The Washington Times Backs Sternberg. Surprise!
The Washington Times is well known for the rightward bias of its reporting. So it is no surprise that they would give highly sympathetic coverage to Richard Sternberg, the disgraced former editor of The Procedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
As I have previously mentioned (see here and here, Sternberg has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Council alledging religious discrimination by the Smithsonian Institution. Sternberg's supervisor at the Smithsonian has categorically denied the charges. That is all we know for the moment, a fac that hasn't stopped countless right-wing and Christian bloggers from running with the story.
The Times article mentions early on that the Smithsonian denies the charges. But from there it does everything in its power to imply that Sternberg is the aggrieved victim. For example:
Mr. Sternberg said his troubles started after the appearance of the August 2004 issue of the journal, which included a peer-reviewed article by Stephen C. Meyer. The article, titled, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” made the case for a theory known as intelligent design, or ID.
ID contends that the origins of some biological forms are better explained by an unspecified intelligent agent than by natural processes, such as natural selection and genetic mutation, which are hallmarks of Darwinism.
Actually, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that “an unspecified intelligent agent” is superior even to total ignorance as a possible explanation. More to the point however, there are serious questions about how above-board the review process was. The fact that the article was sent to three reviewers (as will be mentioned in a later paragraph from the article) is suspicious in and of itself. It's very unlikely that a small journal like PBSW routinely goes to such lengths. It is almost certainly the case that the three reviewers were chosen specifically for their sympathy to ID and not for their scientific credentials. I suspect that Sternberg sent the paper to so many people just so he could later brag about the extensive peer-review of the paper. The fact is, if he sincerely believed the paper needed serious scrutiny, it becomes hard to understand why he never mentioned its existence to anyone else on the editorial board.
In his report, Mr. Meyer, a fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, argues that ID is a more likely explanation than evolution for the biodiversity in the Cambrian period about 530 million years ago. He points to the “explosion” of phyla, which “suddenly appeared within a narrow 5- to 10-million-year window of geological time” during that period.
“To say that the fauna of the Cambrian period appeared in a geologically sudden manner ... implies the absence of clear transitional intermediate forms connecting Cambrian animals with simpler pre-Cambrian forms,” Mr. Meyer wrote in his defense of ID.
Of course, the specific claims made by Meyer in his article have no relevance to an article about Sternberg's travails. But if the article is going to discuss specific scientific assertions, it really should have quoted someone pointing out that Meyer is simply wrong here. For one thing, there are a respectable number of clear transitional forms linking the Precambrian to the Cambrian. See this essay by geologist Keith Miller for details. Also, there is the fact that the Cambrian explosion spanned a period of at least ten million years. Even by geological standards that's a long time.
The fact is that the Cambrian explosion is only a problem for evolution in the sense that there are many possible explanations for it, but insufficient data for deciding between them. In reality, the Cambrian explosion is just a talking point ID folks can use to sound scientific when addressing lay audiences; audiences that often include sympathetic right-wing journalists.
The report was “peer-reviewed” by three outside scientists, Mr. Sternberg said, “but employees at the Smithsonian, who had a sharply negative reaction to the report, insinuated that editorial malfeasance occurred on my end. I protested vigorously.”
See previous paragraph.
He says he gave up his post as managing editor of Proceedings in September but continued to be harassed by Smithsonian officials. Mr. Sternberg says he was penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, which limited his access to research collections and told him his associateship at the museum would not be renewed because no one could be found to sponsor him for another three-year term.
Note the clear implication that Sternberg resigned his editorship in response to harassment from the Smithsonian. In reality, his term as editor was simply up. We should also remind everyone that Sternberg's supervisor has specifically denied the allegation being made here.
The article prattles on like this for a few more paragraphs. The next time you hear a right-winger blubber about left-wing bias in the media, keep in mind that the article above is their idea of fair and balanced journalism.