March 27, 2005 - April 2, 2005 Archives

I blogged some time ago about the proposed amendment to NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act. This is a federal law that requires archaeologists to turn over human skeletons found on federal land if the skeleton to American Indian tribes, if the skeleton is that of a member of that tribe. The tribes then destroy the skeletons, so that they cannot be researched. Unfortunately, the law was a little bit vague, so there was a long court battle over Kennewick Man—a 10,000 year old skeleton that was not reasonably related to any present-day tribe, but which American Indian creationists nevertheless wanted to seize and destroy. That case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in the scientists' favor some time ago. The court said that the law only applies if the skeleton is related to a current-day American Indian tribe.

In response, some Senators, including Ben Campbell of Colorado and John McCain of Arizona are trying to amend NAGPRA to ensure that any skeleton, no matter how old, must be handed over to whatever tribe claims it. The Bill, S536, includes a section (section 108) which will amend the current law so that it defines Native American Indian as

of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is or was indigenous to any geographic area that is now located within the boundaries of the United States.

What this means is that any skeleton found anywhere on Federal land, even if it is hundreds of thousands of years old and in no way related to an American Indian tribe, must be given to a tribe that claims it, rather than to scientists for research, and destroyed rather than studied—all to appease Native American creationists. This is an extremely serious threat to archaeology and anthropology in the United States.

This bill could go before the Senate for a vote this coming week. It is important to contact your Senator to urge them to delete section 108 from this bill. Otherwise religious extremists will be given a veto power over the scientific study of ancient skeletons. More information at the Friends of America's Past.

I was on Tom Conroy’s radio show ‘Conroy’s Public House’ last Wednesday (KLWN, 1320 AM in Lawrence, Kansas), along with lawyer John Calvert of the Intelligent Design network. (I will report more on this as time allows.)

A listener sent this email to Tom with some questions for me, and Tom asked me to reply. These are good questions which contain a number of important misconceptions about science, Here are some brief responses.

The questions

A question of the man defending naturalism (Jack Krebbs) [actually Krebs]. He said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism? What scientific evidence can he present that demonstrates that something must be scientific in order to be true? What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?

Flood the Bank!

The Tangled Bank

Orac is busy and is having blogger problems, and we're about to make it worse for him: he's hosting the Tangled Bank this weekend. Pile on. Send him links to your science stories at <orac_usa AT hotmail DOT com> or to or to me. Please include the words "TANGLED BANK" in the subject line to make life a little easier for him, but otherwise, make him even busier…and then look for the next edition to appear on Wednesday at Respectful Insolence.

April Fools?… or not?

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I’ve decided that this April 1 Dembski post on the new DI/ID/ARN/ISCID superblog (“ The Truth about How I Got into ID”), and this April 1 op-ed by David Berlinski in the Daily Californian (“Academic Extinction,” hat-tip to Talk.Origins), must be April Fools jokes.

But it’s so hard to tell with these guys. Give your opinions in this thread.

The April 1997 issue of Discover magazine had a pretty good April Fool's joke about a number of Neandertal musical instruments that had supposedly been discovered in Germany. It was an unlikely collection, featuring bagpipes, a tuba, a triangle and a 'xylobone', along with a cave painting of marching musicians. In September 2000 the Institute for Creation Research fell for it and featured this evidence in one of their radio programs. I pointed that out on the Fossil Hominids website about a month later, and the ICR quickly apologized and retracted the claim. However, no erroneous argument ever completely disappears from creationist literature. I've recently noticed the April Fool article cited again in an article by Brad Harrub on the Answers in Genesis website (update: the citation has now been removed). Harrub also thinks that the Java Man skullcap belongs to a gibbon - even though AIG has admitted that this is a discredited argument that creationists shouldn't use any longer. Harrub's article was also published in AIG's 'peer-reviewed scientific journal', the Technical Journal. What is AIG's peer-review process like, if clangers like these can get through it?

