October 30, 2005 - November 5, 2005 Archives

Francis Collins presentation

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Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Research Institute, recently gave a presentation at Trinity Episcopal Church. The newspaper reports suggest that Collins considered Intelligent Design to be ‘faith’ and in fact, according to an eyewitness report, Collins considers Intelligent Design to be lacking as a science.

Collins used the Biblical Quote

“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge…. “ (Proverbs 19:2 NIV)

An interesting story by Laurie Goodstein ran in the New York Times on the multi-year search of the Thomas More Law Center to find an “intelligent design” case. Having formed in 1999, they approached their first case candidate in 2000. And, of course, that search went on in the following years, until TMLC hooked up with the Dover Area School District in 2004.

Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute will be giving a talk on "Creationism in Camouflage: The 'Intelligent Design' Deception," on Thursday, November 17, at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California. The event is free to the public; more information here. And here's a brief article Lockitch has written on the subject---that includes an excellent Cox & Forkum cartoon.

For those of you who have been around the ‘net discussing evolution, you may have run into a fellow named WinAce. Or, you may have seen his site, The Wonderful World of WinAce. This site featured the somewhat famous Fundies say the darndest things!, a collection of amusing quotes from around the internet, his classic funny pics for online use, and his excellent spoof, Organisms that look designed. What you may not have known was that this bright, funny young man was dying of cystic fibrosis (3 siblings had already died of the disease), and was recently refused by Medicaid the chance to have a lung transplant, going against his doctors’ recommendations. Allan lost his fight today; he was 20 years old and is survived by his fiancee and parents. The world is a darker place without him in it. More about Allan

Mike Argento of the York Daily Record has a great column on Dover board member Bill Buckingham’s “Homer Simpson” moment at the Dover Kitzmiller v. DASD Trial, on October 27th.

Earlier this week, Family News In Focus interviewed Discovery Institute CRC Fellow Mark Hartwig about the Dover trial. Family News editor Pete Winn somehow missed seeing that Hartwig had a “D’Oh!” moment as well.

Here comes Homer (below the fold).

Faithful Should Listen to Science

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More news from the Vatican

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into “fundamentalism” if it ignores scientific reason.

Vatican: Faithful Should Listen to Science

Not surprisingly the questions asked, involved the issue of evolution and Intelligent Design

Contrarian or just lame?

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Mr. Michael Balter wrote what he referred to as a “somewhat contrarian view on the ID controversy” which was published as an editorial by the Los Angles Times on October 2, 2005.

I happen to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. I even tried to canceled my week-day subscription to the LA Times protesting the far-right political shift in their editorial pages. Perversely, the only result is that I now receive the paper for free. And, I did read the editorial written by Mr. Balter and would have responded at the time but for other deadlines. I was reminded when he posted a link to his essay on the TalkOrigins Feedback page for October. What irritates me most about Mr. Balter’s editorial is its presentation of ID arguments without refutations so that it reads more easily as a pro-ID than as anti-ID.

The battle over creationism in public schools is heading for Indiana, as lawmakers there prepare to submit a bill to mandate the teaching of intelligent design there. And in the process, they’re leaving behind all sorts of evidence of the essential equation of ID and creationism.

The proposal comes a little more than a month after Bosma and a handful of other House members met privately with Carl Baugh, host of the Trinity Broadcasting Network show “Creationism in the 21st Century,” to discuss bringing intelligent design to public schools.

Baugh was in town as the guest of Zion Unity Missionary Baptist Church, a small Indianapolis church whose pastor, the Rev. Fredrick W. Boyd Jr., is an acquaintance of Baugh’s. Baugh is founder and director of the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas.

Boyd said Bosma and the lawmakers already were pursuing the idea, but they wanted to hear Baugh’s thoughts on how to create the legislation.

