April 3, 2005 - April 9, 2005 Archives

That may sound strange to rational people, but if you visit a diner in Dunlap, Tennessee, you’ll find out that it’s perfectly plausible. It appears that Kent Hovind, aka Dr. Dino, isn’t content with poisoning the minds of children down in Pensacola, Florida. He’s now wormed his way north to the land of Scopes. Joe Meert, a geologist and long-time follower of creationism, had this discovery to share on the IIDB forum:

I took a group of students on a field trip to Tennessee, NC and Virginia. We stopped at a small diner in Tennessee for breakfast. My 7 year old son was with me on the trip and as the waitress was setting our table, she put down a ‘childrens activity’ place mat. I did not think much of it until my son said, “Dad, did you know that T-rex could breathe fire?”. I said where did you hear that? He said, look at my placemat. I did and there were many other ‘fun-filled’ dino facts from one “Dr Dino”!!

He’s done us favor of scanning the placemats:



There’s not much more that needs saying. The kiddie script is just so appropriate.

A couple of weeks ago, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote a poorly considered article on why he thinks ID should be taught in schools. (As hard as it is to believe, his primary justification is that biology is boring.) I critiqued it here. Now he’s come out with another article dove-tailing on his previous one:

Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me.

It’s one of those “I was wrong but I was really right” articles that pundits are so fond of when they get justifiably skewered for writing something dumb. Mathews reproduces portions of some well reasoned emails he received criticizing his prior article, and notes that he anticipated this reaction (biology teachers he consulted before hand told him the same thing), yet he went ahead and wrote it anyway. And check out his bizarre rationale.

While the ID folks continue to blather about the impossibility of complex systems evolving naturalistically, real scientists are busy unravelling the steps by which such evolution actually occurred.

The March 18 issue of Science contains this research report and accompanying technical article (only available by subscription, apparently), about recent work on the evolution of swim bladders in fish. Meanwhile, Bryan Fry of the University of Melbourne in Australia has published this article in which he unravles some of the mysteries of snake venom evolution. This work is described in layman's terms by Carl Zimmer in this article from The New York Times.

Covering the creationism beat is usually an unhappy job, consisting of report after report of yet more stupidity bubbling up. There is hope, though. A Fellow of the Discovery Institute, Paul Nelson, paid a visit to my university (the University of Minnesota Morris) last night to lecture us on problems in macroevolution and the promise of Intelligent Design creationism in explaining them. He had a large crowd show up, and the wonderful thing is how UMM students responded. They didn't sit back passively, they didn't throw rotten fruit…they hammered him with solid, critical questions. The Q&A session went on longer than the talk itself, and with only one exception, the questions and comments were all smart and uniformly anti-pseudoscience.

That is how it is done. That's how we win this battle—with a well-prepared and intelligent generation of students who can recognize BS when they hear it.

(PLUG: Looking for a good liberal arts university? Prefer a school in the public system because it's less expensive? Want a place with access to the resources of a major research university system, but the student/teacher ratios of a small town college? Take a look at the University of Minnesota Morris. Plus, our students are brilliant.)

Old Man of Georgia

Dmanisi old man

A fabulously interesting hominin skull has been found at the Dmanisi site in Georgia. It's old in two different and significant ways: the individual lived 1.77 million years ago, and he was ancient at death, almost completely toothless. He'd also been toothless for several years before death, judging by the complete resorption of the tooth sockets.

It's a touchingly human thing, that so long ago our ancestors weren't entirely brutish, but did care for the infirm to some degree.

Continue to the pictures of "Old Man of Georgia" (on Pharyngula)

As Reed Cartwright noted in a short, brilliantly titled essay yesterday, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jay Richards thinks he has found a flaw in the theory of relativity. The theory of relativity is one of the most successful scientific theories ever, and it has been verified time and again with remarkable precision. This month’s issue of Discover Magazine, for example, notes that a clock runs measurably faster at a high altitude than at sea level. A nonscientist criticizing relativity is about like a lawyer criticizing evolution; both are in over their heads.

My own knowledge of relativity, while evidently more profound than Mr. Richards’s, is still not up to par, so I contacted my colleague Victor Stenger, author of Has Science Found God? and asked him to comment on Mr. Richards’s essay. Here is the bulk of his reply, beginning with a quotation from Mr. Richards’s essay.

Tangled Bank XXV

The Tangled Bank

There's a new Tangled Bank at Respectful Insolence—learn how to annoy an editor and never, ever get published in a scientific journal again while perusing a large collection of science posts.

The next Tangled Bank will appear on 20 April Circadiana. Send new submissions to <coturnix1 AT aol.com>, host@tangledbank.net, or to me. We're also always looking for new hosts, so if you want to join in the fun, volunteer.

John Rennie, editor of Scientific American, has blogged an interesting piece on his experience at a meeting with university presidents. Rennie was disappointed at the evasive answers that the presidents gave to his questions, but I was glad to see that Rennie, and also Ira Flato, were actively sticking up for science. Rennie also puts his finger on the kind of thing that would really make university presidents pay attention to evolution education: biotech. One of the few forces that could substantially change the current dynamics of the evolution/creationism controversy would be biotech companies realizing that it is their ox that gets gored if evolution is cut out of the schools or diluted with pseudoscience. “Reading” the human genome would be almost totally impossible without the lab organisms – fruit flies, mice, zebrafish, etc. – that are related to humans to various degrees. Uneducated students will be less likely to enter the highly educated biotech workforce, and an uneducated public will be less likely to support the government research dollars that produce the basic research upon which biotech rests. Why bother with the chimp genome, if humans aren’t any more related to chimps than anything else?

In the I am not making this stuff up category, the ID crowd is planning on sending a battalion of pseudoscientists to Kansas this May for the upcoming ID Kangaroo Court. On the front page of the Intelligent Design Network‘s “we’re not promoting ID” website, we find:

PUBLIC HEARINGS ON MINORITY REPORT. A Committee of the State board has scheduled hearings to provide for an in-depth examination of the Minority Report and its proposed changes. The hearings will be conducted in Topeka on May 5, 6 and 7, and May 12, 13 and 14 at a place to be announced. CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF WITNESSES TO BE CALLED TO TESTIFY FOR THE MINORITY REPORTIDnet science standards website

And what a list it is!

The Discovery Institute’s Wishful Thinking Division has a piece by Jay Richards arguing against relativity based on an insight derived from a New Yorker article: “ Did Einstein really show that time is an illusion?.”

Sean Carroll at Perposterous Universe has taken it apart: “Time-saving tips for understanding Einstein.”

And here’s a little request for anyone else who wants to point out flaws in Einstein. Whatever else you might think, Einstein was a smart cookie. Nothing he said was sacred (my first published paper proposed a theory that violated some of Einstein’s ideas, as have several of my subsequent papers), but you should at least understand what he said before you claim to improve on it. So take a gander at the problem sets for my course in general relativity, and have a go. If you get an average of over 50% on all the sets (as all of the students in my class did), I’ll give your ideas a respectful hearing. Otherwise, you should go back and hit the books if you expect anyone to take you seriously.

I wrote a letter to the editor of “The Daily Californian” concerning David Berlinski’s op-ed piece that ran there on April 1. I reproduce it here as an open letter.

Re: David Berlinski’s little white lies

David Berlinski claims to be looking for what is true. It is odd, then, that he spreads easily-discovered falsehoods in his April 1st essay.

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