Saturday, January 29, 2005

Some Ideas Are Apparently Too Dangerous To Be Discussed

Or so this news article would suggest. I am always a little skeptical of WorldNetDaily stories, but there are plenty of people being quoted, and specific claims that can be checked for truth or falsity. I don't find these claims terribly surprising, in a politically correct institution like the Smithsonian:
The career of a prominent researcher at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington is in jeopardy after he published a peer-reviewed article by a leading proponent of intelligent design, an alternative to evolutionary theory dismissed by the science and education establishment as a tool of religious conservatives.

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.

Sternberg charges he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of perceived religious beliefs.

"I'm spending my time trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career," Sternberg told David Klinghoffer, a columnist for the Jewish Forward, who reported the story in the Wall Street Journal.
The rest of the article would indicate that a witchhunt is under way:
Sternberg is managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. His trouble started when he included in the August issue a review-essay by Stephen Meyer, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology.

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

According to Sternberg's complaint, which is being investigated, one museum specialist chided him by saying: "I think you are a religiously motivated person and you have dragged down the Proceedings because of your religiously motivated agenda."

Sternberg strongly denies that.

While acknowledging he is a Catholic who attends Mass, he says, "I would call myself a believer with a lot of questions, about everything. I'm in the postmodern predicament."

The complaint says the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Sternberg's supervisor to look into the matter.

"First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. ... He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; ... he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?'

The supervisor recounted the conversation to Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: "There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down."
Sorry, but I don't see that any of these questions should have been asked. This is not the reaction of scientists who have confidence that their position is correct, and that Intelligent Design is nonsense--or even just wrong.

UPDATE: A reader tells me that "Chris Mooney has the goods on this guy:"

Significantly, Mooney compares this case to the dispute over global warming--ignoring that there are many reputable scientists who believe that the global warming claims are not all that clear, and a number of peer-reviewed journals have published papers disputing the orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming. If anything, Mooney makes me more inclined to think that Sternberg has been wronged for being a heretic.

I also notice that Mooney's article appears at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims Of the Paranormal. A little history: When CSICOP formed in the late 1970s, I was a charter member of their magazine The Skeptical Inquirer. The first year or two I was very pleased with the magazine. It engaged in careful and dispassionate examination of spoon benders, astrology, UFO enthusiasts, etc. Even in an area where I think there were and are some unanswered questions (UFOs, for example), there were and are a vast swarm of cranks, honest errors, and crooks looting fools. Still, The Skeptical Inquirer was pretty careful not to use too broad a brush.

By the end of the second year, The Skeptical Inquirer's tone had changed. There was an increasing level of passion involved--it had become something of a crusade, to the point where anything that disagreed with scientific orthodoxy--even ideas that were simply unproven, such as cryptozoology claims about Bigfoot--was treated as equivalent to astrology.

I was also disturbed by the dishonesty of some of the people involved--people like Isaac Asimov. Asimove was writing articles that made a point of using a lower case "g" for the title of the Judaeo-Christian God. This was not considered proper English at the time (it still isn't), but it was something that militant atheists did as a childish way of expressing disapproval of theism--rather like consistently misspelling someone's name to try and get a rise out of them. (Yes, I've heard every possible such abuse of the name "Cramer.") At the same time, Asimov published a book that purported to be a dispassionate and neutral examination of Creationist claims--at least, in the first chapter or so, which is as far as I read before I realized that he wasn't telling his readers his true feelings.

Now, if you want to be a militant atheist who insists on a non-standard use of "god," fine. It's not even petty, it's just silly. But to be writing a book where you claim to be a neutral and dispassionate observer of the evolution vs. Creation argument at the same time? That's dishonest. It reminds me of those Creationists who told courts that their "young Earth" theories were not religiously based--and then sent me a fundraising letter that insisted that their campaign was part of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't have much patience for dishonesty. (And sad to say, there's gobs of it in the academic community, and not all of it by leftists.)

Not surprisingly, I stopped subscribing to The Skeptical Inquirer at about this time.

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