Pelecanus erythrorhynchos – American white pelican, Walden Ponds, Boulder, Colorado, July 16, 2016. Mea culpa: The birds were just beyond the limit of my equipment, but this was the first time I recall seeing pelicans so late in the season and certainly the first time I have seen a juvenile. It may be sampling error – I do not visit Walden Ponds every week – but I wonder whether they are changing their migration patterns as the climate warms.
Jason Rosenhouse is calling it a day. His EvolutionBlog is ceasing publication. Jason is one of the veterans in the evolution/creationism wars, dating back to his postdoc at Kansas State around 14 years ago, when he got involved with the Kansas Board of Education’s efforts to pollute the teaching of biology with creationism.
While Jason blogged on other topics–chess, religion, math–for our purposes here let it be remarked that Jason is one of the most knowledgeable and (occasionally) acerbic reviewers of creationist/ID claims. For a recent example see this review of Douglas Axe’s recent ID-pushing book. Jason’s review opens with:
Do you remember those commercials, from a few years back, for Excedrin headache medicine? There was a whole series of them. In each, some very normal-looking and totally relatable person would talk straight to the camera, explaining that he or she suffered from terrible headaches and had tried every other remedy. The climax of each commercial was when the person said something like, “How do I know Excedrin works? Well, they have their “scientific research” to prove it. But you know what? I did my own kind of research. I tried it.” I use the scare quotes to indicate their tone of bemused contempt.
That’s basically what Douglas Axe’s new book is like.
I remember fondly a field trip to Ken Ham’s creationist museum shortly after it opened. Along with Wesley Elsberry, Tara Smith, Art Hunt, Lauri Lebo, Professor Steve Steve, and others, Jason was a delight to watch as we perused the displays.
I’ll miss EvolutionBlog and Jason’s acute commentary, but I understand his fading desire to blog. And as he notes in his farewell, maybe he’ll be back!
Dan Phelps, who visited the Ark Park on opening day, has published a longer account, Kentucky Gets an Ark-Shaped Second Creation “Museum” on the website of the National Center for Science Education. The article has lots of detail and many more interesting pictures than we ran on PT.
One section that especially amused me was the Ark Park’s attack on what you might call cutesy children’s books that tell the Noah story – which Mr. Phelps headlines, “FAIRYTALE ARKS: THE HORROR!” Mr. Phelps is a geologist, and he has a long section on “flood geology.” But the biggest mystery of all: I am still trying to parse “Christ the Door Theater.”
Joel Velasco of Texas Tech University will debate Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute on the topic, “Is Darwin’s theory flourishing or floundering?” according to an article by Victoria Cavazos in Hilltop Views, the student newspaper of St. Edward’s University of Austin, Texas.
We will not discuss whether it is floundering or foundering; it is doing neither, and 11 science faculty expressed their opposition to the debate, which they called a “debate.” The signatories to the letter, which include a dean and an associate dean, 2 department chairs, and a handful of other professors, state that they “do not recognize any legitimate scientific issues up for debate with respect to evolutionary theory” and go on to say,
We write to state clearly that the theory of evolution has undergone significant review in the scientific literature and remains the best, most coherent explanation of the observed development of life on Earth. While specific mechanisms within evolutionary theory remain the subject of modern research, we reiterate that subject of evolution itself is not up for debate in the scientific community.
They go on to note that many scientific societies “have issued statements on the subject of evolution and intelligent design, confirming the demonstrated success of the former and rejecting the scientific viability of latter. The undersigned faculty in the School of Natural Sciences at St. Edward’s University fully embrace this point of view.”
Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute is probably well known to most readers of this blog. Joel Velasco is an assistant professor of philosophy at Texas Tech University and has an impressive resume. He has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, where his thesis advisor was Elliott Sober, and he specializes in philosophy of biology. I am sure that Professor Velasco has his reasons for agreeing to the debate, but I am frankly disappointed in him, because I would no more debate Paul Nelson than Deborah Lipstadt* (see here and here) would debate a Holocaust denier.
The “debate” will take place at 7:00 p.m., October 21, on the campus of St. Edward’s University. If anyone can attend and wants to report on it, please do so in the Comments section.
Thanks to Glenn Branch of NCSE for the link.
Interesting and important program, Science in the crosshairs, on Science Friday today. Host Ira Flatow interviewed Michael Mann of hockey-stick fame, virologist Carolyn Coyne, Lauren Kurtz of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, and surgery resident Eugene Gu, who is also the founder of a startup called Ganogen.
