February 12, 2006 - February 18, 2006 Archives


Once upon a time, I was one of those nerds who hung around Radio Shack and played about with LEDs and resistors and capacitors; I know how to solder and I took my first old 8-bit computer apart and put it back together again with "improvements." In grad school I was in a neuroscience department, so I know about electrodes and ground wires and FETs and amplifiers and stimulators. Here's something else I know: those generic components in this picture don't do much on their own. You can work out the electrical properties of each piece, but a radio or computer or stereo is much, much more than a catalog of components or a parts list.


Electronics geeks know the really fun stuff starts to happen when you assemble those components into circuits. That's where the significant work lies and where the actual function of the device is generated—take apart your computer, your PDA, your cell phone, your digital camera and you'll see similar elements everywhere, and the same familiar components you can find in your Mouser catalog. As miniaturization progresses, of course, more and more of that functionality is hidden away in tiny integrated circuits…but peel away the black plastic of those chips, and you again find resistors and transistors and capacitors all strung together in specific arrangements to generate specific functions.

We're discovering the same thing about genomes.

The various genome projects have basically produced for us a complete parts list—a catalog of bits in our toolbox. That list is incredibly useful, of course, and represents an essential starting point, but how a genome produces an organism is actually a product of the interactions between genes and gene products and the cytoplasm and environment, and what we need next is an understanding of the circuitry: how Gene X expression is connected to Gene Y expression and what the two together do to Gene Z. Some scientists are suggesting that an understanding of the circuitry of the genome is going to explain some significant evolutionary phenomena, such as the Cambrian explosion and the conservation of core genetic processes.

Continue reading "It's not just the genes, it's the links between them" (on Pharyngula)

Underworld: Evolution

| | Comments (23)
Dr Beckinsale visits the Discovery Institute

I saw the movie Underworld: Evolution last night. Stop looking at me like that—it was research. It has the word "evolution" in the title, doesn't it? Besides, I have this idea to improve the promotion of science by having all of our spokespeople be dangerously nubile armed women with good cheekbones, full lips, and very sharp teeth. I figure the two things we've been lacking in our presentations to the public are lust and fear, and if we can just bring those into play, we'll have an unbeatable combination.

As I learned at this movie, too, if you've got gorgeous women and slimy, ravening beasts confronting each other with big guns, nothing in the story has to make any sense at all. There was no plot: instead, there are a series of set-pieces strung together in which Our Heroine is placed in someplace dark, wet, and seedy with a supply of weapons and hapless allies/fang fodder to confront a suitably snouty or batty SFX playtoy. They aren't even consistent in how these conflicts are resolved. Big bad immortal vampires get shot multiple times at point blank range with a shotgun, and shake it off with a snarl; but when Sir Derek Jacobi, following in the fine British tradition of slumming in some well-paying American trash, finds the movie so embarrassingly bad that he has to get out, the movie makers decide that the way to have his immortal character die is to poke him with something pointy, followed by a languorous death scene in which Jacobi completely turns off his ability to act. It was impressively flat, a cinematic vampire death scene that ranks right up there with Pee Wee Herman's in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, yet utterly different.

Somehow this murky, muddled mess of a movie got made, and got people (like, say, me!) to attend. There's a lesson here.

I'm going to have to get a skin-tight vinyl body suit for my next presentation.

I'll let you guess whether I'm trying to inspire lust or fear.

NCSE’s 700 club

| | Comments (20) | TrackBacks (1)

You too can join. If your name is Steve, Stephany, Stephan, or any other variant of Steve.

February 16, 2006, is the third anniversary of the public unveiling of NCSE’s Project Steve, so it seems like a good time to announce – with due apologies to the Reverend Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network – NCSE’s 700 Club. Yes, with the addition of Stephen A. Wells, a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University, there are now 700 scientists named Steve who have publicly agreed:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

Read more at Announcing the NCSE 700 Club

Dembski and the Bible Code

| | Comments (86) | TrackBacks (1)

Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble (which ought to be on everyone’s daily reading list) calls attention to something I didn’t know: Bill Dembski endorsed the Bible Code nonsense (also reproduced here), identifying it with his intelligent design detection methodology:

At the same time that research in the Bible Code has taken off, research in a seemingly unrelated field has taken off as well, namely, biological design. These two fields are in fact closely related. Indeed, the same highly improbable, independently given patterns that appear as the equidistant letter sequences in the Bible Code appear in biology as functionally integrated (“irreducibly complex”) biological systems, of the sort Michael Behe discussed in Darwin’s Black Box.

