October 9, 2005 - October 15, 2005 Archives

Since there appears to be an ongoing confusion about the work by Haeckel, the relevance of his work to Darwinian theory and the work by von Baer, I have researched these issues and despite the somewhat unorganized nature of my thoughts and findings, I have decided to present the results now rather than wait another 1 or 2 months before I have time to revisit this issue in more depth.

In Iconoclasts of Evolution: Haeckel, Behe, Wells & the Ontogeny of a Fraud The American Biology Teacher Volume: 67 Issue: 5 Pages: 275-282, authors, Pickett, Kurt M., Wenzel, John W., and Rissing, Steven W. examine the arguments by Behe and Wells about Haeckel and von Baer.

They conclude that, contrary to the claims (by Wells and Behe):

Darwin did not rely on Haeckel, but rather on von Baer. von Baer’s stance against ‘evolution’ is irrelevant. Behe (1998) and Wells (1999, 2000) are deeply confused or intentionally confusing regarding the history and significance of this well-known field, an area they claim has special meaning in their political movement.

A particular ironic statement is made by Wells:

But Darwin persisted in citing him [von Baer] anyway, making him look like a supporter of the very doctrine of evolutionary parallelism he explicitly rejected

Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution 2000, page 86.

I wonder how Wells feels about the DI bibliography, given the above objections….

Careless reading?

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Wishful (or careless) reading seems to be an ongoing ‘problem’ at the people at the Center for the renewal of science and Culture of the Discovery Institute.

When the University of Idaho reiterated its commitment to teaching scientifically relevant theories in science classes, the Discovery Institute (DI) was quick to accuse the university of attacking academic freedom. What caught my eye however was the following statement.

Rob Crowther Wrote:

The University of Idaho maintains that the edict censoring science wasn’t focused at [Scott] Minnich, but it seems that even [Eugenie] Scott found that hard to believe.

So what is it that Eugenie Scott said that led Crowther to make this statement?

Wildernesse (Tiffany) is a beautiful law student who just happens to be married to a handsome evolutionary biologist. Today in her class on education law they discussed evolution and creationism. She has written about it on her blog, go check it out.

Oh well. I wish people were more educated. I’m not even well-educated on this subject, but I know that a lot of what is spouted off out there is nonsense. (My definition of well-educated for laypersons is whether you can explain a frequency-dependent selection model, a phylogenetic tree, and why humans are taxonomically classified as an ape. If you can’t do those things, what makes you think you know enough? I am arbitrary and I love it.) I wish people didn’t feel they had to cram their religious beliefs into a stunted mold and become blind to the utterly awe-inspiring natural mechanisms of our world. Let God out of the box.

Larry Caldwell's wife Jeanne Caldwell has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the National Science Foundation and UC Berkeley for violating the Establishment Clause. In substance it's the same complaint that was publicized some time ago on National Review Online, and which, as I explained back then, is absolutely without basis in the law.

Of Pandas and People, coverIt seems like a lifetime ago now, but it was only December 7, 2004 when I posted the original “Panda-monium” post on PT, linking to NCSE’s new webpage of resources on Of Pandas and People. At the time, I was relatively new to Pandas. However, even back then it struck me that Pandas was a particularly important work, because it was published in 1989 and thus substantially predated the rest of the “intelligent design” corpus. At the time, I remarked that:

The Tangled Bank

You've got less than a week to get your submissions in for the Tangled Bank, due to arrive at The Questionable Authority next Wednesday. Write and send those links to me or host@tangledbank.net by Tuesday evening!

During a break in the Dover Trial, I traveled to historic Cambridge, MA to attend the Fifteenth 1st annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Visiting Cambridge allowed me to visit several friends at Harvard University, where the Ig Nobels were held. Over the years, Harvard has attracted many famous evolutionary biologists, but also many creationists. Not counting its pilgrim founders, who had no knowledge of the modern scientific method (“methodological naturalism,” as my creationist friends call it nowadays) developed in the 17th century after the puritans fled England, Harvard has been home to a few influential creationists, from Louis Agassiz in the 19th century to modern day Intelligent Design creationists. I had a chance to visit them both on this trip, and you’re welcome to join me on my travels.

Dearest Cheri: whether you inundated the committee with every other standard used in the civilized world does not address the point at issue, which is whether you handed the committee the completely useless “Santorum language” with the implication that it had any legal force with respect to drawing up science standards.

(Continue reading… on The Austringer)

The Cambrian Revisited

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Although I hate to give credibility to statements which are so anti-science, I also believe that educating those who are willing to hear the “rest of the story” is important.

Point in case:

In a recent blog posting, Denyse O’Leary stated the following on the Cambrian explosion. Since her comments may be of direct interest to this group, I would like to repeat them here and discuss why they are flawed.

On October 6th, the Discovery Institute issued a press release titled Dover Trial Witness Plays Misleading Word Games In Effort to Redefine Intelligent Design.

The release declares

“Forrest is playing word games, without looking at the meaning of the words,” said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, in response to an intelligent design opponent’s testimony.

Plaintiff’s witness, Dr. Barbara Forrest, pointed to the word “creation” in early drafts of the supplemental textbook Of Pandas and People which in her opinion is evidence that intelligent design was the same thing as creationism.

”At the time the authors began work on Pandas, there was no widely accepted way to describe the scientific position being advocated there,” said Luskin, “namely that there are indicators of design in nature, that scientists should remain open to the possibility of intelligent causes, and that such evidence does not tell us the identity of the designer.” …

Luskin’s comment is funny, because Discovery’s Jonathan Witt said the exact opposite recently!

