Reed A. Cartwright posted Entry 777 on February 2, 2005 07:11 PM.
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Some of you may be wondering why none of us Thumbites have commented on David Klinghoffer’s op-ed about Richard Sternberg filing a complaint with U.S. Office of Special Counsel claiming discrimination at the Smithsonian.  We have discussed it at length, but there is too little information to form an opinion about the complaint.

Is it possible that the Smithsonian over reacted to Sternberg’s abuse of his editorial power at PBSW?  Sure.  It is also possible that they didn’t.  Although, Klinghoffer makes clear his opinion, he has failed to provide enough information in his op-ed to objectively determine and judge what has happened.

Because of the way the law typically works, it will probably be impossible to get the Smithsonian’s side of the story.  Sternberg and his supporters can say virtually whatever they want to the media, and Smithsonian will have little ability to set the record straight.  (The Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division will be of little help.)

However, it is interesting to note that Sternberg is a staff scientist for NCBI/NIH and is not employed by the Smithsonian.  He is a research associate, which is an unpaid, “formal scholarly affiliation” with the Smithsonian.  Since he is not an employee, he might not even be protected by the OSC.

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Comment #14837

Posted by Great White Wonder on February 2, 2005 7:18 PM (e)

From the Discovery Institute’s viewpoint, the lawsuit might be a good PR cover for Sternberg’s pseudoscientific butt until the case goes away.

Comment #14838

Posted by PvM on February 2, 2005 7:40 PM (e)

Cases of alleged discrimination do well amongst the faithful who are convinced that materialism is the next evil and confuse science with materialism.
If only the ID movement could spend a fraction of its efforts on doing actual science and present a scientific hypothesis….
That would be the obvious thing to get ID accepted as a science. But also the least likely one :-)

ID is making a lot of claims and the failure to back them up or the failure to base them on solid science eventually will backfire. The problem is that in the mean time, many people will be given the fallacious impression that ID is a solid or even viable scientific theory. Nothing father from the truth. ID as it stands so far is a vacuous concept which at closer look is nothing more than the classical God of the Gaps argument with a foundation in elimination.
As Morris so correctly argued, ID is nothing new. YECers were making the same arguments and although Dembski believes that he has somehow ‘formalized’ these concepts, the Explanator Filter is a flawed concept since it allows for false positives and is according to Dembski’s own statement ‘useless’. If the flawed arguments by Wells against the peppered moth are any indication, it may take a few decades before ID admits its follies.

In the mean time, all we can do is wait and see how these cases develop as more information becomes public. I have already seen ID proponents making claims that are not supported by the data such as that Sternberg was employed by the Smithsonian or that Sternberg’s views are neutral with respect to Intelligent Design.

See Denyse O’Leary’s weblog for a ‘good’ example.

I asked Denyse the following questions

Denyse, as a journalist/reporter/science writer have you checked your ‘facts’?

1. Is Sternberg an employee of the Smithsonian? You write “Smithsonian persecutes one of their own”. As far as I can tell Sternberg is employed by the NIH and the research associate position is not one of employment w/ the Smithsonian.

2. Is Sternberg neutral on the concept of intelligent design? You write “The amazing part is that the man is not even a supporter of intelligent design”.

But Sternberg is a fellow of ISCID ( and he spoke at a “conference titled “Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Future of Biology” at the Palmenia Centre for Continuing Education of University of Helsinki, where they will explain why a “growing number [sic] of scientists challenge the evolutionary view and claim that biology is better understood as a product of intelligent design.”” (see

The website announced

Helsinki University of Technology
Main building, Mellin-auditorium, Otaniemi
22.10. 14:15-19:15

Nothing in modern scientific discussion raises controversy and emotions like the question of design in biology. This is understandable since the ruling paradigm of natural history is Darwinian evolution: random genetic changes guided by natural selection have created all the biological complexity. A small but growing number of scientists challenge the neo-Darwinian view (doc) and claim that biology is better understood as a product of intelligent design. Evolutionary biologist Dr Richard Sternberg and philosopher of science Dr Paul Nelson explain the reasons in this lecture series.

Read Denyse’s response and my followup

Comment #14840

Posted by Jon Fleming on February 2, 2005 8:51 PM (e)

Read Denyse’s response and my followup

Members of that paticular Yahoo! group only.

Comment #14841

Posted by Mike Walker on February 2, 2005 8:56 PM (e)

Nice try Pim, (had to sign up for the Yahoo Group to read the dialog) but it’s obvious from Ms. O’Leary’s slipshod answers that she has no interest in the truth of the matter:

>> Finally you are reporting an allegation by Sternberg as if it were the
>> truth. All we have is Sternberg’s version as filed with the OSC. We so
>> far know only one side of the story… Are you sure that you are not
>> jumping to conclusions here before we know all the details?
> No, but it is a pretty good bet.

Is that woman really a journalist? Maybe she works for Fox News.

