede without making it appear that Sternberg was a "martyr." (Appendix, p. 30) Page 31 of the Appendix contains a document from an SI official to the NCSE, thanking it for providing background information on Sternberg. The SI official was seeking background information on Sternberg pertaining to his activities outside the SI, hoping to find a way to fire Sternberg. The NCSE official replies with background information on Sternberg, identifying him as a Young Earth Creationist. (Appendix, p. 31-32) (Sternberg denies this on his website.) Then the NCSE states that Sternberg should remain employed only if he keeps his creationst work out of his Smithsonian activities. (Appendix, p.32)

This next quote is absolutely crucial is determining expelledexposed's veracity. On page 32 of the Appendix, the NCSE cautions against attacking Sternberg as a Creationist; that would be bad strategy. Remember the above quote from the NCSE stating that Sternberg should not be allowed to remain at the SI if his work involved Creationism. Yet to publically attack him as a Creationist would be bad strategy (Appendix, p. 32) On page 32 of the Appendix, this is what the NCSE said the reason for Sternberg's dismissal should be: "If there are reprecussions for von Sternberg from the article, they should be because of his poor judgement in publishing it...)" Here the NCSE clearly states that Sternberg should suffer reprecussions, not for violating SI policies, but for publishing the Meyer paper, an activity outside the SI's jurisdiction. And yet, expelledexposed claims that Sternberg suffered no bad consequences from publishing the Meyer paper and that he suffered no personal attack orchestrated by the SI and the NCSE. No, according to expelledexposed, Sternberg brought his troubles on himself because he violated SI policies. Yet expelledexposed failed to disclose this communication from the NCSE stating that Sternberg should suffer for publishing the paper. This communication is the "smoking gun" proving the's charge of collusion between the SI and the NCSE in seeking to damage Sternberg's career because of the publication of the Meyer paper. To deny such collusion while failing to disclose this communication is a dishonest representation of the facts of the Sternberg case by expelledexposed. The website clearly assumes its readers will take its assertions at face value. Its authors are clearly confident readers will not closely examine the evidence available to the public. They also certainly hope that by discrediting those profiled in Expelled, many will associate any dissent from Darwinism with these people, thereby causing anyone who has problems with evolution to supress those doubts.

One of the main arguements of evolutionists against ID has been that no peer-reviewed article by an ID advocate has appeared in a respected scientific publication. The publication of the Meyer paper in the PBSW now renders that arguement moot. However, some in the scientific community would now perpetuate the lie that no peer-reviewed article on ID has been published. And among their number are those reponsible for the content of . And we can count on expelledexposed to try to discredit anyone else who publishes an article advocating ID; like Richard Sternberg, they will suffer "reprecussions."

Part II, concerning another scientist profiled by Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, will appear in a few days.

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