Congressional Report Exposes Federal Officials' Contempt for Free Speech of Scientists Skeptical of Darwinian Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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Congressional Report Exposes Federal Officials' Contempt for Free Speech of Scientists Skeptical of Darwinian Evolution

Congress's recent report documenting the harassment of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian reveals a shameful lack of respect for the free speech rights of scientists skeptical of Darwinian evolution on the part of federal officials. It is important to emphasize that pro-Darwin officials at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) tried to punish Dr. Sternberg for his activities outside of the museum.

The Smithsonian conceded that Dr. Sternberg had fulfilled all of his obligations as a Research Associate, and that his editorship of a biology journal that published a pro-ID peer-reviewed article was outside of its authority to supervise. Hence, efforts to punish and harass him for allowing publication of the pro-ID article clearly violated his free speech rights as a citizen. As a tax-funded entity, the Smithsonian has no right to punish its scientists for their speech-related activities outside of the Smithsonian. Yet that is precisely what happened in the case of Dr. Sternberg.

But that's not all. The congressional investigative report also reveals clear evidence that Smithsonian officials have allowed pro-Darwin scientists at the NMNH to impose a virtual blacklist on scientists who express skepticism of Neo-Darwinism, no matter how sterling their credentials or research. According to congressional investigators:

Given the attitudes expressed in these emails, scientists who are known to be skeptical of Darwinian theory, whatever their qualifications or research record, cannot expect to receive equal treatment or consideration by NMNH officials. As a taxpayer-funded institution, such blatant discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals based on their outside activities raises serious free speech and civil rights concerns. Some NMNH officials apparently believe that they have the right to use their official positions to punish scientists who in their outside activities express skepticism toward Darwinian theory. The unwillingness of top Smithsonian officials to take proactive measures to correct this discriminatory environment is shameful. Imagine a parallel situation in which government officials expressed their intent to prohibit the appointment of anyone who is found to have participated (on their own time) in a gay or lesbian group, or in an abortion-rights group. Action to stop such an expression of discriminatory intent would be swift and certain. But in the present case, Smithsonian officials seem indifferent to ensuring that NMNH comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution, Title V civil service law, and the Smithsonian's own antidiscrimination policy.

Everyone concerned about free speech rights of government scientists--even those who oppose intelligent design--should consider whether they really want government officials to have the power to blacklist scientists simply because outside the government they express skepticism toward Neo-Darwinism.

The full section of the congressional report dealing with the violation of Dr. Sternberg's free speech rights is reprinted below:

2. EVIDENCE OF AN INTENT TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST SCIENTISTS BASED ON THEIR OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES REGARDING EVOLUTION

In the emails exchanged during August and September of 2004, NMNH officials revealed their intent to use their government jobs to discriminate against scientists based on their outside activities regarding evolution.

In a series of emails on August 30, Dr. Ferrari and Dr. Sues discussed the Smithsonian's procedures for hiring and firing a Research Associate and how Dr. Sternberg was approved for his RA position. Sues lamented that "The Sternberg situation could not have been prevented by senior management because his CV looks credible and does not reveal his interactions with the creationist movement." Dr. Sues seemed to be suggesting that if Sternberg's supposed interactions with the "creationist movement" were known, he would not have been approved as an RA, and the "situation" would have been prevented.

Dr. Ferrari's comments also suggested a very real bias in the selection process: "I wonder, however, if we might consider a more open process of vetting nominees? For example, while a post doc here Sternberg was listed in an advertisement in the NY Times as a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution who did not believe in evolution. I saw that page and certainly would have spoken up had I known he was a prospective research associate." Ferrari seemed to be suggesting that questioning evolution would disqualify a candidate for a position.

Similarly, in an email on September 9, Dr. Sues blamed the scientist who nominated Sternberg as a Research Associate for not adequately investigating his background. "Sternberg is a well-established figure in anti-evolution circles, and a simple Google search would have exposed these connections." The clear implication was that had a background check been conducted on Sternberg's non-governmental activities, he would have been barred from being a Research Associate.

Given the attitudes expressed in these emails, scientists who are known to be skeptical of Darwinian theory, whatever their qualifications or research record, cannot expect to receive equal treatment or consideration by NMNH officials. As a taxpayer-funded institution, such blatant discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals based on their outside activities raises serious free speech and civil rights concerns. Some NMNH officials apparently believe that they have the right to use their official positions to punish scientists who in their outside activities express skepticism toward Darwinian theory. The unwillingness of top Smithsonian officials to take proactive measures to correct this discriminatory environment is shameful. Imagine a parallel situation in which government officials expressed their intent to prohibit the appointment of anyone who is found to have participated (on their own time) in a gay or lesbian group, or in an abortion-rights group. Action to stop such an expression of discriminatory intent would be swift and certain. But in the present case, Smithsonian officials seem indifferent to ensuring that NMNH comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution, Title V civil service law, and the Smithsonian's own antidiscrimination policy.