Celithemis eponina

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Photograph by Robin Lee-Thorp.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Celithemis eponina – Halloween pennant.

NCSE informs us that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has rendered a decision in the appeal of Cope vs. Kansas, which we reported on here. Specifically, the Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s earlier dismissal of the case, largely on the basis of standing. Additionally, NCSE notes, “Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for ‘teleological’ explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.” NCSE’s report on the decision follows, printed with permission:


The creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview” failed again on April 19, 2016, when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case, COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.

The court’s decision mainly addressed the question of standing, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims. Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for “teleological” explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.

As NCSE previously reported, the lead plaintiff, COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education, is a relatively new creationist organization, founded in 2012 but its leaders and attorneys include people familiar from previous attacks on evolution education across the country, such as John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

The NGSS have been adopted in eighteen states – Arkansas (so far only for middle school), California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – plus the District of Columbia. The treatment of evolution and climate science in the standards occasionally provokes controversy, but COPE v. Kansas is the only lawsuit to have resulted.

You may find the court’s decision (PDF) here, courtesy of NCSE.

And you may find NCSE’s collection of documents from COPE v. Kansas here


Thanks to Glenn Branch of NCSE for allowing us to reproduce their essay.

The Ark Park is hiring

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Answers in Genesis is advertising a whole slew of jobs, but you do not have to read very far between the lines to realize that the hirees will be “detailed” to the Ark Park, presumably because AIG, as a religious organization, is allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion. I do not know why they are bothering, because recently a Kentucky judge ruled, in effect, that it was legal for the Ark Park itself to discriminate on the basis of religion, and there is no chance that the state will appeal.

For the uninitiated, Ark Encounter (the legal name of the Ark Park) is a for-profit corporation, though it is apparently owned by Answers in Genesis. In order to get a tax break, Ark Encounter had been prohibited from discriminating on the basis of religion. Indeed, as we reported here, they purported to

provide equal employment opportunities to all qualified employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, disability or any other legally protected status. [Emphasis added.]

Nevertheless we predicted some shenanigans here

… it appears as if AIG plans to hire someone to work not for AIG, but for its subsidiary, Ark Encounter, that is, that AIG wants to apply a religious test to an employee who on paper works at AIG but in fact works at Ark Encounter. You might say that they are planning to launder the position so that the religious test can be applied where it ought not be applicable.

and here

In other words, Ark Encounter’s tax incentives will be restored, if only they pledge in writing that they will not discriminate in employment. Ark Encounter has so far declined to give such assurance, which makes a body speculate that they just might be thinking of laundering all Ark Encounter employment through Answers in Genesis in order to circumvent the law.

I checked the job listings, and, sure enough, the jobs are apparently located at “(WILLIAMSTOWN, KY/ARK …),” even though the employer appears to be AIG. Additionally, AIG applies a religious test. For example, a senior network administrator has to have

Ability to communicate technical issues and concepts to a broad range of technical and non-technical staff with Christ-like kindness and tact …

Most importantly, a proven firmness in their walk with Christ, and a passion for technical skill for the glory of God.

A grounds maintenance technician has to supply “Salvation testimony. Creation belief statement. Confirmation of agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith.” Other occupations that I checked had similar requirements.

I cannot immediately find a forthright statement by Ark Encounter that they will not discriminate on the basis of religion, but the mayor of Williamstown certainly thought so:

…The city supports the Ark and is pleased that it is locating in Williamstown. The Ark Encounter will not require anyone to sign a statement of faith. I agree with you that it is a requirement of employment at the Creation Museum [presumably as opposed to the Ark Park] …

according to a Facebook posting on March 6, 2013, which an informant very kindly sent me. I do not know whether anyone piped up to disillusion the mayor.

