January 9, 2005 - January 15, 2005 Archives

To Mr. Cartwright's excellent rebuttal of the DI's spin on the Cobb County case, allow me to add the following:

Seth Cooper has a post up on DI's blog also trying spinning the Cobb County decision. In it he clings to the libel that defenders of evolution are just mindless robots reciting a party line as programmed: "it remains constitutional for students to critically analyze aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theories," he says. Well, that's certainly a relief, eh?

The Discovery Institute has now begun to spin Judge Cooper’s ruling in Selman v Cobb County School District. No word yet from Answers in Genesis. Let’s be clear about the ruling from the outset:

For the above-stated reasons, the Court hereby FINDS and CONCLUDES that the Sticker adopted by the Cobb County Board of Education violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Article I, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia.

Creation Apologists should take note of that final point, lest they attack the ruling as if it were based solely on the federal constitution.

Wnt signaling

The Wnt genes produce signalling proteins that play important roles in early development, regulating cell proliferation, differentiation and migration. It's hugely important, used in everything from early axis specification in the embryo to fine-tuning axon pathfinding in the nervous system. The way they work is that the Wnt proteins are secreted by cells, and they then bind to receptors on other cells (one receptor is named Frizzled, and others are LRP-5 and 6), which then, by a chain of cytoplasmic signalling events, removes β-catenin from a degradation pathway and promotes its import into the nucleus, where it can modify patterns of gene expression. This cascade can also interact with the cytoskeleton and trigger changes in cell migration and cell adhesion. The diagram below illustrates the molecular aspects of its function.

Wnt signaling

This is greatly simplified, of course. There are different pathways and different roles in different cells under different conditions. Mammals have 19 Wnt genes, so far, and as I mentioned above, have diverse functions. The obvious questions are where all this complexity originated, and what role the original Wnt gene played. One way to answer this question is to examine simpler organisms that separated from our messily complicated lineage long, long ago, and by comparison, try to infer what Wnt genes were present in our last common ancestor. Kusserow et al. (2005) have done this in a sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, and got a somewhat surprising answer: our last common ancestor with a diploblast also had an elaborate array of Wnt genes.

Continue reading "A complex regulatory network in a diploblast" (on Pharyngula)

Titan image: Holy moly

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Huygens success = image = drainage pattern = rivers = rain = oceans.

(From CNN.)

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words and a few billion dollars.

Since I need a few more lines to provide space for the image:




Ed Larson online interview

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An interesting interview with Ed Larson at the Washington Post. The Cobb decision, ID and the history of creationism, etc., are discussed.

An example of something that is not well-enough noticed by the media:

Many Christians accept the theory of evolution, seeing it as God’s means of creation. Catholic schools typically teach the theory of evolution in biology classes, as do many other Christian schools. Indeed, many conservative evangelical Christians fully accept theistic evolution. For these people, the important point typically is to distinguish between scientific theories of physical origins and religious concepts of the human and divine soul. The judge in the Cobb County decision assumes this point when he repeatedly identifies those opposed to teaching evolution in public schools as “Christian Fundamentalists and creationists.” Is is a sub-set of all Christians. Indeed, belief or disbelief in the theory of evolution divides the Christian church – which helps to explain why it is such a major issue for some Christians. This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

In what is turning out to be a pretty darn good week for science, the Huygens probe from the Cassini spacecraft has apparently entered the atmosphere of the shrouded moon Titan, the parachutes deployed, and data was successfully transmitted. This blows away all previous surface landings on extraterrestrial bodies and is, well, really cool.

Huygens-Cassini Live Blogging: Titan Touchdown

category - Science Update: 10:25 Cassini is now sending ‘dummy packets’. The signal has been acquired by JPL/ESA. Good news.

