October 31, 2004 - November 6, 2004 Archives

Not Wisconsin!

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It looks like Wisconsin is getting ready to bolt from the ranks of the reality-based community. One of their school districts is trying to push ignorance on their students.

School officials have revised the science curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism, prompting an outcry from more than 300 educators who urged that the decision be reversed.

Members of Grantsburg's school board believed that a state law governing the teaching of evolution was too restrictive. The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," said Joni Burgin, superintendent of the district of 1,000 students in northwest Wisconsin.

I fear we're going to see much more of this in the next few years.

How do evolutionary novelties arise? The conventional explanation is that the first step is the chance formation of a genetic mutation, which results in a new phenotype, which, if it is favored by selection, may be fixed in a population. No one sensible can seriously argue with this idea—it happens. I'm not going to argue with it at all.

However, there are also additional mechanisms for generating novelties, mechanisms that extend the power of evolutionary biology without contradicting our conventional understanding of it. A paper by A. Richard Palmer in Science describes the evidence for an alternative mode of evolution, genetic assimilation, that can be easily read as a radical, non-Darwinian, and even Lamarckian pattern of evolution (Sennoma at Malice Aforethought has expressed concern about this), but it is nothing of the kind; there is no hocus-pocus, no violation of the Weissmann barrier, no sudden, unexplained leaps of cause-and-effect. Comprehending it only requires a proper appreciation of the importance of environmental influences on development and an understanding that the genome does not constitute a descriptive program of the organism.

Continue reading "Symmetry breaking and genetic assimilation" (on Pharyngula)

Hot from the press!! Various contributors of the Panda’s Thumb have contributed to this book. This very positive review was published in e-Skeptic on October 29, 2004 (Formatting added).

Patience and Absurdity: How to Deal with Intelligent Design Creationism

A review of Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism Mark Young and Taner Edis (Editors)

By Paul R. Gross

Physicists Matt Young and Taner Edis are the editors of a new volume whose contributors are working scholars in the sciences touched by the newest expression of “creation science”: Intelligent Design (ID) Theory. Why Intelligent Design Fails is a patient assessment of all the scientific claims made in connection with ID. The half dozen science-enabled spokesmen for ID are the indispensable core group of an international neo-creationist big tent. Goals of the American movement are sweeping: they begin with a highly visible, well-funded, nationwide effort to demean evolutionary science in American school (K-12) curricula. ID is offered as a better alternative. The hoped-for result is the addition of ID to, or even its substitution for, the teaching of evolution. Which would mean substituting early 19 th-century nature study for modern biology. The admitted ultimate goal of the ID movement is to topple natural science (they berate it as “materialism”) from its pedestal in Western culture and to replace it with “theistic science.”

The Tangled Bank

A new Tangled Bank is up, the 15th edition at The Sixth International. Thank you, Mrs Tilton!

The next edition, two weeks from today, will be hosted at Rhosgobel. Send your entries in to me, host@tangledbank.net, or direct to Radagast.

Reader KeithB pointed out this excellent statement on the current state of the law regarding religion in the schools. It should be required reading for every teacher and school administrator in every government school. There are two minor things that should probably be clarified.

Check out the Creationism and Intelligent Design webpage of the American Society for Cell Biology with some interesting links to letters sent to the Governor of Ohio and petitions.

We at the Panda’s Thumb would like to develop an open submission policy to encourage guest contributions to our blog. We are currently looking at a two stage process. First abstracts are submitted and if accepted a full length post will follow. We are also looking into having a way for readers to alert us to news stories that we may have missed.

Now, the purpose of this post is to get feedback on this idea from the community. If you have any suggestions on how to structure the open submission policy, we’d like to hear from you in the comments.

The Tangled Bank

Hey, people! Did you realize this is a Tangled Bank week? It almost slipped my mind, so if you forgot, I can't blame you. Fortunately, it's not too late—I just sent my submission off to mrs_tilton chez yahoo co yew kay, over at the Sixth International, so it's not too late for you to do the same. Or you can send it to me, and I'll forward it on to the appropriate party.

If you've written anything relevant to science, just send us a link and we'll publicize it and your web page. Everyone wins: you get more attention, we get more science on the web, readers get to learn.

While you're submitting those links to your science writing, also let me know if you are willing to volunteer to be a host! It's an even better deal to act as host for a day, since we all work to send lots of traffic your way.

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