Finally, while figuratively thumbing through old Panda’s Thumb articles, I came across my own 2011 article, Ark Park goes nowhere, in which I predicted that the groundbreaking would take place in 250,000 years:

My own estimate is that their timescale is skewed by their belief that the Earth is around 5000 years old. It is in fact more like 5 billion years old. Thus, if we take 3-4 months and multiply it by the ratio of 5 billion years to 5000 years, we estimate that the groundbreaking ceremony will take place in 3 million months, or 250,000 years.

LEO Weekly was more modest and estimated 2024.

Read very carefully, because this may be the first time that a pundit has ever admitted error: However reasonable my prediction – and they had raised very little money at the time – I was severely mistaken, and the Ark Park will open on July 7, 2016. If that is not a miracle, nothing is.

Note added in proof, so to speak. Dylan Lovan of the Associated Press reports today that the Ark Park will hire approximately 300-400 people; they must be Christians, but apparently almost any denomination will suffice (see, however, the requirements for the grounds maintenance technician, above). I do not know whether all these positions will be laundered through AIG.

Attacus atlas

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Photograph by Diogenes.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Attacus atlas – Atlas moth. This specimen is a captive male at the Museum of the Academy of Natural History of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


Solemn greetings, all. Today, as the more reverent among you know, is Paul Nelson Day. Today is the 12th annual feast day of St Nelson, patron saint of obtusity and procrastination, and we honor his contributions to science by...well, by not doing much of anything at all. You could make grandiose claims today and promise to make good on them tomorrow, a tomorrow that stretches out into a decade or more, I suppose, but that's too much work. Instead, maybe we should all just shrug and say we'll think about celebrating later.

Oh, jeez, shrugging? I don't have time for that. How about if we don't and just say we did.

I also thought about suggesting waffles as the perfect food for this day, but nah, I'd have to cook them, or go to a restaurant. I'm just going to say "waffles!" and put it off to some other day.

Anyway, if you don't know the story, Paul Nelson is a creationist who attended the Society for Developmental Biology meetings in 2004, with a poster in which he claimed to have developed this new evo-devoish parameter, Ontogenetic Depth, that supposedly measured the difficulty of developmental complexity to evolve. I quizzed him on it, and specifically asked him to explain how I could measure it in my zebrafish, for example, and he couldn't tell me, even though he seemed to be saying that he and a student had been doing these 'measurements'. But he promised to send me a paper he was working on that explained it all. Tomorrow! A tomorrow that never came.

So now we remind him of his failure every year. It's a good thing to point out to Intelligent Design creationists that they don't seem to be very good at fulfilling their grand promises.

He seems to sometimes notice that he's being mocked, at least. Last year, he tried to trot out Ontogenetic Depth 2.0, which was just as impractical and ill-conceived as the first non-existent version. Maybe he'll have a new beta for us this year, too?

Unlikely. Too much work. Not in the spirit of the day.

Metaconglomerate rock

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Photograph by Dan Phelps.


Metaconglomerate rock (commercially known as marinace; if anyone knows why, please comment below).

Mr. Phelps writes:

I originally became interested in this rock after reading this blog post. The material was hard to find in small quantities, but I found a company that sells interesting rock slabs to use as cutting boards. If you notice, my slab has handles, which I will probably remove.

The rock is actually a metaconglomerate from Brazil and may represent a metamorphosed Proterozoic glacial tillite.

It is relatively easy to construct an entire series of events that led to the formation of this interesting and beautiful rock. Specimens of this rock might be useful for educators to show basic geologic concepts, including geologic time, to both students and the public.

Note that individual cobbles and pebbles are made of quartzite, gneiss, and what is either a migmatite or a metamorphosed pinkish orthoclase feldspar-rich granite. The greenish black matrix is rich in the mineral chlorite.

I came up with the following steps to form this rock slab. Please comment below or e-mail me at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] if you think I have missed anything.

1. Deposition of the sediments that make up the precursors of the cobbles/pebbles.

2. Lithification of sedimentary rocks that were the precursors of the cobbles/pebbles. These include sandstone, and shales and siltstones (protoliths of the metamorphic rocks in Step 3).