The relevant statistical methodology is identical for both fields. As a result, the two fields stand to profit from each other. For instance, my forthcoming book, The Design Inference, gives a thorough account of universal probability bounds, i.e., how small a p-value one needs to eliminate chance decisively. (Although the literature on universal probability bounds dates back to the French probabilist Emile Borel, it seems not to have been engaged by the Bible Code researchers.)

This convergence of the Bible Code and biological design should not seem surprising. There is a tradition within both Judaism and Christianity of speaking of two “books” where God reveals himself—the Book of Scripture, which is the Bible, and the Book of Nature, which is the world. I commend Jeffrey Satinover for his efforts to read both books.

The Bible Code nonsense has been thoroughly debunked: See here for a compendium of dissections, and see also Chaper 14 in Mark Perakh’s Unintelligent Design. Does Dembski still assert the identity, and has he profited from the lesson of the Bible Code? Not visibly. His design detection methodology has been debunked as thoroughly as the Bible Codes, yet IDists still claim that they have a methodology for detecting design. They are in the same boat: a convergence of cranks.


Flock of Dodos continues

| | Comments (27)

On the Loom, Carl Zimmer provides us with an interview with Randy Olson. As you may remember, Randy is the director of the movie “Flock of Dodos”.

Randy’s comments and suggestions have generated quite some disagreement from PZ Myers on Pharyngula and John Lynch on Stranger Fruit.

Let’s first look at Randy’s suggstions as to how to improve communication, then some of the disagreements and finally I will give my $0.02 on the matter. I also hope that the readers of PandasThumb will contribute to explore these issues as they go to the heart of how the issue how to best teach and educate the layperson about evolutionary theory.

William Dembski has joined the fray at evolutionnews with the following non-sequitur:

Ecstatic because “critical analysis of X” removed from standards

Dembski Wrote:

Question: Is there any other field of inquiry — other than evolution, that is — whose advocates become ecstatic when critical analysis of its subject is suppressed?

While Dembski may not be trained in logic, the rethoric can be easily addressed by simply pointing out that people are ecstatic because yet another attempt to introduce Intelligent Design to schools has been stopped not because they object to critical thinking. History shows that the opposition was to the term “critical thinking” because it may lead to the inevitable attempt to ‘teach the controversy’ as promoted by so many ID activists. The fears were not unwarranted because soon a lesson plan emerged which used flawed, misleading or plainly wrong arguments, taken often almost verbatim from creationist resources.

Anyone familiar with science knows that science thrives on controversy and critical thinking.

The Dover Trap

| | Comments (94) | TrackBacks (1)

Last January in my public remarks to the Ohio Board of Education after it had narrowly voted to retain the ID creationist lesson plan, I said that “This Board has set a ‘Dover Trap’ for every local school district in Ohio”.

By “Dover Trap” I meant that the Trojan Horse “critically analyze” benchmark and the creationist model lesson plan that operationalized the benchmark tacitly sanctioned teaching intelligent design creationism (in any of its guises) in Ohio schools, and in doing so it exposed Ohio local school districts to the same risk that Dover took. Aside from the pedagogical problems of teaching the intellectual vacuity of creationism, any district that tolerated or sanctioned teaching Wellsian B.S. would in effect be betting $1 million that it was worth teaching.

Father Michael Cochran of the State Board was quoted as saying, “If they think we are wrong — take us to court.” That’s easy for Cochran to say: He wouldn’t pay for anything. But for some little district in Vinton County or Holmes County or Coshocton County, it would be a devastating blow to be so ill served by the Ohio BOE.

In a recent development, the American Family Association has offered similar legal assistance. In a press release its Center for Law & Policy has offered to defend the Ohio State Board if it reinstates the deleted material. (The Ohio ID creationist organization SEAO was a project of AFA.) One can expect that AFA’s defense will be as “free” as the Thomas More Center’s defense in Dover, and worth just as much.

Now that the offending benchmark, indicator, and lesson plan are gone from the Ohio state standards and model curriculum, there is not even the weak justification of State Board action for local Ohio districts to lean on. Any Ohio district that teaches intelligent design creationism-inspired glop now is wholly on its own.

I commend the “Dover Trap” phrase to colleagues elsewhere. Remind local superintendents that neither their state BOE nor their state legislature can protect them from the federal courts, and that they stand to take an enormous hit if they teach sectarian ID creationist pseudoscience, including the “teach the controversy” and “critical analysis of evolution” shams.

ACLU: America’s intellectual terrorists?

| | Comments (155)

On UncommonDescent, DougMoran is upset with the ACLU calling it “America’s Intellectual Terrorists” for failing to “protect our children from being told that they are unplanned and have no purpose”. The irony of it all is that the term unguided was added by the ID minority in Kansas. Read on for the rest of the story.

