January 22, 2006 - January 28, 2006 Archives

Elsberry on dKos

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Darksyde’s “Know your creationists” series on Daily Kos has become a “Know your friends” edition today, with a profile of Wesley Elsberry of the NCSE.

Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) hits the nail dead-on this morning. This is such a central point that I include his post here in its entirety. (I’ll see Pat at our ID, Science Ed and the Law event later today, and beg forgiveness then.)

ID’s Split Personality

In those long-ago days when RSR lived in the Big Apple, we were often accosted on the street by young men who were selling “scents,” by which they meant marijuana. As we wove our way down the street between competing sales teams, we were often struck by the paradoxical situation the job of selling drugs placed these guys in.

On the one hand, they had to be visible enough to move product. On the other, they had to stay hidden in order to avoid arrest and remain on the street.

It strikes us that the theorists charged with pushing intelligent design product on the public find themselves in much the same contradictory situation.

Seems like convergent evolution has been a hot topic recently. (See, for example, this recent PT post.)

On January 25th, the National Geographic reported that

After languishing for decades in the bowels of a New York museum, a dinosaur- era crocodile relative is seeing the light—and shedding secrets. New studies of the forgotten fossil reveal that the species walked on two feet and looked much like a so-called ostrich dinosaur, though the two are barely related, paleontologists report.

The specimen, Effigia okeeffeae, languished at the American Museum of Natural History for almost 60 years since its discovery at the Ghost Ranch quarry in New Mexico, near the digs of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, after whom the creature is named.

The Discovery Institute, over at their Media Complaints Division Blog, has posted yet another article castigating Judge Jones for ruling that Intelligent Design is unscientific.

This one, by a second-year law student, takes more or less the same tone as the others:

In this detailed analysis, I will take a close look at Judge Jones reasoning, and evaluate the potential legal basis for determining the scientific status of ID. Ultimately, I find that the Kitzmiller opinion has no legal basis to determine the scientific status of intelligent design, and as such, is merely the opinion of one man, not the law as proclaimed by a federal district court judge.

Ed Brayton, over at Dispatches, has already fisked the substance of that post. I’d like to take a second to look at something else: the Discovery Institute’s pre-decision view of how the judge should rule.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Since the Dover ruling came out, the ID crowd has repeated ad nauseum the claim that Judge Jones should have ruled solely on the legal issues of the case and had no authority to rule on the scientific status of ID. The most recent example is this post by new DI Media Complaints Division contributor Michael Francisco. Despite being a second year law student at Cornell, Francisco seems entirely unaware of Federal court rules regarding the evaluation of scientific testimony and of the fact that judges make such decisions every day because they must.

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

by Pete Dunkelberg

Valencia Community College, Orlando FL, 19 Jan 2006, 7:30 PM

Thomas Woodward, professor of religion at Trinity College and Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University debated evolution vs intelligent design (ID) before a packed hall. Woodward spoke first. His first slide advertised the videos Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mysteries of Life. Then he flashed a slide associating evolution with atheism in very large letters. (In reality, biology is merely nontheistic just as chemistry, physics and plumbing are.) Then he started with a major theme: there may be some “microevolution”, which doesn’t count, but there is no evidence for “macroevolution”. To glimpse the volumes of evidence, see Transitional Vertebrate Fossils and 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution.

In the comments section of my most recent post on the Discovery Institute’s publication track record, Spike made the following suggestion:

Here is the only scientific paper that one can link from the Discovery Institute’s list of “Peer-Reviewed, Peer-Edited, and other Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)” http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.ph… . (The rest you have to pay the publishers for, I suppose):


1. Can you, dear reader, understand it? If so, could you explain it to us lay people?

2. Is it science?

Caveat Poster I have no special allegiance to “Darwinsists” (whatever those are), evolutionists, scientists or the people who feel they represent the Truth of Evolution. So don’t play into OSC’s hand and don’t use logical fallacies.

If you want to dismember this paper, do so on rational, scientific grounds. Por favor.

I started out intending to examine the entire paper, but it’s taken me a while to thoroughly respond to (or dismember, if you prefer) just one of the claims. I do have other things to do, so I’m going to restrict my response to addressing his claims about the lack of differences seen between organisms. This doesn’t mean I agree with the rest of the paper - it just means that I only have so much time available for this right now.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

I have been reading some of the responses to the Kitzmiller decision from the Discovery Institute and essays they have linked to. There are some interesting contradictions between the various current essays, and between the current essays and past statements from ID advocates. But before we get to that, be sure to check out the Discovery Institute’s new “Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it” bumper stickers. I bet that attitude will go over great the next time ID advocates end up in federal court!

With that said, let’s compare some statements. All bolds added.

Unlike a few other editorials on the Lebec, CA case about a “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” class, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center went and actually read the Plaintiffs’ complaint and other relevant materials. And guess what? He agrees with the plaintiffs that the class was “a thinly disguised attempt to challenge evolution by promoting intelligent design and creationism.” He goes on to write,

Call for science submissions

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This coming week will be a great one for science carnivals. First up is the Circus of the Spineless which will appear on Pharyngula on Sunday—if you’ve written anything about invertebrates in the past month, send the link to [Enable javascript to see this email address.] by Saturday evening.