3. Metamorphism of the sedimentary rocks in Step 2 by heat and pressure, resulting in quartzite and gneiss. Some of the gneiss may have partially melted then crystallized to form a pinkish orthoclase-rich migmatite.

4. Weathering of the metamorphic rocks in Step 3.

5. Erosion of these metamorphic rocks into well-rounded pebbles/cobbles.

6. Deposition of these pebbles/cobbles in a fine-grained mud.

7. Lithification of the sediment from Step 6. This results in a rock type of pebble/cobble sized fragments in a fine-grained mudstone matrix and is called a diamictite. Diamictites often represent lithified glacial till.

8. Metamorphism of the rock formed in Step 7 forming a metaconglomerate. This occurred deep enough underground to change the mudstone matrix into greenish black chlorite.

9. An orogeny (mountain building) event stretched many of the pebbles and cobbles giving the rock a foliation.

10. Pressure solution causes some of the pebbles/cobbles to erode at boundaries where they touch each other.

11. Weathering and erosion bring the metaconglomerate to the surface.

12. Human quarrying followed by cutting and polishing of the slab.

By Gaythia Weis.

I want to call attention to the newly enacted legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which relinquishes Federal control over many aspects of the education of our nation’s children. In so doing, this law may enable religious activists to exert their influence to a greater extent than previously possible. I need not remind readers of The Panda’s Thumb of the manner in which creationists attempt to subvert the public education system to further their own ideological goals.

ESSA is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was first enacted in the Lyndon Johnson administration as a means of furthering equality of education in our nation. ESSA is ostensibly directed to address issues, including excessive student testing and ineffective teachers, that many think were problems with the previous No Child Left Behind program. However, the ESSA is the result of bipartisan political compromise and its provisions raise new issues.

Some of these issues ought to be of grave concern to those of us interested in science education. These issues call for our close attention and active monitoring.

I do not know why it is coming to light only now, but a few years ago a Kentucky elementary school rewarded students with “perfect” attendance by taking them on a field trip to the Creation “Museum.” Americans United has reported the story here, and a few days ago we received a press release from Daniel Phelps, a persistent critic of the Ark Park and the Creation Museum. Mr. Phelps has sent his press release to the Associated Press and elsewhere, but he tells us that he cannot get any reporter interested in investigating. We will reproduce his press release below the fold.

Americans United notes that the school’s definition of “perfect” is somewhat flexible, in that one absence counted as perfect. More importantly, they note

And kids have a right to learn about [certain religious concepts] - on their own time or in Sunday school. Such ideas are not appropriate for an official public school field trip, even if that trip was only offered to a handful of students. Instead, kids should be learning sound science - not religious dogma.

Mr. Phelps argues that the trip is “a clear violation of the separation of church and state” and “an act of educational malpractice.” He is concerned that, although this trip happened in 2012, there may be many like it, and he claims that Answers in Genesis “brags that they have stealth missionaries in the public school system.” Mr. Phelps’s entire press release follows.

Interesting video, Proof of evolution that you can find on your own body, deals with several vestigial organs in the human body. It is certainly hard to see why a god might have included such organs if she had created humans by any method other than evolution. The video is only 4 min long; watch it!

The Sensuous Curmudgeon informs us today that the Tri-State Freethinkers of Newport, Kentucky, will launch a billboard campaign that, as they put it, intends to “counter” the grand opening of the Ark Park in July. They have launched an IndieGoGo campaign with an intended goal of $2000; when I checked a moment ago, it looked as though they had raised nearly $3100 in a single day.

The billboard will read

Genocide and Incest Park
Celebrating 2000 Years of Myths

Yes, I know, that may be a bit over the top and, except for the picture, does not obviously refer to the Ark Park. But, dammit, the Ark Park is well over the top, and I intend to contribute $18* right away.

* A bit of numerology; even strict materialists can have traditions.

Grus canadensis

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Photograph by Robert Dullien.


