January 8, 2006 - January 14, 2006 Archives

A new Tangled Bank is coming up

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The Tangled Bank

The next edition of the Tangled Bank will be held at Grey Thumb.blog on Wednesday, 18 Jan 2006. Send in those links to wonderful science writing to tangledbank@greythumb.org, host@tangledbank, or me by Tuesday evening.

Journalists are beginning to get it

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The Disco Institute’s Media Complaints Division (aka “Evolution News and Views”, a misnomer if I ever saw one) regularly rants about what they deem to be misrepresentations of Intelligent Design “theory”. In spite of Luskin’s and Crowther’s efforts, though, a growing number (!) of journalists are catching on to the Disco Institute’s scam. The most recent example is an editorial in today’s Akron Beacon Journal. The editorial writer, Steve Hoffman, clearly gets it. He writes

What might a judge eventually say about the state school board in Ohio, which this week refused by a narrow margin to revise its guidelines for teaching biology? Those guidelines create false controversy over Darwinian evolution, singling it out from all other scientific theories for critical analysis, indirectly but quite deliberately guiding students toward the conclusion that an intelligent designer (God) must have shaped each amazing, complex organism. Would the judge conclude that in the wake of the Dover decision, the state board in Ohio acted with breathtaking stupidity?

My answer, of course, would be no: the Board, or at least the thought leaders on it, Michael Cochran and Deborah Owens Fink, did not act in ignorance or breathtaking stupidity. In my opinion, they acted knowing full well what they were doing: perverting science education in Ohio schools in service of a religiously grounded socio-cultural movement. Robert Lattimer, a leader of ID troops in Ohio, told an ID conference in late 2003 that science would have very little to do with the development of science standards and education would have very little to do with it. Just so.

Hoffman went on

The Ohio board’s fundamental mistake was that a majority of its members were unable (or unwilling) to differentiate between scientific and political controversy. That mistake has now been compounded.

Again, I vote for “unwilling”. I do not believe this is the honest mistake of unwitting people, but is the intentional perversion of both science and education to further a sectarian agenda.

Catherine Candinsky of the Columbus Dispatch also “gets it”, as do others in Ohio. It remains to be seen whether the middle-of-the-road members of the Ohio Board of Education will get it. Will they realize that they’re allowing Cochran and Owens Fink to lead Ohio public education down an indefensible educational, scientific, and legal path? They still have a chance. The one parallel between Dover and Ohio that hasn’t occurred is that no member of the Ohio Board has lied to a federal judge under oath. Yet.


Now I am bent out of shape

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Update: 1/13/06 11:17:25 As of this second, my post is back on Dembski and Friends’ blog. It looks like one needs to take a post-by-post snapshot there just so you can keep track of what’s happened.

And now DaveScot comments (with no mention of having deleted and then restored my post)

You’re saying an undergraduate degree in anthropology is more science than a PhD in math? There’s a good laugh.

How do credentials in biology qualify one to recognize design? I don’t see the connection. Biology is a cross between pipetting and stamp collecting. How does that make one an expert on the nature of digital codes and automated machinery? At least the math guys know a digital code when they see one.

Here are some quotes from your article that make me think you imply “chicken”

What are they afraid of here?

Who exactly is refusing to engage in a competition?

I’m not afraid of competition

Are you going to sit there with a straight face and say you aren’t implying the other side is afraid of the competition you represent? I’m going to have call you a liar if you do.

Well, for one thing I am a math teacher, and I do know a digital code when I see one. Secondly, math is not science. Third, my comments about “competition” were in reference to something John Calvert said about the ID movement in general, not about Dembski. (If one read the newspaper article and had an intent to keep context in mind, one would know that.)

And I am saying that “the other side” is afraid of the point of view about ID that I represent. However, I said that without calling people names, and without making demands.

I would like this conversation to go on at Uncommon Dissent, where it belongs, and not here. However, given that posts can so easily disappear there, I’ve posted this here so there is a record of this exchange.

