April 22, 2007 - April 28, 2007 Archives

I don’t typically cross-post many of my infectious disease topics over here unless they have a clear evolution slant, but I thought I’d let readers know about a recent case in Australia, where a HIV+ man was convicted of endangering the lives of three women by exposing them to the virus via unprotected sex. He appealed, and the basis of his appeal was the assertion that HIV doesn’t exist, a claim backed by some so-called “HIV dissidents” who use tactics very similar to creationists: quote-mining, misrepresentation off the literature, etc. The judge came back with his decision on the whole circus today, and I discuss the results at Aetiology.

Just wanted to inform readers of The Thumb that I’m going to be appearing on a radio debate with Dr. Cornelius Hunter. The show will broadcast live from 10:05am to 11:30am EST Saturday morning April 28th. You can call in at 904.854.1320 or e-mail your questions/comments to [Enable javascript to see this email address.].



I have been forgetting to mention that Darwin descendant Matthew Chapman‘s book 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin®, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania has just appeared in the bookstores. Here is the publisher’s website with background material, an interview with Chapman in New Scientist, the Amazon page, a review, and Chapman’s February 2006 article on the Kitzmiller trial in Harper’s.

Yesterday, I wrote about Wiley Interscience and the Society of Chemical Industry making legal threats against fair use: Wiley Interscience: Where Science Meets Legal Threats.

Today, Shelley Batts received an apology from them:

We apologise for any misunderstanding. In this situation the publisher would typically grant permission on request in order to ensure that figures and extracts are properly credited. We do not think there is any need to pursue this matter further.

Congrats to everyone who helped get the word out about the threats. You helped Shelley and the rest of the science-bloggers out.

Theodore Roosevelt Wrote:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the bill setting aside Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Roosevelt was a large figure in the movement to establish the national park system, so it only seems appropriate to take up an issue about how the National Park Service is operating now.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release on December 28th, 2006, that brought up the fact that the National Park Service (NPS) was then three years delinquent in delivering a promised review of its sale of a creationist book, Tom Vail’s “Grand Canyon: A Different View”. The release, unfortunately, included ambiguous phrasing whose most likely reading yielded a false claim that NPS had issued a “gag order” to its rangers and docents in the Grand Canyon national park to stay silent on the geological age of features in the park.

I’ve been doing some more digging concerning the situation with the national park interpretative exhibits, curricula, and bookstore merchandise. While there has not been an explicit, “Don’t talk about the age of the earth or park geology” directive given to rangers and docents, there is entirely too much credulous stuff that offers to take anti-science sources seriously. Rangers and docents are officially encouraged to tell park visitors about the “tenets and explanations of Creationism”. In evidence of a state of neglect when it comes to the accuracy of merchandise in the parks, it turns out that Tom Vail’s “Grand Canyon: A Different View” is not the only anti-science tome available for sale in park gift shops; Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “Red Earth, White Lies” may also be picked up at various stores.

Various people have accurately criticized the overblown claim of the original PEER press release concerning a gag order on interpretative staff telling visitors about deep time, essentially exonerating NPS of committing arson in its approach to science. But I feel that many have overlooked other data that does indicate a general administration strategy of encouraging dry rot instead, de-emphasizing the science content associated with park interpretative programs and credulously treating creationism and other anti-science stances.

Read on for the details.


In another observation of pop culture’s war on ID, I bring you a remark by Wired:

Apparently feeling pressured by Tux, supporters of Darwin, an open-source version of the Mac OS, decided they needed their own mascot. The result is Hexley, a curious platypus who in some images is portrayed with horns and a pitchfork – enough evidence for several intelligent design theorists to offer him as proof of the satanic origins of evolutionary biology.

This is additionally funny to us because we run FreeBSD, whose mascot, Beastie, inspired Hexley.

Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle was contacted yesterday by a representative of Wiley Interscience, who objected to her fair use of part of one figure from a paper. Shelley has posted the exchange on her blog.

Wiley’s legal threats are baseless because fair use allows people “to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.” In addition, this move by Wiley is very stupid given that Shelley was promoting a paper published in one of their journals. She was providing good press for them. But in one stupid move Wiley has turned that good press into bad press.

Because of this I will not be publishing in any Wiley journal for the foreseeable future, and I call on others to do the same.

If you want to email the journal about this, here is the contact information.

Update: Wiley has a record of acting dubiously. (via Afarensis.)

Update: An apology has been issued.

Tangled Bank #78

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The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is at About Archaeology. Read!

Are you getting bored with Earth? Maybe you should consider a move to 581 c:

For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for “life in the universe.”

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. But the star it closely orbits, known as a “red dwarf,” is much smaller, dimmer and cooler than our sun.

