Sternberg peer review controversy

The Sternberg peer review controversy concerns the conflict arising from the publication of an article supporting the controversial concept of intelligent design in a scientific journal, and the subsequent questions of whether proper editorial procedures had been followed and whether it was properly peer reviewed. One of the primary criticisms of the intelligent design movement is that there are no research papers supporting their positions in peer reviewed scientific journals. [Judge John E. Jones III: "A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory...The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications." ().] On 4 August 2004, an article by Stephen C. Meyer (Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture) titled "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories", appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, "Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington" [ [ Intelligent design:The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories] ; Center for Science and Culture] . The journal's publisher claims the editor, Richard Sternberg, went outside the usual review procedures to allow Meyer's article to be published in his last issue as editor. Sternberg disputes the claims. [ Sternberg's statement] on his website] Meyer's article was a literature review article, and contained no new primary scholarship itself on the topic of intelligent design.

On 7 September 2004, the publisher of the journal, the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, released a statement repudiating the article: quotation|"The paper by Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," in vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239 of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was published at the discretion of the former editor, Richard v. Sternberg. Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history. " [ Statement from the Council of the Biological Society of Washington] ] The same statement vowed that proper review procedures would be followed in the future and endorsed a resolution published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which states that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting intelligent design. [ [ AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory] , American Association for the Advancement of Science, October 18, 2002] On September 18, the Center for Science and Culture issued a statement exulting the publication of Meyer's paper in a peer-reviewed journal, and chastising the National Center for Science Education for stating that the paper should not have been published. [ [ NCSE Flip-flops As Controversy Over Peer-Reviewed Article ContinuesDarwinists Like Peer-Review Except When They Don't] , Staff, Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture, September 8, 2004] The Biological Society of Washington's president, Roy McDiarmid called Sternberg's decision to publish Meyer's article "a really bad judgment call on the editor's part." [ SOCIETY OF ACADEMIC AUTHORS] NEWS ARCHIVE: OCTOBER 2004]

The peer review process

Sternberg insists the paper was properly peer reviewed, and rejects the reason given by the journal for disavowing the article, saying:

In articles in Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer and Ed Brayton dispute Sternberg's qualifications to review the article. [ Skeptic Magazine April 17th 2008] , "Ben Stein’s Blunder" by Michael Shermer, "The Richard Sternberg Affair" by Ed Brayton]

Doubts were raised whether the reviewers were evolutionary biologists. According to an article by the Society of Academic Authors Meyer said the article grew out of a presentation he made at a conference attended by Richard Sternberg where they discussed the possibility of a paper for society's journal. Observers have pointed to affiliations that in most circumstances would have disqualified Sternberg from reviewing an article on intelligent design. [ Creationism's Holy Grail: The Intelligent Design of a Peer-Reviewed Paper] , Robert Weitzel, Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 11, Number 4, pp. 66-69] They note that Sternberg is a Fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design, a Discovery Institute-affiliated group dedicated to promoting intelligent design. Sternberg is also a signatory of the Discovery Institute's "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism" statement [ [ Dissent from Darwin] , Discovery Institute.] which says"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged"."

Sternberg claims to have also checked with a Council member and to have followed the standard practice for peer review: quotation|". . .Three reviewers responded and were willing to review the paper; all are experts in relevant aspects of evolutionary and molecular biology and hold full-time faculty positions in major research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, another at a major North American public university, a third on a well-known overseas research faculty. There was substantial feedback from reviewers to the author, resulting in significant changes to the paper. The reviewers did not necessarily agree with Dr. Meyer's arguments or his conclusion but all found the paper meritorious and concluded that it warranted publication. . . . four well-qualified biologists with five PhDs in relevant disciplines were of the professional opinion that the paper was worthy of publication. . . ."

