The evolution wars enter
the "No Spin Zone"
Posted September 9, 2005
FOX News host Bill O'Reilly, who boasts that his show is a "No Spin Zone," had Rick Sternberg on
as a guest last night. Sternberg, you will recall, is the disgraced former editor of the Proceedings of the
Biological Society of Washington.
Disgraced because he abused his position as editor to circumvent the
journal's normal procedures to publish a very bad ID paper, by the Discovery
Institute's Stephen Meyer.
We consider the transcript in full:
BILL O'REILLY: In the "'Factor'
follow-up" segment tonight. As you may know, there's a bitter debate over
whether public schools should be allowed to teach students an alternative to
Darwin's theory of evolution, a concept called Intelligent Design.
That concept puts forth that a
higher power oversaw the evolutionary process. And that's why man will never
completely understand it.
One year ago, the editor of a
scientific journal called Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington
ran an article by Dr. Stephen Meyer of Cambridge University in England that
stated intelligent design should be taken seriously as a theory. Well, since
that time, Dr. Richard Sternberg's life has been hell. He joins us now from
Well, I just want to tell everybody
that, you know, the federal government investigated your situation and found
that you had been harassed because you allowed this article to be printed. I
want to know what happened to you? What form did the Harris men take?
Note: That's exactly how things
appear in the posted transcript, but I'm sure "Harris men" is supposed to be
rather impressed by Cambridge University.
Later he said:
O'REILLY: But the bottom line is they wanted to ruin
you for simply running an article by a scholar. I mean, Cambridge University is
one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
In light of this, someone ought to
point out that Stephen Meyer is not "of Cambridge University." He holds a PhD in the history and
philosophy of science from Cambridge, but his current academic affiliation is
with the evangelical Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is also the director of the Discovery Institute's Center
for Science and Culture.
That's a big
difference, wouldn't you say? Not
quite so prestigious after all.
But if O'Reilly were to pay attention to so simple a fact he would not
be able to bloviate with quite as much enthusiasm.
cannot afford to mention that the peer-review process used to support the
publication of the Meyer paper was almost certainly corrupt.
And the real story
of what "the federal government" (in this case the highly politicized Office of
Special Counsel) found is substantially different from what O'Reilly
describes. Commenting at the
Panda's Thumb blog, Nick Matzke provided a good summary of some of the odd
points in the OSC finding:
In essence, the OSC opinion,
authored by Bush appointee James McVey, seems designed to give the religious
right another talking point about how any criticism of ID or the ID movement’s
actions amounts to religious discrimination by the evil secular scientific
establishment, even though ID is allegedly science, not religion. Somehow, it
manages to do this (1) while telling Sternberg that OSC doesn't have jurisdiction,
(2) without any contrasting opinion from the accused parties, and (3) without
documenting any actual injury to Sternberg, who still has his unpaid research
position, an office, keys, and access to the collections. The opinion is
therefore a pretty strange document to read.
Let's return to the
transcript. So what form did the
RICHARD STEINBERG, FEDERAL
SCIENTIST AND EDITOR: Well, it took a number of forms, Bill. First of all,
immediately after the article was published, there was a very tepid reaction
with a museum.
However, a number of outside groups
and individuals began writing e- mails, letters of protests, phoning the
museum, phoning my employer, demanding my ouster for this. Apparently, there
was an unstated rule that you do not accept a manuscript for per review that
counters Darwinism, or seriously counters Darwinism.
And furthermore, I was a
gatekeeper. I allowed the paper to be peer reviewed and furthermore, I
committed the terribly sin of allowing it to be published.
And so the retaliation that
followed took the form of the spreading of misinformation, such that, you know,
my degrees were in religion and philosophy, not in science, that there was
actually no per review, that I had accepted money under the table. That I...
Apparently what happened is that
many people, angered by Sternberg's obvious abuse of power, contacted the
Smithsonian to protest. That's not
harassment. In response to this we
are expected to believe that the Smithsonian engaged in a systematic campaign
of misinformation concerning points that are easily checked. That's ridiculous
on its face.
No doubt what we
are really talking about here are a handful of e-mails from his colleagues
wondering how such an intellectually corrupt gentleman ever managed to emerge
as the editor of their journal.
O'Reilly then summed it up for us:
O'REILLY: So they came after you
viciously. And I know how that is; they do that to me every day. But who is
STERNBERG: Well, it was...
O'REILLY: Go ahead.