Dougmoran Wrote:

“… public schools should not be used by people to teach their personal religious beliefs to other people’s children…”

I agree. So when is the ACLU going to protect our children from being told they are unplanned and have no purpose and must believe the religion of Dawkin’s god?

First prizes in the worldwide competition for most hypocritical religious zealots and most vile intellectual terrorists go to the ACLU.

ACLU of Ohio Demands Schools Stop Teaching Intelligent Design as Science

The irony of this all is that the term unguided was added to the text by the ID minority in Kansas… If DougMoran considers that ACLU ‘intellectual terrorists’ for supposedly not opposing teaching that evolution is unguided, I wonder what words he has reserved for those in Kansas who insisted on including this into the science curriculum.

As we’ve discussed many times, the ID movement has changed its strategy regarding the policies they are advocating to be adopted by school boards and legislatures. They know that any hint of the phrase “intelligent design” is going to be struck down by the courts, especially in light of the Dover ruling. In fact, they knew this before the Dover ruling ever came down. The big switch really began in Ohio in 2002 in an attempt to make the target too small for our side to attack successfully. Thus, you now have them advocating policies that would not teach ID explicitly.

In one place they may advocate that schools “teach the controversy” over evolution; in another they may advocate that schools teach “the arguments for and against evolution” or “the scientific evidence for and against evolution”; in a third, they may want schools to encourage “critical analysis” or “critical evaluation” of evolution; in a fourth, they may be pushing the idea of teaching “all scientific views about evolution.” All of these phrases mean essentially the same thing - they want the basic arguments that they make against evolution (which is the form that all of their arguments take) taught as valid, they just don’t want them labelled “intelligent design” so as to avoid the scrutiny of the courts.

Another key aspect of their rhetorical strategy is to pretend that their opponents are engaging in crazy conspiracy theories or, to use Casey Luskin’s amusing phrase, suffering from “false fear syndrome”, and seeing the ID boogeyman where it doesn’t exist. They have to say this, of course, whether it’s true or not; to say anything else would give up the game. Thus, we get statements like this from the sponsor of the bill in the Michigan legislature that invokes two of the four variations of the new strategy (“critical analysis” and “arguments for and against”):

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

Ken Ham, AiG’s President and coauthor Mark Looy, lead off today’s daily devotional on their web site claiming that “[e]volutionary scientists throughout America are running scared.” Even to the most casual of readers, this has got to be one of the most obviously desperately penned quips from America’s leading “Humans Plowing Their Fields Behind Dinosaurs” advocate yet.

A book list for evolutionists

| | Comments (35)

A while back, I presented a book list for evolutionists. Now I’ve updated it, adding a few recommendations and adding links so you can choose your favorite book vendor.

Tangled Bank #47


Dan Ely testifies in Ohio (and Kansas)

| | Comments (23)

On Evolution News Casey Luskin reports on Dan Ely. Dan Ely had testified in Kansas and was objecting to the characterization of his position on the age of the earth

When advocating that the Board repeal the Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan, Board Member Martha K. Wise repeatedly emphasized the claim that authors of the Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan were creationists. Wise alleged that during the Kansas hearings, Dan Ely testified that he was “struggling with the age of the earth” and stated “He [Ely] thinks the earth is only Five-thousand years old. That’s not just ID. That’s young earth creationism.”

Ely’s testimony fully rebutted Wise’s misrepresentation of Ely’s viewpoint. Ely said that in Kansas, many of the witnesses were asked about their views on the age of the earth. “My answer was ‘We heard today anywhere from five-thousand years to five million years or five billion years,” and everybody laughed, “And most of the evidence looks like it’s very old.” Ely called Martha Wise’s alleged explanation of Ely’s views on the age of the earth “totally erroneous.”

The internet to the rescue (what a little resource can do for a story…): on Talkorigins we find the transcript of the Kansas hearings. In particular the cross examination by Mr Irigonegaray of Dr. Dan Ely. Dr. Ely is a Professor of Biology at the University of Akron, Ohio.

The Win in Ohio

| | Comments (148) | TrackBacks (10)

UPDATE 2: MP3 of Board debate on the motion

Update: Text of the motion is now below the fold

Ohio is no longer on the Disco Institute’s list of favorite states for pilgrimages. Late this afternoon, by an 11-4 vote, the Ohio State Board of Education stripped out the intelligent-design creationist “critical analysis of evolution” benchmark, indicator, and lesson plan from the 10th Grade Biology curriculum.

I do not yet have the exact text of the resolution – it was amended somewhat in flight, so I have to transcribe the recording to get the precise wording. But the resolution had four main parts: It’s below the fold.