Sternberg's statement implies that there were four outside reviewers. But of the four "well-qualified biologists with five PhDs" Sternberg identifies, one was Sternberg himself, contributing his double doctorate to the total he cited. Sternberg's claim of following proper peer review procedures directly contradicts the published public statement of his former employer, the publisher of the journal, that the proper procedures were not followed resulting in the article's retraction. In previous years the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington had published yearly lists of all the people who had served as peer reviewers. That list is absent for 2004, the year of the incident. Sternberg has repeatedly refused to identify the three "well-qualified biologists", citing personal concerns over professional repercussions for them. Identifying the reviewers would have allowed the journal's board to validate Sternberg's claim to objectivity in having the article considered meritorious for publication. Previously, the reviewers of Sternberg's own published paper [ [ On the roles of repetitive DNA elements in the context of a unified genomic-epigenetic system] ] were Sternberg's fellow Baraminology Study Group peer Todd Wodd, and prominent intelligent design proponents Paul Nelson and Jonathan Wells ["I also thank Drs. Paul Nelson, Stanley Salthe, Jonathan Wells, and Todd Wood (alphabetical order) for their very helpful criticisms of the manuscript. ..." [ On the Roles of Repetitive DNA Elements in the Context of a Unified Genomic-Epigenetic System] , [ Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences] ] [ [ Sternberg on O’Reilly] , John M. Lynch, Stranger Fruit, August 25, 2005.] both of whom are Fellows of the Discovery Institute [ Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture Fellows] ] and colleagues of the author of the article at the source of the controversy, Stephen C. Meyer. The Discovery Institute is the hub of the intelligent design movement.


In a review of Meyer's article "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley R. Elsberry claimed it contained poor scholarship, that it failed to cite and specifically rebut the actual data supporting evolution, and "constructed a rhetorical edifice out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down straw men, and tendentious interpretations." Further examination of the article revealed that it was substantially similar to previously published articles co-authored by Meyer. [ [ Meyer and Deja Vu Revisited] , Wesley R. Elsberry, The Panda's Thumb, September 26 2004.]

Critics of Sternberg believe that he was biased in the matter. Sternberg's close personal and ideological connections to the paper’s author suggest at least the appearance of conflict of interest they say. [ Sternberg and the "smear" of Creationism] , Andrea Bottaro, The Panda's Thumb.] They cite as evidence [ Sternberg and the "smear" of Creationism] comment, Andrea Bottaro, The Panda's Thumb.] that in 2002, Sternberg presented a lecture on intelligent design at the Research And Progress in Intelligent Design (RAPID) [ [ RAPID conference attendees] ] conference where Stephen C. Meyer, the author of the paper Sternberg published, also presented a lecture. [ RAPID conference schedule] ] The RAPID conference was closed to all but intelligent design advocates and was organized and hosted by the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design (ISCID), a group dedicated to promoting intelligent design, [The American Association for the Advancement of Science describes ISCID as a "virtual association created by ID advocates." [ Intelligent Design and Peer Review] ] of which Sternberg is a Fellow. [ [ ISCID Fellows] ] ISCID is affiliated with the Discovery Institute, hub of the intelligent design movement, where Meyer serves as the Program Director of the Center for Science and Culture. Critics also note that Sternberg also sat on the editorial board of the Baraminology Study Group, which studies "creation biology" and whose website is hosted by Bryan College, a conservative Christian school named after anti-Darwin lawyer William Jennings Bryan made famous by the Scopes Trial.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a position statement describing the events around the controversy, said "Given these associations, Dr. Sternberg would appear to be, at very least, an advocate for 'intelligent design' and critical of standard peer review processes as they bear on the scientific assessment of the 'intelligent design' hypothesis." [ Intelligent Design and Peer Review] American Association for the Advancement of Science] Critics describe Sternberg's explanation of events, that a pro-intelligent design paper just happened to find its way to a publication with a sympathetic editor ultimately responsible for ensuring proper peer review and editing of his last issue, and that he decided it was appropriate to deal with the review process in person on a subject in which he has a personal interest, as improbable and that "people who want us to believe that the publication process outlined [by Sternberg and his defenders] was transparent and only had to do with science" are "disingenuous."