STERNBERG: It was a concerted -- it
was -- the retaliation occurred in concert. It was between the officials of the
Smithsonian Institution, curators, various administrators and the National
Center for Science and Education, based in Oakland, California.
They -- they orchestrated, for
example, at least the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) orchestrated
a repudiation of the article, actually helped the repudiation to be drafted.
That is a statement of retraction. And then turned around and cited it on their
web site as evidence, not so much evidence, but allowed them to strongly
insinuate editorial malfeasance on my part.
They aided in drafting, for
example, a statement by the council that oversees publication of the journal to
suggest that somehow I had broken the rules.
O'REILLY: But the bottom line is
they wanted to ruin you for simply running an article by a scholar. I mean,
Cambridge University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Sternberg surely knows that Meyer
is not affiliated with Cambridge University, but he happily ignores that fact
Meanwhile, we now
have the NCSE implicated in the conspiracy. Their crime?
They helped the editorial board draft the statement condemning the
publication of the article. When
the editorial board subsequently adopted a modified version of the statement,
it was apparently unscrupulous in some way for the NCSE to make note of the
fact. The horror of it all!
Of course, the
only really important issue here is whether Sternberg did indeed violate the
procedures of the journal, and whether the article he published was any
good. He did, and it wasn't. Everything else is just politics and
PR. O'Reilly's suggestion that
Sternberg's critics came after him just for publishing a paper by a scholar is
a bit rich coming from someone who boasts of running a no-spin zone.
O'REILLY: They said look, you ought
-- you ought to take a look at this intelligent design and not just throw it out
in the garbage.
O'REILLY: So they tried to ruin you
for doing that. And I'm not -- I'm not quite understanding, is this an
anti-religion movement? I mean, what are they afraid of here? What's the bottom
line on it?
STERNBERG: Well, it was -- it's an
attempt, I think, to suppress scientific dissent.
O'REILLY: Why, though? Why? Why?
What is it in for these people who would be to brutal toward anyone who might
want to just take a look at intelligent design?
O'Reilly's working real hard here,
but, doggone it, he just can't figure out why the thinking world was so upset
by the publication of Meyer's paper.
What could it be? What
possible reason could they have for being angered by the publication of a paper
whose arguments are complete worthless garbage? Better get Woodward and Bernstein on this one.
And we may as well
state for the record that no one objects to anyone looking at anything. The issue is having the basic
scientific competence to know a bad argument when you see one; a skill Meyer
and Steinberg apparently lack.
things up by explaining the real reason people got so angry with Sternberg:
STERNBERG: There -- there is a -- I
think it's religiously and politically motivated. It's a form of projection.
You have groups like the NCSE and others who argue that the intelligent design
advocates, the creationists, etc., are trying to suppress information, trying
to hinder science. And -- and ironically, quite the opposite appears to have
occurred in this situation.
They felt that, you know, if, for example, the pros
and the cons of the issue are placed on the scientific table, then essentially
the whole edifice is going to unravel, and that simply cannot be allowed.
O'REILLY: Well, I think it's more
than that. I think this is a concerted effort in a fascist way to punish anyone
who might want to inject the higher power into any scientific discussion.
I mean, this is a real -- let's get
religion out of it completely and never deal with that aspect of it again.
Doctor, thanks so much. We're sorry
you had to go through what you went through.
his program that night with his usual "Talking Points Memo." For those who don't watch the show,
this is where O'Reilly lays down the law, talks straight talk, explains what all
right-thinking Americans should believe, cuts through all the bull, and tells
it like it is. The title of the
memo last night was: "Are You an Extremist?" Here's part of what he said:
But I think we can safely establish
some rules for the road here. An extremist is someone who rejects facts and
holds on to opinions no matter what.
In my opinion, extremists have a neurosis. They
really don't want to hear anything other than the conclusion they've arrived
at, no matter what the evidence suggests.
That's how he started the
show. About a half hour later he
does a segment with Mr. Sternberg in which he omits every relevant fact that
runs counter to his preferred narrative.
It is almost a sure thing that he understands none of the scientific
issues involved in the evolution/ID dust-up, but he is quite sure that
scientific opposition to ID stems from religious bigotry and fascistic
tendencies. The irony of his memo
giving an almost perfect description of the ID folks is apparently lost him.
By his own
definition, O'Reilly is an extremist.
Even worse, he is a dishonest charlatan more interested in promoting his
blinkered view of things than in getting at the truth. Worse still, millions of people not
only watch him every night, but take him seriously as well.