The Tangled Bank

The second big event is the next edition of the Tangled Bank, scheduled for Wednesday, 1 February, at Adventures in Ethics and Science. Send links to any science writing to [Enable javascript to see this email address.], [Enable javascript to see this email address.], or [Enable javascript to see this email address.] by next Tuesday.

Hey…and if you written something about the science of invertebrates, send the link to both!

Let’s say that you are someone who is interested in science, knows a bit about it, but aren’t an expert. You might be someone who reads a lot of popular science books, or who watches a lot of science programs on tv. You might read a lot of science fiction. It’s even possible that you are a science fiction author.

You have heard a bit about the whole intelligent design thing, but you may not have been following it closely - particularly when it’s not in the news. You are also at least a bit disposed to root for the underdog. It’s a better story, and you know that it has been real sometimes. People really did laugh at Fulton and the Wright Brothers, and some scientific theories have faced opposition from entrenched opponents. So how do you know that this isn’t the case with Intelligent Design? Why should you trust us when we tell you that the ID people aren’t really doing science, and that their real motives are much, much more political than scientific. Why shouldn’t you believe the DI’s claims that we represent an entrenched “Darwinian orthodoxy?”

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

FYI: Here is an announcement for an event we are holding in Lawrence, Kansas this Saturday. We have a n overflow crowd signed up. Of course, we will be reporting on this next week. Bloggers Red State Rabble and Josh Rosenau will be there, as well as lots of other media. We hope to have a film available for interested parties later. Stay tuned.

Kansas Citizens For Science and the National Center for Science Education present

“Intelligent Design, Kansas Science Education, and the Law” Saturday, January 28, 2006 1:00 – 5:00 pm The Dole Institute of Politics 2350 Petefish Drive, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS,

Bob Murphy, an economist, has an article at the thoroughly loathsome LewRockwell.com (please don’t try and tell me the people who write for that site are libertarians; that collection of southern nationalists and whackos is anything but libertarian) about what he terms “typical objections to intelligent design.” Much like Orson Scott Card’s article, however, this one relies upon the old tactic of beating up straw men. Rather than engaging the strongest objections to ID he only engages the easy ones, the clumsy attacks on the character of ID advocates rather than the serious and substantive criticism of the validity of ID itself. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

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

Red State Rabble: Dembski Flops In Oz

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Catherine Odson, a reporter for The University Daily Kansan described the evening this way:

Insistent, assertive questions nagged Monday night’s speaker, who felt his explanation of the scientific evidence of intelligent design fell upon “deaf ears.”

Audience members awarded both applause and laughter to the questioners who stepped publicly into the controversy over intelligent design in Kansas.

Dembski, who may have been led to expect a warmer reception for his ideas – he was in Kansas, after all – seemed to grow testy as questioner after questioner expressed doubt about his assertion that evolution is a failed theory and that patterns in nature are best explained as a result of intelligence.

Read more at Red State Rabble

Or Read Jack Krebs explaining why Dembski had decided to present alone.

Or read on for some observations

Conservative religious groups are once again making grade school textbooks the battleground. In California, supremacists and revisionists are trying to make radical changes to kids' textbooks, inserting propaganda and absurd assertions that are not supported in any way by legitimate scholars. The primary effort is to mangle history, but they're also trying to make ridiculous claims about scientific issues.

Such as that civilization started 111.5 trillion years ago, and that people flew to the moon and set off atomic bombs thousands of years ago.

(OK, everyone, let's all do our best imitation Jon Stewart double-take: "Whaaa…??")

Yeah, these aren't fundamentalist Christians, but Hindu nationalists with very strange ideas—still, it's the same old religious nonsense. Two groups, the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation, have a whole slate of peculiar historical ideas driven by their religious ideology, and are pressuring the California State Board of Education to modify textbooks. They want to recast Hinduism as a monotheistic religion, whitewash the caste system and the oppression of women, and peddle racist notions about Aryan origins.

This is what happens when religious dogma is allowed to dictate educational content—reality and evidence and objective analysis all become irrelevant. The earth is neither 111.5 trillion years old, nor only 6,000 years old, and the errors and misperceptions of old priests are not a sound foundation for science. It doesn't matter whether those priests spoke Sanskrit or Hebrew, since their ideas are the product of revealed 'knowledge' rather than critical, evidence-based research, they don't belong in a public school classroom.

Heck, what am I saying? It's just another idea, right? Let's teach the controversy and allow orthodox Hindu supremacists to battle it out with fundamentalist Christian dominionists in front of sixth graders. It should be exciting and enlightening.

(via Butterflies and Wheels)

Sometimes, I love being wrong

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It seems I may have spoken too soon. Quoting myself:

One historical event that has been the subject of much speculation over the decades has been the Plague of Athens, a mysterious outbreak that is thought to have changed the direction of the Peloponnesian War, and for which the cause still remains uncertain.