I know some of you out there do this. You’ve spent so many hours asking your creationist friends to define a “kind,” or explaining why the “tornado in a junkyard” or “watchmaker” analogies are hopelessly flawed, that you’re beginning to see flagella and mousetraps in your sleep. I mean, look at poor Nick. Kid can’t even hear the word “truthiness” without having visions of IDists dancing in his head. I caught myself doing this today, too.

I listen to a lot of country music. (Yeah, yeah, go ahead and mock. I’m used to it). Couple that with 1) the fact that I live in Iowa, where there’s a *lot* of country radio, and 2) the fact that my car didn’t have a CD player, that meant lots of time on the road tuned in to a country station. As a mom (aka taxi), that means the kids also spent a lot of time listening to it–and my daughter’s favorite song of the past year was Faith Hill’s “Mississippi Girl.” So, we bought her Faith’s new CD for Christmas.

(Yes, there is a point to this–see over at Aetiology)

Kenneth Miller, the lead-off expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover, is the guest on The Colbert Report tonight on Comedy Central. The show airs at 11:30 pm EST and PST, and rebroadcasts several times the following day, e.g. 7:30 pm I believe.

Every day this week, Stephen Colbert has been mentioning the fact that the word “truthiness”, which he invented, became the official 2005 Word of the Year declared by the American Dialect Society. Considering the relationship of “Truthiness” and the also-ran Word of the Year, “intelligent design” (a runner-up in the “Most Outrageous” category, although the category “Most Euphemistic” seems appropriate also) is rather entertaining. According to the ADS, “truthiness” is defined as “the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” I can’t think of a better word to describe ID…

Intelligent Design on CNN

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Lou Dobbs will be “discussing” ID at 6:00 pm (Eastern Time) tonight. Rob Hovis, a strong defender of honest science education on the Ohio State Board of Education, will be on the show along with another OBOE Board member – possibly ID creationist Deborah Owens Fink, who introduced a “two model” (ID and Evo) motion to the Board in 2000. Anyone remember Debbie denying that they want ID taught in Ohio publics schools? Yeah, sure.

Hemichordate evo-devo

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Every biology student gets introduced to the chordates with a list of their distinctive characteristics: they have a notochord, a dorsal hollow nerve cord, gill slits, and a post-anal tail. The embryonic stage in which we express all of these features is called the pharyngula stage—it's often also the only stage at which we have them. We terrestrial vertebrates seal off those pharyngeal openings as we develop, while sea squirts throw away their brains as an adult.


The chordate phylum has all four of those traits, but there is another extremely interesting phylum that has some of them, the hemichordates. The hemichordates are marine worms that have gill slits and a stub of a tail. They also have a bundle of nerves in the right place to be a dorsal nerve cord, but the latest analyses suggest that it's not discrete enough to count—they have more of a diffuse nerve net than an actual central nervous system. They don't really have a notochord, but they do have a stiff array of cells in their proboscis that vaguely resembles one. They really are "half a chordate" in that they only partially express characters that are defining elements of the chordate body plan. Of course, they also have a unique body plan of their own, and are quite lovely animals in their own right. They are a sister phylum to the chordates, and the similarities and differences between us tell us something about our last common ancestor, the ur-deuterostome.

Analyzing morphology is one approach, but this is the age of molecular biology, so digging deeper and comparing genes gives us a sharper picture of relationships. This is also the early days of evo-devo, and an even more revealing way to examine related phyla is to look at patterns of gene regulation—how those genes are turned on and off in space and time during the development of the organism—and see how those relate. Gerhart, Lowe, and Kirschner have done just that in hemichordates, and have results that strengthen the affinities between chordates and hemichordates. (By the way, Gerhart and Kirschner also have a new book out, The Plausibility of Life (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which I'll review as soon as I get the time to finish it.)

