September 19, 2004 - September 25, 2004 Archives

Thoughts on KC Star Editorial

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In the thread “Update on Kansas - KU Speech” (9/18/04), Jay Manifold pointed out that the Kansas City Star had an editorial here about the Kansas science standards issue today. (Thanks for the heads-up, Jay.)

The editorial makes some very good points, which I would like to highlight, although it also says some things that I would like to take a bit of exception to. Let’s look at the highlights first:

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members.

Heads up, Kansans! It’s time to start thinking about science standards for the public schools again….

Kansas is on the verge of breaking into the bioscience research field in a big way. With efforts on both sides of the state line, the Kansas City area could become a hub for bioscience development, attracting top-rate students, scientists and companies.

A repeat of the embarrassing episode in 1999 could put a damper on those plans and hopes. Krebs will outline that fear in an address titled “Kansas Science Standards – 2004: Will It Be 1999 All Over Again?” on Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

He says Kansas would be “making a statement to the rest of the country that you can’t count on Kansas”…”We are just going to go back and forth depending on political whim as to what we think kids ought to learn in science class. That is not a strong statement to a bioscience industry trying to locate in Lawrence or Kansas City.” …

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members. Much damage will be done if the state board gets sidetracked on this issue again.

Introduction to Multiple Designers Theory

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PREFACE1

The last dozen years has seen a recrudescence of the Payleyist Argument from Design, the argument that because biological phenomena may appear to be designed, there must be an Intelligent Designer of those biological phenomena. A persistent focus of the Wedge-based Intelligent Design movement (headquartered at the Discovery Institute) over the last decade has been to attempt to persuade state legislatures and state and local boards of education to teach “alternatives” to the modern theory of biological evolution. The Discovery Institute has sent emissaries bearing that message to bodies ranging from the Darby, MT, local school board through the Ohio State Board of Education to the U.S. Congress.

Unfortunately, there are no scientific alternatives to evolutionary theory available to be taught. Mainstream Intelligent Design theory as it is represented in the published work of Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and their brethren is conspicuous by its absence. I can find no reasonably extended description of what mainstream Dembski/Behe/Johnson/Meyer ID “theory” actually is beyond the naked claim that “something must have designed this thing”, nor any description of what an ID “explanation” of some biological phenomenon would actually look like beyond the bare assertion that “this thing is/was designed”. There are no ID hypotheses to be tested against data and therefore no systematic or coherent ID research program.

Mainstream Intelligent Design is proving itself to be scientifically vacuous. While Dembski has his Explanatory Filter and Complex Specified Information and Specified Complexity, and Behe has his Irreducible Complexity, no actual research program utilizing those concepts has emerged from the mainstream Intelligent Design movement. Therefore a revolutionary change in the conception of ID is necessary to rouse it from its empirical and theoretical slumber and to provide appropriate material for school boards and legislatures who want an alternative to modern evolutionary theory to be taught in secondary schools. Multiple Designers Theory is that revolutionary change.

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.

Validating Designer Discrimination Methods

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I. Introduction: Designer Discrimination Algorithms

A significant problem in developing a revolutionary new theory is the parallel development of methods and technologies appropriate to testing the theory. As I have said a number of times in response to criticisms of Multiple Designers Theory, the absolutely necessary first step in the MDT research program must be the development and validation of designer discrimination methodologies. In the Introduction to Multiple Designers Theory above I saidthat in developing a design discrimination methodology, MDT has the same task as mainstream ID. First the methodology must be systematized and formalized. Then it must be empirically validated on test materials for which we already know the histories. The first task of MDT is to develop a formalized researcher-independent methodology that, when it is eventually applied to phenomena whose provenance and history we do not know, it can be legitimately expected to reliably tell us something of interest about the phenomena. Mainstream intelligent design has so far avoided that task: there are no validation data at all on its principal design detection methods. MDT, however, has begun the task of validation and calibration of its methodologies.

Meyer: Recycling arguments

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In Meyer 2004 and Deja Vu All Over Again Wesley Elsberry demontrates how Meyer seems to have recycled over 30% of a previously published source in his latest paper. Elsberry is not the first to notice how Meyer tends to recycle his arguments.

Meyer in a Limits of Natural Selection a Reason to Teach All Theories (The News Tribune, May 12, 1996) laments that

(underlined words are some noticable changes)

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]none of the standard[/u] high school biology texts even mentions the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]at least fifty separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living formsónot the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

the same claim is recycled in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Biology Instruction (The Washington Times, July 4th, 1996)

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]none of the standard[/u] high school biology texts even mentions the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]at least fifty separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms-not the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

and in 2002 in the Seattle Times Darwinism Would Love This Debate

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]few[/u] high school biology texts even mention the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]40 separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms – not the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

Read the three articles side by side!!!

See Pennock’s article DNA by Design?: Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis. in Debating Design. New York: Cambridge University Press for more examples of how Meyer recycles his claims.

As a somewhat ironical side note I would like to point out that it seems that in Meyer’s latest paper he fails to present the other half of the scientific picture.

