April 23, 2006 - April 29, 2006 Archives

IBM researchers have shown how science explores new and innovative approaches to discover DNA patterns which are shared by areas of the human genome that were considered to have little or no influence on its function and areas which do have function.

From the IBM Press Release

As reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), regions of the human genome that were assumed to largely contain evolutionary leftovers (called “junk DNA”) may actually hold significant clues that can add to scientists’ understanding of cellular processes. IBM researchers have discovered that these regions contain numerous, short DNA “motifs,” or repeating sequence fragments, which also are present in the parts of the genome that give rise to proteins.

Professor Steve Jones presented a lecture at the Royal Society on evolution and creationism. The lecture can be watched at this link

Science is about disbelief. It accepts that all knowledge is provisional and that any theory might in principle be disproved. Some theories are better established than others: the earth is probably not flat, babies are almost certainly not brought by storks, and men and dinosaurs are unlikely to have appeared on earth within the past few thousand years. Even so, nothing is sacred in 1905 classical physics collapsed after a seemingly trivial observation about glowing gases and the same is potentially true for all other scientific theories.

Unlike ID, science is indeed tentative and can accept false positives. In addition, science can in fact accept our ignorance in some matters. This ignorance is often seen as evidence for design. Such gap arguments are what make Intelligent Design scientifically vacuous.

Many biologists are worried by a recent and unexpected return of an argument based on belief by the certainty, untestable and unsupported by evidence, that life did not evolve but appeared by supernatural means. Worldwide, more people believe in creationism than in evolution. Why do no biologists agree? Steve Jones will talk about what evolution is, about new evidence that men and chimps are close relatives and about how we are, nevertheless, unique and why creationism does more harm to religion than it does to science.

I will have to listen to Jones’s talk. I certainly agree with him that intelligent design does a lot of harm to religion. As far as science is concerned, it mostly serves to confuse people with what many have come to accept as a scientifically vacuous approach.

Steve Jones won the Aventis Prize for Science Books (then known as the Rhone-Poulenc Prize) in 1994 for ‘The Language of the Genes’. In 1997 he was awarded the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize - the UK’s foremost award for communicating science to the public.

Some good news from our British friends.

A statement opposing the misrepresentation of evolution in schools to promote particular religious beliefs was published today (11 April 2006) by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science.

The statement points out that evolution is “recognised as the best explanation for the development of life on Earth from its beginnings and for the diversity of species” and that it is “rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges and universities across the world”.

Royal Society Press Release

Follow the Bi… er, the evidence wherever it leads

| | Comments (61)

I just can’t imagine how stressful it is to be an ID advocate. You’ve got all this maze of sound-bites and talking points to navigate, all vetted by professional Public Relations operatives and carefully studied to send the appropriate message, and then you get distracted one moment, open you mouth and - BAM - you mess it all up. Here’s one more example. Do you remember ever hearing ID advocates proclaim that “we should follow the evidence wherever it leads”? If not, you haven’t been paying attention (don’t worry, you can still catch up here or here, for instance). If you believed the ID advocates’ spin, however, you probably should have read the small print, because apparently there’s at least one exception: you are allowed not to follow the evidence after all, if doing so will take you to conclusions that may challenge your religious beliefs. In fact, it’s actually better not to even try to follow it there, just in case.

Everyone has probably heard that the new White House Press Secretary is Tony Snow, formerly a talk show host on Fox News. Those who were paying attention last year may remember that he is also pretty clearly a straight-up creationist, or at least credulously repeats their talking points. See:

Tony Snow (2005). “Why can’t we have a rational debate.” TownHall.com. August 12, 2005

Media Matters (2005). “Tony Snow’s evolutionary falsehoods.” Media Matters for America. August 12, 2005.

Media Matters (2005). “The many falsehoods of Tony Snow.” Media Matters for America. April 19, 2006.

What got Tony Snow writing essays about ID and how hard it was to have a rational debate? I may have had a wee bit to do with that.