But don’t pack your bags just yet…

There’s still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is known about it. And it’s worth noting that scientists’ requirements for habitability count Mars in that category: a size relatively similar to Earth’s with temperatures that would permit liquid water.

Still, it’s a neat find. No word yet if the planet is “designed for discovery”, but presumably anyone living there would have discovered those things that are easy to discover, and will therefore conclude that the planet must be situated just right for discovery. At least if their species has creationists.

Below the fold I’ll add some more excerpts from the article. Or you can just read the whole thing.

As the discussion over the Liu-Ochman flagellum evolution paper continues, it is clear that I need to do a little more arguing to defend my position. Although some were convinced that skepticism was justified based the previous PT posts (basically: 1. this goes against much prior published knowledge and 2. just look at the obviously different structures), others have defended the paper or at least suggested that the alleged problems are not as overwhelmingly obvious as they seem to me. Two primary lines of argument have been raised. First, some have pointed out, correctly, that the reputation of the authors and journal in question far outweighs the reputation of a blogger like me, so why should readers trust me over PNAS? I will concede the case when it comes to reputation; all I can say is that over the years I have developed some familiarity with the literature pertinent to flagellum evolution, and as I read through the PNAS paper it became apparent that it was going against much of what was already known. This is not necessarily bad if a direct attempt is made to rebut conventional wisdom, but if assertions are made without much evidence of awareness that they go against previous work, that is problematic.

Over the weekend, another “Egnor” post appeared on the Discovery Institute blog. This one addresses a post I wrote two weeks ago discussing the “Framing Science” article. In his “response,” “Egnor” manages to completely distort pretty much everything about my article, in a way that is so ham-fistedly inept that it is simply impossible for me to continue to believe that the “Michael Egnor” articles are being written by a real person who really believes what he (or she) writes.

(For the record, I’m neither a “prominent Darwinist” nor a “prominent scientist.” Also, there are only two possible ways that someone could claim that “find a way to get people who aren’t interested in the science behind an issue to care about the issue itself” is the same thing as “recruit people who don’t care about science to the cause of Darwinism.” The author either has a level of respect for honesty that falls below the Roveian, or he has the reading comprehension skills of a repeatedly concussed chipmunk. In either case, I have real problems believing that it’s coming from a reportedly well-respected neurosurgeon.)

It’s been fun while it lasted, but the game’s over now. Would whoever is really writing this stuff please take this opportunity to own up to it? Please? Come on, I know it’s got to be someone who is a regular here.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Uncommon Despair

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On UcD, Salvador Cordova, makes the common and fallacious argument that ID somehow predicted function in ‘junk DNA’. In fact, there is no logical foundation for this claim as ID lacks predictive power beyond ‘Darwinism does not explain X’. At most Sal can claim that people who are also proponents of ID have ‘predicted’ function for Junk DNA. But as such they are not much different from scientists who have predicted function for Junk DNA as well. Where they differ is in what motivated them to reach such a conclusion.

Cordova Wrote:

ID theory has provided positive inspiration toward scientific inquiry and participating in the reversal of “the greatest mistake in the history molecular biology”, a mistake inspired by Darwinist dogma.

ID has contributed little either in predicting or establishing function in ‘Junk DNA’ but it also seems to be basing its claims on further ignorance about the origin and evolution of the term Junk DNA (which originated from the ideas of proponents of neutral evolution and was originally limited to refer to pseudogenes). While it should not come as a surprise that ID attempts to ride on the coat tails of real science, such an attempt can be quickly countered.

Nevertheless, even in his enthusiasm, Sal seems to have downgraded ID’s contribution to ‘positive inspiration’. Even ID proponents seem to shy away from making claims that ID is scientifically fertile and are willing to settle for ‘inspirational’.

Already in 1998 Should Scientists Scrap the Notion of Junk DNA? Bob Kuska describes how science had come to realize the many treasures in ‘junk DNA”.

(Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 90, Number 14 Pp. 1032-1033)

and Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Junk–the Semantics of Junk DNA

Well, not exactly… But the following press release allows us to explore a common confusion amongst ID proponents, in addition to providing more compelling evidence supporting common descent.

The origin of the brain lies in a worm: Researchers discover that the centralised nervous system of vertebrates is much older than expected

First of all, an “ancient” evolutionary prediction

The findings provide strong evidence for a theory that was first put forward by zoologist Anton Dohrn in 1875. It states that vertebrate and annelid CNS are of common descent and vertebrates have turned themselves upside down throughout the course of evolution.

So how come UcD ‘contributor’ DaveScot considers the findings an argument from incredulity? And what are ID’s explanations and or predictions?

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