Journalist Chris Mooney has compared the Sternberg controversy to that of a paper published by climate change skeptics Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas in "Climate Change", where a sympathetic editor Chris de Freitas allowed it to be published, despite its poor scientific merit. [ [ Déjà vu All Over Again] , Chris Mooney, September 13, 2004]

Smithsonian controversy

After the peer review controversy became public, Sternberg filed a religious discrimination complaint against the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, where he had an unpaid appointment as a research associate, [ [ Natural History Research Associates Alphabetical Listing 2004] , Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History] [ Sternberg vs. Smithsonian] , Jonathan Coddington, The Panda's Thumb] while employed by the National Institutes of Health. [Citation | last = Powell | first = Michael | title = "Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article"| newspaper = Washington Post| pages = A19| year = 2005 | date = 19 August| url =] [ [ Association of American Physicians and Surgeons: Richard Sternberg ] ] [Barbara Bradley Hagerty. "Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom". NPR: All Things Considered. November 10, 2005.]

Sternberg claims that he was "targeted for retaliation and harassment" and subject to efforts to remove him from the museum in retaliation for his views in support of creationism. He continues to cite a letter by the United States Office of Special Counsel as supporting his version of events, [ [ Sternberg, Office of Special Counsel "Pre-Closure Letter"] ] despite the Office of Special Counsel ultimately dismissing his claim. Pim Van Meurs and other critics observed that the Office of Special Counsel lacked jurisdiction over the matter and so his claim was unlikely to proceed, [ [ Comment, The Pseudo-Science Amicus Brief in Kitzmiller] , Pim Van Meurs, The Panda's Thumb.] and that even though it made no official findings or conclusions, the response from the Office of Special Counsel provided Sternberg and the Discovery Institute putative evidence and talking points supporting their claim that the scientific community discriminates against intelligent design proponents. [ Sternberg complaint dismissed] , Nick Matzke, The Panda's Thumb, August 19 2005.] [ [ Congressional Investigation Confirms Discrimination against Smithsonian Scientist Critical of Darwinian Evolution] , Discovery Institute, December 18, 2006] In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer [ [ Discovery Institute Fellows] ] portrayed Sternberg as a martyr and victim of discrimination, [ [ The Branding of a Heretic] , David Klinghoffer, Taste Commentary, OpinionJournal, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2005.] a tactic used often by design proponents. ["The "persecuted scientist against the establishment" hoax. Another plea often articulated by ID proponents is the idea that there is a community of ID scientists undergoing persecution by the science establishment for their revolutionary scientific ideas" ( [ Defending science education against intelligent design: a call to action] , Journal of Clinical Investigation 116:1134-1138 (2006), doi:10.1172/JCI28449, A publication of the American Society for Clinical Investigation; 10226K PDF file) ]

In response, Sternberg's supervisor at the Smithsonian, Jonathan Coddington, responded publicly disputing Sternberg's and Klinghoffer's depiction of events. Coddington states that Sternberg was never dismissed, nor was he a paid employee, and that he was never the target of discrimination, and remained serving at the museum up to that time.

In August, 2005 the Office of Special Counsel dropped Sternberg's religious discrimination complaint against the Smithsonian Institution. It was determined that as an unpaid research associate at the Smithsonian, Sternberg was not actually an employee, and thus the Office of Special Counsel had no jurisdiction. Nick Matzke, Jason Rosenhouse and other critics have commented that the Office of Special Counsel itself appears biased in its initial handling of the matter, given the links between the religious right and the Republican Party, with George W. Bush appointee James McVay authoring its opinion. [ [ The evolution wars enter the "No Spin Zone"] , Jason Rosenhouse, TalkReason.]

In a November, 2005 National Public Radio report on the affair Sternberg stated "I'm not an evangelical, I'm not a fundamentalist, I'm not a young earth creationist, I'm not a theistic evolutionist". Sternberg said McVay "related to me, 'the Smithsonian Institution's reaction to your publishing the Meyer article was far worse than you imagined'." Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR's religion reporter, said Sternberg himself believes intelligent design is "fatally flawed." [ [ Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom] , Barbara Bradley Hagerty, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, November 10, 2005]

