October 23, 2005 - October 29, 2005 Archives

Pharyngula: An evolutionary prediction

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PZ Myers has written a very interesting article on the evolution of insect wings. In the discussion of this article, JH Marden’s work on stonefly larvae came up and Marden now responded with a very nice example of an evolutionary prediction.

The York Daily Record reports on the testimony by Dover Board Member Heather Geesey who wrote a letter to the editor stating:

Dover Board Member Heather Geesey Wrote:

“You can teach creationism without its being Christianity”

But things only got better…

Slate: Monty Python’s flying creationism

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William Saletan has a very funny article on Slate titled The Brontosaurus Monty Python’s flying creationism.

Behe offered a number of interesting criticisms of Darwinism. But it’s impossible to focus on any of these criticisms, because they were so completely overshadowed by the brontosaurus in the room: ID’s sophomoric emptiness.

It seems that more an more media and scientists are realizing the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design.

Note: I have corrected the many spelling errors. I blame it on an unfamiliar keyboard:-)

William Dembski has a peculiar post up in which he says,

Ask yourself why, after submitting almost 200 pages of materials against me in his expert witness report and after submitting to a deposition with the Thomas More Law Center in July, Jeffrey Shallit did not take the witness stand in Dover for the plaintiffs. Answer: his obsessiveness against me and ID made him a liability to the ACLU. If you don’t believe me, go here and here.

Um, Shallit was called as a “rebuttal expert”. The plaintiffs and defense each announced six expert witnesses on April 1, 2005. One month later, rebuttal experts were announced. The defense announced Steve Fuller and Stephen Meyer (director of the Discovery Institute ID program). Plaintiffs announced Jeff Shallit. However, Dembski dropped out of the case (or was withdrawn, or something – see the October 29 squabble at the American Enterprise Institute between the Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center about the withdrawal of Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell, online at NCSE). Without Dembski testifying, Shallit had no one to rebut, since his expert report specifically addresses Dembski’s arguments.

Speaking of withdrawing experts…

UPDATE: 10-28-05: The Kansas BOE issued a news release later yesterday saying that they were immediately addressing the copyright issue, and that they still intended to have the science standards on the November agenda. I have posted the news release in Comment 3 below. End update

From the National Academy of Sciences today:

Kansas Denied Use of National Science Education Standards National Science Education Standards.

October 26 – The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have refused to grant copyright permission to the Kansas State Board of Education to make use of publications by the two organizations in the state’s science education standards. According to a statement from the two groups, the new Kansas standards are improved, but as currently written, they overemphasize controversy in the theory of evolution and distort the definition of science.

These two organizations issued a joint statement, sent letters to the state BOE officially notifying them of this refusal to grant copyright permission, and released a lengthy response to those parts of the Kansas standards to which they object. All three of these documents can be downloaded from the NAS News Today webpage. These are strong and well-written statements, and, as a member of the writing committee, I appreciate this support from these national organizations very much .

Here are some excerpts, and a few comments.

A Citizens for Science organization has been finally organized for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Citizens For Science (http://www.pacfs.org/) is “A non-profit group dedicated to strong science education in Pennsylvania public schools.” The mission of PACFS is

To make sure that the Pennsylvania Citizens for Pseudoscience, Bad Science, and Fake Science (they go by different names, of course) have no influence on science instruction in Commonwealth public schools. Our efforts are currently focused on protecting the ability of teachers to teach exclusively non-supernatural explanations for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and descent with modification (“evolution”) in science classes. Currently, teachers are often too scared to teach these topics, and thus evolution is given a mere 50 minutes or avoided altogether. The group does not oppose the discussion of supernatural phenomena in mythology, religion, or philosophy courses, or in private schools, homes, or churches.

We also try especially hard to promote the teaching of evolution in elementary schools, when children are most curious about dinosaurs, our similarity to other primates, and the origin of species and life itself. The group mascot is Phacops rana, a really cute trilobite from the Devonian, and the state’s official fossil.

If you care about science education in Pennsylvania, go join.