Comment #14843

Posted by wolfwalker on February 2, 2005 8:57 PM (e)

If that chap has it right, well… I’d say Sternberg hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

Comment #14847

Posted by PvM on February 2, 2005 10:55 PM (e)

Sakarlab also reports about the OSC lithmus test

“For what it’s worth, I think that Sternberg’s complaint filed with the U. S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) will be pursued very aggressively – much to the glee of ID proponents. The current head of the OSC is a zealous religious conservative whose tenure at OSC has been largely driven by ideology. Most notably, he has purged many of the office’s career lawyers … and he’s refilling the ranks of career attorneys with litmus-tested candidates (his favorite “feeder” school is Ave Maria Law School, a non-ABA-accredited conservative Catholic law school).”

The Washington Post reports

Six House Democrats yesterday asked the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, to investigate a reorganization at the Office of Special Counsel, headed by Scott J. Bloch.

The House members, in a letter to GAO, said they wanted “to learn more about the rationale” for actions taken by Bloch, including his order requiring 12 District-based employees to accept reassignment to field offices or face dismissal.

Three watchdog groups had complained that Bloch’s reorganization was an attempt to purge career employees and replace them with political allies. The complaint was made by Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project.

Queer day reports

January 28, 2005
Gays among those being purged by OSC Bloch head
bloch Scott J. Bloch (shown), the controversial head the U.S. government office charged with protecting federal employees from discrimination, has threatened to fire 12 high-level employees — two of whom are gay — unless they agree to be reassigned to positions in other cities. Three government watchdog groups called Bloch’s action another in a series of moves aimed at packing the Office of Special Counsel with religious, right wing cronies and threatening its longstanding mission of protecting federal employees from harassment or intimidation for exposing corruption or incompetence.

NY Blade reports

Bloch removed all references to sexual orientation discrimination from the OSC Web site and from OSC complaint forms shortly after becoming OSC head in January 2003. Bloch said he took that action because he did not believe federal law protected gay federal employees from job discrimination, an assertion disputed by experts on U.S. civil service statutes and regulations.

OSC Flip Flops - Gays Again Protected

Head of Worker Protection Office Is Accused of Retaliatory Transfers

“The way that the ‘reorganization’ is being implemented leads to the inescapable conclusion that existing career staff are being purged…. Virtually all of the employees affected are individuals who either work under [Bloch], or have themselves dared to engage in even mild private discussions with Mr. Bloch of the advisability of management and policy decisions he has made over the last twelve months,” the groups’ letter said.

The groups say Bloch has hired many new employees non-competitively. “Not a single one of Mr. Bloch’s personal picks, so selected, is being forced to move,” the letter said.

Comment #14848

Posted by PvM on February 2, 2005 10:58 PM (e)

Insiders believe one possible reason for opening the Detroit office, said Bruch, is that it is close to the Ann Arbor, Mich., based Ave Maria Law School, a conservative Catholic institution with ties to Bloch. A number of OSC attorneys hired by Bloch are recent Ave Maria graduates, Bruch said.

Washington Blade

According to the three watchdog groups’ letter to Collins and Lieberman, Bloch “has broken with past OSC practice” by hiring all of his new high-level officials, including the Ave Maria graduates, through a non-competitive process that circumvents the traditional civil service hiring process.

Comment #14859

Posted by Glenn Branch on February 3, 2005 1:11 AM (e)

Reed Cartwright wrote:


Ouch. Thumbians? Thumboids? Thumbsters? Pollexians? Pollicians? Dactylamegatrons?

Comment #14864

Posted by Mikko Hyvärinen on February 3, 2005 3:01 AM (e)

PvM, this is just a nitpick, but the University of Helsinki cancelled the Palmenia conference so Sternberg did not speak there.

Instead, professor Matti Leisola, the head of the laboratory of Bioprocess Engineering the Helsinki University of Technology, a different university, organised a lecture series called “Biology - Tackling Ultimate Complexity” where the Sternberg had two lectures and Paul Nelson two.

Comment #14871

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM (e)

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

Comment #14879

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on February 3, 2005 11:03 AM (e)

Thank you, JAC, for giving us another view of the events cited by Klinghoffer.

Comment #14884

Posted by Great White Wonder on February 3, 2005 11:39 AM (e)

Mr. Coddington

Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying.

It seems even more likely now that Meyer or someone at the DI put him up to it.

Comment #14893

Posted by Shirley Knott on February 3, 2005 1:26 PM (e)

I would think Thumbers would be more appropriate.
Thumbing our noses at scientific illiteracy while grasping for an ever increasing understanding of the world.

Shirley Knott

Comment #14895

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on February 3, 2005 1:33 PM (e)

News made on the PT blog once again. Thanks to Jonathan Coddington for giving the other side of the story. Funny that the Wall Street Journal didn’t think to do this.