This post describes a discovery by Dr. Thomas D. Schneider which is a much stronger proof of intelligent design than all those incessantly disseminated books, essays and interviews by the fellows of the Discovery Institute. We expect that the ID advocates will promptly acknowledge our contribution to their case. (Thanks to Dr. Schneider for this guest contribution.) The full text of Dr. Schneider’s epochal breakthrough paper can be seen here

It’s always nice when there’s a groundbreaking article in the literature, and the subject just happens to be your baby. My current research focuses on Streptococcus agalactiae (group B streptococcus, GBS), a bacterium that is the leading cause of neonatal meningitis in the United States. It also is a leading cause of invasive infection in the elderly, and can cause sepsis and toxic shock-like syndrome in healthy adults. No vaccine is currently available.

But what’s garnered attention recently hasn’t been any clinical presentations or new case reports of GBS disease; it’s the bacterium’s DNA. Specifically, the whole genomic sequences of 8 different strains of GBS, and the conclusions the authors have come to regarding bacterial genetic diversity–that it may be “endless.”

Continue reading (at Aetiology).

The Nitty Gritty Bit

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This essay is authored by Dr. Thomas D. Schneider. We thank Dr. Schneider for this guest contribution.

Intelligent Design advocates frequently state that living things are too complex to have evolved. This article shows how Claude Shannon’s information measure has been used as a well-regarded proxy for ‘complexity’ to predict the information that is required for a genetic control system to operate. This measure is called Rfrequency because it is computed from the frequency of binding sites in the genome for proteins that do the genetic control. Using information theory, we can also precisely measure the information in DNA sequences at the binding sites, a measure that is called Rsequence. In nature we observe that Rsequence is close to Rfrequency, which implies that Rsequence must have evolved towards Rfrequency. A model that you can run on your computer demonstrates this evolution, starting from no pattern in the binding sites and ending with the two measures being equal within the noise of the measurement. The amount of information evolved in the model is far more than the Intelligent Design claim can withstand. Given 2 billion years for evolution on this planet there was plenty of time to evolve the observed complexity.

The article is based on this paper . A web site accompanies the paper, giving many more details about the computer model and how to run it.

Continue reading The Nitty Gritty Bit here

Dog Bites Man

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I was going to title this post something like, “Casey Luskin totally misunderstands and misrepresents something related to biology,” but the title I settled on seems to sum up the news level involved much more concisely. In this instance, Casey attempts to explain away some of the evidence for human-chimp common descent that was presented by Ken Miller during his testimony last week in the Dover case.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Calling all Iowans…I’m working on getting a Citizens for Science group up and running in the state. At this point in the game, I have a group of about 20 people from around the state (mostly Iowa City/Cedar Rapids, Des Moines/Ames, and Cedar Falls) who are interested, and we’re still very early in the planning stages. We’re looking for people who are interested in participation at any level. Drop me an email if you’re interested!

Florida flip-flop

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Carl Zimmer examines the situation in Florida, bringing up Yecke and Jeb Bush and the interesting conundrum that while they are trying to pander to the Intelligent Design creationists, they have also enticed the Scripps Institute to open a Florida branch campus.

I don't know how long Florida will be able to go on this way, trying to attract the biotech industry while its leading state officials try to teach its students that creationism is an equally valid way of understanding life. Sooner or later, something's got to give.

You can't encourage ignorance while trying to reap the benefits of knowledge for long. That's the balancing act the creationist-friendly politicians are trying to play, though; I think they're just hoping they can keep wrecking the foundation now, and that everything will collapse after they're safely out of office.

Matthew and Me

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I am at Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board supporting the plaintiffs with my unique expertise. As the holder of the B. Amboo Chair in Creatoinformatics at the University of Ediacara, I was invited to attend an “evolution is stupid” seminar at Dover Fire Station 6. The seminar was mainly an infomercial for Mr. Kent Hovind’s DVDs.

The lone bright spot was that I was able to meet Matthew Chapman, the great-great-great-great-grandson of my idol, Josiah Wedgewood. (Oh, yeah–I almost forgot–he is also related to Charles Darwin.)

I ended up chatting with Chapman, my good buddy Burt Humburg, and some reporters, but they didn’t allow me to say much.

Matthew Chapman and Prof. Steve Steve

Update: USA Today managed to identify my colleague, Dr. Patricia Princehouse, but they seem to have forgotten my name, referring to me only as “a panda puppet.” What is journalism coming to these days?

I just read, for the second time, an article by Doug Kern that’s available at Tech Central Station. After my blood pressure came back down a bit, the article got me to thinking. The tone of the piece is annoying and condescending, and there is far more in it that is wrong than is right, but it illustrates a number of the political problems that we face all too well.

The title of the article is, “Why Intelligent Design is Going to Win.” The thesis statement is short and simple: “Intelligent Design theory is destined to supplant Darwinism as the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life. ID will be taught in public schools as a matter of course.”

Read more (at The Questionable Authority)

After spending most of the week stranded deep in the mire of proposal writing, I’ve rewarded myself with a day off. Actually, it’s not so much a matter of rewarding myself as it is a matter of attempting to resusitate the last remaining shreds of my sanity. So instead of continuing to pickle my brains in the volumnous literature surrounding the history of genetic divergence in various species of Drosophila, I decided to take some time to skim through a number of the news articles that the Dover trial has spawned in the last week. (Why I thought this would help maintain my sanity should serve to indicate just how brain-corroding the scientific proposal process actually is.)

Rather than taking as inclusive a look as I did last time, I think I’m mostly going to focus on the more annoying articles this time. It might just have been my mood this week, but it certainly felt like there was a heck of a lot more stupidity being aired this time.

Read More (At The Questionable Authority)

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