Update: 9:35 JPL Mission briefing. “We know all three parachutes did deploy and the heat shield worked. We know it survived for at least half an hour on the surface of Titan.” Note-some of the data intended for and likely received by Cassini “leaked” all the way to earth, in addition to the carrier signal, indicating data was received from onboard instruments. Cassini should turn to earth and start sending at 10:07 EST. 67 minutes later we begin to download Huygens data. It will take some time to compile

Update: 8:30 ESA/ESOC Mission briefing. Huygens is STILL transmitting earth time. Data Stream appears ‘very rich’. Huygens appears to have survived and is still transmitting well beyond impact/touchdown on Titan’s surface. Cassini will listen for Huygens’s signal as long as there is the slightest possibility that it can be detected. Once Huygens’s landing site disappears below the horizon, there’s no more chance of signal, and Huygens’s work is finished. Cassini-Huygens Data stream is scheduled to commence at 10:07 EST but will not be acquired until 11:14 EST earth time

Update: 7:50 Contact at JPL tells me that Earth bound radio observatory believes they also detected ‘solid’ image data from the DISR . This remains unconfirmed officially.

Update: 7:46 Data in stream confirmed. Doppler data from one of the onboard instruments was detected via earth bound observatory being transmitted to cassini. Hod damn I think this may have worked folks.

Update: 7:30 AM EST Mission Briefing From ESA/ESOC in Germany, reporting “We have a signal, so we know Huygens is alive”. “Signal was solid for a long time”. “Signal was solid for two hours!”. Confirmed data transmission from Huygens to Cassini by earth bound radio observatories world wide!! Very encouraging!!!!

BBC: Moon mission ‘probably a success’

Cassini webpage: Radio Astronomers Confirm Huygens Entry in the Atmosphere of Titan

The decision in Selman is pretty straightforward. When deciding whether something violates the Establishment Clause, courts apply the Lemon test, which says that something violates the Establishment Clause if it is (1) not adopted for a secular purpose (2) if its operation inhibits or promotes religion, or (3) if it creates an excessive entanglement of government and religion. More recent cases have combined the second and third parts of this test, but that's still the rough outline.

This just in from CNN

Judge: Evolution stickers must be removed from textbooks

Thursday, January 13, 2005 Posted: 11:42 AM EST (1642 GMT) ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) – A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a school district in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, must remove an evolution disclaimer inside textbooks.

The stickers inside the Cobb County School District’s science books said “Evolution is a theory not a fact.”

The ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said the stickers violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Parents in Cobb County, a politically conservative area northwest of Atlanta, and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

You can get the entire ruling in a 2 mb pdf file here.

Repenomamus giganticus

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I'm sure everyone has already heard about the discovery of a dinosaur-eating mammal from the Cretaceous. Here are some photos of the creature from the announcement in Nature.

I'm also sure that the scientifically-literate readers of the Panda's Thumb and Pharyngula won't be terribly surprised by this—the mammal-like reptiles are older than the dinosaurs, and mammals were contemporaries of the dinosaurs. The surprise is that what was discovered was a bandy-legged brute that was relatively large (about the size of your average dog) and was so danged uppity that it had been eating dinosaurs. That's a bit more temerity than had been expected from our long-lost relatives.

Continue reading "Repenomamus giganticus" (on Pharyngula)

In breaking news from The Christian Post, crack reporters declare:

ACLU Abandons Lawsuit Against Intelligent Design Notice

American Civil Liberties Union abandoned its lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania school district’s decision to notify biology students of theories other than evolution

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005 Posted: 4:32:27PM EST

Just kidding. This report is totally, 100%, clear-as-day false.

But this is a real live news story that just came across Google News. The “reporter” evidently misread this Thomas More Law Center press release, or read only the title (“ACLU Abandons Early Effort To Stop School District From Making Students Aware of Controversy Surrounding Evolution”). They appear to have mistakenly concluded that the ACLU et al. had given up, and then constructed an entire news story around this assumption.

It’s actually a quite extraordinary bit of self-delusion, especially considering the last sentence in the TMLC press release (“The ACLU lawsuit will continue with a trial expected in early summer.”). I think it highlights the fact that propaganda can have two messages: the official message, with technically accurate (well, sometimes) text, and the emotional message for the public, which is the message that the innocent reader gets. Put a snappy title on a press release, exude confidence, and declare victory, and, don’t you know it, people conclude that you’ve won!