Continue reading "Hemichordate evo-devo (on Pharyngula)
(Note that this is my inaugural evo-devo post on the new Pharyngula, hosted at scienceblogs.com with many other science bloggers)

I recently had the misfortune to stumble on a really revolting corner of the web, the not-so-modestly-named DavidWarrenOnline. Warren appears to be a journalist, and for the Ottawa Citizen, no less -- a newspaper that, back when Peter Calamai worked there, was sometimes worth reading. Judging from their employment of Mr. Warren, however, the Citizen has sunk into a swamp from which it will not soon recover. Explore that website and you will find the very worst sort of ignorant bigotry: screeds against gay marriage, global warming, and (big surprise) evolution, all served up with a really insufferable helping of religious smugness. And the writing! I was raised by newspaper reporters, who never missed an opportunity to tell me how my writing could be improved. But it appears Mr. Warren received no similar assistance. His columns frequently wander and maunder, heading this way and that, but never actually arriving anywhere. Who in their right mind would give this supercilious dolt a weekly column? If you, too, want to suffer as much as I did, you can start with four of Mr. Warren's columns about evolution. In his December 29 2004 column about Homo floresiensis, he reveals his doubts that it is a new species of the genus Homo. Informed doubt would be welcome, but Mr. Warren's doubts aren't based on anything more scientific than the fact that he once saw a woman in Calcutta about the same weight "and only slightly taller" than H. floresiensis. He then reveals that he suspects all hominid species are just varieties of Homo sapiens, and quotes one of his readers as saying, "Evolution? Probably a pile of crap. It seems to spring from the same faulty thinking reservoir as Marxism and other failed ideological constructs of the early 20th century." Dee-lightful! Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

As usual, the Discovery Institute appears to be having some trouble settling on a coherent position on matter of the lawsuit filed against the El Tejon Unified School District in California. Like their many shifting positions on whether the designer is supernatural or not (Dembski says it must be supernatural, so does Behe, but when it’s convenient they all claim that the designer need not be supernatural even though that contradicts all their previous arguments) and on whether ID should be taught in schools (they initially promise to “pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula” and then claim that they’ve never wanted to put ID into public school science curricula), the DI appears to have at least two mutually exclusive positions on the El Tejon situation, in a matter of two days.

For more information, read the full text at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Over at the DI’s News Evolution News and Views blog, (where you can’t comment on anything), Jonathon Witt writes,

KU Darwinists Duck Intelligent Design Debate

The Lawrence Journal-World covers the story here.

======= “Why won’t the Darwinists at KU debate philosopher and mathematician William Dembski, who will be speaking at a campus forum Jan. 28?

Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU’s Biodiversity Institute, said he was one scientist who declined an invitation to debate Dembski.

“There is nothing to debate,” Krishtalka said. “Intelligent design is religion thinly disguised as science and does not belong in the science classroom.” =======

I wonder if Krishtalka could at least take the time to show that intelligent design is a religion-based argument. Let’s set the bar really low for his opening statement.

However, Witt fails to mention another part of the story:

Someone just emailed me a copy of an interesting press release. Some time back, a particular mutation known as CCR5delta32 was identified as conferring greatly increased resistance to HIV in individuals who had two copies of that particular gene (in geek terms, those are individuals homozygous for that particular allele). According to the press release, a group of researchers have discovered that this resistance to HIV comes with a price. The individuals who are homozygous for the CCR5delta32 allele do have greatly increased resistance to HIV, but they also have greatly decreased resistance to the West Nile Virus.

This is interesting (to me, anyway) for a number of different reasons.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Blackstone on Trial

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According to a recent posting on PT, Casey Luskin, a lawyer, appears to think he understands biology better than Kenneth Miller, a biologist. Other lawyers and legal scholars, most notably Phillip Johnson and Francis Beckwith, have similarly high opinions of their own analytical abilities. Indeed, Mr. Johnson claims that his profession gives him special expertise in analyzing arguments and identifying underlying assumptions.

I am a physicist, and I am considered relatively bright. I have a high opinion of my own opinions (please, no quote mining), but I figure I can learn from Mr. Luskin and his colleagues anyway. I have decided, therefore, to examine the law from the point of view of a physicist trained to make careful, nuanced arguments.