Yesterday, I was in Athens, GA meeting Dr. Steve “Number 22” Henikoff, who was visiting the Department of Genetics at the University of Georgia. Steve Henikoff is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and works at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.

On Wednesday morning we talked science over breakfast before I dropped him off at the department to talk to various professors and students through out the day. At the end of his day in Athens, he gave a packed talk to the department about his research on histone variants, nucleosome inheritance, and epigenetic inheritance.

On an interesting note, Steve Henikoff and PT author Reed Cartwright (with Luca Comai) have back to back papers coming out in November’s Plant Cell on HOTHEAD reversion, which Reed will expand on in a week or so.

Last week I wrote about the fact that Michael Behe claimed under oath in the Dover case that his book, Darwin’s Black Box, received even more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal. Now more and more facts are coming to light. We only know the names of 3 of the 5 reviewers - Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow. Atchison, I’ve already documented, did not review the book at all. He had a 10 minute conversation about the book over the phone, without ever seeing the text, with an editor who was concerned about whether it would sell, not whether the science was solid. Skip Evans contacted Robert Shapiro and was told that he did review the book, and while he agreed with some of his analysis of origin-of-life research, he thinks his conclusions are false. He did, however, say that he thought that Behe’s book was the best explanation of the argument from design that was available.

Now, what of Morrow? As it turns out, this is the best of all. Over on the Panda’s Thumb, a commenter has left the text of an email from K. John Morrow in response to an inquiry about his review of Behe’s book. I contacted Dr. Morrow and we’ve spent some time on the phone over the last couple days discussing the situation. He has given me permission to post his response in full, with one disclaimer:

He dashed this response off pretty quickly in response to an inquiry and in retrospect he isn’t certain whether he reviewed the book for Free Press, who ultimately published the book, or for an earlier publisher who was considering publishing it. His recollection from a decade ago is that after he had given his review of the book and the review written by Russell Doolittle of part of the book, the editor told him that they didn’t think they were going to go ahead with publishing the book. But he can’t be certain at this point whether that was an editor for Free Press or an editor from a different publisher who was considering the book for publication. Ultimately this doesn’t matter. Behe himself named Morrow as a reviewer of the book in his testimony, so his views on the book are obviously germane to the question of the rigor of the peer review and whether it determined whether the book should be published. With that disclaimer, the post of his full response after the fold:

Continue reading Two More of Behe’s Reviewers Speak Out at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Shapiro on DBB Review

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by Dr. Robert Shapiro

As the author of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 4 science books for the public, I can add the following comments. I was sent an examination copy of Darwin’s Black Box when it was in near-final form. At that point in most cases, a contract has been signed, advance payments against anticipated revenue have been sent to the author, and the publisher is committed to publication, except under unusual circumstances. I was acting as an editorial consultant, rather than a peer reviewer. In my experience, the principal concern of the editor of a Trade (mass-market) book at that point is that the book be marketable, rather than factually correct (libel is undesirable, but is the responsibility of the author). Peer review, for a scientific journal, is a very different process.

(And not in a supportive way). PZ and Orac discussed a recent New England Journal of Medicine editorial critical of intelligent design. Though the article had several shortcomings, it’s always a bonus to see other scientists treating ID as a valid threat (not in the scientific sphere, of course, but in the “hearts and minds” of the populace). Now the Journal of Clinical Investigation, another fairly heavy-hitter as far as medical journals go, recommends to its readers, Don’t be stupid about intelligent design. Kudos to them…now come the nitpicks. :)

(Continue reading at Aetiology)

Larry Caldwell (Litigious ignoramus) has issued a press release trumpeting a victory in his federal lawsuit against the Roseville, California school district.

Over at EvolutionBlog, I have posted this follow-up to Andrea’s post below. At issue is the ludicrous charge, posted at Denyse O’Leary’s pro-ID blog, that Stephen Jay Gould had such a low opinion of natural selection that he would not have signed the NCSE’s Steves statement. It wasn’t hard to find quotes from Gould’s writing that should really put this question to rest. For example, from Essay 12 of his book Ever Since Darwin, we find this:

Modern evolutionists cite the same plays and players; only the rules have changed. We are now told, with equal wonder and admiration, that natural selection is the agent of exquisite design. As an intellectual descendant of Darwin, I do not doubt this attribution.

Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most prolific writers in the history of science. If you want to know what Gould thought about evolution, the solution is to go to the library, retrieve one of his books, and read it. But in the shameless, value-free, twilit world of ID hucksters, such initiative is frowned upon.

On the beach with Stephen Jay

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It doesn’t take much to get some attention from the upper echelons of the Intelligent Design movement. All you need is two things:

1. an argument against mainstream evolutionary theory, no matter how old and stale (e.g.: “mutations are not really random”, “we can tell design when we see it”, “natural selection is a tautology”, “common descent is an illusion” etc)


2. some sort of claim of authority to prop up that argument (“I have a PhD in a science-related field”; “I design/engineer things for a living, so I know how design works”; “I have written a pioneering/forthcoming/acclaimed book on the topic”; etc).

Of all the latter kind of claims, the most bizarre I have heard is probably the one underlying the latest post at Denyse O’Leary’s blog: she believes a guy’s take on evolution and on Stephen J. Gould’s ideas, because Gould used to spend time at his beach house. Seriously.

(Please note - an update now follows the main entry)

‘New recruits’ said needed for intelligent design

In the Dover circus (updates continue here), a sociologist named Steve Fuller testified yesterday on behalf of the defense. What was a theme of his testimony? Recruit the younger generation to give ID theory a boost–since apparently, the senior level ID “theorists” haven’t been able to come up with jack squat.

Introducing “intelligent design” to high school students could help the idea gain wider acceptance among mainstream scientists, a sociology professor testified Monday in a landmark federal trial over whether the concept can be mentioned in public school biology classes.

Fuller said minority views can sometimes have a difficult time getting a toehold in the scientific community, but students might be inspired to develop intelligent design as future scientists if they hear about the concept in school.

”You have to provide openings where you have new recruits to the theory,” Fuller said. “Unless you put it into the school system, it’s not going to happen spontaneously.”

And later in the article:

“It seems to me in many respects the cards are stacked against radical, innovative views getting a fair hearing in science these days,” he said.

Once again, it makes you wonder how such “minority views” as a bacterial cause for ulcers and symbiogenesis ever made it without a political lobby.

Edited to add: once again, Mike Argento nails it.

Fuller said intelligent design is, essentially, a half-baked idea, pretty much something the intelligent design guys have whipped up without doing much in the way of producing evidence.

And that’s why it should be taught to ninth-graders in Dover.

You know, I can come up with a lot of half-baked ideas that no one in their right mind would want to teach to kids in Dover. Let’s see. How about this? Cows think in Spanish. Discuss.

A major development in the Dover trial yesterday. The Discovery Institute had submitted a brief in the case last week and Judge Jones issued an order denying that brief’s use in the case. Our attorneys had filed a motion to strike that brief from the proceedings on the grounds that it was an attempt to get the expert testimony of Stephen Meyer and William Dembski on the record in the case after they had pulled out as expert witnesses, thus avoiding being cross examined on their claims. The judge agreed, ruling:

As all parties and amici filers are well aware, both Mr. Dembski and Mr. Meyer are no longer expert witnesses for the Defendants. Over the course of this trial we have provided both parties with every opportunity to present their expert witnesses, and accordingly the parties have engaged in thorough cross-examination of the opposing experts. We thus find it to be fundamentally unfair to receive a brief that frequently references an expert report, that was originally prepared for use in this case when Mr. Meyer was to be offered as a defense expert witness, and which contains the full revised report of Mr. Meyer as an attachment to the brief. The inclusion of such information in an ad hoc unsolicited fashion, when Plaintiffs have not had the opportunity to cross-examine such expert witness is clearly inappropriate under the circumstances. In fact, “Appendix A” of the amicus brief is entitled “Revised Report of Stephen C. Meyer, Ph.D., May 19, 2005” and it is clearly an expert report prepared in anticipation of Mr. Meyer’s testimony at trial. We will not countenance what is clearly a “back door” attempt to insert expert testimony into the record free of the crucible of trial and cross-examination.