Grus canadensis – sandhill crane.

We have just received an e-mail from one of the Panda’s Thumb crew to the effect that a paper “demonstrating” the intelligent design of the human hand has been published in the refereed journal Plos One. The paragraphs that caught the crew member’s attention are these:

The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.

In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years.

Another crew member directs us to the website Retraction Watch, which quotes a Plos editor to the effect that

PLOS has just been made aware of this issue and we are looking into it in depth. Our internal editors are reviewing the manuscript and will decide what course of action to take. PLOS’ publishing team is also assessing its processes.

The Retraction Watch paper naturally engendered the response,

Where has tolerance and respect for the beliefs and opinions of others gone? One doesn’t need to agree, but bringing in a different idea in a civil manner seems more appropriate for an academic discussion.


This was sent out by the Discovery Institute around a week ago. Note the bolded sentence.

Dear {Insert name of email recipient here}:

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, originator of modern quantum theories and 1918 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was quoted as saying, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Here in Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), we are living proof that no matter how powerful an idea is–and the idea of intelligent design (ID) is truly a powerful one–there is some truth to Planck’s statement. It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go.

Thanks to your generosity, we aren’t simply waiting for our opponents to die.

Since its inception almost 10 years ago, visionary CSC donors have enabled us to focus on educating young people through our Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design and C.S. Lewis Fellows Program– programs designed to raise up a new generation of scientists and scholars who are not afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads. These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas.

We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Our summer programs attract students from the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and the Middle East; more than we can admit. Most of these students cannot attend unless we pay their expenses.

You can help with your gift of any amount.

  • $75 will pay for the cost of ground transportation for one student.
  • $200 will provide books and other curricular materials to one student.
  • $800 will pay to house and feed one student for the entire program.
  • $2,500 will cover the full cost for admitting an additional student into the program.

Donate now to the Summer Seminar campaign and be a part of the transformation of science and culture, one student’s life at a time!

Creepy, or what? Discuss.

Hirundo rustica


Hirundo rustica - barn swallow, Goose Creek, Boulder, Colorado.

Ken Ham’s Ark “replica” is scheduled to open around July 7, or 7/7, in part because Genesis 7:7 says “and Noah went in and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark,” according to a recent article and a short video by Karla Ward in the Lexington News-Herald. Sorry, no animals inside, but there will be a petting zoo outside. The animals inside the ark will be “sculpted.”

Among other things that are possibly of interest to PT readers, Mr. Ham asserted that guidelines for hiring employees at the Ark Park “will be different than Answers in Genesis.” No telling exactly what that means, but presumably they will not require employees to pass as stringent a religious test. It seems to me that they could have saved a lot of litigation by having asserted nondiscriminatory guidelines in the first place.

In passing, Ms. Ward notes that a journalist asked Mr. Ham whether he believed in the Noah story as a historical event, rather than as a piece of literature and not intended to be understood literally. Mr. Ham’s response was, “Jesus referred to Noah. He’s referred to as a real person and a man of great faith.” That sure proves it!

Finally, Mr. Ham noted that the Ark will feature dinosaurs, but they will not be stressed. I suppose that there will be no unicorns in the Ark, because as everyone knows they got to the pier late.

Thanks yet again to Dan Phelps for a never-ending stream of articles that keep us up-to-date.

Solar corona Cloud iridescence

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I am afraid that this is not a very good picture, first because the colors are not very well defined and second because I could not find a single, smallish object with which to block the sun, so I had to settle for this tree.

I could not immediately find a halfway decent explanation of cloud iridescence. Wikipedia says it is a diffraction phenomenon, with no elaboration. Here is what I think is going on.

I do not feel like drawing any cartoons, so please have a look at the Wikipedia article on the Airy disk. About 2/3 of the way down, you will see a plot of intensity as a function of angle. This plot represents the diffraction pattern of a circular aperture. The pattern shows a series of secondary maxima at various angles off axis. The first secondary maximum has an intensity of approximately 2 % of the intensity at 0.

