October 16, 2005 - October 22, 2005 Archives

What else could I have done?

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I had a deadline for a “real” science article that was receding into the past at an alarming rate (to my co-author if not the journal editors).

So, what did I do? Of course! I wrote a totally unrelated item about creationist lies from Answers in Genesis. The motivation was when a young creationist was floating big chunks, err, posting large sections from an Answers in Genesis article about the origin of the Moon written (sort of) by Michael Oard.

John Stear was kind enough to post it on NAiG entitled “Oard’s Moonbeam”.

Michael Behe took quite a flogging in Dover. Particularly embarrassing was the revelation that the “peer review” by one scientist of Darwin’s Black Box that Behe himself has described as more rigorous than the process journal submissions go through turned out to be a ten minute phone conversation. PZ Myers closed his blog entry on the matter by saying he’d “love to hear what Shapiro had to say about that book.”

Dr. Robert Shapiro is another scientist who reviewed DBB. Reading PZ’s closing line, I started wondering myself. So I emailed Dr. Shapiro and asked him what he thought of DBB, and Behe’s ideas, and he has been kind enough to give me permission to reprint his response, unedited and in full, here. Thank you, Dr. Shapiro.

Dear Mr. Evans,

I felt that Professor Behe’s book has done a better job of explaining existing science than others of its kind. I agree with him that conventional scientific origin-of-life theory is deeply flawed. I disagreed with him about the idea that one needed to invoke intelligent designer or a supernatural cause to find an answer. I do not support intelligent design theories. I believe that better science will provide the needed answers.

Sincerely yours, Robert Shapiro

In an email to me concerning this post, Matt Inlay points out that had Behe’s submission been to a scientific journal Dr. Shapiro’s review would have forced Behe to either change his conclusion of ID, or remove it entirely.

Teaching the Controversy

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My colleague, Taner Edis, Associate Professor of Physics at Truman State University, sent the following e-mail to a mailing list in which we both participate. The e-mail is reproduced here with permission. Read it carefully before you gloat about the shellacking we think our side is delivering in the Kitzmiller trial.

One of the interesting segments of the Michael Behe cross examination begins on page 42 of the Day12AM transcript, and it concerns a paper that Behe wrote with David Snoke. That paper, called Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Feature that Requires Multiple Amino Acid Residues, was based upon a computer simulation that attempted to answer the question of how long it would take cumulative point mutations in a single gene to produce a new trait - the interaction of two proteins - requiring a change in multiple amino acid residues if there was no selective advantage to preserve any of the individual mutations until they were all present and the final result was fully functional. For Behe, this is a simple example of irreducible complexity:

Thus in order for a protein that did not have a disulfide bond to evolve one, several changes in the same gene have to occur. Thus in a sense, the disulfide bond is irreducibly complex, although not really to the same degree of complexity as systems made of multiple proteins.

This paper has been lauded by ID advocates as an excellent example of ID-stimulated research. The DI has listed it as an example of genuine peer reviewed research that supports ID. William Dembski has declared that Behe and Snoke’s research “may well be the nail in the coffin [and] the crumbling of the Berlin wall of Darwinian evolution.” Unfortunately for them, this paper didn’t hold up well under questioning during the Dover trial.

Continue reading Behe Disproves Irreducible Complexity at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Scientists in Australia have taken a stand against ID. The Weekend Australian reports:

Ban design theory in class: scientists Leigh Dayton, Science writer October 21, 2005

A COALITION of more than 70,000 Australian scientists and science educators has condemned the teaching in science classes of “intelligent design” - a creationist-like theory of the origin of life.

In an open letter published today in major newspapers, including The Australian, the group says it is “gravely concerned” that intelligent design is being taught in schools as an alternative to evolution.

”It’s important scientists take a stand on this because intelligent design is nothing more than creationism dressed up in a tuxedo,” says Mike Archer, dean of science at the University of NSW and the driving force behind the letter. “It’s the same mishmash of theology and science.”

The letter urges governments and educators to oppose the teaching of intelligent design in the nation’s science classes.

This morning both Casey Luskin, at the DI’s “news” blog and Dembski at his Uncommon Dissent blog posted extensive quotes from Austalian newspapers concerning this.


I'm going to introduce you to either a fascinating question or a throbbing headache in evolution, depending on how interested you are in peculiar details of arthropod anatomy (Mrs Tilton may have just perked up, but the rest of you may resume napping). The issue is tagmosis.

The evolutionary foundation for the organization of many animal body plans is segmental—we are made of rings of similar stuff, repeated over and over again along our body length. That's sufficient to make a creature like a tapeworm or a leech (well, almost—leeches have sophisticated specializations), but there are further steps involved in making a fly or a spider or a human. There is an arrangement of positional information along the length of an animal, so one segment can recognize whether it is near the head or the tail, and the acquisition of new patterns of gene expression based on that positional information that cause the development of specialized structures in different segments. That process of specializing segments is called tagmosis. It's how a fly forms mouthparts in head segments, legs and wings in thoracic segments, and no limbs at all in abdominal segments.