No ID here at all. Move along. Nothing to see.

| | Comments (52)

For months and months, right up to February 2006, we in Ohio were told that the “critical analysis of evolution” benchmark and lesson plan wasn’t ID. ID advocates on the Ohio State Board of Education – Michael Cochran and Deborah Owens-Fink – told us that; the author of the “critical analysis” lesson plan, Bryan Leonard, told us that; the DI repeatedly trumpeted “no ID!” on its web site. No ID at all here, folks, we were assured. Perish the thought!

But in a recent Seattle Times article, Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery Institute, was reported to have said that Ohio’s State Board of Education eliminated intelligent design when it discarded the creationist benchmark and lesson plan in February. According to the story,

Already, he [Chapman] said, an effort in Ohio to include intelligent design in school curricula failed when some state school-board members said the Dover case settled the issue. (Italics added)

“… an effort in Ohio to include intelligent design”. Well, well. Who woulda thunk it!

The DI’s Media Complaints Division took immediate umbrage. Rob Crowther complained that the reporter got it all wrong. Crowther wrote

It isn’t just the theory of intelligent design that Postman has trouble getting straight, it is the facts of what is going on in the public policy debate. He writes that:

“an effort in Ohio to include intelligent design in school curricula failed when some state school-board members said the Dover case settled the issue.”

Notice what Crowther left out in the sentence that he quoted from the story: “Already, he said,…”. The reporter didn’t say it, he reported what Chapman said – the antecedent of “he” in that sentence is Chapman.

And now, the rest of the story …

Galapagos tortoise webcam!

| | Comments (16)

Over at the American Museum of Natural History is an online exhibit on Darwin, that features a Galapagos tortoise webcam! It’s rather soothing, the tortoises aren’t very speedy. (Hat tip to Margaret)

Over on the DI’s new Declaring-Victory-in-Superficial-Public-Debates-Where-No-Federal-Judges-are- -Present-to-Enforce-Actual-Rules-of-Evidence-and-Keep-You-Honest blog, Bruce Chapman highlights a news story on a recent debate at North Carolina State University. Describing the four-person panel, Chapman writes,

North Carolina State University has shown, however, that the topic can be debated with the fairness and civility that ought to characterize academic discussions. On Thursday, April 20, before a crowd of some 200 people, a biologist and philosopher defended intelligent design, and a biologist and philosopher defended Darwinism.

The articles says that the two ID defenders were “Gerald Van Dyke, an NCSU botany professor, and Robert Hambourger, an NCSU associate professor of philosophy.” I was pretty sure I had heard of pretty much all publicly speaking ID supporters who had something resembling a biology PhD – it is easy to remember them, because it is a very short list. So who was this Gerald Van Dyke guy? It turns out he is indeed an honest-to-goodness Professor of Mycology at NCSU. He works on pathogenic fungi that attack agricultural crops.

Even though I didn’t remember him specifically, he seemed familiar for some reason.

An argument is ORFaned

| | Comments (74) | TrackBacks (2)

Paul Nelson has a “new” argument against common descent. It revolves around the discovery of ORFans, “orphan Open Reading Frames”, ie stretches of DNA that appear to code for a protein (an Open Reading Frame, ORF), but that we have no current idea of what the protein is or does, or what other proteins it is related to (hence ORFan). A powerpoint presentation from one of Dr. Nelson’s talks that mentions ORFans is here. ORFans also loom large in Dr. Nelsons rather forceful commentary on a post by Sahotra Sarkar describing a debate between them.

Are ORFan’s a significant problem for evolution? No, not in the least. The ORFan story, while still not completely understood, represents a good example of how science works, and why it’s a good idea to actually understand evolutionary biology before you criticise it (and why it’s a good idea to not stop reading in 2003).

Tangled Bank Episode LII

| | Comments (6)
The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is coming straight to you from Coruscant…and the opening text is almost as long as the latest from Lucas, although fortunately it doesn't say anything about the trade federation and boring treaties.

“One science question”

| | Comments (45)

Both RPM and Chad beat me to posting this survey [edited to add: and Janet too! Freakin’ quick triggers…], which I’ve had in my drafts box for a week. So, before absolutely everyone else beats me to it, I thought I’d pose the questions to y’all, and see how you would answer the question, “What is one science question every high school graduate should be able to answer?”