ID-Day delayed

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The ID lesson in Dover was originally scheduled to occur tomorrow, on Thursday. It now appears that it won’t occur until next Monday or Tuesday. So we are still at ID-Day minus 5.

York Daily Record story: Dover to discuss “design” next week

Special section at the YDR: Dover Biology

York Dispatch: Dover delays biology class statement

The letters on the York Dispatch webpage are a bit harder to find, but there have been some excellent ones:

See also the many previous posts on Dover on The Panda’s Thumb.

The Tangled Bank

We skip one edition, and all the science contributions pile up—this week's Tangled Bank #19 is huge. Work is going to come to a standstill all across the country as everyone stops for a few hours to read about science…but we will be a better nation for it.

We're going to be sure not to miss any dates from now on, so do check our Tangled Bank schedule and honor roll, and submit a link to the next edition for the 26th of January, or volunteer to be a host!

Nick mentioned this in a couple of comments, but I think it needs a post of its own.

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover Area School District’s new “intelligent design” policy, responded to an open letter from biology and philosophy professors at the University of Pennsylvania. I don’t think I’m the only one who finds it amusing that a lawyer thinks that he can correct Ivy League biologists about biology and science. Thompson begins,

Thompson Wrote:

If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist. It is clear that you do not have the slightest idea of the actual Dover school policy that you so vehemently condemn, and so let me educate you.

Wow, looks like the Dover Area School District sure picked a winner to represent them. There are numerous problems with Thompson’s accusations, as I will demonstrate below.

Feddie from Southern Appeal sent me a link to NRO for a post by John Derbyshire weighing in against ID, much to my surprise. Derbyshire writes:

(1) If scientist X passes a remark about the universe sure being a mysterious place, he has not thereby placed himself in the ID camp. ID is a specific set of arguments about specific scientific topics. Of those arguments I have seen, none struck me as very convincing.

(2) None of the ID people I have encountered (in person or books) is an open-minded inquirer trying to uncover facts about the world. Every one I know of is a Christian looking to justify his faith. This naturally inclines me to think that they are grinding axes, not conducting dispassionate science. This is, in my opinion, not only a path to bad science, but also a path to bad theology.

Evolution of Hormone Signaling

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Last week, I received some delusional e-mail from Phil Skell, who claims that modern biology has no use for evolutionary theory.

This will raise hysterical screeches from its true-believers. But, instead they should take a deep breath and tell us how the theory is relevant to the modern biology. For examples let them tell the relevance of the theory to learning…the discovery and function of hormones…[long list of scientific disciplines truncated]

Dr Skell is a sad case. He apparently repeats his mantra that biology has no need of evolution everywhere he goes, and has never bothered to actually crack a biology journal open to see if biologists actually do use the theory. In my reply to him, I did briefly list how evolution is used in every single one of his numerous examples, but today I'm going to focus on just the one I quoted above: hormones.

Now I'm not an endocrinologist, and I don't usually read much in the hormone literature, so it was just chance that I stumbled across a review article on this very topic in BioEssays. My point is that you don't have to be an expert in the discipline to find evidence that Skell is completely wrong; all it takes is a casual perusal of the general scientific literature and a prepared mind (alas, I fear that creationists don't do the first and lack the second. One of the reasons I am concerned about science education in grade schools is that one of the aims of the creationist movement is to make sure our kids lack prepared minds, too.)

The review paper by Heyland et al. (2004a) is well worth looking up. It has a long introduction that covers several important themes in modern evo-devo, that I'll just summarize briefly here.

Continue reading "Evolution of Hormone Signaling" (on Pharyngula)

EvolutionBlog Returns

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Just wanted to let everyone know that my recent travels have now concluded, and the new semester has begun. Consequently, regular blogging will now resume. Generally I post new material Sunday-Thursday, usually in the evenings.

A few days a number of us here at the Panda’s Thumb, as well as some other “defenders of evolution” around the country, received an email from someone named Jonathan Sampson. Sampson’s email said he was interested in seeing examples of concrete evidence that would possibly falsify evolution (and by this he meant common descent).

