Prof. Steve Steve posted Entry 3258 on July 25, 2007 05:11 PM.
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I’ve been a busy little bear this summer, and no, I’m not talking about my duty to return Ailuropoda to its once great numbers. I’m referring to my travels around the globe these last few months. I’ve been to so many interesting places that you’d think that I can exist in multiple places at the same time. Call me the Quantum Panda ™ if you want to. My reports from Evolution 2007 will be up later in the week, but I can now give you some links to blog posts done by some of my companions.

But before I do, I want to remind you that you can join my Facebook group, or friend me on MySpace. The Facebook group also serves as the fan group for PT.

Now to the blog posts.

From Sandra Porter at Discovering Biology in a Digital World:

Professor Steve Steve caught experimenting with human subjects!—Don’t look at me like that. I have IRB approval from UE.

Professor Steve Steve bears all at Virginia Tech—Strike a pose. Vogue!

Meanwhile Bora of A Blog Around the Clock and I have been busy in SF:

Professor Steve Steve is helping me work—Is it working hard or hardly working?

Professor Steve Steve at PLoS—PLoS: Pandas Love Open Science

San Francisco—a running commentary—I saw a flock of seagulls in the bay.

San Francisco—a running commentary #2—And I ran so far away.

Professor Steve Steve meets Harry Potter—Not to spoil the ending, but I had no idea that it was all a dream, and Harry would wake up and find Ron in the shower.

Hi, Michelle!—I meet the most interesting people for lunch.

Framing San Francisco—Bamboo frames are my favorite.

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Comment #190164

Posted by Bob O'H on July 26, 2007 12:17 AM (e)

Prof. Steve, will you be in Uppsala for the ESEB meeting? They’re hlding it there in honour of the guy known to systematists only as L.


Comment #190255

Posted by Edwin Hensley on July 26, 2007 7:32 AM (e)

Prof. Steve, I hope this is not off topic, but did anyone at pandas thumb notice yesterday that the pope stated “…there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.” He also chastised creationists, calling the clash between creationism and evolution an “absurdity.” More can be read about this here: Pope Supports Evolution. Perhaps someone at pandas thumb will post something about this.

Comment #190273

Posted by VJB on July 26, 2007 9:05 AM (e)

Prof. Steve – this may be a bit OT, but I am a physicist (no background in biology) who is trying to formulate a succinct explanation in rebuttal to the creationists mantra, ‘Evolution is only a theory which keeps changing’. So far the best I have come up with is:

‘Evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution explains that fact, and is refined over time as our knowledge grows.’

I am hoping to find a simple yet accurate statement to calmly address those people who deny evolution without having a clue of what it is. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. It brings me back to a screening of ‘A Flock of Dodos’ at Yale I attended, and the discussion afterward about the difficulty the science community has communicating with lay people

It’s all about framing, and after a lively discussion catalyzed by Chris Mooney’s paper in Science a while back, the topic seems to have dropped off the radar. It should be a permanent topic, continually addressed. It is too important for us to remain insular in academe; the quality of science education here is so deplorable that remedial education is the only answer. I fully realize that this is a difficult task, but maybe generation of a talking points cribsheet could be a helpful start for those of us crippled by jargon and met with glazed eyes whenever we try to explain something. Thanks for this site. I learn a great deal from it.

Comment #190280

Posted by David Stanton on July 26, 2007 9:51 AM (e)


Congratulations for fighting the good fight. You are absolutely right. We do need to develop phrases and buzz words that are just as brief and superficially appealing as those used by creationists. Basically, we can’t be afraid to stoop to their level. After all, no one can call you on it without showing that they are a hypocrite. Of course, I don’t mean to say that we should not rise above their level, when appropriate.

As for “evolution is only a theory which keeps changing” some possible responses might be:

Creationist is not a theory and it is stagnant.

The theory of gravity is only a theory and it keeps changing.

Do you really think that not changing in the face of new evidence would be a good thing?