Not satisfied with having just the Media Complaints Division, the Discovery Institute has created a new blog, humbly entitled Intelligent Design the Future. Contributors to the blog include C®SC fellows like Dembski, Wells, and Behe. The purpose of the blog is to explore “issues central to the case for intelligent design, from the Big Bang to the bacterial flagellum and beyond.” I guess we’re supposed to get some insight into the “evidence” for intelligent design from this new blog. Not surprisingly, they don’t allow comments.

It pains me to say this, and I have to do it on my own blog as the ranters on Panda’s Thumb will delete my entry forever, but I am announcing my conversion to intelligent design, and all that implies…

See more on my [url =…]Evolving Thoughts[/url] blog entry.

A “Robust” Theory? April Fool!

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I sure wish these IDists would get their act together. In a posting on the Center (for the Renewal of) Science and Culture Media Complaints Division PR man Rob Crowther whines that a recent story in the Seattle Times disses Intelligent Design “theory” by saying

… an opportunity for the Discovery Institute to promote its notion of intelligent design, the controversial idea that parts of life are so complex, they must have been designed by some intelligent agent.

The Media Complaints Division objects

Never mind the demeaning way she describes it as a “notion” – this definition is just flat out inaccurate. Her description –one commonly used by the ACLU and other such Darwinian groups– treats the theory of intelligent design as if it were an argument from ignorance. Things are so complex, they must have been designed, or so they posit. In actuality, it is a positive and robust scientific theory based on what we do know, that examines the natural world for empirical evidence of design.

A “robust” theory? Not a bad PR phrase. But then on the other hand we have C®SC Fellow Paul Nelson, who says

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design. (In Touchstone Magazine, July/August 2004, quoted here)

Lemme understand this. Nelson refers to “notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’, there’s “no general theory of biological design”, and “Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus.” What does ID philosopher and C®SC Fellow Nelson know that DI PR flack Crowther doesn’t? Is Crowther’s complaint the DI’s version of an April Fool’s joke?


A new article in Nature announces, “Apollo bacteria spur lunar erosion.” Yes, that’s right, the bacteria left behind from the Apollo moon landings are slowly eating into the moon and breaking it up.

Pictures captured by an orbiting spacecraft have revealed that the Moon is being heavily eroded. Images of the lunar surface reveal deep cracks and holes that are slowly but surely releasing gas and dust into space.

“This is serious,” says Brad Kawalkowizc, an astrogeologist from the Sprodj Atomic Research Centre in Belgium, who has analysed the pictures. “There really is less Moon up there than there used to be.” If the process continues, he adds, the Moon could eventually crumble away to nothing.Michael Hopkin & Mark Peplow, Apollo bacteria spur lunar erosion.” Nature, Published online: 1 April 2005

It looks like a disaster is in the works. How did scientists discover this?!

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I’d like to point you to a new website,!:

Welcome to! is a site geared toward sharing new and interesting research in Evolutionary Biology with other researchers and with anyone interested. Face it, you’re a busy researcher- and you probably find all fields of Evolutionary Biology interesting, but you barely have time to keep current with the research in your own sub-discipline. Well, this web site is designed to give a brief summary of the latest breaking news in evolutionary research that occurs in peer-reviewed journals, and provide you with handy-dandy links to the articles. There is also the ability to start discussions by posting replies to the articles, but that is for the readership to decide. We are always open to suggestions to improve the website, including adding new topic areas and features, as it’s all fairly uncomplicated with the wonderful software PHP-Nuke. What this site will not support is teologlogical debates, creationism/evolution debates, etc.- although they can be presented as articles and comments if published elsewhere.

I daresay that it is a good thing that they avoid “teologlogical debates,” given the mess they made of the word “teleological”. Never fear, that is what Panda’s Thumb is for!

I am excited to be posting my adventures to the Panda’s Thumb. I would like to thank Reed for introducing me. Last week I got to visit him at the Wyatt W. Anderson Lab at the University of Georgia.