Ebola is one of my favorite pathogens. With the reputation it has, many people assume it’s killed many more worldwide than it actually has. People hear of Ebola and all kinds of grotesque images come to mind: organs “liquefying” (doesn’t really happen quite like that); bleeding from every orifice (okay, that one can be on-target); the victims dying a horrible death from a virus with an incredibly high mortality rate. There are four known subtypes of Ebola, named for their place of isolation: Ebola Reston, Ivory Coast, Sudan, and Zaire. Together with their cousin, the Marburg virus, they make up the family of viruses known as filoviruses.

Marburg was the first of these to be recognized, causing an outbreak in Germany (caused by infected African research monkeys) in 1967. The Ebola Zaire strain (EBO-Z) and the Ebola Sudan strain (EBO-S) surfaced at almost the same time in 1976. The outbreak in Zaire resulted in 319 cases (90% mortality), while in Sudan, 284 cases were identified (53% mortality rate). EBO-Z then wasn’t seen for almost 20 years, re-surfacing in Gabon in 1994, and once again in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1995. Another EBO-Z outbreak occurred in 2001-2 in Gabon and The Republic of Congo, causing about 120 cases, 79% of them fatal. Overall, less than 2000 known human infections and 1100 deaths have resulted from Ebola since its discovery in 1976. That’s an average of 38 deaths worldwide per year over the last 29 years. Compare that to a virus such as influenza, which kills 36,000 every year in the United States alone. Or even a fairly common microbe like E. coli, which causes thousands of deaths each year due to bacterial sepsis. Worse, none of these even come close to malaria, which causes over 200 deaths worldwide every hour. The numbers make it clear that, as far as mortality goes, Ebola is small potatoes—we have more to fear from our hamburger than from this exotic African virus. Yet, the Ebola mystique lingers.

Continue reading at Aetiology

The Great Debate

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by Ellery Schempp, Ph.D.

I attended tonight at Boston University The Great Debate: “Should public schools teach Intelligent Design along with Evolution?”

The Debate Participants:

Affirmative:

  • Edward H. Sisson, Esq. Partner, Arnold and Porter, Washington, D.C. Mr. Sisson advised witnesses at the Kansas evolution hearings
  • Professor Bill Dembski, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture
  • Nick Barber, Senior, Broadcast Journalism major, Boston University College of Communication

Negative:

  • Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D. Executive Director, National Center for Science Education
  • Professor James Trefil, Ph.D. Robinson Professor of Physics, George Mason University; co-author, Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
  • Neil St. Clair, Sophomore, Broadcast Journalism and Political Science major, Boston University College of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences

Last March, Susan Lolle and colleagues reported in Nature about a high reversion rate in a particular Arabidopsis mutant, HOTHEAD (HTH) (Lolle SJ et al. 2005). This paper is notable because it hypothesized that the cause of the reversion was due non-Mendelian inheritance of an RNA cache. The media jumped on this paper and promoted it as if Lolle and colleagues had demonstrated the existence of non-Mendelian inheritance. They hadn’t; they only proposed a non-Mendelian inheritance to explain their data. Many of the scientists that I have spoken to did not like their hypothesis.

In the latest Plant Cell, Luca Comai and I have published a paper detailing an alternative hypothesis for the observations of Lolle and colleagues. This hypothesis is more attractive than the one proposed by Lolle and colleagues because it relies on the already established mechanisms of mutation and selection. This hypothesis also relies on knowledge about the structure of the HTH gene product, which is information not considered in the Nature paper.

My regular readers may remember that last March, right after the Nature paper came out, I discussed it on my blog (here and here). Those of you that remember the discussion will be familiar with our hypothesis already since I blogged it back then. That’s correct; this paper derived from a blog post that I did. Blogging does pay off.

Continue reading on De Rerum Natura.

