January 1, 2006 - January 7, 2006 Archives

Outing ID Advocates


There is a bit of a controversy going on about whether anonymous ID advocates should be “outed”. One blog in particular is currently attempting to divine the identity of “MikeGene”, a longtime pseudonymous participant in the ID/evolution debate. After discussions with a few other PT contributors, I give my thoughts on this practice at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Call for Action in Ohio

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Just Scheduled: Public Info Sessions

Ohio Citizens for Science will host two public information sessions Sunday and Monday evenings on Ohio’s creationist lesson plan and the history and impact of this insult to science and religion. Details here.

Things are heating up in Ohio post-Kitzmiller. The ID troops are spinning Kitzmiller as the aberration of an activist judge (a conservative Republican) who vastly over-stepped the acceptable boundaries of judicial behavior. Tim Sandefur eviscerated that argument here on the Thumb and on Positive Liberty.

Ohio Citizens for Science is issuing a call for action this weekend. We ask people – both in Ohio and elsewhere – to write/email/phone to urge the restoration of good science in Ohio’s schools. In particular, we urge contacting Jim Petro, current state Attorney General who is running for Governor. Let Petro know that it’s time for leadership, not political pandering. The main points to stress are below the fold in the recommended message. Both in-state and out of state people are encouraged to contact Petro. Please also contact members of the State Board of Education with your support for honest science education.

Ohio’s board of education will meet next Tuesday, Jan 10, in Columbus to decide whether to comply with the recent federal court ruling against intelligent-design creationism and its disingenuous “teach the controversy” ploy.

Please write or CALL TODAY to State Board members (as many as you can) and Attorney General Jim Petro.

Board Members’ email addresses are here. Contact them all!

Petro Campaign contact info (we recommend that you contact his campaign; this is a political issue):

Contact via his campaign web site or email him at email(AT)jimpetro.com or call the campaign at 1-877-JIM-2006.

Background and more info below the fold.

Alas, Texas

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Kansans will be relieved to learn that their big buddy to the South, Texas, is going to take some of the heat off of them. We have a new target for ridicule:

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has made outreach to Christian conservatives a theme of his gubernatorial portfolio, thinks Texas public school students should be taught intelligent design along with evolutionary theory, his office said Thursday.

Perry “supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design,” spokeswoman Kathy Walt said. “Texas schools teach the theory of evolution; intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well.”

The article does go on to mention that the chairperson of the State Board of Education, in a how-the-hell-did-this-kook-get-to-be-my-boss moment, pointed out that the educators of the state have had no intention of introducing a non-issue like ID into the curriculum.

I look forward to hearing the Discovery Institute’s reaction. Will they repudiate their current strategy of pretending they don’t want to teach ID in schools and embrace the propaganda opportunity, or will they let Perry twist in the wind? Will the Thomas More Law Center, fresh off their masochistic adventure in Dover, step forward with joy in their hearts and beg, “yes, whip me again, please”? Will the voters of Texas finally realize that even idiots can wear a cowboy hat and boots?

I just got a shiny, new, titanium-alloy, extra-heavy-duty new irony meter for Christmas. I hook it up to my computer, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first blogpost that comes across my screen happens to be the Discovery Institute Media Judge Complaints Division blog, where Rob Crowther endorses this quote from an op-ed:

“Moreover, based upon the extensive expertise he [Judge Jones of the Kitzmiller case] professes to have acquired in the course of a six-week trial, he defined science and determined that the scientific claims of intelligent design were invalid, neither of which are exactly legal questions best decided by a single lawyer.”

BLAM! Oh, my, that was close, that shrapnel almost took my head off–hey, that’s odd. What are the odds that a titanium irony meter would explode into red-hot fragments spelling Darwin on Trial, pp. 12-13”?

The AJC has some more information about the latest happenings in the Selman case: Evolution case turns to petitions.

When asked in a telephone interview Wednesday if he thought the March 2002 petitions ever existed, [Cobb County School District’s lawyer] Gunn said, “I have my doubts.”

But on March 28, 2002, the day the school board adopted the stickers, Rogers told the board she had collected signatures from 2,300 people who were dissatisfied with science texts that espoused “Darwinism unchallenged,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the following day.

A few days later, a Journal-Constitution reporter examined the petitions at the Cobb school system offices and took notes on names and phone numbers of some of the people who had signed.

On Wednesday, Gunn said Cobb school board spokesman Jay Dillon does not believe that ever happened.

In an article published April 14, 2002, the Journal-Constitution again reported that the school board had agreed to insert the stickers inside science texts in response to pressure from several dozen parents who criticized the teaching of evolution. The article said the parents had presented petitions with 2,000 names of county residents who demanded accuracy in textbooks. The Cobb school board did not challenge the existence of the petitions at that time.