(Continued at Aetiology)

Evo-Devo in NYR Books!

| | Comments (13)

This really is an excellent review of three books in the field of evo-devoFrom DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and The Plausibility of Life:Resolving Darwin's Dilemma (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)—all highly recommended by me and the NY Times. The nice thing about this review, too, is that it gives a short summary of the field and its growing importance.

This post contains my commentary on the Annotated Bibliography on the Evolution of the Immune System, now online in the NCSE Kitzmiller archive. The Annotated Bibliography describes the significance of each publication listed in the Supplementary Material for the recent Nature Immunology article on the “immune system cross” during Behe’s testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover. For article, click here. For the full Annotated Bibliography, click here. The Annotated Bibliography has reached an approximately final state, but I would still be interested in any additional comments people might have. My overall point with all this, of course, is that unless and until ID proponents (1) acknowledge the existence of this scientific literature, (2) admit that their previous statements about the nonexistence of this literature were wrong, and (3) substantively rebut this literature, providing a better and more detailed explanation for the immune system, then they aren’t even beginning to be scientifically serious.

As you read through this, keep in mind the Discovery Institute’s hiliarious commentary in their recent book attempting to rebut to the Kitzmiller decision, Traipsing Into Evolution:

Consider [Judge Jones’s] skewed summary of the evidence relating to the irreducible complexity of the immune system. He cited Kenneth Miller’s speculative assertions as if they were facts, while refusing even to mention biochemist Michael Behe’s detailed rebuttal during the trial. (Traipsing, p. 45, italics added)

Speculative? I guess in ID-Land, dozens of publications in top journals confirming key expectations is “speculation”, whereas the vague statement that divine intervention occurred sometime, somewhere, for unspecified reasons is considered rock-solid. Even better, Traipsing then quotes from Behe’s “detailed response” to the immune system section of Jones’s opinion. However, the book neglects to point out that Behe tried exactly the same silly arguments in his direct testimony at trial, and they were specifically debunked on cross-examination. For more on Behe’s “detailed rebuttal”, see here.

One of the folks at William Dembski’s blog has issued a challenge. He claims that all of the arguments that we use to establish that ID is substantially the same as creationism are based on false premises (he’s wrong about that) and he says:

Why can’t ID opponents focus on the arguments, themselves, and show how they are equivalent to Creationism? If ID really is just repackaged Creationism, why not just expose the arguments for what they are and be done with it?

I take him up on his challenge and show the creationist roots of all of the major ID arguments in a post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

A new Dr. Steve

| | Comments (28)

This should have happened last week, but longtime PT contributor and author of the much-beloved “The Quixotic Message”, or “No Free Hunch”, and also the equally beloved Quixotic References, formerly known as theyeti, and catcher of broadheaded skinks and legless glass lizards, mild critic of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, HAS SUCCESSFULLY DEFENDED HIS PHD!!! (although he somehow lost his original post announcing this). He somehow managed to do this while writing all of these great PT posts, including classics like Phillip Johnson’s Bold Stand and Phillip Johnson’s Bold Stand, Redux.

More importantly, Steve can now finally achieve his true reason for getting a PhD, which was to join the list of Project Steve Steves.

I don’t actually know what Reuland’s PhD was about, something biomedical I think, but for now I think I will assume it had something to do with getting Sunbeams From Cucumbers.

Cold Case Kansas

| | Comments (33)

The Douglas County Sheriff is closing the case of Mirecki’s beating because they can’t find any leads.

The trail has gone cold in the investigation of a roadside beating reported late last year by a Kansas University professor.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lt. Kari Wempe said Thursday that detectives had finished their paperwork related to religious studies professor Paul Mirecki’s report that he was beaten by two unknown men on Dec. 5, 2005, on a roadside south of Lawrence.

The office has not identified any suspects and, unless any new leads come in, the investigation is finished.

At the time, Mirecki was under fire for comments he had posted online critical of organized religion.

Now back when Mirecki was assaulted some pundits claimed that he had staged the beating. Given that the case has closed without any charges filed, it would appear that those pundits owe Mirecki an apology.

Hopefully, Pianka and the Texas Academy of Science are still watching their backs.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

April 16, 2006 - April 22, 2006 is the previous archive.

April 30, 2006 - May 6, 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.01