A couple days ago, you may recall, William Dembski made the ridiculous claim that the reason Jeff Shallit had not been called to testify at the Dover trial was because “his obsessiveness against me and ID made him a liability to the ACLU” and because “his deposition was an embarrassment to him and the ACLU and that this was the actual reason for him being withdrawn as a witness at the trial.” I pointed out at the time that Dembski was flat wrong, that in fact it was the defense that tried to keep Shallit off the witness stand, not our side. Today I have posted what should be the final nail in the coffin of Dembski’s silly charge - the motion from the TMLC seeking to exclude Shallit’s testimony and keep him off the witness stand, and the judge’s ruling on that issue noting that the two sides had come to an agreement that Shallit would testify only as a rebuttal witness if necessary but would not be a part of the plaintiff’s primary case. The only question that remains, now that Dembski’s charge has been conclusively disproven, is whether the odds of him admitting that he was wrong are above or below his “universal probability boundary” of 1 in 10^150.

Tangled Bank #40

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The Tangled Bank

We have a new and massive edition of The Tangled Bank at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles. Hie thee hence.

Judge grills Dover official

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Just when you think you have seen and heard it all, yet another witness is called to testify and proves you wrong.

Point in case, Alan Bonsell’s testimony evoked a strong response from the judge (page 126-)

Intelligent Design around the world

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On the ACLU Pennsylvania Blog “Speaking Freely” I noticed an interesting posting on ID around the world.

In Australia minister Lynne Kosky ruled that “Victoria’s government schools will treat intelligent design as a religious faith, not science,”

And remember the much hailed ID conference in the Czech republic?

Hundreds of supporters of “intelligent design” theory gathered in Prague in the first such conference in Eastern Europe, but Czech scholars boycotted the event insisting it had no scientific credence.”

Vaclav Paces, chair of the Czech Academy of Sciences, called the conference “useless.”

“The fact that we cannot yet explain the origin of life on Earth does not mean that there is [a] God who created it,” Paces was quoted as telling the Czech news agency CTK.

Scientists gather to talk about intelligent design (The Manila Times, Czech Republic, 10/26/05)

pussy hox

Q: What unique organ is found only in mammals, but not in fish, amphibians, reptiles, or birds?

The title and that little picture to the left ought to be hint enough, but if not, read on.

Continue reading "Evolution of the mammalian vagina" (on Pharyngula)

Welcome to the second edition of Ask Prof. Steve Steve. Today’s question comes from Michael in Newark, Delaware.

Hi, my name is Michael, from Newark, Delaware, and I’ve noticed you’re running a little question and answer session on the Panda’s Thumb, a wonderful little blog I’ve run across and that I read quite faithfully.

That said, I am a junior at high school, and one of my areas of interest is in the environmental sciences. I am self studying in the area (partially for myself, and partially for the yearly envirothon competitions) and I’m wondering if you could suggest a textbook that is a bit more advanced and more detailed then my current text (Environmental Science, Eighth Edition, written by Richard T. Wright and Bernard J Nebel) or the one I’ve used in the past (the ecology chapters of Biology, 6th edition, by Campbell and Reece)?

Thank you kindly for your time and your help.

I contacted a friend of Dr. Wesley Elsberry, Dr. Jane Packard at Texas A&M University, who recommended the following books for Envirothon:

If you’ve got a question about science or cultural issues around it, drop me a line at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. I will not answers questions posed in comments.

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

Answers in Genesis is my favorite little humor site; like my own personal Onion, only the parody is lost on Ken Ham and Jon Sarfati or something. I like to picture them as the butt of some huge Landover Baptist joke, sucking their followers dry for a crazy museum in what is really a diabolical leftist plot to divert fundamentalist Christian funds away from causes that are actually real controversies in the 21st century. (Don’t burst my bubble, mkay? The way I figure it, you gotta laugh or it will make you cry.)

So anyway, their newest illustrations are a riot. Check them out here. My favorites below the fold…

William Dembski has this odd habit when someone publishes a criticism of his writings. Rather than engage in substantive refutation of those criticisms, he often claims either to be the victim of some cosmic unfairness by the Darwinian Inquisition, or he claims that the person criticizing him is obsessed with him. As an example of the first, I point you to his frantic complaints of copyright violation and ethical mistreatment by Rob Pennock in early 2002, after Pennock had included a couple of essays of his in an anthology he edited called Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics. He accused Pennock of copyright infringement, but in fact he had the written permission of the actual copyright owners, Metanexus. The owners of Metanexus published a public exoneration of Pennock in the matter.