This plague has been attributed to bubonic plague, toxic shock syndrome and/or necrotizing fasciitis due to Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, yellow fever, malaria, Ebola, influenza, and smallpox, to name just a few. Typhus seems to fit the description best, but it’s likely that a cause will never be known with certainty.

Little did I know when I posted that on my old blog (just last month!) that a study had already been accepted to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases suggesting that it’s not typhus (caused by Rickettsia prowazekii), but typhoid fever (Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi) that appears to be the cause of the plague.

(Find out how over at Aetiology)

Update on South Carolina

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Here is a report of what transpired today at the “balanced panel” of the Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee meeting that I discussed previously. I am going off of accounts by other people who were present, so please don’t take any of this as chiseled in stone.

The subcommittee actually voted (3-0) to take no action on the standards at present. They will be sent back to the state Dept. of Education for more work, then forwarded to the subcommittee, and then the subcommittee will make its recommendation to the full Educational Oversight Committee. There’s no time limit attached to this, so this could effectively table the thing indefinitely (given that the BOE has already instituted a previous version of the standards for the time being), or it could just keep it going a lot longer. Or it could mean that the four indicators get killed altogether. Hard to say.

Below the fold I list some highlights (or lowlights) of the meeting. Again, let me repeat the caveat that this is my second-hand rendition.

What do you think?

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I asked awhile back for some of your thoughts on improving science education, particularly in the U.S. In yesterday’s NY Times, there was a story about discussing one measure that might help in this area:

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed “a rigorous secondary school program of study” and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.

Sounds good initially. The problem:

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.

The rest of the article grapples with those issues, so I’ll leave that to you to read (registration may be required).

After examining the pros and cons, what do you think of the idea? *Should* the national government set some standards for a “rigorous program of study” for the kids to meet to receive these grants? Is there a better way to dole them out? Should they be offered at all? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

Fair and Balanced

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It was bound to happen. A colleague recently described South Carolina as “low hanging fruit” for the ID movement. Nevertheless, the creationists have been relatively quiet in this state, and have instead been acting up in places that you wouldn’t normally associate with the Religious Right – Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, etc. Well, that’s changing.

South Carolina received an “A” for its treatment of evolution in the Fordham Foundation’s recent report, and this has angered state Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville), who is presumably afraid that this could ruin SC’s reputation as a backwards state. This isn’t the first time. Back in 2003, Fair reacted to the Fordham Foundation’s report by authoring a bill that would put warning labels in text books containing the following bizarre and plainly untrue statement: “The cause or causes of life are not scientifically verifiable. Therefore, empirical science cannot provide data about the beginning of life.” The bill, thankfully, went nowhere. Last June, he filed a bill that would require teaching “alternatives” to evolution, which he specifically said would require teaching ID. I believe that one has yet to be taken up by the legislature, but the Kitzmiller decision pretty well preempted it. More recently, he’s tried to amend an education bill to establish a “science committee” to explore whether “alternatives” to evolution should be taught in schools. The efforts of a few local scientists who spoke out against it helped get the amendment removed.

But now he’s at it again.

Luskin: Humans did evolve

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On Evolution News (sic)Luskin shows once again why Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous

Luskin Wrote:

Sure, they just finished decoding the chimp genome but it actually lessened our knowledge of human/chimp similarities rather than upping it. Similarities could easily be the result of “common design” rather than common descent—where a designer wanted to design organisms on a similar blueprint and thus used similar genes in both organisms. This doesn’t challenge ID.

In other words, our ignorance (or perhaps better phrased Luskin’s unfamiliarity with science) seems to be evidence of Intelligent Design?

Common descent requires nested hierarchies, common design has no such requirements and thus the claim that ID can accomodate the evidence is an ad hoc argument. Unless one has independent understanding of the “Designer’s” this argument fails to be scientific.

Of course, even if common descent were true, this would not challenge ID since ID could equally well accomodate that the “Designer” front-loaded evolution. In other words, with Intelligent Design, anything goes.

The Second Million

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The Panda’s Thumb went live on March 23rd, 2004. Back on September 12th, 2005, Panda’s Thumb celebrated its one millionth user visit. Today, one of you tipped the counter to give PT its two millionth visit.

In between the first and second million mark, you have come to PT to get the latest on happenings in the “Waterloo In Dover”, the Kitzmiller v. DASD court case that now informs school board policies and has proven so useful in educating the media. The recently settled lawsuit in El Tejon, California demonstrated that nicely. Whether you have a preference for digestion or development, PT contributors have also helped keep you informed on recently published findings from the scientific literature. And, of course, our Professor Steve Steve keeps turning up with interesting news, like the finding of a pre-Cambrian chordate, and meeting fascinating people.

So we hope that you will keep coming back to visit, and we will keep working on providing timely news and commentary on evolutionary biology and the religiously-motivated antievolution efforts to deny or diminish its teaching in the public schools.

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