The impetus for the program, or at least one of the impetuses, was a blizzard of subpoenas issued by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and directed to more than 80 individuals and institutions studying climate science or fetal-tissue research. The chair of the committee is Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Rep. Blackburn was invited to participate in the discussion, but her office evidently declined. Dr. Gu, incidentally, is a resident at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of Rep. Blackburn’s constituents; while he was not prohibited from taking part in the program, if I understood him correctly, he was not allowed to use the studio at Vanderbilt and had to find another studio elsewhere.
Most strikingly, Dr. Gu described an encounter with armed marshals serving him with a subpoena, and commented that his career will probably be damaged by having been the victim of that subpoena. His research at Vanderbilt has been set back by a year. Other guests compared these subpoenas to a witchhunt.
Michael Mann discussed death threats that he had received, and he and Ms. Kurtz instructed first-time victims of a subpoena on how to deal with one. They stressed that you need representation: your institution’s interests may well not be the same as your interests. Dr. Gu noted that he cannot afford legal representation on a resident’s salary but managed to find a lawyer to work with him pro bono.
There are not (yet?) a lot of comments on the Science Friday web page, but the fraction that come from deniers such as anti-vaxxers and global-warming deniers was disappointing. One or two set up a false dichotomy: if you have the scientists on the air, why do you not present the opposing view? Because the science is sound and the opposing view is not tenable, and we should not give deniers a platform. (Never mind that they invited Representative Blackburn to join the discussion.)
Bottom line: this stuff is worse than creationism by far, but those of us interested in creationism will see a similarity to anti-vaxxism and global-warming denial, in that creationists, anti-vaxxers, and global-warming deniers completely disregard or deny hard evidence and place a treasured belief ahead of actual fact (my words, not Ira Flatow’s; he is too polite).
I just received an e-mail (along with half a million of my best friends) from Shawn Otto, the founder of sciencedebate.org, touting his recent article, “A plan to defend against the war on science,” in Scientific American. I thought it was a good article, but a plan it is not; the “plan” shows up in the second-last paragraph and says only,
There are solutions, however. Sciencedebates.org [sic] is certainly a start. Evidence shows the public is hungry for such discussion of science-driven issues–which affect voters at least as much as the economics, foreign policy, and faith and values issues candidates traditionally discuss–that afford an opportunity to hold candidates to account on the evidence. Individuals can join and support organizations like ScienceDebate.org or the Union of Concerned Scientists that fight for scientific integrity. Pastors and preachers can certainly do more by staying informed of cutting-edge science and helping their parishioners parse the complex moral and ethical implications of new knowledge instead of rehashing old political divides. Educators can develop model curricula and provide training for science-civics classes at the secondary and postsecondary level so that nonscience students develop an understanding of how science works in public policy as well as how it relates to their daily lives. There are dozens of others. I discuss many of these solutions in my new book, The War on Science.
I would like to have seen all that fleshed out at the beginning, not the end, of the article. And I keep asking myself, yes, they can, but will they? Still, I thought it was a good article, a good primer on science denial for political reasons from both the left and the right, and even a bit of a primer on postmodernism.
So read the article and support sciencedebate.org.
Dan Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, invites us to watch a YouTube presentation of a paper he and his colleagues, Kent Ratajeski and Joel Duff, presented at the recent national meeting of the Geographical Society of America. Watch it and, as Professor Ratajeski says, you can save the $40 admission fee, plus the $10 parking fee. And you will also find certain creationist myths debunked by these scientists, two of whom, Professors Ratajeski and Duff, are themselves evangelical Christians and can talk to creationists on their own terms. Here is what we received from Mr. Phelps:
Since I am a long-time critic of creationism and the Ark here in Kentucky and had visited the park on opening day, I was invited to give a talk on the Ark Park at a special session at the Geological Society of America national meeting in Denver late last month. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the meeting because I had used a number of vacation days on my recent trip to Svalbard, Norway. Therefore, I teamed up with Dr. Kent Ratajeski, a geologist and (evangelical Christian) from the University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He presented the Ark talk at GSA and put together on the attached YouTube video after he returned from the meeting. Although I am not religious, it was great to work with Drs. Ratajeski and [Joel] Duff on alerting the geological community about the remarkable non-science and anti-science being promoted with the aid of tax incentives here in Kentucky. It is very important to work with members of the religious community that are aghast at what Ken Ham and his fellow young earth creationists do to misrepresent not only science, but also religion. The attached YouTube video is Dr. Ratajeski reading his talk and showing the PowerPoint slides. This isn’t him at the meeting itself, since rules prohibit GSA talks from being recorded at meetings.
Photograph by Barbara Gilman.
Notophthalmus viridescens – red eft, Monroe, New York. The red eft is a juvenile stage of the eastern newt. We used to see many of them in that area, but now they have become uncommon.
