US editor ignites evolution row at Smithsonian

At the heart of the storm is Richard Sternberg, picked by the Smithsonian to edit one of its scientific journals, the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Normally, the journal arouses little non-specialist interest. But Dr Sternberg stepped straight into a controversy gripping America by publishing an article supporting the theory of intelligent design, the idea that an outside agent - God - must have at least lent a hand in creating our universe.

He has reignited a row that began when President Bush managed to appall the US scientific community during a meeting with reporters in Texas. Asked whether the notion of intelligent design should be taught in American schools alongside the theory of evolution he answered that, yes, it should. The appearance of the article, by an outside contributor named Stephen Meyer last August, has triggered an academic and political food-fight of astonishing proportions. Mr Sternberg's colleagues believe that the publication of the piece has all but brought a secular scientific institution into disrepute. "We do stand by evolution; we are a scientific organisation," said Linda St Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, which runs 16 of America's most important museums.

But a federal body, run by a hand-picked appointee of President Bush, has now accused the Smithsonian of waging a vindictive smear campaign against one of their own peers.

The allegation has been made by the Office of Special Counsel set up precisely to investigate cases of federal government employees who feel they have been unfairly treated or dismissed.

Most of the smears against Dr Sternberg, 42, came in the form of a flurry of e-mails. Some alleged that he was a closet priest or that he was an agent for radical conservative groups that peddle intelligent design or even creationism, which accepts almost literally the explanations in the Book of Genesis and views fossils not as scientific evidence but the residue from Noah's Flood.

"They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper-cell operative for the creationists," Mr Sternberg told The Washington Post newspaper. "I was basically run out of there."

The Office of Special Counsel agrees. In a new but still unpublished report, the office said that "retaliation came in many forms ... misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian Institution and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false".

James McVay, the principal lawyer and Bush appointee involved in studying the Sternberg case, stated in a letter to Dr Sternberg: "The rumour mill became so infected one of your colleagues had to circulate [your résumé] simply to dispel the rumour that you were not a scientist."

Mr McVay does not have the power to punish the Smithsonian. But he can try to embarrass it and some people believe he may have some political motivation in doing so.

Darwinism may be the basis of understanding for our existence in most of the developed world, but America still argues about it. In fact the debate seems only to get more and more passionate.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 45 per cent of Americans subscribe to the Book of Genesis theory of our origins. Only about one-third are ready to accept the evolutionary propositions of Darwin. Among the e-mails Mr Sternberg received after publishing the Meyer article was this one from an anonymous Smithsonian scientist: "We are evolutionary biologists and I am sorry to see us made into the laughing stock of the world, even if this kind of rubbish sells well in backwoods USA."

Dr Sternberg meanwhile insists that he himself is agnostic about intelligent design but defends his decision to publish the article that discussed it.

"I am not convinced by intelligent design but they have brought a lot of difficult questions to the fore," he said. "Science moves forward only on controversy."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little