1. Eliminate the “critical analysis of evolution” benchmark and indicator from the Science Standards.

2. Eliminate the “Critical Analysis of Evolution” model lesson plan from the Model Curriculum..

3. Instruct the Achievement Committee (formerly the Standards Committee) to consider whether the benchmark, indicator, and lesson plan should be replaced with something more acceptable.

4. Instruct the Ohio Department of Education to notify every school district in Ohio of these actions.

The press release of Ohio Citizens for Science, distributed immediately after the vote, is below the fold. Later tonight when I have transcribed the final form of the motion from the recording I’ll post that below the fold as well.

Ohio news

| | Comments (19) | TrackBacks (4)

School Board Kills Lesson Plan Criticizing Evolution

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The state school board has voted to eliminate a lesson plan and science standards that critics said opened the door to teaching intelligent design, a form of creationism.

Flock of Dodos

| | Comments (42)

Update: Carl Zimmer reviews “Flock of Dodos”

Olson makes his point about the emptiness of Intelligent Design more effectively than a lot of scientists themselves have.

and additional links

Check out the Flock of Dodos website where filmmaker and marine biologist Randy Olson explores Intelligent Design versus evolution issues.

Various reviews are available online. And don’t miss the trailer which is quite funny.

Herbert Kroemer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2000, was quite moved when he read physicist Marshall Berman’s essay “Intelligent Design: The New Creationism Threatens All of Science and Society” on the Back Page of the American Physical Society’s October 2005 issue of APS News.

He was so moved, he decided to “get engaged” with the issue, and sent a Letter to the Editor of the local Santa Barbara newspaper. This letter was printed, not as a simple Letter to the Editor, but rather as a Sunday guest commentary, in January 2006.

Dr. Kroemer has given his permission to have his complete article, not just the edited version printed in the Santa Barbara News-Press, reproduced here on the Thumb for posterity.

We recently interviewed Dr. Massimo Pigliucci for Darwin Day. Dr. Pigliucci is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at SUNY-Stony Brook and founded Darwin Day at the University of Tennessee. We at the thumb would like to thank Dr. Pigliucci for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Can you tell us a little about your scientific background and current lab research?

I have a PhD in botany (University of Connecticut) and one in philosophy (University of Tennessee). My interests include research on gene-environment interactions (nature-nurture), as well as philosophy of science. My lab’s web page is www.genotypebyenvironment.org.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Darwin Day? Why did you start Darwin Day?

A good intro to the history of D-Day can be found in the Wikipedia. I started one of the first versions at the University of Tennessee in 1997, in response to a misguided (and fortunately failed) attempt of the Tennessee legislature to pass an anti-evolution law demanding equal teaching time for creationism.

Evolution Sunday: The Day After

| | Comments (19)

The initial reports are starting to trickle in about classes, sermons and other activities related to Evolution Sunday.

Mutation, selection and complexity

| | Comments (256)

A while ago on ASA, Glenn Morton referenced the work by Boraas. I have always been fascinated by this reference but unable to find much relevant literature. Until recently, when I accidentally ran across more recent reearch in this area. I would like to share what I learned and how these findings may help understand evolution of multicellularity.

The original references was to a paper published in EOS called “Predator-mediated algal evolution in Chemostat culture”. In 1998, Boraas published another paper titled “Phagotrophy by a flagellate selects for colonial prey: A possible origin of multicellularity” in Evolutionary Ecology 1998, 12, 153-164

Darwin and Lincoln Day


Darwin Day


Today is the 197th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. In honor of this, I’ve tried to pull together a mini-blog carnival of posts related to Darwin and evolution. It’s available over at The Questionable Authority.

Evolution Sunday/Darwin Day

| | Comments (60)

The Rev. Richard E. Edwards will not mince words in his sermon today about God and Charles Darwin, the 19th century naturalist whose theory of evolution rocked the world.

”I want to reaffirm the compatibility of Biblical tradition and modern science,” said Edwards, pastor of Stony Brook Community Church, a small, Methodist congregation that draws members from the nearby university and medical center. “This is a community where science counts, and where folks really need to hear that.”

Source Compromise between Darwin and God

See also Google Related Stories for more newspaper articles and links on Evolution Sunday

Evolution Sunday is part of a broader campaign begun a year ago called the Clergy Letter Project. Through e-mail and word-of-mouth, 10,266 clergy have now signed an online letter backing evolution as “a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”

To celebrate Darwin Day, The Virginia Quarterly Review has released Niles Eldredge’s essay “Confessions of a Darwinist”. It will be published as part of a special on Darwin, evolution, and ID in the spring issue.

Read “Confessions of a Darwinist” by Niles Eldredge.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

February 5, 2006 - February 11, 2006 is the previous archive.

February 19, 2006 - February 25, 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.01