While we are on the subject of evolution, eft and newt, the words, share a common ancestor. The middle English word for newt was ewte, depending whose spelling you like, and I assume the double-u was pronounced like a vee or an eff in modern English. The final e was dropped, and the word became eft. Someone evidently misheard “an ewte” or “an ewt” and interpreted it as “a newt.” Possibly as a result of the spelling (you will have to ask an expert), pronunciation shifted, and what was originally pronounced “nevt” or maybe “neft” became “noot.” So the words speciated, and eft referred to the juvenile stage, and newt to the adult stage.
Of course, it never really disappeared, as Michael Zimmerman notes in an article in the Huffington Post this past week.
I will not go into detail, but according to Professor Zimmerman, a committee of the Texas State Board of Education had voted 6-2 to remove four standards that had been added in 2009, more or less at the last minute. Suffice it to say that the standards had been supported by Don McLeroy when he was chairman of the SBOE, and the two dissenting votes were by the creationists who, Professor Zimmerman says, were “added” to the current committee.
Now, things get nasty. The committee is not scheduled to present its recommendations to the full Board until November. Nevertheless, Ray Bohlin, one of the two dissenting committee members and vice-president of something known as Probe Ministries, attacked the committee’s recommendation at a recent Board meeting. No one else from the committee had attended the Board meeting, so the Board received an unscheduled and “one-sided perspective on the four anti-science, politically driven standards.”
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, wrote to the SBOE (as quoted by Professor Zimmerman), complaining that “a number of state board members seemed willing to call into question [the committee’s] objectivity and professionalism based on hearsay from one individual.… Some board members even suggested that the panelists somehow want to prevent students from asking questions.”
It is distressing, then, that Mr. Bohlin in effect went over the head of the committee and directly to the board, and, perhaps more importantly, that some of the Board were sympathetic to his position. Though Don McLeroy lost his position as chairman of the SBOE, I am afraid Texas and we are by no means done with creationist attacks on the schools.
NCSE informs us that Cope vs. Kansas State Board of Education, which we reported on here and here, has been appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals had upheld the District Court’s earlier dismissal of the case, largely on the basis of standing. Here, with permission, is NCSE’s report on the appeal:
COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al., the creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview,” is now under appeal to the Supreme Court.
As NCSE previously reported, in December 2014 a district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims; in April 2016 the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal. In May 2016, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked the appeals court to review the case en banc.
Subsequently, in August 2016, COPE asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision and to address the question “Do theistic parents and children have standing to complain if the goal of the state is to cause their children to embrace a ‘nontheistic religious worldview that is materialistic/atheistic’?”
The lead plaintiff, COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education, is a relatively new creationist organization, founded in 2012, but its leaders and attorneys include people familiar from previous attacks on evolution education across the country, such as John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.
The Next Generation Science Standards have so far been adopted in eighteen states and the District of Columbia, with similar standards adopted in a number of further states. The treatment of evolution and climate science in these standards occasionally provokes controversy, but COPE v. Kansas is the only lawsuit to have resulted.
You may find COPE’s petition to the Supreme Court (PDF) here, courtesy of NCSE.
And you may find NCSE’s collection of documents from COPE v. Kansas here
By Gaythia Weis.
An uproar fanned by the right-wing media has left a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor and two instructors with quite a tightrope walk. The uproar involves an online humanities and environmental health class at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, entitled “Medical Humanities in the Digital Age.” The three faculty members (and others) may have to walk softly when teaching courses that may be a subject of public controversy. In my opinion, statements calling for “balance” (below) by a UC Board of Regents member and UC President Bruce Benson have potentially negative ramifications for academic freedom and the teaching of politically controversial material in a science-appropriate manner.
The controversy here originated with an e-mail sent by the professors indicating that the course would be based on science and would not be a forum for discussing other ideas, as reported by a Colorado Springs TV station:
The point of departure for this course is based on the scientific premise that human-induced climate change is valid and occurring. We will not, at any time, debate the science of climate change, nor will the “other side” of the climate change debate be taught or discussed in this course. This includes discussion among students in the discussion forums. Opening up a debate that 98 percent of climate scientists unequivocally agree to be a non-debate would detract from the central concerns of environment and health addressed in this course. [Excerpt from email.]
It seems from this link that the professors’ response was a specific response to students worried about their grades in the class. (Note that the College Fix advertises itself as offering “right-minded news and commentary from across the nation.”)
This source is not one I’d usually quote, but it does indicate the involvement of one of the conservative UC Board of Regents members in the controversy:
John Carson, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, said he plans to make inquires Thursday about an email from three University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professors who advised students to drop the class if they dispute climate change.
