February 25, 2007 - March 3, 2007 Archives

Openlab 2007

John Dupuis at Confessions of a Science Librarian has good things to say about The Open Laboratory (2006).

At first glance it seems that [Bora] Zivkovic set himself an impossible task trying to pull something decent together, both in terms of the presentation and the quality of the content, in such a short period of time. We can probably only expect something shoddy and half-assed—right? Well, I’m happy to say that all fears of disaster were certainly not justified—anyone that pays attention to Zivkovic’s blog knows that he’s smart, capable, dedicated and without a doubt energetcic and that he wouldn’t let something unworthy out the door.

This review is just in time for Bora’s announcement that we are now taking submissions for the 2007 anthology. Unlike last year, we will begin to compile a list of worthy posts in March instead of at the last minute in December. Any original blog entry made between 12-20-06 and 12-20-07 is eligible.

If you want to spread the word, I have put together a badge that you can use to link to the submission form.

Also for all you 2006 winners, I have made a badge honoring your achievement. Go ahead, place it on your blog so everyone can know how great of a science blogger you are. Note that you can see a demo over in our sidebar.

You can find html code for the badges on my blog.

Professor Jay Wexler’s article on the Kitzmiller case, Kitzmiller And The “Is It Science?” Question, 5 First Amend. L. Rev. 90 (2006), has been the source of some glee for Creationist Casey Luskin. In the article, Wexler contends that Judge Jones’s finding that Intelligent Design isn’t science was unnecessary and unwise. Luskin, never one for, you know, legal thinking, immediately pounced on the article to say that Wexler “agreed in print with my position on this question.” Now that I’ve seen the article, I can say that, as is typical for Luskin, this is at best a half truth.

Casey Luskin, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog doesn’t like the reaction that an Idaho crowd had to a PZ Myers quote. He believes that both Myers and the crowd were being intolerant.

Here’s the PZ quote at the center of the issue. Actually, as Paul points out in his own response to Casey, the “quote” is actually two separate quotes taken from two totally separate posts, and stuck together with a totally inappropriate ellipsis. (When two statements appear on two separate websites two months apart, you really aren’t supposed to link them with three little dots and pretend that it’s all one quote.)

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

There was a pro-ID confab in Istanbul last week. Among the speakers was mathematician David Berlinski, whose boneheaded essays appear in Commentary with depressing regularity. A brief abstract of his talk is posted at the conference website, and it stresses five main points that he regards as fatal to Darwinian theory. Over at EvolutionBlog I have posted a few thoughts in reply. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

Tangled Bank #74

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The Tangled Bank

Well, finally…a certain evil monkey quite playing around to bring us Tangled Bank #74, in which he says cruel things about me. You'll want to read it just to see how he crushed my delicate feelings.

Triple Review

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Our own Paul Gross reviews three books concerning evolution and creationism for Skeptic magazine. The books are Arthur McCalla’s The Creationist Debate, Wallace Arthur’s Creatures of Accident, and Francis S. Collins’ The Language of God. Read and enjoy!


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Halkieriids are Cambrian animals that looked like slugs in scale mail; often when they died their scales, called sclerites, dissociated and scattered, and their sclerites represent a significant component of the small shelly fauna of the early Cambrian. They typically had their front and back ends capped with shells that resembled those we see in bivalve brachiopods. Wiwaxiids were also sluglike, but sported very prominent, long sclerites, and lacked the anterior and posterior shells; their exact position in the evolutionary tree has bounced about quite a bit, but some argument has made that they belong in the annelid ancestry, and that their sclerites are homologous to the bristly setae of worms. One simplistic picture of their relationship to modern forms was that the halkieriids expanded their shells and shed their scales to become molluscs, while the wiwaxiids minimized their armor to emphasize flexibility and became more wormlike. (Note that that is a very crude summary; relationships of these Cambrian groups to modern clades are extremely contentious. There's a more accurate description of the relationships below.)