Comment #14897

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on February 3, 2005 1:55 PM (e)

To be fair, Nick, Klinghoffer said he tried to get the Smithsonian’s side of the story, but they refused to comment. On the other hand, knowing of Klinghoffer’s previous work, I would have guessed he’d likely be hostile and would have refused to talk to him too.

Comment #14938

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on February 4, 2005 12:47 AM (e)

Good point. There are a number of imaginable situations. Here are the bits where Klinghoffer says that he called the museum. My notes interspersed:

A museum spokesman confirms that the OSC is investigating.

Fair enough.

The supervisor (who did not return my phone messages) recounted the conversation to Mr. Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: “There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down.”

According to Coddington, Coddington is the “sponsor” and Sternberg has no supervisor, so it’s not clear who the female “supervisor” being referred by Klinghoffer is. If Klinghoffer called her under this misunderstanding, she might have concluded Klinghoffer was a crank.

One curator, who generally confirmed the conversation when I spoke to him,

This could well mean “the curator agreed that people had criticized Sternberg, but disagreed with everything else I said.”

Neither Mr. Coddington nor Mr. Sues returned repeated phone messages asking for their version of events.

Fair enough, although see the above confusion about the “supervisor.”

Comment #14945

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant on February 4, 2005 9:32 AM (e)

What’s this about religion and politics? I thought it was supposed to be about science. Sternberg used is position as a journal editor to circumvent the usual safeguards and usher a paper into his journal that had lots of really really really bad science. If anything hurts his desired career in science, that will be it.

He shouldn’t be too concerned, I’m sure he has a fine career in baraminology ahead of him.

Comment #15100

Posted by Pauli Ojala on February 7, 2005 3:49 AM (e)

Dear concerned,

Just to let you know that the panel discussion and lecture serries under the Palmenia & Helsinki University was cancelled - because of the hunt for the Red von Sternberger in the US.

Couldn’t you do any better in the States in defending the freedom of inquiry, please? After all, you are powerful in the courts when it comes to patenting teleonomical entities in molecular biology. (Piling up the genomes just a few years or months prior to the public endeavours and selling the data to drug companies. Science did no good job in publishing Celera reports in the era of William Clinton’s administration. I think never had Science published an article without an access to the data.)

You should appreciate your responsibility in your leading, if not aggressive, position. You hang up the dissidents articulating their arguments in a fair scientific manner-and we will hang up our own fellows, too.

Paul Nelson and Richard von Sternberg lectured, after all, in Helsinki University of Technology. The lecture slides were kept online for a month or so.

pro scientia, pro hominem,

Comment #17291

Posted by Pauli Ojala on February 21, 2005 2:23 PM (e)

“If Microsoft, one of these days, invents something that does not
suck… It most probably will be a Microsoft vacuum cleaner.”
-Linus Torvalds, the Finnish father of the shareware Linux operation system–

So wellcome to the Jamaica and have a nice day,
Another paulus

Comment #17332

Posted by Dmitri Novikov on February 21, 2005 5:11 PM (e)

Re: Comment #14838

“If only the ID movement could spend a fraction of its efforts on doing actual science…”

If only you do simple statistics, you will realize that the “scientifically” backed random mutations do not stand a chance to work, therefore, whatever ID in this respect is, neo-Darwinism IS anti-scientific. Why do not you forget about science when you say that 2 plus 2 may well be not 4, but a billion, and white should be called black since you look at it from another perspective (in the dark, e.g.). Do you care what is true and what is not or you just stick to your habits?

Comment #21693

Posted by dmitri on March 23, 2005 11:12 PM (e)

We sure have to question everything, as questioning is in our nature, partly because we know little and what we know is incorrect, to some or other extent. Look at physicists: there are theories of multiple universes, time loops, wormholes, time traveling, and multiple worlds. Are physicists more stupid than us biologists, maybe because they can calculate? BTW, I do not approve of any texts that leave no room for doubt; this is why I keep a distance from religions. It is not just out of over excessive scrutiny that most of all I hate Darwinism. It has also been proven wrong by quite a few big scientists, - mathematicians, statisticians, biophysicists, biologists – e.g., F. Hoyle, W. Dembski, L. Spetner, M. Behe, F. Crick, and others, whom Darwin would not have thought of rivaling in either their knowledge or reasoning capacity (or in not marrying one’s own sister for that matter, since one was supposed to know better as an evolutionist back then). Not to mention that Darwin simply did not have descent biological knowledge to base a theory on, say something even close to knowledge of a college kid now, besides Darwinism itself, of course. Should we follow disregarding what biologically new we see now? So far Darwinism persist, persists and persists. I think we need to stop it as best as we can, without giving way to religious fundamentalists though. It is anti-scientific. It hampers our economy, particularly drug discovery big business and so our health, especially health of cancer patients; it waists hundreds of millions of our dollars annually on disoriented research; it discredits science, it distracts minds of a lot of people, it gives a false perception that we know who we are. Think it over. This is serious.