March 5, 2006 - March 11, 2006 Archives

On Uncommon Descent Doug Moran announced recently that

Brits to Teach the Controversy

”Creationist theories about how the world was made are to be debated in GCSE science lessons in mainstream secondary schools in England.

The subject has been included in a new syllabus for biology produced by the OCR exam board, due out in September.”

But as usual the ‘victory’ of Intelligent Design was mostly smoke and mirrors and short lived as the OCR Exam Board released a clarification. Why is it that Intelligent Design can only be succesful in our ignorance?

Over on the “ID the Future” blog, they are posting David Berlinski’s interview with himself. Interestingly, Berlinski doesn’t fare well:

… Mr. Berlinski, you have frequently been accused of being a crank, someone more generally participating in what has come to be called crank science. I know that …

DB: So?

… Well, is the accusation one that you accept? …

DB: Sure. It’s obviously true in essence, although I prefer to describe myself as an iconoclast, one whom history will vindicate …

… No doubt …

DB: But the point is the same, whatever the terms. But speaking of terms, maybe I spoke too soon. Look, it’s one thing to say that someone like me is a crank. That’s fine because it’s true. It’s quite another thing to talk about crank science.

… Surely crank science is what cranks do? …

DB: Surely. [snip – read the rest and decide for yourself if there is an actual point to all this somewhere.]

This might be an obscure in-joke or something, and Berlinski is actually being incredibly sophisticated and ironic (or just pretentious – take your pick). But with Berlinski, as with antievolutionists generally, parody is often impossible to distinguish from reality.

kha-nyou

Last year, a new and unusual species of rodent was discovered in Laos, called Laonastes aenigmamus, or kha-nyou. Photos of the skull and an 11 million year old fossil can be found in “Laonastes/Diatomys/kha-nyou/rat-squirrel”, on Pharyngula.

New Law Review Article

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Pandas Thumb's first law review article has been published in the newest issue of the Kansas Journal of Law And Public Policy. The article, "Piercing The Veil of Intelligent Design: Why Courts Should Beware Creationism's Secular Disguise," was coauthored by me and Thumb reader Colin McRoberts; several other PT contributors (particularly Glenn Branch) provided helpful comments. Unfortunately it's not on-line, but folks with Westlaw can read it at 15 Kan. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 15 (2005).

Much of the article has already been pre-empted by the decision in the Kitzmiller case. But section IV of the article directly challenges Francis Beckwith's theory that the government may not choose to favor nature-based theories over supernatural theories. McRoberts and I contend that the First Amendment does not require this kind of neutrality, and moreover that "[s]upernatural explanations...are like ipse dixit arguments, which are not useful and cannot provide a basis for predictions. By contrast, a science that avoids such thinking and seeks to explain natural phenomena in natural terms is the only science capable of giving us the tools to predict future phenomena, or to understand that phenomena in anything other than self-referential terms. Science's commitment to methodological naturalism is not a priori, but is a chosen path, based on the observed differences between the two epistemological approaches." Id. at 41. I think this issue (also the subject of Jay Wexler's recent article) will be of increasing importance in coming years.

Thanks so much to Colin McRoberts for pushing me to write on the subject.

Update on the Michigan Bill

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Or bills, in this case. It turns out that there are now two bills in the state legislature - HB 5606, sponsored by Rep. Palmer, which contains the “arguments for and against” language that will inevitably open the door to ID; and a Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Kuipers, that doesn’t yet have a bill designation and which doesn’t contain such language. 5606 has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Kuipers. Kuipers doesn’t have to bring that bill up for a vote if he doesn’t want to, and at the moment it appears that he is going to focus on passing his own version of the bill.

All of this leaves things quite unsettled for the moment. The ID language could be added to the Kuipers bill by amendment, or in a post-approval joint conference to reconcile the two bills should it go that far. Kuipers is very conservative himself and is pro-ID, but he appears to want to keep this bill clear of such language so that it has the broadest appeal possible. Whether he can do that remains to be seen.

Continue Reading at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Ed Note: This update comes from a member of Alabama Citizens for Science. It concerns SB45/HB106, the “Academic Freedom Act”, which intends to give any teacher at any level the “freedom” to corrupt science education for any reason. The 2006 version drops the obvious anti-evolution language of its failed predecessors.