Now a new fossil has been found, Orthozanclus reburrus that unites the two into a larger clade, the halwaxiids. Like the halkieriids, it has an anterior shell (but not a posterior one), and like the wiwaxiids, it has long spiky sclerites. In some ways, this simplifies the relationships; it unites some problematic organisms into a single branch on the tree. The question now becomes where that branch is located—whether the halwaxiids belong in a separate phylum that split off from the lophophorate family tree after the molluscs, or whether the halwaxiids are a sister group to the molluscs.

Continue reading "Orthozanclus" (on Pharyngula)

On Uncommon Descent Bill Dembski shows some confusion as to how to interpret the research by Oliver Rando and Kevin Verstrepen. While it may be that Dembski could not spare the time from his supposedly busy research (sic) schedule, a simple reading of the actual article would have resolved much of the confusion.

Remember to use the secret handshake whenever you need to get an ID paper past the Darwinian goalies: “Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, …”

ABSTRACT: According to classical evolutionary theory, phenotypic variation originates from random mutations that are independent of selective pressure. However, recent findings suggest that organisms have evolved mechanisms to influence the timing or genomic location of heritable variability. Hypervariable contingency loci and epigenetic switches increase the variability of specific phenotypes; error-prone DNA replicases produce bursts of variability in times of stress. Interestingly, these mechanisms seem to tune the variability of a given phenotype to match the variability of the acting selective pressure. Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, they suggest that selection and variability are less independent than once thought.

Rando OJ and Verstrepen KJ (2007) “Timescales of Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance” (review) Cell, Vol 128, 655-668, 23.

Four little mini-posts:

1. Good standards have returned - what now?

2. The threat of suit?

3. The Intelligent Design network’s rejoinder to Dodos: “Kansas Science Hearings: Exposing the Evolution Controversy”

4. The Discovery Institute hits bottom

Good standards have returned - what now?

Well, as you all probably know, Kansas once again returned to having good science standards which properly describe the nature of science and the basics of evolution. On Tuesday, February 13 the state Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt the standards written by the duly-appointed writing committee, thus throwing out the standards containing all the material inserted by the Intelligent Design advocates back in 2005.

However, we are not breathing too big a sigh of relief.

The DI blog is all abuzz over this “report” about media misrepresentation of the relationship between the Templeton Foundation and the ID movement. Written by Joseph Campana (Who? Good question), it’s a Wiki posting that tries valiantly to focus on one minor misstatement in a New York Times article written over a year ago in order to distract attention from the real issue.

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

Allah vs evolution

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Joseph Meert, a professor of Hydrocephalic Earth Studies and Structure at Bayou University in Gainesville, Florida (I guess in plain English it has something to do with geology) reports on an appearance there of an Islamic advocate of creationism who explained to the audience of a few tens of students that evolution is impossible because fish is very different from land walking animals. Dr. Meert’s post can be seen here.

I only today ran across this speech Christopher Hitchens gave in September of 2005 at Monticello, to commemorate his book on Thomas Jefferson. In the question and answer session, he was asked about the attempt by some pseudo-historians to portray America as an essentially Christian nation, and he had a few choice words to say about church, state, and Intelligent Design.

Refuting Johnson

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During my recent blog vacation, Phillip Johnson emerged to post some thoughts on the current state and future prospects of ID. It's standard Johnsonian fare, full of distortions and inaccuracies. Reading between the lines, however, it is a remarkably blunt statement of the failure of ID to make much progress among scientists. I've provided a detailed dissection of Johnson's claims over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there. Let me know what you think!


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A Blog Around the Clock and The Intersection have recently posted some pictures that I took of Prof. Steve Steve: gallery.

Professor Steve Steve - new pictures

Prof. Steve-Steve Drinks Me Under the Table

In the next few days, I’ll post pictures from the Triangle meetup.

On Wesley R. Elsberry’s blog at antievolution.org, Wesley discusses the recently stated position of the Templeton Foundation on “Intelligent Design”.

