April 9, 2006 - April 15, 2006 Archives

No, your other left!

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Bergstrom_2006_flatfish_polymorphs.jpgI have just come across the world’s coolest flatfish picture, and I just thought I would share. Apparently seven of the world’s 550 species of flounder are actually polymorphic for which side of the juvenile becomes the new “top” side in the adult flatfish. Apparently either eye can pop out and rotate to the new top. This says some rather interesting things about the developmental processes involved.

For more, go check out the webpage describing the research of famed flatfish researcher Dr. Carolyn Bergstrom of Bamfield Marine Science Centre in Bamfield, British Columbia.

See also this random talk.origins discussion, on “Why did the flatfish’s eye move from one side to the other?,” and this funny reply, and this other random talk.origins post.

Seems ID activists do not shy away from inflation after all… In this case inflation of claims about a course taught by Allen MacNeill at Cornell.

The Cornell IDEA Club then posted a notice on their blog about the course, pointing out that it would be a seminar in which intelligent design theory would be discussed in the larger framework of its relationship to evolutionary theory. However (perhaps because of the source), this was immediately picked up by several websites supporting ID (most notably World Net Daily) and spun as “Cornell to Offer Course in Intelligent Design.”


Of course our friends at Uncommon Descent decided to join the fray with Cordova’s posting ID Course at Cornell.

Seems ID is desperate for attention but why not spend all this effort and energy on making ID scientifically relevant? Or is that too hard? Let’s read on:

A while back Mark Perakh wrote this essay dissecting the attempt by mathematician Granville Sewell to revive the thermodynamics argument against evolution.

Actually, Sewell's argument was so bad that I felt there was even more to say beyond Mark's fine analysis. The fruits of my labors are now available at CSICOP's Creation and ID Watch website.

We’ve already documented the profoundly silly response of the Discovery Institute and ID advocates to the recent announcement of the finding of Tiktaalik roseae; now let’s look at the response of more traditional creationists. Two creationist groups, the young earth Answers in Genesis and the old earth Reasons to Believe, have put out press releases (what is it with creationists and press releases?) claiming to have debunked the finding and shown that it poses no problem for creationism. As we will see, this is wishful thinking to the point of delusion on the part of both organizations.

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

neutrality, evolution and ID

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Note: Much of the introduction has been rewritten to correct some errors about the nature of the blog and the name of the blog (PvM)

Allen MacNeill, who has announced the Cornell Course “ Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?” has a personal web blog called “The Evolution List”. In a posting titled Where The REAL Action Is In Evolutionary Biology MacNeill addresses the role of neutrality in evolution.

Since ID activists seem to have some problems understanding the importance of neutrality, such as the fact that neutraility is a selectable trait, I responded as follows: Various people have pointed out that the language used in my response is overly technical. I will attempt in a future posting to address the various concepts in more detail and hopefully make them more accessible to all interested parties

Sobering thoughts on ID

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Intelligent Design activists have become more and more insistent, given the recent court rulings, that Intelligent Design is not religious (wink wink) as it merely identifies ‘designed’ objects and does not say anything about the ‘designer(s)’. While others have already shown how vacuous such claims are, a recent paper takes a different take on this issue. Elliott Sober in a paper titled INTELLIGENT DESIGN THEORY AND THE SUPERNATURAL – THE “GOD OR EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS” REPLY describes how ID points to a supernatural intelligent designer.

The study was reported in the journal Nature

Asa Issie, Aramis and the origin of Australopithecus Nature 440, 883-889 (13 April 2006)

Tim D. White, Giday WoldeGabriel, Berhane Asfaw, Stan Ambrose, Yonas Beyene, Raymond L. Bernor, Jean-Renaud Boisserie, Brian Currie, Henry Gilbert, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, William K. Hart, Leslea J. Hlusko, F. Clark Howell, Reiko T. Kono, Thomas Lehmann, Antoine Louchart, C. Owen Lovejoy, Paul R. Renne, Haruo Saegusa, Elisabeth S. Vrba, Hank Wesselman and Gen Suwa

The latest fossil unearthed from a human ancestral hot spot in Africa allows scientists to link together the most complete chain of human evolution so far.

The 4.2 million-year-old fossil discovered in northeastern Ethiopia helps scientists fill in the gaps of how human ancestors made the giant leap from one species to another.

That’s because the newest fossil, the species Australopithecus anamensis, was found in the region of the Middle Awash - where seven other human-like species spanning nearly 6 million years and three major phases of human development were previously discovered.


A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that a tonsillectomy may improve the condition of kids diagnosed with attention defecit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I think it’s an excellent case of some true “alternative explanations” for the data that the creationist/ID types often crow about.