Bramlett said Wednesday he believes the petitions were given to the board in March 2002 and thinks the record supports Cooper’s finding that it occurred.

“The trial court heard the testimony,” Bramlett said of Cooper. “The trial court was there. That’s the reason in our legal system that the trial judge’s fact finding is entitled to deference by the appellate courts.”

Microbial ecology, and its relation to the development of infectious disease, is an ever-growing field of study. Of course, there are a vast number of bacterial species living amongst us, most of which do not cause us any harm. Others may infect us only when, so to speak, the stars align in a certain manner: when a number of factors collide that result in the development of a diseased state. For instance, we may already be immunocompromised due to the presence of another infection—something minor, such as a rhinovirus, or something more serious, such as HIV—and this chink in our armor allows another organism to more easily infect, and potentially damage, us.

Other agents in the environment also play a key role in the ecology of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. A recent study in Science highlighted one of these that appears to play an important role in the ecology and evolution of Vibrio cholerae, a major human pathogen of the past several centuries.

V. cholerae is the bacterial agent of cholera, a deadly water-borne disease. The bacterium itself is somewhat of a boomerang or kidney bean shape, and can be found in a number of aquatic environments of varying salinity. Cholera has killed millions over the past 200-odd years, frequently re-appearing in pandemic form after initially emerging from India in the early 1800s. Infection with the bacterium can lead to severe gastrointestinal problems, and the production of copious amounts of “ricewater stool”–even worse than it sounds, from what I understand. Death is generally due to severe dehydration. It’s also a bacterium that has played a key role in the development of the very science of epidemiology. John Snow, considered the “grandfather” of epidemiology, became famous for tracing a 1854 outbreak of cholera in London to a contaminated well, introducing the basic principles of epidemiology along the way.

More recent research has shown that in nature, the bacterium uses the polymer chitin as both a food source and an anchor. Chitin is the second most common polymer on earth (beaten only by cellulose), and is the most abundant in the marine environment, where V. cholerae thrives. Chitin can be found in a number of diatoms, in the exoskeletons and fecal material of arthropods, and in fungi, just to name a few sources.

(Continued at Aetiology)

Many outspoken political conservatives have denounced the Kitzmiller decision, but many others have defended it, and deserve praise for their stand. James Q. Wilson had this very good article in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Eve.

The theory of evolution has not been proved as fully as the theory of gravity. There are many gaps in what we know about prehistoric creatures. But all that we have learned is consistent with the view that the creatures we encounter today had ancestors from which they evolved. This view, which is literally the only scientific defensible theory of the origin of species, does not by any means rule out the idea that God exists.

Harry Jaffa of the Claremont Institute wrote this letter to the editor in response. I was particularly delighted by his statement that "intelligent design does not necessarily imply a designer. Aristotle says that whatever can come to be by art---i.e. by intelligent design---can come to be by chance---i.e. without a designer."

Of course, I disagree with their view that evolution and religion are equally respectable intellectual positions, and with Jaffa's contention that "goodness" must preexist any particular, good thing---but that gets into a very complicated debate for which I don't have time. The important thing is to applaud conservatives who have the courage and integrity to defend science and see ID for the fraud that it is.

Ken Miller Webcast Archived

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Ken Miller’s talk at Case last night has been archived:

REAL PLAYER Windows Media Player

No definitive info on how long they’ll last, but rumor has it that normal is two months.


Non-lawyer Joseph M. Knippenberg of the Ashbrook Center has posted this article attacking the Kitzmiller decision on the grounds that it represents "hostility" to religion. I've pointed out many times that this accusation of "hostility" is generally just a complaint by people who believe that their religious freedom entitles them to use the government for their religious purposes, which is not correct. Freedom only means that we have the right to do what we want on our own time and with our own money; it does not include the right to use other people's money or infringe on other people's rights. Religious freedom does not include your right to use the government's school system to teach religion to people. When the court stops you from doing so, that is not "hostility," despite Dr. Knippenberg's claims to the contrary.

Last month the appeals hearing in the Cobb Country disclaimer sticker case made headlines when Judge Carnes accused the ACLU of misleading the court regarding the timing of the creationist petition submitted to the school board. The Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, which is “committed” to correcting errors made by the media, jumped on the story with their article, “Did the ACLU Lie to the Federal Courts in the Cobb County Evolution Sticker Case?

Now it was immediately apparent to us and the media that Judge Carnes was confused about the facts of the case and recklessly accused the ACLU of misleading the court. I pointed this out in a series of posts:

However, Disco has yet to provide such information to their readers.