One thing you have to be ready for is that creationists will invariably accuse you of exactly the thing they are guilty of, especially if you have already pointed it out to them. It’s like they can’t come up with anything original, so they just mimic what real scientists say because they think it sounds good. For example:

Evolution is religion

There is no evidence for macroevolution

You are committed to philosophical naturalism

Or my favorite creationist response, some variant of:

I know you are, but what am I?

The one thing we have going for us is that they rarely come up with anything original, so you can pretty much be ready for most anything they are likely to throw at you.

To get back OT, maybe Prof. Steve Steve could give us the benefit of his wisdom.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Comment #190341

Posted by VJB on July 26, 2007 3:57 PM (e)

Dave Stanton – thanks for the encouragement! But (and a big but) some of your suggestions are satisfying but maybe a little too flip. It really hurts to match their level of rhetoric, and I for one want something more intellectually satisfying. Is that our basic problem, that our scientist’s minds are too sexy for our hats? My wife is always shouting at me, ‘The best is enemy of the good!’, as I carefully work out the best solution to household maintenance problems that should have been fixed two years ago.

Comment #190345

Posted by VJB on July 26, 2007 4:13 PM (e)

And BTW, Dave, it is a certifiably GOOD THING that the Eternal Word of God – handed down in the 16th century KGV translation of the 4-3th century BC Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the various wild Hebrew versions that were handed down as translations or re-tellings of Sumerian and Babylonian mythic prototypes – does not and cannot change.

Stagnation is very comforting to many, even if an illusion.

Comment #190358

Posted by David Stanton on July 26, 2007 6:41 PM (e)


Glad you were courageous enough to show us your big but.

It is very hard to come up with an intellectually satisfying buzzword or phrase. Personally I would look for intellectual satisfaction elsewhere. If someone is going to be persuaded by a catch phrase, intellectual satisfaction is pretty out the window already. If they really want to discuss science, intellectual satisfaction can come from that.

As for being too filppant, perhaps you are right. But then again, this shows up the people who start this nonsense for what they really are. They can hardly accuse you of this if they have already done it first. And if being flippant will do, then I suggest the ever popular “what’s your point?” when someone throws out this nonsense. No really, there is no point whatsoever in saying that evolution is a theory and that it changes. That is like saying, water is wet but it can freeze too! A sarcastic reponse seems appropriate to me.

For example, if someone asked you, “when are you going to stop beating your wife”, an appropriate response might be something like, “right before I start”. You don’t have to buy into their games in order to refute their poor arguments.

As for your point about lack of change, in the words of Jean Luc Picard:

“That kind of security is an illusion.”

Comment #190368

Posted by VJB on July 26, 2007 7:40 PM (e)

Dave–I almost did the big butt line on myself. Thank you for completing it. I guess you’re right, but it’s really disappointing that the level of debate has to be at such a low Three Stooges level. It just makes it seem in vain…so we end up descending into the world of Mike Judge’s film ‘Idiocracy’. I misspent my teenage years so long ago being flip and got pretty thoroughly beaten up about the head and ears for it, so I am a little gun shy.

So Brawndo is the new Koolaid: ‘It’s what plants want!’ I’m starting to get a little exercised now. Wow, aerobic commenting!

Comment #190371

Posted by David Stanton on July 26, 2007 8:04 PM (e)


Yea, it is a little depressing. However, the only way around it I can see is in a debate format with a moderator who really enforces the rules. In any kind of informal setting you get the Gish gallop and all kinds of meaningless fluff. Of course, these guys don’t have anything else. The very last thing they usually want is to discuss real science. Contrast this with the way real science is done and communicated. Quite a difference. But PR is PR and BS is BS. You can’t complain about reality, you just have to find a way to use your own knowledge to your advantage.

I try to find more constructive ways to communicate, usually in venues where I have some control. I go to area grade schools, I teach continuing education courses and I teach courses for teachers. Maybe not the most efficient strategy, but it can sometimes be productive. Remember, no one can stop you from being professional, at least in the proper setting.

Comment #190481

Posted by Nigel D on July 27, 2007 6:36 AM (e)

So, Prof Steve, does being a quantum panda mean you now get to hang out with Schroedinger’s cat?