As I explained in my last post, the SC Board of Education met today to vote on the “critically analyze” (read: teach erroneous ID arguments) language that the Educational Oversight Committee wanted added. The BOE voted down the measure by a margin of 10-6 or 11-6, depending on whether or not you count the Chairman, whose vote apparently doesn’t count in the official tally (but being the cool guy he is, he wanted to make it clear where he stood).

Here’s the article from the AP: S.C. Schools Won’t ‘Analyze’ Evolution.

From what I hear, there were some excellent speakers who spoke out against the EOC proposal. They deserve major credit for this. Also, here’s a list of who voted for and against the proposal:

Voted to reject the EOC proposal: Woodall, Tindal, Burch, DuBard, Forrester, Mitchell, Pye, Sumter, Simpson, V. Wilson.

Voted support the EOC proposal: Curtis, Maguire, McKinny, Seckinger, Shoopman, R. Wilson.

If you are from SC, feel free to drop a letter of thanks to those board members who voted against the proposal. It’s important that they know they have support. And if you must send a missive to one of those who voted in favor of the proposal, please note that a) it won’t do you any good, and b) if you are anything other than super-polite, they will complain that they’re being persecuted. (Fair’s allies in the EOC have already made a habit of doing this.)

Rep. Bob Walker kicked things off this morning by presenting a petition in favor of the “critically analyze” language signed by 67 of 123 General Assembly members, and warned angrily that he’s going to take this in front of the legislature. Walker is probably the biggest ally of Sen. Mike Fair (who I hear appeared “discernibly turgid” after hearing the vote tally) in trying to get the pro-ID language added to the curriculum standards. Walker previously sent a letter (pdf) to the BOE explaining, among other things, that it was “unanimous” that the evidence for evolution had been fabricated.

While I suspect that a significant portion of those legislators who signed that petition didn’t know what they were signing, one way or another this is going to head to the State House floor. The Discovery Institute is going to have a lot of fun trying to keep 67 table-pounders from spilling the beans and admitting that this is all about the Bible and Jesus. Walker has already done that himself. Careful what you wish for guys.

The anti-evolution crusade in South Carolina, led by the Discovery Institute, continues unabated. There is not much new to report – the Educational Oversight Committee (EOC) has voted to reject, yet again, the curriculum standards that don’t include the pro-ID “critical analysis” language. But the EOC has no power to change the standards. Only the Board of Education, which meets today, can do that. So it gets kicked back to them, and they’ll have to submit another round of standards for EOC approval. Round and round we go.

But the rhetoric and nonsense keep heating up. Sunday’s Charleston Post and Courier carried a front page article which starts out as follows:

In January, state Sen. Mike Fair desperately needed a pair of speakers to challenge the theory of evolution.

The Greenville Republican and Education Oversight Committee member lost the two South Carolina university professors he had lined up for a debate with state science educators after one of his speakers began receiving job threats for agreeing to participate.

The topic of the debate was the proposed injection of language favoring “critical analysis” of evolutionary theory into guidelines or standards used for sophomore biology lessons.

So he turned to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, for help.

The article goes on to describe the Discovery Institute and its shenanigans – it’s a pretty good article actually. Among other things, we get to learn that South Carolina is now considered a “main focus” of the Discovery Institute, as if we didn’t have enough problems, and that U.S. Senator Jim DeMint’s office was being less than truthful when it said that DeMint had “little familiarity” with the Discovery Institute. (The fact that he gave the opening speech at a DI-sponsored event kind of gave it away). But it’s that peculiar allegation by Mike Fair, reprinted without skepticism, that I want to talk about.