Now I know that a common creationist argument is that evolution is unfalsifiable - that the theory is so flexible that it can accommodate any evidence. Often I do not respond to such unsolicited emails, but I did this time both because it was addressed to me at my Panda’s Thumb email address (and we are a a forum for defending evolution and reporting on anti-evolution news) and because I had just had my conversation about common descent with Jerry Agar. (See my previous post on this encounter here)

As this discussion progressed we found out that Mr. Sampson is the webmaster for and radio co-host with Kent Hovind (Dr. Dino), and that he was collecting responses with the idea of writing an article. After some discussion, Mr. Sampson and I agreed that we were not granting permission to each other to posts each other emails.

Here’s a report on how my exchange with Mr. Sampson went.

The New Monkey Trial

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Today’s Salon.com has a good cover story by Michelle Goldberg focusing primarily on the Dover controversy, but also commenting on the general upsurge of neo-creationism around the country these days. Our own Nick Matzke gets quoted a few times: The New Monkey Trial. (If you’re not a member, you can watch a short ad to see the article for free.)

Salon is a left-leaning rag, so the article focuses a lot on the political aspect of the “controversy”, particularly the machinations of the Religious Right and their self-declared mandate. For a different political angle, see Origin of the Specious, an older article from Reason, which is one of my all-time favorites. It looks at anti-evolution as an ideological imperative for Neoconservative movement. Short answer: Neoconservatives aren’t religious, but think it’s important that everyone is. After reading these articles, try not to drive or operate heavy machinery.

The Constitutionality of Teaching ID

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Matt Brauer, a founding contributor to Panda’s Thumb, has been noticeably absent lately. Courtesy of Ed Brayton we now know why. With Constitutional scholar Stephen Gey and philosopher/historian of science Barbara Forrest (of Creationism’s Trojan Horse fame), he has been working on a massive analysis of the constitutionality of teaching ID in public schools, Is it Science Yet?: Intelligent Design Creationism and the Constitution. Be warned! It’s a 195-page document. I won’t reproduce the Abstract here: the link above is to it and the working paper itself is available for download at that link.

New paradigm needed: More intelligent ‘intelligent design’

Richard D. Colling is chairman of the biology department at Olivet Nazarene University and author of “Random Designer – Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator. His e-mail address is Richard Colling

Dr Colling points out how the debate about evolution and religious faith has been fueled by unsupportable statements by both atheists and creationists.

Fueled by bold, but unsupportable atheistic pronouncements from a few scientists that science and evolution render God superfluous, and reinforced by a continuous barrage of heated anti-evolution rhetoric flowing from scientifically naive creationist voices over many years, this idea of mutual exclusivity has seemingly become entrenched as the prevailing premise in contemporary American culture.

This has caused a tension which is now spreading into issues of public policy and education.

In an earlier essay, I described Antony Flew’s apparent conversion from atheism to deism and took Professor Flew to task for accepting the arguments of the pseudoscientist Gerald Schroeder. I wished “that Professor Flew had read Mr. Schroeder’s work more carefully or had consulted critical references to Mr. Schroeder’s work before pronouncing Mr. Schroeder kosher.”

According to Richard Carrier (2005), who has become sort of an unofficial mouthpiece for Professor Flew, Professor Flew now admits that he has been “mistaught” by Mr. Schroeder and also, astonishingly, blames Richard Dawkins for his own misunderstanding of abiogenesis, or the development of life from nonliving matter.

Mr. Carrier adds further that Professor Flew appears to remain a deist but calls his new belief a “very modest defection from [his] previous unbelief.”


Carrier, Richard, 2005, “Antony Flew Considers God - Sort of,” The Secular Web, http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=369…. Scroll down to “Update (January 2005).”

Young, Matt, 2004, “Antony Flew’s Conversion to Deism,” Panda’s Thumb, http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000687.html….

The Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank has been on a brief hiatus over Christmas, but it's coming back this Wednesday. That means, of course, that you've had a whole month to build up all kinds of spiffy stuff on science, and are anxious to share it with the world. So send a link to your science writing to me, or to host@tangledbank.net. The next edition will be online this January 12 at Science and Politics.

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