Today the Appeals court issued a clear statement on the issue:

The Court is not ruling at this time on whether any findings by the district court about the timing of the petition were clearly erroneous, which is the governing standard of review; the time and place for announcing any decisions about that will be in the opinion this Court issues. However, the Court does want to resolve at this time the question of whether Mr. Bramlett misled the Court in the brief he filed on behalf of the appellees.

Parts of the trial record concerning the petition are puzzling. The attorneys on both sides might have been more careful in their advocacy relating to this issue, which would have assisted the Court. The Court, however, does not find that counsel misled it or attempted to do so. We issue this order to remove any implication that either counsel did.

Because the oral argument remarks about this matter occurred in open court and have been discussed in the news media, the Clerks’s Office is directed to disseminate a copy of this order to the media.

I am not holding my breath waiting for the creationists to disseminate this court order.

The final two nails in the coffin of “Intelligent Design” have been set up, and hammered in.

The new Dover board has scrapped the ID policy that started the whole flap, and the complete electoral defeat of pro- ID board members was finalized.

Fisking Phyllis Schlaffly


One of the most fascinating aspects of the last couple weeks since the Dover ruling came down is surveying just how low some of the IDers are willing to go to attack Judge Jones. It’s all the more interesting because when he was assigned the case they were quite happy about the selection. After all, they had gotten a conservative judge, appointed by President Bush and with close ties to Tom Ridge and Rick Santorum. How could they have asked for anything more? Alas, once he ruled against them they turned on him like a pack of rabid dogs, engaging in one ad hominem after another. But the worst I’ve seen has to be this piece by Phyllis Schlaffly, which DI boss John West is endorsing. Her column is chock full of ignorance and flat out lies.

To see the full fisking of Schlaffly’s column, go to Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

The Tangled Bank and other goodies

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #44 is now online at Afarensis.

A few other noteworthy links that might be of interest to readers here. The Carnival of the Liberals #3 is at Science and Politics, and the Skeptics' Circle is looking for submissions for an edition that will be out tomorrow.

It's that time of year when weblogging awards pop up all over the place. Nominations are now open for the 2005 Medical Weblog Awards and the Sixth Annual Weblog Awards (the "Bloggies"). The Koufax nominations are closed; Pharyngula and the Panda's Thumb received several nominations, so now we just wait to see if they make it to the list of final candidates. The gang at Wampum are looking for donations to help them through the time-consuming process.

Feeling literary? Science Creative Quarterly is having a Flower Mandala contest. Get inspired by some beautiful botanical images, write something, win a prize!

This view of life

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Over my “vacation” (which unfortunately ended up being more work than play), I was at a dinner with two of my best friends from the past 15-odd years. For whatever reason, the topic turned to evolution–and we quickly realized that we had, erm, differing opinions on whether evolution actually occurred or not. Now, this was pretty depressing to me, as both of them are very intelligent women, and one happens to work in a scientific field. So, we retreated to a coffee shop for some animated conversation on science, religion, and politics. I don’t know if I changed any minds or not, but that wasn’t really my goal anyway–rather, just to talk about the evidence that supported evolution, and to discuss their own reservations and objections. Obviously there were only so many things we could cover, but it was an interesting chat (and I hope I wasn’t too harsh. It’s a topic that makes me a bit…excitable.)

Anyhoo, I wish I’d had this op-ed on me. Written by evolutionary biolgist Olivia Judson, it highlights just a few things that make evolution so amazing:

Organisms like the sea slug Elysia chlorotica. This animal not only looks like a leaf, but it also acts like one, making energy from the sun. Its secret? When it eats algae, it extracts the chloroplasts, the tiny entities that plants and algae use to manufacture energy from sunlight, and shunts them into special cells beneath its skin. The chloroplasts continue to function; the slug thus becomes able to live on a diet composed only of sunbeams.

Still more fabulous is the bacterium Brocadia anammoxidans. It blithely makes a substance that to most organisms is a lethal poison - namely, hydrazine. That’s rocket fuel.

And then there’s the wasp Cotesia congregata. She injects her eggs into the bodies of caterpillars. As she does so, she also injects a virus that disables the caterpillar’s immune system and prevents it from attacking the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar alive.

It’s hard not to have an insatiable interest in organisms like these, to be enthralled by the strangeness, the complexity, the breathtaking variety of nature.

(Continue reading at at Aetiology)

Why it matters:

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In today’s Baltimore Sun, there is an op-ed by New Hampshire Union Leader editorial page editor Andrew Cline. Cline makes an argument that I’ve heard a lot from religious conservatives lately, that the courts go to far when they rule that government “endorsement” of religion is unconstitutional:

I disagree with the wording of that statement. But it defies logic to say it establishes a state religion. And in fact, Judge Jones does not conclude that. Under Establishment Clause jurisprudence, he doesn’t have to.