Creationists often try to validate their position by saying that both they and mainstream scientists start from the same data, but that creationists use their “Bible glasses” to interpret it, while scientists view it through their “evolution glasses.” In other words, they’re not wrong–it’s just a different interpretation of the same data, and where you end up depends on your initial biases and worldview. Though this is bogus when it comes to creationism, there are indeed real debates in the literature, where two hypotheses may be similarly compelling.

(Read more at Aetiology)

With the recent discovery of Tiktaalik, and the paper in Science showing that yet another complex biological system has now yielded to an evolutionary explanation, evoution has been in the news quite a bit lately. That inevitably leads to thoughts about how best to present evolution to the public. I offer some thoughts on that subject in two entries over at EvolutionBlog: Part One here and Part Two here. Part One discusses Bill Nye's appearance on the MSNBC show Countdown, and some of the press releases related to the Science paper. Part two discusses this article, from today's New York Times, about the recent film Flock of Dodos. Enjoy!

Advice for Schools


Here is an excellent, short, readable article for teachers and school administrators on what they can teach about Intelligent Design. See also this article briefly explaining the Kitzmiller case.

Tangled Bank #51

The Tangled Bank

We have a new Tangled Bank up, and it's enough to make this old Seattle boy homesick—the premise is to bring up all these nice science links during a walking tour of the city. If only they did sell Tiktaalik at the Pike Place Market…

In the latest misaimed blast from the Whine and Cheese Division of the Discovery Institute, Michael Francisco expresses shock and dismay at the idea that people would actually claim that Intelligent Design and creationism are the same thing:

Finally, during the debate over [Kentucky Governor] Fletcher’s school board nominees, one House member argued they should “send a message that we are not a state that will fall prey to intelligent design, which is nothing more than creationism.” This argument merely repeats the common misconception that intelligent design and creationism are the same.

With all the effort that those dedicated Discovery Institute folks have put into trying to convince people that ID really isn’t creationism, what could possibly make people think that it is?

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Last night (April 10th), the Rio Rancho School Board held a hearing on it’s controversial “Science Policy 401.” rrboardroom.jpg

After hearing from about 30 of the more than 100 people packed into the board room, the board deleted the phrase from the original policy

When appropriate and consistent with the New Mexico Science Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards, discussions about issues that are of interest to both science and individual religious and philosophical beliefs will acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data.

and replaced it with this one, taken directly from the New Mexico Science Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards

“Students shall understand that reasonable people may disagree about some issues that are of interest to both science and religion (e.g., the origin of life on earth, the cause of the big bang, the future of the earth).”

New Scopes documentary


I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m always up for a good documentary. The History Channel this week is running a series, 10 days that changed America. According to the website,

The History Channel selected 10 teams of award-winning documentary filmmakers to spotlight “10 historic events that triggered seismic shifts in America’s political, cultural or social landscape.” The programs, including the one filmed in Dayton, include archival footage, reenactments, historic artifacts and interviews.

On Wednesday, April 12th, they’ll air “Scopes: The Battle over America’s Soul” (9PM EST). Should be interesting; I see that Answers in Genesis is already complaining about it.

Here’s the latest update in the continuing saga of UT Professor Eric Pianka, and the articles from the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise.

I got up early this morning, and made several phone calls to try and get to the bottom of why all mention of Pianka had been expunged from the paper. Bottom line: big misunderstanding, and the articles are now back online. It had absolutely nothing to do with the paper trying to dodge responsibility for its actions, or the paper not standing behind the articles, or any of the other possibilities that I had thought were likely. It appears that I didn’t have the full story, and jumped to some conclusions in the earlier articles that were not entirely justified.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Update: I’ve added some substantial comments 81029 and 81054 that might be lost in the comment roll, but add some important perspective to Behe’s arguments.

Michael Behe is known as the author of the concept of Irreducible Complexity (IC, but see [note 1]). However, he has given several different, not entirely consistent, definitions of IC. Everyone is familiar with the “multiple parts” definition, fewer will be familiar with the “neutral mutational steps” definition (1) and fewer still with the idea that amino acids interactions themselves are IC (2, see my critique of this). Indeed, Behe’s recent paper with David Snoke (3) relied on a combination of the last two definitions (see our critique), and Behe also used the latter definition in the Dover trial (3).

A paper just out in the journal Science has effectively refuted the claims of the Behe and Snoke paper (4)

It looks like Jerry Adler of Newsweek has seen the same problem I did with the reaction of the “leading researchers” of ID to Tiktaalik. See “Evolution: If It Walks Like a Fish…

PS: See also this cartoon from Kansas, and also this cartoon.

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