In December 2006 a partisan report was issued by Mark Souder, on the basis of information he and fellow Republican representative and intelligent design advocate Rick Santorum (author of the pro-ID Santorum Amendment) had requested, calling into question the Smithsonian's treatment of Sternberg and repeating many of Sternberg's claims. [ [ Intolerance and Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian] , United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, December 2006.] [ Appendix to Intolerance and the Politicization of Science at the Smithsonian] , United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, December 2006.] [ Lame Ducks Weigh In] , Reed A. Cartwright, The Panda's Thumb, December 15, 2006] The report was commissioned by Souder in his capacity as subcommittee chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, written by his subcommittee staff, but published by Souder as an individual representative without it being officially accepted into the Congressional Record. [ Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know...] , John Rennie and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American, April 16 2008] This is contrary to oft-repeated claims by the Discovery Institute and other design proponents that the report represents an official position by the Committee supporting Sternberg's claims of discrimination.

Observers have said that facts of the case simply do not support the conclusions of the report nor is the report an official report of the committee. [ Creating a Martyr: The Sternberg Saga Continues] , Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, December 19, 2006.] They say that the Discovery Institute is using the report to portray Sternberg specifically, and design proponents in general, as victims of persecution. They also say the Souder report is a repackaging of the Office of Special Council's previous findings from August 2005 and contains nothing new, consisting of "the OSC findings restated and used as a form of evidence in and of themselves" and attacks the Smithsonian for "not accepting the OSC's findings at face value." [ [ The Office of Sternberg Coddling] Steve Reuland, The Panda's Thumb, December 20, 2006] They cite as evidence of a biased motive behind the report the longstanding connections of the report's instigators, Congressmen Souder and Santorum, to the Discovery Institute, whose Program Director is Stephen C. Meyer, author of the paper Sternberg published. In 2000 Souder co-hosted a congressional briefing on behalf of the Discovery Institute intended to drum up political support for intelligent design and read a defense of intelligent design prepared by the Discovery Institute into the congressional record. Santorum worked with the Discovery Institute's program director Phillip E. Johnson in 2000 and 2001 drafting the pro-intelligent design Santorum Amendment and in March 2006 wrote the foreword for the book, "Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson And the Intelligent Design Movement" a collection of essays largely by Discovery Institute fellows honoring Johnson as "father" of the intelligent design movement. Contained in the appendix to the Souder report is a letter from the director of the Smithsonian where it is revealed that Sternberg demanded that they give him a $300,000 grant to make up for his allegedly lost research time; he was turned down. Sternberg's appointment as a Smithsonian Institute reasearch associate was from January 2004 through January 2007. Research associates are not employees of the Museum and appointments are typically awarded for up to three years.

As one of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns, the Institute conducted extensive lobbying and public relations efforts on Sternberg's behalf, including arranging for articles by Institute Fellows to be published in the mainstream press. [ [ Setting the Record Straight on Sternberg] , Evolution News and Views, Discovery Institute, February 6, 2005.] [ [ Sternberg, Smithsonian, Meyer, And The Paper That Started It All] , Discovery Institute, October 19, 2005.] [ [ Smithsonian Scientist Was Demoted for Views Critical of Darwinian Evolution] , Evolution News and Views, Discovery Institute, December 15, 2006.] [ [ Breaking News on Sternberg Discrimination] , Evolution News and Views, Discovery Institute, August 16, 2005.] A film released in April 2008 featuring Ben Stein, "", discusses the Sternberg controversy, but misrepresents several key facts.

Notes and references

External links

* [ Home page of Dr. Richard Sternberg] Sternberg Home page presenting his allegations concerning the controversy
* [ Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom] An overview of the Sternberg controversy by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, at NPR
* [ The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories] Meyer's paper that started the controversy
* [ Comments from Sternberg's Smithsonian supervisor, Jonathan Coddington] in response to the Wall Street Journal editorial, from Panda's Thumb
* [ Censorship in the Scientific community and Richard Sternberg] from the Discovery Institute
* [ Intelligent Design and Peer Review] from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
* [ Chronology of events] from Panda's Thumb
* [ Setting the Record Straight on Sternberg] Evolution News & Views
* [ Smithsonian "discriminated" against scientist] article by Ted Agres published in The Scientist magazine
* [ The Richard Sternberg Affair] , Skeptic magazine

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