Fair’s claim that there were two SC professors who had to back out because one of them received job threats has the virtue, like ID itself, of being impossible to verify or refute. The fact of the matter is, Fair brought this up well after he had his anti-evolution speakers appear in front of the Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee of the EOC (see here and here for background). Those speakers were Richard von Sternberg and Rebecca Keller, who were suggested to Fair by the Discovery Institute. Fair took some amount of heat due to his use of out-of-state personae to represent the anti-evolution cause, while the two pro-science speakers who the EOC lined-up (Karen Stratton and Mary Lang Edwards) were both in-state. But Fair didn’t see fit to mention until a subsequent meeting that he had originally picked two in-state professors who apparently backed out at the last minute – this being, according to Fair’s sob story, because one or both of them received job threats. This is very strange, because Fair steadfastly refused to say who his picks were – not even the other EOC members knew – until it was revealed at the last hour that they would be von Sternberg and Keller. Whoever these two SC professors that supposedly backed-out were, no one knew their identities then, and no one knows their identities now. How could either one of them received job threats when they remained anonymous? Okay, so color me skeptical. Fair’s story doesn’t add up. But I happen to know for a fact that there are people whose jobs have been threatened over this. And it isn’t Fair or his allies. It’s hard working college professors whose only crime is standing up to Fair and the Discovery Institute.

Last month Kentucky’s creationist governor, Ernie Fletcher (BS Engineering, MD), responded to a resolution by the Kentucky Academy of Science opposing the teaching of “intelligent design” creationism. A reader has supplied me with the text of the letter.

I won’t spoil the surprise with an analysis. Feel free to do your own. Heck, try to find as many indexed claims as you can.

Look below the fold to find out what a winner they got in Kentucky.

A while back I put up a couple of posts about an invasive gall wasp that’s threatening a species of tree unique to Hawaii.

In the first of those posts, I made a few predictions, based on my understanding of ecology and evolution, on how researchers might be able to control the gall wasp infestation:

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

A parent recently contacted Colorado Citizens for Science, saying that his fourth grader at a public school had brought home a DVD promoting intelligent-design creationism as an alternative to evolution. CCFS advised the parent to contact the teacher before approaching the administration, and also recommended that he read the relevant resources on the Website of the National Center for Science Education and bone up on Judge Jones’s decision in Kitzmiller.

Additionally, a CCFS Board member described her own, similar experience, as well as forwarded to the parent her correspodence with her child’s teacher. The Board member’s case was not resolved successfully until she approached the school board and, ultimately, threatened to file a lawsuit. CCFS has posted its reply to the parent and also the CCFS Board member’s correspondence with the teacher at this URL.

We do not yet know how the parent’s case will come out.

A nice long writeup on Eric Rothschild, one of the lead attorneys for the Plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, has just come out in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the UPenn alumni magazine. The cover article is entitled “Intelligent Demise” and focuses on Rothschild’s dissection of ID arguments during the trial. Rothschild seems to come off slightly better than fellow UPenn alum Michael Behe…

A second article examines the role a UPenn commission played in debunking spiritualism in the 19th century.

Dan Ely’s colleagues take down his Kansas testimony

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Dr. Dan Ely of the University of Akron testified at last year’s Kansas Creationism hearings. Ely represented himself as knowledgeable about the issues, and supported the Kansas minority report that gutted the teaching of evolutionary biology in Kansas schools.

Ely was also a member of the writing team that produced the ID creationist model lesson plan for Ohio, and testified before the Ohio State Board of Education on a number of occasions. He was also touted as an expert by several board members, including Deborah Owens Fink who first introduced a “two model” approach (evolution and ID) to the Ohio Board of Education in 2000.

Now Ely’s colleagues at the University of Akron have written an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education taking down Ely’s qualifications, his representations of his conversations with them, and his conclusions. Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble has the story here and here.

One of the money quotes from the Akron biologists’ letter:

It is clear from these statements about his own research that Dr. Ely knows literally nothing about the evolutionary processes that he claims to be competent enough to criticize, which is understandable in that he is a physiologist with no graduate-level training in evolutionary biology whatsoever.

RBH

Addendum A correspondent points out that Ely’s behavior is of a piece with the ID movement’s general practice of having “experts” who attest to material well outside their area of professional competence. If one looks at the “experts” who testified at the Kansas hearings, not one evolutionary biologist or paleontologist was in the list of supporters of the creationist Minority Support.

4:02 p.m., March 2, 2006–Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will deliver UD’s spring David Norton Memorial Lecture, “What’s Wrong with Intelligent Design Theory?” at 7 p.m., Monday, March 6, in 125 Clayton Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Link

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