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Freshwater: Playing fast and loose with the truth

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John Freshwater has embarked on a mini-media campaign to discredit Zachary Dennis, the student whose arm was burned by a Tesla coil in a classroom demonstration in December, 2007, and his parents. Based on his representation of the testimony of other students on April 29 and 30, Freshwater is claiming publicly that Zachary is lying. But Freshwater’s story has some pretty significant holes and in important respects misrepresents the testimony. Moreover, it is a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the actual matters at issue, including Freshwater’s inconsistent sworn claims about whether the Tesla coil even marked students and whether the display of religious materials, including multiple displays of the Ten Commandments, in Freshwater’s classroom was appropriate. Freshwater played fast and loose with the facts of the matter in the interview, and I’ll detail some of those offenses below the fold.

I recorded most of an interview Freshwater gave on local talk radio yesterday, May 6, and I’ll describe some of Freshwater’s claims and their problems below the fold. The full interview ran about 24 minutes; I have about 20 minutes of it recorded, punctuated by dogs barking (apparently at phantoms) and radio transmissions from my fire department pager that make it occasionally hard to hear the interview. I call it an “interview” but it was really an infomercial. The host, Dave Bevington, is a strong Freshwater supporter and served up softball questions that had clearly been briefed before the show began. [See note below.] Out of character for the “Open Debate” name of the show, no calls were accepted from listeners. (Remind anyone of the comment policy at an ID “blog” we know and cherish?)

The informercial interview is a target-rich environment, and I am going to have to work to keep this post to a reasonable length, under 3,000 or so words. I’ll try, but there are many temptations there.

Note added in edit May 13 The host of the talk radio show, Dave Bevington, denied on the air on May 11 that he bad discussed his questions with Freshwater before the show. That may be, but it still had the distinct feel of an infomercial rather than a journalistic exercise.

Iapetus flyby today!

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What with graduate school and all, I almost forgot about the thing I have been anticipating for months – the Cassini spacecraft‘s superclose flyby of Iapetus. It’s happening right now apparently. So finally we might find out whether or not that crazy equatorial ring really is a spaceship runway like the UFOologists say. I mean, obviously a perfectly straight line of mountains on the equator can’t be explained by natural regularities or random chance, so it’s got to be ID, right? And of course the creos will say that whatever they find is evidence for a young universe.

PZ Myers notes that toads are exploding for reasons unknown in Hamburg, Germany. This story is apparently not made up, although I am not yet convinced that we are getting the straight story from the media – after all, the widely reported three-headed British frog of 2004 was, after vigorous discussion, decided to most likely merely be multiple amplexus, inexpertly observed, on one Evolution/Creationism forum (see also “Three-headed frog – not!” for the apparently definitive analysis).

Let’s assume that frogs really are exploding. Unexplained phenomena like this are a great chance to test William Dembski’s Explanatory Filter to see if it detects intelligent design. Let see: Is the phenomenon specified? You bet. In fact, it is specifiable in advance. Humans have been blowing up animals for some time now – for example, in 1970, the Highway Department of my beloved home state of Oregon decided to dispose of a stinky eight-ton whale carcass with 20 cases of dynamite. See the Exploding Whale Website for the video. Can known natural laws account for the explosion of live frogs? Apparently not. The known natural laws say that frogs, particularly live ones in a cool climate, shouldn’t be exploding (dead ones in the hot sun might be another matter – see the story about the natural exploding of a 60-ton sperm whale in Singapore in 2004). Can chance explain exploding frogs? Nope. Chance might explain some dead toads, but I estimate the chance of 1,000 dead toads, exploding rather than just dying, and all in Hamburg, to be less than 1 in 10^1,000 (and this is very generous probability estimate). Furthermore, we know that intelligent designers can and do blow animals up intentionally. So, we can safely conclude intelligent design is the best explanation for Hamburg’s exploding toads. QED. Somebody alert the authorities.

I recant! ID works

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It pains me to say this, and I have to do it on my own blog as the ranters on Panda’s Thumb will delete my entry forever, but I am announcing my conversion to intelligent design, and all that implies…

See more on my [url = http://evolvethought.blogspot.com/2[…]-design.html]Evolving Thoughts[/url] blog entry.

Whoa. (New Cassini photo)

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So far, most of the results from the Cassini mission have been scientifically interesting, but, well, not much to look at. Most of the photos have been black-and-white. However, today JPL put up a color composite that deserves some kind of award for science photograph of the year.

Whoa. And again I say, whoa. This definitely belongs in the “amazing things simple physics can do” category. For the higher resolution version and the caption, see the main body of the post.

Now here’s a miracle

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This isn’t evolution, but it is biology related.

During and after college, I spent several summers working for the Oregon State University Forestry Department, Forest Sciences lab, and for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Many of these jobs involved some combination of measuring trees, surveying vegetation, and otherwise being ecological. It was great fun, and I think that it’s hard to really understand biology unless you’ve really spent some time out in the field not just hiking around, but carefully examining and identifying some of the ridiculous number of organisms out there.

The Left Hand of Darwin

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Fairy circles and stone circles

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brauer_fig3.jpgbrauer_fig6Last week I introduced Dawkins' term "designoid" with a striking example. These objects have been found in a variety of places, but the most controversial of them come from the site of putative neolithic habitations in the present Gulf of Cambay, India. The "artifacts" have been used to bolster the controversial theory that a highly developed civilization existed at the site nearly 10,000 years ago.

Grist for the EF mill

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Dembski's "Explanatory Filter" (EF) claims to be a reliable technique for detecting design. To date, the EF is the only method presented by the "science" of ID. How well does it do? Nobody knows. It has been applied precisely once, by Dembski in his book No Free Lunch. And that application was a dismal failure.

Before going into the reasons that the EF is a psuedo-algorithm, I'd like to present an example of what Dawkins calls a "designoid," that is, something that appears designed but isn't. A "false positive" for the EF, if you will.

brauer_fig3.jpg

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