Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom (from yesterday's All Things Considered on NPR)
Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health, is puzzled to find himself in the middle of a broader clash between religion and science -- in popular culture, academia and politics.
Sternberg was the editor of an obscure scientific journal loosely affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, where he is also a research associate. Last year, he published in the journal a peer-reviewed article by Stephen Meyer, a proponent of intelligent design, an idea which Sternberg himself believes is fatally flawed.
"Why publish it?" Sternberg says. "Because evolutionary biologists are thinking about this. So I thought that by putting this on the table, there could be some reasoned discourse. That's what I thought, and I was dead wrong."
At first he heard rumblings of discontent but thought it would blow over. Sternberg says his colleagues and supervisors at the Smithsonian were furious. He says -- and an independent report backs him up -- that colleagues accused him of fraud, saying they did not believe the Meyer article was really peer reviewed. It was.
Oh dear. Get a feeling scientists are behaving a bit like .... um .... religious people? You know, all dogmatic and narrow and the like? Heaven forbid.
Last week there was a talk on Intelligent Design, Evolution and Catholicism in the parish, by an evolutionary biologist (and, also, a practicing Catholic). One of the things he mentioned was that he's noticed that there is an increasingly vocal and quite vituperative section of the scientific community, especially the evolutionary biology community, that is just hostile to any religious viewpoint (and certainly quite surprised, and maybe even perturbed, by the existence of an evolutionary biologist who is a believer). As a believer and a scientist, he faces that a lot. He said (I'm paraphrasing. I didn't take notes) that while earlier, his colleagues may have believed all of this (about religion), it wasn't broadcast. That has changed. He's not sure why.
I wonder. I wonder if the scientific community (populated largely by cultural liberals, one could safely assume) feels that its intellectual freedom is under attack by an administration that is perceived to be influenced way too much by the "Christian right" and one that is, as a result, anti-science. The ID court battles don't help, I'm sure. When attacked, all human groups tend to get defensive. Of course, this is about politics and culture, and not science, per se.