In the 1984 case Lynch v. Donnelly, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created a new standard that redefined the Establishment Clause. Government policies don’t have to “establish” a state religion - as the Constitution requires - to be unconstitutional. They simply have to “endorse” a religious point of view. Justice O’Connor succeeded in rewriting the First Amendment, and Judge Jones used that rewrite to strike down the intelligent design statement.

As the Establishment Clause morphs into a general anti-religion clause and judges continue to strike down not the establishment of religion, or even the teaching of it, but the mere practice of pointing it out to students, it is easy to imagine a day when no reference to God, religion or spirituality will be allowed in school.

I think Cline manages to misunderstand a couple of different things here. He obviously doesn’t have a clue about why O’Connor defined the “endorsement” test, or how the circumstances of this case illustrate the value of that standard. He also doesn’t seem to grasp exactly what the Dover School Board was attempting to do.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Ken Miller in Cleveland: WEBCAST ARCHIVE URLS

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The URLs for the archive of the webcast of Miller’s talk are:

Real Player Archive

Windows Media Player Archive

I do not know how they will be available. Rumor has it two months, but don’t count on that.

The Collapse of Intelligent-Design … Will the next MONKEY TRIAL be in OHIO?

A talk by Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University

7 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2006 Strosacker Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University Campus, Cleveland

Kenneth R. Miller, PhD, was the star science witness in the recent Dover “Panda Trial” in Pennsylvania where Judge John E Jones found “intelligent design” to be a religious view, not science. He is the author of a bestselling high school biology textbook that was subject to the Cobb County, GA disclaimer sticker that warned students that evolution was “a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were removed by court order in 2005. Miller is also author of the bestseller Finding Darwin’s God.

Questions from the audience will be entertained and the event will be webcast (www.case.edu)

Free and open to the public. When I have more detailed info on the webcast I’ll post it here.


Real Player Windows Media Player

The young earth creationists (YECs) used to refer to the 2nd law of thermodynamics as an allegedly insurmountable obstacle to evolution. When their critics pointed out that the 2nd law, as used by creationists, is only valid for “closed” (or “isolated”) systems and therefore is not an obstacle to evolution on our planet which is an open system receiving energy input from the sun, the YECs suggested various specious arguments designed to circumvent this limitation of the 2nd law. With time, as straightforward young earth creationism gradually retreated to such fringe outlets as Answers in Genesis, the Institute of Creation Research, and Hovind’s entertainment shops (being replaced by intelligent design movement as the main anti-evolution force), reference to the 2nd law of thermodynamics has rare been heard as an anti-evolution argument.

However, this pseudo-scientific argument has not been completely abandoned by anti-evolution forces, both of YEC and ID varieties. From time to time it recrudesces in writing of this or that advocate of creationism.

One example of such a misuse of the 2nd law of thermodynamics is a recent article by professor of mathematics Granville Sewell titled “Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure” (see here ).

The following is a letter to the editor that I sent to the St. Petersburg Times. Maybe they’ll print it, maybe they won’t.

In the St. Petersburg Times “Evolution’s Not Enough” article by Donna Winchester and Ron Matus, only those whose self-report of having at least some familiarity with the issues were part of the numbers reported concerning how “intelligent design” should be taught, if at all. The antievolution literature is a source of anti-knowledge, false things confidently stated as if true, and those whose only or primary familiarity with the issues comes from that source may well believe themselves to have some grasp of the issues while being worse off than those who have not been misled.

The Tangled Bank

Don't forget: there's a new post-holiday Tangled Bank coming up on Wednesday, 4 January 2006, at Afarensis. Send in links to your science writing now, to afarensis1@sbcglobal.net, host@tangledbank.net, or pzmyers@pharyngula.org.

Science often depends on experiments, and experiments are notoriously prone to error. Even if the experiment’s results are correct, the conclusions may be wrong. And even if the experiment and conclusions are correct, they may represent only part of the truth. Sometimes scientists are simply wrong, and they need to admit it. While they don’t do experiments, a similar obligation falls on mathematicians.

Most mathematicians and scientists recognize this obligation. In 1989, for example, the mathematician I. J. Good published a corrigendum to one of his previous papers. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except that the paper he was correcting was published in 1941, nearly 50 years before.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. A classic case is that of René Blondlot (1849-1930), a French physicist who believed he had discovered a new kind of radiation, which he called “N-rays” in honor of Nancy, his native city. You can read about this case in Walter Gratzer’s book The Undergrowth of Science and I am following Gratzer’s account here.

Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

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