For an example of the second strategy, I point you to his having called Richard Wein, Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit his “internet stalkers” because they - gasp! - read and criticized his work. And in public. The nerve of these people, actually analyzing and critiquing the work of a scholar! He hasn’t done much to actually answer their critiques, mind you, but he’s called them “obsessed” and it appears that he thinks that actually defeats their arguments. Now he’s back making more weird accusations about the Dover trial, involving Shallit yet again. He writes:

Continue reading Dembski’s Obsessive Complaints of Obsession at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

The most recent issues of Natural History and Skeptical Inquirer magazines feature articles on Darwin, evolution, and, as SI puts it, the ID wars.

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank is coming up on 2 November 2005, at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles. Get your links sent in to Dr Charles, PZ Myers, or host@tangledbank.net by Tuesday.

Also, darn it, I had a few new volunteer hosts to schedule, and I lost some email. Remind me if you were hoping to host in December or January, and heck, if anyone is interested in hosting it anytime, let me know.

Join Alabama Citizens for Science Education to protect Alabama education.

The Associated Press is reporting this morning that Alabama state textbook committee several textbooks because they contained information on evolution.

The state textbook committee Thursday recommended dozens of science textbooks to be approved by the state school board for Alabama students, but rejected three elementary-level books for containing material on evolution which was deemed “controversial” for that age group.

The books were considered supplementary readers, meaning they could not be used as the sole textbook in the science curriculum, said Ron Dodson, a member of the committee, who presented the recommendations to the school board.

Each of the three elementary books rejected contained “controversial material at a grade level that is not developmentally ready for such controversial material,” according to a series of Sept. 28 memos sent to school board members. The books also didn’t meet the state’s science guidelines and were not “appropriate for the maturity level of the age group” they were targeting, the memos said.

The book “Geologic Time” (Perfection Learning Company) was rejected for an illustrated diagram that shows humans evolving from apes. Similarly, “Reptiles” (Heinemann-Raintree Classroom), incorporates two pages on reptiles evolving from amphibians. “Orangutan” (Heinemann-Raintree Classroom) discusses natural selection – a key part of the evolutionary theory.

In addition the committee has recommended that textbooks still contain a disclaimer.

The committee made its recommendations with the stipulation that high school biology textbooks would continue to carry a disclaimer which describes evolution as “a controversial theory” in the first paragraph and says in the second paragraph that any statement about the origin of life is “not fact.”

The purpose of the disclaimer is to give room to teachers who want to discuss alternative theories, namely creationism.

In addition it looks like some board members want textbooks to contain creationism.

However, after the meeting, school board member Betty Peters said she had hoped to see the textbooks discuss alternative theories of life, including creationism and intelligent design, in addition to evolution. She said that despite the disclaimer, many teachers are still afraid to teach about theories that are not included in textbooks….

“I’m not saying advocate it, just open it for discussion,” Peters said.

Matthew J. Brauer, Barbara Forrest, and Steven G. Gey offer a timely, 149 page, review of intelligent design creationism and the constitution in Is It Science Yet? Intelligent Design, Creationism and the Constitution published in the Washington University Law Quarterly.

Matthew J. Brauer is Research Staff, Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University; B.A. (1988), University of California, Berkeley; M.S. (1988), University of Texas; Ph.D. (2000), University of Texas.

Barbara Forrest is Professor of Philosophy, Department of History and Political Science, Southeastern Louisiana University; B.A. (1974), Southeastern Louisiana University; M.A. (1978), Louisiana State University; Ph.D. (1988), Tulane University.

Steven G. Gey is David and Deborah Fonvielle and Donald and Janet Hinkle Professor of Law, Florida State University; B.A. (1978), Eckerd College; J.D. (1982), Columbia University.

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