Evolution and God

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An interesting conference on Evolution and God: 150 years of love and war between science and religion will be held on October 15-17, 2004

at the Strosacker Auditorium of the Case Western Reserve University

Darwin’s revolution was not limited to the scientific world. It reverberates to this day in theology, philosophy and politics. As a result, in America today, people hear more about evolution from evangelists preaching against it, than they do from their high school teachers. This highly charged political nexus has delivered a false impression about the history of evolutionary theory and its interactions with walks of life outside the scientific world. This conference is committed to achieving a more accurate historical understanding of these issues among historians and philosophers, and bringing that view directly to the public.

This post is the one-stop shop for information on the publication of Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2):213-239.

A few years ago the Cobb County (GA) Board of Education installed the following disclaimer in their biology textbooks. (Contrary to what you might think, Cobb County is the most affluent and one of the least Georgian counties in the state. Damn conservative Yankees making my state look bad.)

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

After two years and three classes of students that have had their science education undermined by the Cobb County disclaimer against evolution, the ACLU suit against the disclaimers is finally going to trial. Federal Judge Clarence Cooper recently ruled against the Cobb County Board of Education’s latest motion to dismiss the suit.

The suit is the only legal action being taken by any community against the latest wave of assaults on science education. While they are prepared with witnesses, evidence, and a truly strong case, they are again, as they were for the taking of depositions, in need of funds to meet the costs of prosecution. Over a year ago, they asked for help, and it came through. People raised sufficient funds to pay for the sorely needed depositions. With the trial on the horizon, they are again asking for help.

We’re up to a dozen Tangled Banks now

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The Tangled Bank

A new Tangled Bank is up, hosted at LeanLeft. Go read!

The next edition will be at Preposterous Universe. Send links to your science writing to carroll [at] theory.uchicago.edu, to pzmyers@pharyngula.org, or to host@tangledbank.net—they'll all end up in the right place.

We're also on the prowl for new hosts. Volunteer! It's fun and easy, and you'll be doing your part to propagate scientific thinking on the web.

A: All of them.

R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a long article on Meyer's publication, titled Panicked Evolutionists. He gets everything wrong, right from the title onwards.

The theory of evolution is a tottering house of ideological cards that is more about cherished mythology than honest intellectual endeavor. Evolutionists treat their cherished theory like a fragile object of veneration and worship--and so it is. Panic is a sure sign of intellectual insecurity, and evolutionists have every reason to be insecure, for their theory is falling apart.

It's always a bit discombobulating to find a creationist damning evolution as a "mythology" and "object of veneration and worship", as if those are terms of scorn to a Southern Baptist. That really is no fair. We academics are so finely attuned to irony that it sidetracks us somethin' terrible.

But to force myself to address his point rather than the subtext, he's wrong on all counts: biologists aren't panicking over creationism, nor is the theory of evolution showing any signs of weakness. Rather, we're mostly disgusted at the fact that a strongly supported scientific principle is being attacked by political creatures who are misrepresenting the theory. Mohler gives us an excellent example of using bad logic and bad science to pretend that an ideological cartoon has a legitimate scientific foundation.

Continue reading "Q: How many things can a creationist get wrong in a single article?" (on Pharyngula)

The dozenth Tangled Bank is coming up

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The Tangled Bank

This is a Tangled Bank week, so get your entries submitted to Kevin at Lean Left, host@tangledbank.net, or pzmyers@pharyngula.org. This week's edition will appear in all of its informative glory on Lean Left!

Ooops: Kevin's e-mail seems to be bouncing. Send your submissions to me for now, and once the e-mail problem is resolved, I'll forward them on. Kevin, contact me: I tried to tell you that your e-mail was broken in e-mail, but your e-mail is broken.

William Dembski has for years made claims that his “Explanatory Filter” (EF) provided a theoretical basis for “pre-theoretic” sciences such as archaeology and forensics. I am an archaeologist who also has forensic experience as a consultant to law enforcement, and trial expert witness. Plus, I worked as a private investigator for several years. So, finding no comparison with the EF and my professional experience, I was always somewhat irritated when reading Dembski’s books. For this reason, I was very happy to have been asked to contribute a chapter to “Why Intelligent Design Fails” (WIDF).

A story about peer review

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As the publication of Meyer’s paper in a peer-reviewed journal has stirred a discussion of the merits of the peer-review system, perhaps a story from my personal experience may be of some interest to Panda’s Thumb’s denizens. In 1949 I submitted a paper to a prestigious journal Izvestia Akademii Nauk SSSR. It is published by the Academy of Sciences of (then) USSR - now the Russian Academy of Sciences. It has several branches. The one I submitted my paper to was for Technical Dynamics as it contained some formulas I derived for critical speeds of rapidly rotating shafts (the so called Laval shafts). The editorial office was in Leningrad (now again St. Peterburg). In about two months I happened to be in Leningrad attending a conference. The editorial office of Izvestya happened to be in the same building where the conference took place. I walked into the editorial office to inquire about the fate of my paper.

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