Why sex?

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Continuing my springtime frolicsome mood, a paper in this week's Nature shows that sex is good for us. Well, not necessarily us as individuals, but as a population. This has actually been a longstanding argument in evolutionary biology—sex is risky, it's hard work, and it is prone to failure. Why not just have women reproduce asexually, and bloom into pregnancy automatically as soon as they hit puberty? That would be much more efficient. Sex also has the problem of breaking up good gene combinations; as you may or may not know, my wife is perfect, but in order to reproduce, she has to water down her flawless genes by combining them with those of a lesser member of the species, me. And then of course, there's the problem of us males. We could instantly double the reproductive capacity of our population if all males were equipped with uteruses and could also bear children. It's a weird, weird system.

So why do we bother with sex? Why aren't we being displaced right now by more fecund asexual populations?

Continue reading "Why sex?" (on Pharyngula)

Tomorrow’s issue of Nature carries a story entitled “Biologists snub ‘kangaroo court’ for Darwin.” Apparently, the [url=]Intelligent Design Network[/url] and their friends running the Kansas State Board of Education have had absolutely no luck recruiting real scientists to participate in the Antievolution show-trial they have planned for May. Major kudos to Kansas Citizens for Science, their efforts are now getting noticed internationally as well as nationally.

I have written a more thorough summary of recent events in this NCSE update. You can freely subscribe (with bloglines or something similar) to a news feed for NCSE updates; a weekly email update is also available.

The blogs Thoughts from Kansas and Red State Rabble, Les Lane’s website, and the Kansas Citizens for Science website and discussion forums are the places to go to get the latest on Kansas.

Scopes II and Scopes I

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Today an interesting editorial was published: Michelle M. Simmons, “Why opposing evolution resonates with some,” The Patriot-News, March 30, 2005. It is not the full history of antievolution – Herbert Spencer, the Seventh Day Adventists, and World War I are also important – but worth reading if you haven’t thought about the history before (see Ronald Numbers, The Creationists, for much more).

It must be Spring…

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…because articles about wild sex are popping up all over the place. Carl Zimmer gets into the act with the story of love darts, a snail's way of tweaking its mate's endocrine system and doing a little kinky body piercing while they're at it. And if you're more interested in how arachnids do it with palpal specializations than molluscan harpoons, I've got an article on how spiders mate. I guess this is the time of year when an evolutionist's fancy turns to thoughts of exotic courtship rituals.

Zimmer also comments on that parental duty of telling one's children about the Facts of Life…it's hard to judge whether biologists are at an advantage or are handicapped in that regard. I have no problem telling my kids how sex works, but I fear I might sound more like a chapter from Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation than your usual American chordate.

In a column discussing the flap over antievolution resistance to reality-based IMAX documentaries, Roger Ebert puts in a plug for the TalkOrigins Archive.

An industry has grown up around the “science” supporting the “argument for intelligent design.” It refuses the possibility that evolution itself is the most elegant and plausible argument for those who wish to believe in intelligent design. If you are interested, you might want to go to, where the errors of creationist science are patiently explained. And you might want to ask at your local IMAX theater why they allow a few of their customers to make decisions for all of the rest.

Film about volcanoes falls victim to creationists

I am here to introduce to you a new contributor to the Panda’s Thumb.

Prof. Steve Steve holds the B. Amboo Chair in Creatoinformatics at the University of Ediacara. He has been nominated five times (only twice by himself) for the Nobel Prize and has received six Barnes and Noble gift certificates. He is an J.D.-M.D.-quintuple Ph.D. (biology, chemistry, literature, mathematics, and philosophy). He has been called the Izaak Walton of information theory and the Ulysses S. Grant of drinking contests. His dissertation on the mating habits of the rufous-throated creationists of northern Alabama has been called “revolutionary,” “a tour de force,” and “nonstop, bodice-ripping action from the first page to the second page.”