It didn’t take long for the Discovery Institute to try to call “Darwinists” intolerant for attempting to keep religious advocacy out of the schools. Casey Luskin discusses, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, the lawsuit that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State just filed against a California school. (Ed Brayton discusses this suit in depth over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.) Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Dover West?


Americans United has filed suit against the El Tajon Unified School District in California over a course there that includes creationism. The twist here is that the school has placed the class in philosophy rather than science and claims to be teaching about both evolution and creationism without advocating either as true. The evidence at this point suggests that is a merely a ruse to get creationism into the school’s curriculum.

Continue Reading at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Brief Ohio Report

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Late this afternoon (Jan 10) the Ohio State Board of Education, by a 8-9 vote, defeated a motion to delete the offending “Critical Analysis” lesson plan from the model curriculum. Two members were absent.

I described the situation earlier on The Thumb.

It now seems certain that it will take a lawsuit in federal court to pry it out of the state’s model curriculum. In fact, one ID-supporting board member said “Let them sue us”. I told the board in the public comments period after the vote that what it has done is create a “Dover trap” for every local school district in Ohio. Already there are rumors that some creationist teachers are going beyond the ID-based lesson plan to “supplement” it with more blatantly creationist material, with the excuse that “the state board says it’s OK”.

I’ll probably write more later and add links to news stories after I’ve had a drink or two and have calmed down. The board’s discussion of the motion this afternoon was as bitter and rancorous as I’ve ever seen, up to and including one of the two main ID-supporting Board Members, a former prosecutor, verbally abusing a graduate student who spoke during the public comments period.


Legal eagles flutter on

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Following the Dover shipwreck, frantic salvage P.R. work is going on at the Discovery Institute, much of it at the expense of lucidity. Can the slightly different ID tactics in Kansas, Ohio and Georgia escape the precedent set by Judge Jones’s decision? In Ohio in particular, things may be reaching a critical point as we speak. Instead of reassessing their approach, in a last-ditch attempt to stave off another defeat the DI resorts to some good old-fashioned disinformation tactics.

Luskin’s ludicrous genetics

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I mentioned before that IDEA clubs insist that expertise is optional; well, it's clear that that is definitely true. Casey Luskin, the IDEA club coordinator and president, has written an utterly awful article "rebutting" part of Ken Miller's testimony in the Dover trial. It is embarrassingly bad, a piece of dreck written by a lawyer that demonstrates that he knows nothing at all about genetics, evolution, biology, or basic logic. I'll explain a few of his misconceptions about genetics, errors in the reproductive consequences of individuals with Robertsonian fusions, and how he has completely misrepresented the significance of the ape:human chromosome comparisons.

Continue reading "Luskin's ludicrous genetics" (on Pharyngula)

Chordate_3.jpg As an international, jet setting public intellectual there are many calls on my time, and I find myself rushing from pillar to post with my busy diary. However, at last I was able to take up the offer of that nice Dr. Musgrave to visit Adelaide, and amongst other things, take in Chris (“how can Nedin be trusted”) Nedin’s Big Dick (Chris was so excited about it, how could I resist). Despite being nearly devoid of bamboo, Adelaide is renown in song (“just another boring night in Adelaide” “people ask me, why Adelaide?”) and justifiably famous for being perched on the edge of umpteen square kilometers of burning desert.

But the desert holds many treasures, one of which is the finest collection of fossils from the Ediacaran period, a Precambrian era that features lots of weird, squashy creatures and mysterious animal tracks, and some things that Intelligent Design creationists don’t want to talk about, because they throw doubt on the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” that they claim evolution can’t explain. But now a creature has been found that wipes out the Cambrian Explosion (clue, see picture).

Bronowski on DVD

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A few people commenting on my post about Jacob Bronowski asked if The Ascent of Man was available on DVD. A friend has emailed to let me know that it is available not only on European-DVD format, but also on a format readable by U.S. DVD players.

You call that a crocodile?

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Here's a cool beast from the late Jurassic/early Cretaceous that tells us a little more about the past diversity of crocodilians. It's called Dakosaurus andiniensis, and all we have of it is a skull and a few fragmentary post-cranial bits. It's a strange, strange skull, though.