“I have a lot of questions after reading this reported email sent to students,” Mr. Carson told The Washington Times. “We should be encouraging debate and dialogue at the university, not discouraging or forbidding it. Students deserve more respect than this. They come to the university to be educated, not indoctrinated.”
After Googling the professors involved, I see that they are now apparently under attack:
Thus, I offer you their emails along with a request that you politely send them links to information disputing the obvious hoax of man-made climate change:
Then again, you’re probably just pissing into the wind, as these three professors have already declared themselves to be cognitive idiots who are incapable of neuroplasticity (i.e.[,] learning anything new or expanding their knowledge in any way whatsoever). One of them also has a PhD! (I didn’t realize they were handing out PhDs for f–ktardery studies… hmmm…)
Moving forward in time, here is an article dated 9/8 that gives some data on an e-mail apparently sent by UC President Bruce Benson to UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. It would be interesting to read the entirety of this e-mail to see more about the context of “a little more balance”:
University of Colorado President Bruce Benson also wanted more “balance” from the professors. In an email The Colorado Independent obtained last week, Benson wrote to the regents about the email controversy. “I talked with Pam [Shockley-Zalabak, Chancellor of UCCS] about a variety of issues on her campus, including the faculty syllabus that has caused a stir recently,” he said. “I am not happy about it[,] and I shared that with Pam. While the issue falls squarely in the realm of academic freedom, it also seems that a little more balance would have helped.”
The Chancellor’s apology seems to me to have been carefully phrased and limited:
I am issuing an apology for the public concern that this has generated.
I can understand why Benson’s apparent e-mail to the Chancellor may have led her to feel the need to apologize. And, moving down the chain of command, she has now apparently told the professors teaching the course that their e-mail was “ill advised.” I frankly do not agree that it was ill advised. Progress in science education coursework cannot be made if time must be continually taken out to rehash basic underlying principles at the instigation of active denialists. Thus, it also seems to me that future directions have at least the potential to stray from remaining “squarely in the realm of academic freedom” and wandering off into denialism and politics. The Chancellor should have stood up for her faculty.
Science Debate questions and answers here. I have not read the responses yet.
From a press release we received this morning from Science Debate:
U.S. Presidential Candidates Answer ScienceDebate 2016 Questions
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 13, 2016 –Three of the four major candidates for United States president have responded to America’s Top 20 Presidential Science, Engineering, Technology, Health and Environmental Questions. The nonprofit advocacy group ScienceDebate.org has posted their responses online at http://sciencedebate.org/20answers. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jill Stein had all responded as of press time [6:30 a.m., EDT], and the group was awaiting responses from Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. (Individual answers can be jumped to by appending “#1” through “#20” to the link.)
On August 10, a blue-ribbon coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers, called on U.S. Presidential candidates to address the questions, and encouraged journalists and voters to press the candidates on them during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season.
“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort and author of The War on Science. A 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America revealed that a large majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.
“Science is central to policies that protect public health, safety and the environment, from climate change to diet related diseases,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a consortium member. “Reporters as well as voters should use these statements on science to push the candidates for more details on how they intend on addressing these many societal challenges.”
The consortium crowd-sourced and refined hundreds of suggestions, then submitted “the 20 most important, most immediate questions” to the Presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, “along with an invitation to the candidates to answer them in writing and to discuss them on television,” said Otto. The questions and answers will be widely distributed to the science community, journalists, and the general public to help voters make well-informed decisions at the ballot box this November.
In both 2008 and 2012, Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney participated. This is important, says Otto, because “science is accelerating, and we are searching for a more robust way of incorporating it into our policy dialogue.”
“Ideally, the people seeking to govern a first-world country would have a basic understanding of everything from sustainable energy to environmental threats to evidence-based medicine,” observed the Des Moines Register in a recent editorial. “They would talk about these things… Imagine if the public – and debate moderators – pressured presidential candidates to talk about the country’s electrical grid or emerging disease threats instead of abortion and transgender bathrooms. Political discourse would be smarter. And the individuals who seek the highest office in the land might learn a few things, too.”
Advocates for canonizing Marguerite d’Youville hired a hematologist to decide why a woman had recovered from incurable leukemia after praying to the aforementioned d’Youville. The hematologist, Jacalyn Duffin, warned the investigators that she was an atheist. The investigators reasoned that if an atheist could not figure out why the woman had recovered, then obviously the recovery must have been a miracle.
The hematologist went further and investigated hundreds of “miracles” in the archives of the Vatican. She concluded, to put it bluntly, that those things that she could not explain must have been “miracles” (she did not, incidentally, admit to supernaturalism, so her definition of “miracle” seems a little fuzzy at best).