The Templeton Foundation, the deep pockets people for science and religion studies, says that its stance has been misconstrued on “intelligent design” in letters to the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street journal.

Pamela Thompson, Templeton Foundation spokesperson, says in her letter to the LA Times:

We do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political movements.

The statement is probably overdone a bit. The Templeton Foundation did fund a number of projects and people in the “intelligent design” creationism movement. While early recognition of the depth of worthlessness and the essential political nature of “intelligent design” creationism was probably too much to ask, certainly by mid-2000 these elements should have been clear to granting entities like the Templeton Foundation. Templeton’s retreat from IDC, though, only became apparent in 2005.

Good to know that even foundations like the Templeton Foundation are taking a clear distance from the scientific vacuity known as Intelligent Design. Not surprising, ID has remained void of scientific research and proposals. At best, we have some pseudo-mathematical musings and an overarching appeal to ignorance.

Sean Carroll on Wisconsin Science Teachers’ Podcast

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There’s a recent interview with Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful and The Making of the Fittest on the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers podcast. Carroll has some pointed remarks about efforts to weaken the teaching of evolution in the public schools:

I really can’t paint this in too rosy of a picture. We’ve been the destination for the rest of the world for education and for training and even without this controversy the rest of the world has been catching up in various ways. But now if you look at the climate in the United States, we’ve so handcuffed things like stem cell research with public officials making preposterous statements about evolutionary science. We have an administration that has denied the global warming data until I guess it probably just couldn’t resist it any longer and you have if you look at some of the agencies, I will point the finger at the FDA, you have scientific decisions being made by ideologues. Now, [if] that goes on for a number of years it’s demoralizing to the scientific community.

And more. (He also talks about icefish.)

There’s a bunch of other podcasts on their site that look good too, especially for teachers.


During my recent trip to Buffalo I managed to read all of Edward Humes' new book Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul. I have posted a brief review over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there. I have mostly praise for the book, but a few criticisms as well. Let me know what you think!

State senatory Raymond Finney of Tennessee (a retired physician—hey, we've been making Orac squirm uncomfortably a lot lately) has just filed a resolution that asks a few questions. Actually, he's demanding that the Tennessee Department of Education answer these questions within a year or … well, I don't know what. He might stamp his foot and have a snit.

Continue reading "Raymond Finney asks questions, I got answers" (on Pharyngula)

A little more than a week ago, word went around our circles here at The Thumb regarding a paper published on Public Library of Science on the use of the word evolution in medical journal articles. In essence, the authors compare the use of the word evolution in articles written by and published in journals generally read by evolutionary biologists versus physicians. Unsurprisingly, the evolutionary biologists mentioned evolution more by name, even if both groups appealed to the same concepts. Why physicians don’t use the word evolution to describe implications or the concept of evolution is the issue.

Other authors (PZ Myers, Orac, and Sequiteur, among others) have dealt with the topic, but it hasn’t appeared here on PT yet, so I thought I’d just ditto Orac’s opinion with a few thoughts of my own. Find them below, after the jump.

Hewlett and Peters are the next scientists, in a long line of scientists, who have written about the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design. The understanding that it is unnecessary to argue about whether or not ID is science has allowed scientists to focus on the lack of fertility or as others call it the ‘scientific vacuity’ of Intelligent Design. In their paper, Who Sets the Evolution Agenda? published in Theology and Science, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2006, Martinez Hewlett, a professor Emeritus at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology of the University of Arizona and Ted Peters, a professor of Systematic Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, explain their objections to Intelligent Design:

In the meantime, we work with the premise that the Darwinian model is the best model for apprehending evolutionary biology. We believe the Darwinian model has proved itself the most fertile. It leads to new knowledge, which demonstrates its fertility. The difficulty with the Intelligent Design and Creationist models is that they lack fertility. They fail to produce progressive research programs. In a scientific sense, they cannot produce testable models. We believe that the dialogue with theology must take place with the best of science, not with a substitute that is a philosophical position and not science at all.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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