June 26, 2005 - July 2, 2005 Archives

Mea Culpa

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The comments are now back online. Our spam blocker no longer sees every post as inappropriate.

Last night we got some specifically crafted spam that when despamed could create a rule that would match any comment submitted. I didn’t pay enough attention when I despamed it and thus the omnibus rule was added to our filter causing all comments to be rejected.

I apologize for any frustration that this has caused our readers.

fire ants

All of the parthenogenetic species with which I'm familiar are female. Females, obviously, have all the machinery for reproduction in place, and all they have to replace is the function of one itty-bitty little sperm, while for a male to reproduce without females, he'd have to replace the functions of big, well-stocked eggs and uteruses or whatever equivalent organs the mother of the species has at her disposal. It's hard for males to get around the female contribution to reproduction. At last, though, one species of fire ant has shown a way to do it, not that I'd ever want to go down this particular road.

I'm going to expand on this strange genetic pattern John Wilkins described. First, though, here's a little background on haplodiploid sex determinatiion.

Continue reading "Clone war of the sexes" (on Pharyngula)

diploblast evo

Carl Zimmer wrote on evolution in jellyfish, with the fascinating conclusion that they bear greater molecular complexity than was previously thought. He cited a recent challenging review by Seipel and Schmid that discusses the evolution of triploblasty in the metazoa—it made me rethink some of my assumptions about germ layer phylogeny, anyway, so I thought I'd try to summarize it here. The story is clear, but I realized as I started to put it together that jeez, but we developmental biologists use a lot of jargon. If this is going to make any sense to anyone else, I'm going to have to step way back and explain a collection of concepts that we've been using since Lankester in the 19th century.

Continue reading "Diploblasts and triploblasts" (on Pharyngula)

Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug has a funny (and only slightly exaggerated) cartoon out in today’s Salon.com here. Salon is a subscription site, but you can watch a short ad to get a day pass. Enjoy!

John West, associate director of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, has replied to my "fulminating" essay, posted to Dispatches, In the Agora and the Panda's Thumb, on ID and "divine design". You'll recall that Mr. West had claimed that he and his fellow ID advocates get "very upset" when people "confuse" intelligent design with divine design, as a Utah legislator has in a bill designed to give equal time, and I replied by offering numerous quotes from ID advocates themselves ostensibly "confusing" the two. Mr. West's reply to me, unfortunately, almost entirely misses the point of my response - by design, I suspect. He has essentially two arguments: A) that ID only has "metaphysical implications" rather than being inherently metaphysical, and B) so does evolution:

First of all, if he had read the article I referenced in my blog post about why ID is not creationism, he would have known that I never deny that ID can have metaphysical implications...I went on to explain that ID in this respect is no different than Darwinism.

But he fails to address here the real substance of my argument. I did not argue that ID merely has metaphysical implications; I argued that ID is inherently metaphysical and that many ID advocates had admitted as much. The only quotes in my initial post that dealt only with the implications of ID were the ones from Nancy Pearcey; the rest of them dealt with the nature of ID either as an explanation or as a political/legal movement. The rest of them all begin with statements like "Intelligent design is...", "Our strategy has been...", and "Our objective is...". These are statements about the nature of ID, not about the implications of ID.

This has been said before but needs to be said again.

Alien designers are not compatible with “intelligent design” creationism.

According to the intelligent design “theoreticians” and propagandists at Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture,

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Top Questions

Anything requiring the prior existence of the universe, like aliens, can not logically be the DI’s “intelligent cause” of the universe. Clearly only supernatural entities satisfy the Discovery Institute’s authoritative description of intelligent design.

The Tangled Bank

We have a new edition of the Tangled Bank online, and the host, David Winter of Science & Sensibility, has introduced a much-needed innovation: refreshment and lunch breaks. You'll need them.

I'll also mention that the Tangled Bank homepage has been revised. It's still a little rough, but the most important feature is now enabled: a Tangled Bank newsfeed that will carry these announcements about new and upcoming editions.

John G. West and Seth Cooper of the Discovery Institute wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Representative Jess M. Stairs urging Stairs and the Pennsylvania legislature not to pass HB1007 which would mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” in Pennsylvania K-12 science classes.

While West and Cooper go on at length in their letter, the import is clear: don’t call their tired old antievolution rhetoric “intelligent design”; just put the same content in the classrooms and call it “teaching the controversy”, “scientific criticisms”, or “evidence against evolution” instead. There’s nothing like a marketing effort that goes to the lengths of lobbying the DI does in order to put on a name change for their product while affixing what amounts to a brightly colored sticker saying, “Old! Unimproved!” in the upper left corner of the box.

(Hat tip to Thomas D. Gillespie. Please do keep sending me news items that you see relating to evolutionary biology and antievolution efforts.)

After reading the majority opinion in the McCreary case, involving the posting of the Ten Commandments in a county courthouse, I am convinced that the ruling is extremely good news for those of us who are active in fighting the attempts of creationists (in whatever form) to weaken science education in public schools. But in order to understand why, some background is required. We've been waiting with great anticipation for this decision because it would involve the Lemon test, the set of criteria that the court has used (sometimes) for the last 35 years or so to determine whether a policy violates the Establishment Clause. The Lemon test has three prongs - purpose, effect and entanglement. In order to meet the test, a policy must have a clear secular purpose, have the effect of neither advancing not inhibiting religion, and must not unnecessarily entangle church and state.

In the battle against creationism in science classrooms, the purpose prong is very important because those who advocate putting creationism into classrooms invariably make pronouncements of religious intent. In the Dover case, for instance, the school board member who proposed putting "intelligent design" into science classrooms announced he was doing so because "someone died on a cross 2000 years ago" and it was time for someone to "take a stand for Him." But in the course of the last few years, there have been many voices on the court for either modifying or even doing away with the Lemon test, particularly the purpose prong, and many of us feared that the McCreary case might be used to renounce the test, in part or in whole. The appellants in McCreary specifically asked the court to do away with the purpose prong, arguing that it was nebulous and impossible to truly understand the purpose of a person or governing body.

I looked through the Roy Moore amicus brief that Reed Cartwright posted below. It makes a remarkable argument: that the evolution disclaimer could not possibly violate the Establishment Clause because “[a] sticker is not a ‘law,’” (p. 13), so it couldn’t possibly be a “law respecting an establishment of religion.” As far as those cases like Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 US 602 (1971), which hold that any state action which endorses a religious viewpoint is a violation of the Clause, those cases were wrong and ought to be overruled.

In this post Denyse O'Leary "comments" on a session I am organizing and chairing at the forthcoming International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology meeting. The session is the second of a two-parter on the Darwinian Revolution, and specifically deals with the following:
Many faculty members teach “Darwinian Revolution” courses. What do they teach, and how and why? And what difference does the discussion about whether there was such a revolution and what it involved make pedagogically? Should the latest scholarship matter to the teaching, or are there different and overriding pedagogical values?

Over at Stranger Fruit I deal with O'Leary's claims about the nature of the "Darwinian Revolution" and question her knowledge of history and philosophy of science.

Update: 21:30 - O'Leary has tried to defend herself against my post, so I've replied here

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