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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expelled exposed

There's a great site now on-line if you want to go and get the real story behind Expelled, the creationist propaganda movie starring Ben Stein. Get there by clicking on the link I've just given.

The Expelled Exposed site debunks the (so-called) science of Intelligent Design ("ID") and the clumsy attempt that Expelled makes to smear evolutionary theory by linking it to Nazism. There is also detail on what really happened to the supposedly "expelled" proponents of ID featured in the film. Congratulations to the National Center for Science Education in the US for putting this site together.

This page from the site, on the Richard Sternberg debacle, is typical of the careful examination of Expelled's claims. Sternberg claims to have been "terrorised" after he published a pro-ID paper in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, of which he was the honorary editor. This journal is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where Sternberg has an honorary research position (his actual paid employment was, and is, with the National Institutes of Health).

The record shows that the paper concerned was never subjected to a proper refereeing process, but was published on the sole decision of the editor (most unusual, and arguably improper, practice for a refereed journal, particularly in the sciences). Sternberg published it in 2004, after he had already resigned from editorship of the journal months before and was serving out his notice. The article has subsequently been criticised as poorly written and sub-standard, and was withdrawn by the journal. Sternberg himself has been criticised for publishing it (and handling its publication in, to say the very least, a non-standard way).

However, no aspect of his terms and conditions of employment with his actual employer (once again, the National Institutes of Health) was ever affected. Nor has he lost his honorary position at the Smithsonian, which was renewed in 2006, although it seems that he hasn't actually shown up there for years.

More details are on the Expelled Exposed site.

The Sternberg case is a good example of the tactics used by the ID movement. Here we see an ID proponent with a small measure of authority as a journal editor. He acts in a non-standard, suspicious, and arguably improper, way to get a paper published by an ally - doubtless well aware that the paper would not get through peer review by independent scientists. When his actions are criticised, he attempts to beat up the situation into one where he is supposedly being persecuted or "expelled".

So much for personal integrity and intellectual honesty. Sternberg has not been expelled from the academy, but maybe he should have been.

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