Continue reading "You call that a crocodile?" (on Pharyngula)

Seems that the Judge agreed with Dembsk after all: Intelligent Design offers a biblical alternative to Darwinism

Intelligent Design offers biblical alternative to Darwinian evolution, Dembski says at SBTS forum 2005 By David Roach, May 07:

The Intelligent Design movement has generated controversy because it deals with issues at the core of the current debate between secularists and those who hold a Christian worldview, said scientist and author William Dembski at a forum held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary March 23.

The forum, entitled “Darwinism and the Church: a Conversation on Intelligent Design and Cultural Engagement,” was moderated by Russell D. Moore, Southern’s senior vice president for academic administration, dean of the school of theology and director of the event’s sponsor, the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

You might recall that the IDEA clubs required that their leaders be Christian (linked to Google cache).

1) Having an interest in intelligent design and creation - evolution issues, and a willingness to learn more.

2) Agreeing with and being willing to uphold the IDEA Center's mission statement.

3) Having a desire and commitment to using these issues to educate and outreach to your fellow students, campus, or community.

4) We also require that club leaders be Christians as the IDEA Center Leadership believes, for religious reasons unrelated to intelligent design theory, that the identity of the designer is the God of the Bible. It is definitely not necessary to "be an expert" to start and run a successful a club. It is helpful to be familiar with the basics of intelligent design theory, but if you're not, that's where the IDEA Center hopes to step in and help educate you so you can in turn educate others. Where ever you feel like you might need help--whether its science, leadership skills, or practical tips for running the club--that's where the IDEA Center wants to step in an help you. We try to help give any club founder all the tools they might need to start and run a succesful club and help promote a better understanding of the creation - evolution issue at their schools.

No more! The rules have been changed.

1) Having an interest in intelligent design and creation - evolution issues, and a willingness to learn more.

2) Agreeing with and being willing to uphold the IDEA Center's mission statement.

3) Having a desire and commitment to using these issues to educate and outreach to your fellow students, campus, or community.

4) IDEA Club leaders must advocate the scientific theory of intelligent design in the fields of biology and physics/cosmology.

5) There are no requirements regarding the religious beliefs of IDEA Club leaders or founders.

So now, instead of requiring Christianity, they require a) that one be an advocate of the "scientific theory of intelligent design" and b) that one agree with the IDEA center's mission statement. That's interesting; there is no scientific theory of intelligent design. There is no science behind it, and it doesn't qualify as a theory—even calling it a hypothesis is over-generous, since we typically expect even hypotheses to have some foundation in evidence and observation. That's strike one. What about that mission statement?

We believe that in the investigation of intelligent design the identity of the designer is completely separate from the scientific theory of intelligent design, since a scientific theory cannot specify the identity of the designer based upon the empirical data or the scientific method alone, and is not dependent upon religious premises; nonetheless, we consider it reasonable to conclude that the designer may be identified as the God of the Bible, while recognizing that others may identify the designer in a different way.

How cunning! They cut out the blatant religious requirement and buried it more subtly in the mission statement—if you don't think it reasonable to identify the designer as the God of the Bible, you aren't the kind of person they want running their clubs. I guess the Raelians are going to be disappointed.

Intelligent Design creationists do seem fond of sneaking their beliefs in through the back door, don't they?

It's also interesting how much they emphasize that absolutely no expertise is required to be a leader in the IDEA clubs. That's their clientele: people who know absolutely nothing about science, but are willing and eager to repudiate it.

[Update: Oops! Bronowski’s birthday is Jan. 18, not Jan. 8. I had it written down correctly on my calendar, but stupidly didn’t consult my calendar on the morning of the 8th when I began writing this post. Lesson: don’t rely on memory alone! But in any case, happy birthday, Dr. Bronowski!]

On this day in 1908, Jacob Bronowski was born in Lodz, Poland. By the time he died in 1974, the world had changed so drastically as to be virtually unrecognizable. Amazingly, Bronowski was on the scene for a great many of the twentieth century’s most drastic changes, both in art and in science.

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