The relationships between segments and how they are specialized are key features in identifying patterns of descent in the arthropod clade. An analysis of those elements in an obscure group, the pycnogonids, has uncovered a surprising relationship—they seem to be related to well known Cambrian organism. You'll have to read through to the end to discover what it is.

Continue reading Pycnogonid tagmosis and echoes of the Cambrian (on Pharyngula)

Behe Blasted on Peer Review

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During the cross examination of Michael Behe in the Dover trial, he was questioned about whether the peer review process for his book, Darwin’s Black Box, was as rigorous as for a scholarly article in a refereed journal. He replied that it was even more rigorous. That led to an exchange that seriously impeached the credibility of Behe’s testimony. I have one report on it here and John Lynch has another report on it here.

Ask Prof. Steve Steve


Prof. Steve Steve always seems to have time to spare during his travels. (Traveling by parcel seems to give him some down time.) Now he and some colleagues have decided to answer questions submitted by students, teachers, and parents.

If you’ve got a question about science or cultural issues around it, drop the furry professor a line at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

Please include your name, school, town, and science course, as appropriate.

by Joe Meert

There were two days of talks given at the recent GSA meeting. Abstracts can be found at: http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/sess… and http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/sess….

I’ll report as best I can on these two days beginning with day 2. I’ll try not to interject comments although it is hard to avoid.

dread_pirate_steve_steve2.jpg Do you worship Prof. Steve Steve?

How about showing it this Halloween?

Dress up as the fuzzy professor for Halloween and send us a photo to enter the costume contest. Worthy entries will receive prizes like t-shirts or maybe a visit from the Professor himself.

To submit your photo, upload it to the Internet and place a link to its location in a comment to this post. You must give us a way to contact you in your comment either an email or a link to a site with an email address.

(Note that the actual prize has not been decided yet.)

I think I'm liking the Kitzmiller case.

Not only is it looking like the creationist side is going to go down hard, but it's also accomplishing something very useful: it's exposing the incompetence, hypocrisy, and pariah status of one of the current Icons of Intelligent Design, Michael Behe. He's a guy the Discovery Institute loves to trot out as a star of their show. He has a Ph.D. in biochemistry! He's a professor at a respectable university! He published articles in real scientific journals! He has published a bestselling book!

It's no wonder the DI peddled away from this trial as quickly as their tricycle would take them…Behe is getting eviscerated. And all the lawyers had to do was expose his own words.

Continue reading "Contributing to Behe's sense of martyrdom" (on Pharyngula)

Tangled Bank #39

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Tangled Bank #39 is now available at The Questionable Authority. Enjoy.

Plesiosaur poop!

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As Chris Clarke told me, "They were big ducks!" Two newly discovered elasmosaurid plesiosaur specimens from the Cretaceous contained a surprise that told us a little more about their diet.

Continue reading "Plesiosaur poop!" (on Pharyngula)

The Rio Rancho (NM) School District adopted a slickly-worded “Science” policy in August, which many fear will open up the classrooms of this Intel bedroom community to “Intelligent Design.” (See earlier reports on the Thumb here, here, here, here, and here.)

Now, the school employees union has sued to stop the policy, and the Saga has made the National News.

Ah, how rare is it that my interest in stomping creationists and my interest in infectious disease collide. But I guess that when there’s a topic as hot as avian influenza, it’s inevitable that even the folks at the DI will sit up and take notice, as Casey Luskin has in this post: Avian Flu: An Example of Evolution?

First, as Luskin admits in the article, the answer to his titular questions is, “well, duh; of course it is.” And alas, it doesn’t get any better from there.

Continue reading (at Aetiology)

In a post Monday, October 17, 2005 on the Discovery’s Institute’s Evolution News and Views blog, (a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one), Casey Luskin makes the following comment in regards to the Caldwell’s recent suit against the evolution website:

Caldwell thus does not allege that teaching evolution endorses religion. Rather Caldwell is alleging that when the government specifically suggests to students that “religion need not conflict with evolution,” that the government is telling students what their religious beliefs should be. According to Caldwell, this form of telling students how their religious beliefs should deal with evolution constitutes impermissible religious endorsement on the part of the government.

There is an important misconception here that also came up at the Kansas hearings. Informing people about different religions’ views on the nature of God’s relationship to the natural world, and thus those religions’views on the relationship between science and religion, is not the same as endorsing those views. More specifically, it is educationally appropriate to highlight the beliefs of Christians and other theists who accept evolution in order to combat the mistaken notion that Christians can’t accept evolution: doing so is not the same as saying that such theists are correct. Scientifically, we can’t pass judgment on any theological position, but we can offer accurate observations about the scope of religious belief.

Let me tell a story from Kansas concerning this issues, and then draw some conclusions.

Of Prions and People

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Spurred by a host of new findings in molecular and cellular biology, in recent years an increasing number of determined biologists have come to envision processes that contradict century-old biological assumptions and seem to defy the expectations of Darwinian evolutionary theory…

Naaah, I am not talking about ID. I am talking about prions, the specter of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, and “heretical” views about biology. And what must be truly baffling for conspiracy-minded ID advocates, the inflexible “Darwinist orthodoxy” seems to positively dig this “heresy”. Now, that must hurt…

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