What has the Airy disk to do with iridescence? Oddly, the diffraction pattern of a circular obstacle is the same as that of a circular aperture, except near 0. If the cloud cover is thin enough and the droplets are all approximately the same diameter, we may see colored fringes, because we are standing at the location of the first secondary maximum of a particular wavelength. The angle 0 in the Wikipedia figure is the line between the sun and a droplet; it is not directly in line with the sun from our point of view. We may see several different colors because the secondary maxima of different wavelengths appear at different angles.

In the picture above, we do not see colors very clearly, most probably because the droplets do not have the same diameter. However, because the cloud is between us and the sun, we see a circular halo all the way around the sun, which suggests to me that the droplets are spherical and (I would guess) liquid water rather than ice crystals. (Ice crystals like to be snowflakes, hexagonal cylinders, or flat hexagonal plates. These are oriented by viscous forces, so the scattering pattern would not demonstrate circular symmetry.)

Finally, if you look to the right of the first ring of colored fringes, you will see a second partial ring, which represents the second secondary maximum of the diffraction pattern.

A friend of mine, a theoretical physicist, has been telling me for over 30 years that we will never discover a magnetic monopole, proton decay – or the graviton. So far, he appears to have been correct, but now scientists at LIGO have detected a gravitational wave that resulted from the collision and amalgamation of 2 black holes. The news was so exciting that the server at Physical Review Letters supposedly crashed earlier today. I got a copy of the article but, as Shakespeare might have put it, much of it was written in Greek. The 2 graphs, shown in the Times article, look mighty convincing, though.

The graviton, if it exists, is the quantized particle that carries the gravitational field, much as the photon carries the electromagnetic field. I am not, alas, a theoretical physicist, so I do not know whether a gravitational wave necessarily implies a graviton. Unless I am mistaken, any classical (nonrelativistic) wave such as an electromagnetic wave or even a sound wave can be quantized, but I have no idea whether a (relativistic) gravity wave can necessarily be quantized. Perhaps some reader can shed light on the question.

In the meantime, I give my friend a tentative score of 2.5/3: No one has yet definitively discovered a magnetic monopole, and the lifetime of the proton has not been definitively measured.

Like a commenter on an earlier thread, I am very curious indeed to hear the creationists’ reaction to this stunning news.

Not if you are male, anyway. I ran across a Facebook posting which linked to an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The article warned of a “stark correlation … between heavy cell phone use and male infertility.” Haaretz advises that you never use your phone when it is less than 50 cm from your crotch and, oddly, that you not talk on your phone while it is charging. The second stricture seems to me to be even more mysterious than the first; I suppose the phone gets hot when it is charging, but I do not know anyone who deliberately keeps it in his underpants.

I followed a link from Haaretz to an article, “Habits of cell phone usage and sperm quality – does it [sic] warrant attention?” You can read the abstract here; the full article will cost you $35.95 (US). The study is evidently based on questionnaires submitted by 106 nonsmoking men who had been referred to an infertility clinic for semen analysis (26 of the submitted questionnaires were rejected, according to Haaretz). I do not know whether there was a control group, and I have no intention of spending $36 to find out.

My advice to all men who plan to someday have children: Keep your phone away from your pants and, while you are at it, not too close to your brain.

Just a day before a handful of candidates dropped out of the race, Science ran an article on the candidates’ positions “on some select science-related issues (keeping in mind that the candidates have yet to sound off on many topics of interest to researchers).” The article was necessarily a little shallow but gives a good idea where most of the candidates stand on critical issues like science policy, the space program, climate change, vaccination, and genetically modified organisms.


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Photograph by Debbie Garelick.


Rainbow. The rainbow is formed from relatively nearby raindrops. It is evidently raining lightly, because you can see a light cloud cover behind the rainbow. Direct backscatter from the clouds probably accounts for much of the brightness of the sky inside the arc and helps make a dramatic picture. See also here.

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