In addition, after a careful review of the Discovery Institute’s submission, we find that the amicus brief is not only reliant upon several portions of Mr. Meyer’s attached expert report, but also improperly addresses Mr. Dembski’s assertions in detail, once again without affording Plaintiffs any opportunity to challenge such views by cross-examination. Accordingly, the “Brief of Amicus Curiae, the Discovery Institute” shall be stricken in its entirety.

Huge development in the case. Stay tuned for more.

Oh, the Irony!

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No sooner do I finish Jack Krebs blog entry about John Calvert’s dishonest remarks at a recent public presentation than I find this amusing essay (PDF format) linked to over at William Dembski’s blog.

The title of the essay: “Are We Liars?” The author: John Calvert.

I offer some thoughts on the subject in this post over at EvolutionBlog. Enjoy!

In the following exchange, Behe seems to be uncertain as to what intelligent design really does. When asked about exaptation, he answers that exaptation is consistent with intelligent design (but what isn’t…). He then claims that intelligent design ‘only focuses on the mechanism of how such a thing would happen’.

Q. But it is certainly, exaptation – for example, a bird wing developing from some kind of feathered structure on a dinosaur that didn’t necessarily allow flight, that’s what evolutionary biologists propose, and they call it exaptation?

A. That’s entirely possible, and that’s consistent with intelligent design, because intelligent design only focuses on the mechanism of how such a thing would happen. So the critical point for my argument is, how such things could develop by random mutation and natural selection.

Q. And again, intelligent design doesn’t describe how it happened?

A. That’s correct, only to say that intelligence was involved somewhere in the process.

Desperate times ask for desperate arguments

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The Discovery Institute has submitted an incredibly poorly argued Amicus Brief in the Kitzmiller case. But let’s first try an interesting experiment.

Let’s try the ‘reverse Pandas experiment’, replace intelligent design with creationism and see where the evidence leads us (to use a common creationist ‘argument’)…

ID report from Down Under

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During my visit to Sydney (Australia), a coalition of 70,000 Australian scientists and educators has published an open letter condemning the teaching of intelligent design in school science classes.

Professor Mike Archer, the Dean of Sciences at the University of New South Wales, seems to have been one of the leading forces behind this initiative.

ABC AUstralia: Scientists, teachers protest intelligent design

Australian scientists have been outspoken about Intelligent Design.

Australia’s world-renowned physicist Paul Davies say ID is codswallop, not science but creationism in disguise.

The Australian September 03, 2005

I don’t use the word “lie” loosely. I know it means deliberately saying something that one knows not to be true.

But in this case, I am willing to claim that John Calvert lied to the audience at his presentation at a conference hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. this past week. I hope to write more about Calvert’s presentation there, which was in conjunction with a speech by Barbara Forrest, but here I want to concentrate on one comment made by Calvert concerning Kansas Citizens for Science.

Welcome to the first edition of Ask Prof. Steve Steve. Our first question comes from Jeremy Porath of Purdue.

Professor Steve Steve,

I read an article a while back about a group of Australian scientists who were attempting to bring back an extinct animal, the Tasmanian Tiger (or Thylacine) with cloning.

However, about two years ago, I read a book (What Do Martians Look Like?) that contained a rant against Jurassic Park that lead me to believe this sort of endeavor would be impossible. The relevant portions of the book and article are quoted on my LiveJournal.

I was hoping that you, or one of your colleagues, could perhaps shed some light on this and tell me which group is “correct”–or both, or neither, as the case may be.

Many thanks, Jeremy Porath, Junior, Purdue University

Jeremy, the Tasmanian Tiger cloning experiment is possible because the species only went extinct in the last 100 years. Unlike, dinosaurs Tasmanian Tiger DNA is still young enough to be potentially usable.

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