This is the kind of logic, according to Tom Gjelten of NPR, that will lead to the lightning-fast canonization of Agnes Bojaxhiu, commonly known as Mother Teresa. Pope Francis will canonize Bojaxhiu on the basis of two “miracles,” that is, two unexplained cures that, in true post hoc fashion, followed someone’s praying to Bojaxhiu.
By this logic – if something cannot be explained by science, then it is a miracle – lightning must have been a miracle from the beginning of time until we could actually explain it.
For a more jaundiced view of Bojaxhiu, who as far as I know never founded a single hospital, you might want to have a look at Mommie Dearest, which Gjelten cites, and Pope John Paul II Beatifies Mother Teresa. The first was written by the late Christopher Hitchens; the second, by Richard Kreitner, harks back to a 1997 article by Hitchens.
Photograph by Richard Meiss.
Photography contest, finalist.
Scudderia sp. – Scudder’s bush katydid nymph, bedded down for the night in the flower of a lily (Lilium maculatum [?]). Not shown in this view are the several species of ants that have also found this refuge to be congenial. For (temporarily) flightless insects, such cover must have some survival value.
Photograph by Dan Moore.
Photography contest, finalist.
Macaca fuscata – snow monkey, or Japanese macaque, mountains of Nagano, Japan, due west of Tokyo, March, 2016. These monkeys have adapted to the cold more than any other subspecies, and they have adapted to almost totally ignoring humans (which is good for photography).
I just saw my colleague Paul Strode, with whom I wrote a book a few years ago. Knowing my interest in pseudoscience, Mr. Dr. Science Teacher (the name of his blog) directed me to his article Acupuncture Study as a Cure for Pseudoscientific Thinking.
The article is, I think, really two articles. The first describes an experiment that his students perform, but he sets it up so that they generally overlook one important variable. The outcome of the experiment is therefore not necessarily useful. The second article, which relies to some extent on the first, is largely about acupuncture, and that seems to me to be where he gets down to brass tacks.
I will only summarize here. Mr. Dr. Strode concludes that acupuncture is better than no treatment but that it is not better than a placebo. He cites a number of studies showing that sham acupuncture, including poking with a toothpick, works as well as “real” acupuncture. He observes that acupuncture can sometimes have deleterious side effects (nocebo effect) and cites a reference to the effect that there have been five confirmed cases of death resulting from acupuncture treatment.
Finally, and perhaps this is really a third article, Dr. Strode describes perusing the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; he is impressed primarily by “how tentative each headline is.” Then he singles out one article, not about acupuncture but rather about how “Meditation or Exercise May Help Acute Respiratory Infections, Study Finds.” May help. May help.
I did not read the original article, but Dr. Strode helpfully provides a P-value of 0.054, and an effect size of 0.043. The P-value means that there is only about a 1 in 20 chance that the claimed effect is real the result (or a more extreme result) could have happened by chance. Statisticians often define a study to be statistically significant when the P-value is less than 0.05, so this study is marginal at best.
Effect size is, in the simplest case, the ratio of the difference between the two means and the sample standard deviation. For example, if the mean of the test group and the mean of the control group differ by one standard deviation, then the effect size equals 1. The means in this study differ by 0.043 standard deviation; in other words the two means are virtually the same.
The headline says that meditation or exercise may help acute respiratory infections. Indeed they may. This study has not ruled out the proposition, but to my mind neither has it provided one whit of evidence in its favor.
Dr. Strode claims that meditation is useful anyway, and it differs from acupuncture by being free. He concludes,
In summary, we may be able to cure our students (our future voters) of pseudoscience and pseudoscientific thinking by exposing them to the claims of practices like acupuncture that masquerade as medical science and by helping them identify and unpack the pseudoscientific assertions of these practices and understand why the claims are indeed pseudoscientific.
To which I have nothing more to add.
Photograph by Neil Taylor.
Photography contest, finalist.
A group of (shortly to be long distance running*) Homo sapiens enjoying the sunset at Chapman’s Peak, Capetown. Chapman’s Peak is an offshoot to Table Mountain and hence has the same geology. There is a famous and very beautiful road between Noordhoek and Hout Bay which has been cut right into the vertical cliff which makes up the southern side of the peak. The photo is at one point on the route where they’ve had to blast a cutting into the cliff to get the road through. We are standing on one side of the cutting with the shadow cast on the cliff on the other side of the road. Table Mountain is about 10 km to the North. [*Mr. Taylor explains that the 56 km Two Oceans Ultra Marathon was run the next day, and he and all the shadows ran it.]