At this time of year, Prof. Steve Steve is normally teaching ten classes, writing twenty papers, and directing Noh theatre; however, he recently received the Walker Prize for Walkabouts and has taken a sabbatical to travel the world exploring nature, academia, and the quality of beer in faraway places. He intends to send letters of his journey back to the Panda’s Thumb keeping us informed of his adventure.

The York Daily Record had an article on Sunday on the possible expert witnesses in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District case.

Experts for the plaintiffs:

  • Brian Alters
  • Barbara Forrest
  • Ken Miller
  • Rob Pennock

Experts for the defendents:

  • Michael Behe
  • John A. Campbell
  • William Dembski
  • Scott Minnich
  • Warren Nord

I think that the court could make money selling tickets for the trial. They should rent an auditorium and get in touch with Ticketmaster…


I get email. Today, I got a piece of email that I’ve been waiting on over a year. I received a debate challenge from Karl Priest. My reply has been sitting in my files since last April.

Anyone familiar with evolutionary biology will probably have heard of Robert Trivers, the brilliant scientist who made major contributions to evolutionary theory back in the 70s. Unbeknownst to me, he had been on hiatus for a good while. Now it appears he’s back. The Boston Globe has an article about Trivers, his work, his eccentric life, and his impending return to the spotlight:

The evolutionary revolutionary.

It’s a good read.

As previously mentioned on PT, the editors of Scientific American, the august popular science magazine that is over 100 years old, recently caved to creationist/IDist arguments. The editors report in next month’s issue: “Okay, We Give Up.” They are opening their pages to creationism/intelligent design and numerous other attempts to substitute wishful thinking for scientific facts.

The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, apparently not wanting to allow Commentary to have all the fun, has waded into the anti-evolution biz by publishing this miserable article by Paul McHugh. It is the usual melange of literary arrogance coupled with scientific ignorance. It does, however, provide a useful opportunity to review the various litmus tests you can apply to distinguish between serious commentators on the one hand, and dishonest hacks on the other.

If the author of the article you are reading uses any of the following devices in making his case:

  1. Make a reference to thought control.
  2. Bring up Inherit the Wind.
  3. Imply that evolution is about ideology and not science.
  4. Pretend that evolution has made no progress since Darwin.
  5. Use quotations from scientists misleadingly and without indicating their source.
  6. Bring up Piltdown Man.
  7. Use the term “Darwinian fundamentalist.”
  8. Pretend that the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium refutes core tenets of neo-Darwinism.
  9. Put words into the mouths of scientists without providing citations.
  10. Accuse scientists of being dishonest.
then you are almost certainly reading the work of a dishonest hack. I've fleshed out the details in this post over at EvolutionBlog.

Get your tickets now! The 2005 Megacreation Conference is scheduled to start July 17, in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The conference website is co-sponsored by Answers in Genesis and Liberty University, and is aimed at: “Equipping Christians to defend and proclaim the Gospel in today’s culture! Featuring a stunning lineup of the world’s greatest minds in creation apologetics presenting their premier presentations.”

I would suggest that we try and get someone from the east coast to go and give reports to PT, but the conference is running for five days straight and I’m not sure anyone would want to spend their whole summer vacation at a YEC conference.

Everyone check out “The Apocalypse Will Be Televised” by Gene Lyons at Harper’s Magazine. Lyons reviews the Left Behind series, a wildly popular set of novels that portray, in Tom Clancy style, the Rapture and Armageddon according to dispensationalist beliefs. The antichrist is the head of the U.N. and looks like Robert Redford, the jews must convert or die, that kind of thing. The novels are by prominent fundamentalist Tim LaHaye, who also helped found such notable organizations as the Moral Majority and the Institute for Creation Research (see the Who’s who of prophecy page on LaHaye).

It turns out that creationism is more closely tied to modern fundamentalist prophecy interpretation than I had previously appreciated. I’ll quote the most relevant passages from Lyons’ article.

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