August 6, 2006 - August 12, 2006 Archives

Africa: our past, perhaps our future


The story about the ranking of evolution support in Western nations did not include any data on Africa. America's standing might have looked a little better if it did; the news from Kenya is not good. Evangelical churches want to suppress the Kenya national museum's fossil collection. This includes some of the most impressive examples of humankind's ancient history, such as multiple australopithecine specimens and Turkana Boy; it's arguably one of the world's foremost collections of hominid fossils. This is where many of Richard Leakey's finds are stored.

Continue reading "Africa: our past, perhaps our future" (on Pharyngula)

…Tricks like a dog cancer cell becoming an independent pathogen and spreading through the dog population. Drop everything and go read Carl Zimmer’s post about the recent discovery of a dog cancer cell lineage that has left behind its multicellular ancestry. Rather like HeLa cells, except in the wild without human help. If I thought that “phylum” and “phylum-level bodyplan” were inviolable, unchanging character complexes (which I don’t), this example of a super-phyletic macroevolutionary change, on microevolutionary timescales, would rock my world.

One of the contributors on the “Uncommon Descent” weblog, “BarryA”, has joined the ranks of intelligent design advocates who want in on Monday-morning quarterbacking the Kitzmiller v. DASD case. “BarryA” wrote that Judge Jones was incompetent in permitting Eric Rothschild to present defense expert Michael Behe with a stack of papers and textbooks about the evolution of the immune system, one of those systems that Behe calls “irreducibly complex”. Behe had said this about it, ““We can look high or we can look low in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” Rothschild wanted to go into how many papers and how much work was out in the literature. ID advocates have become fond of calling the practice of showing up their essential cluelessness by reference to the scientific literature as “literature bluffing”. The only bluff around that point in the KvD trial, though, was Behe’s.

My response is over at the Austringer.

Miller et al. 2006, Public Acceptance of Evolution, Science Magazine

Science magazine has just published the results of international polls assessing public acceptance of evolution around the world: Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, and Shinji Okamoto (2006) “.” Science Aug 11 2006: 765-766 (Supporting Online Material)

The results are at left. Only one country beats the U.S. in the race to the bottom: Turkey, probably the only country in the list with more severe fundamentalism vs. modernism issues than the U.S. But the people in the U.K. can take heart – a BBC poll this spring (which was widely cited by creationists to support the idea that U.S. antievolutionism is not weird), said that less than half of Britons went for evolution. That result is strongly contradicted by this survey, where the U.K. ranks near the top in accepting evolution (as well they should, Darwin is on the money there).

It’s a Hovind-Fest


Today appears to be Hovind-Fest at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. I have two posts there that might be of interest to creationist watchers here at the Panda’s Thumb. The first post is a guest post from Skip Evans that recalls his long history of interaction with the world’s looniest creationist, along with some reminiscing from me as well. The second post contains information on a court ruling in Washington that doesn’t bode well for Hovind’s arguments in court in Florida. A fellow whacko from the Embassy of Heaven church, represented by Glen Stoll, the same attorney that has represented Hovind before, tried to make the same claims Hovind does - the court has no jurisdiction, he’s employed by God, he has no income, etc - as a way of getting out of paying child support. The court smacked down that argument hard.

Comments may be left at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Beauty in a speck of dust

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Phosphatized pre-Cambrian embryos are cool. It's amazing that they've been preserved at all, and they are spectacularly gorgeous. We can learn about the evolution of development from their superficial appearance, but what we really want to do is poke around their interiors and analyze them cell by cell, something that has been hard to do without destroying them in the process. Until now.

A report in Nature (and a too short mention on a researcher's web page) describes the application of synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM) to these fossilized embryos to resolve their internal structure. It's a powerful tool, and it's generating some beautiful images.

Continue reading "Beauty in a speck of dust" (on Pharyngula)

The Seattle Times published an editorial Tuesday that was reprinted in the Lawrence, Kansas, Journal World today: Seattle applauds Kansas vote

The basic take-home point: Intelligent Design is dead as an attempt to disguise creationism as science.

Oh yes, it is alive and well as a cultural and religious force among anti-evolutionists - that problem still exists. But all this talk about there being anything to ID as science has been rejected by the courts, rejected by the voters, and rejected and ignored due to lack of any substance or relevance by the world of science.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute has hitched their wagon to a sinking ship (pardon the mixed metaphor.) The only places they have made any temporary progress is when they has tried to use political bodies that were so far out of the mainstream that their successes, such as they have been, were bound to be short-lived.

Here are some excerpts from the editorial:

ID in a Nutshell

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Over at Uncommon Descent, Wm. Dembski has a blog titled “Paley updated and videoized” :

August 9, 2006 Paley updated and videoized

Kids growing up watching this video are going to find it harder later in life to swallow Darwinian evolution: Filed under: Intelligent Design — William Dembski @ 10:49 am

After watching the video, I clicked the “Learn more about The Watchmaker” button, and found a surprisingly clear statement of what “Intelligent Design” (ID) is, in a nutshell:

We believe the [Intelligent Design] movement is helpful to the Biblical Creationism movement because it causes people to see the lunacy of the Theory of Evolution.


By George - I think they got it! (And from the way Dembski is pumping the video on his blog, one must assume he approves…)

It’s not that Creationism led to Scientific Creation, which led to Intelligent Design, which led to “Evidence Against Evolution” - it’s that Creationism IS “Evidence Against Evolution.”

Wells vs tiny flies

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The ID proponents are still smarting from last years resounding defeat in the Kitzmiller case, where ID was publicly shown not to be science. Once again, the ID folks have posted their list of supposedly “peer-reviewed” articles that allegedly support ID. Unfortunately for them, this list is bogus, the articles are either not peer-reviewed by any standard working scientists would recognize, or if peer-reviewed have nothing to do with ID. The infamous Behe & Snoke paper, for example, shows that in the absence of natural selection, neutral drift alone can efficiently produce protein binding sites in realistically-sized populations in times consistent with the fossil record. This finding is hardly ID friendly.

But what is interesting is what is missing from this list, a paper from ID luminary Jonathan Wells. Why is this paper missing? It was in previous versions of the list. Could it be that Wells made a testable hypothesis, and it was shown to be wrong?

Fire in the sky.


A few weeks ago I noted the fact that some Christians appear to detect design and divine control in the beauty of nature. For example, witnessing lightning and a rainbow simultaneously, one observer was driven to comment: "It reminded me that God is really in control." Now, it appears, Dembski is thinking the same way. He notes a photo "captured this week on the Idaho/Washington border" that shows a "fire rainbow" and comments that "[i]t's the gratuitousness of such beaty [sic] that leads me to rebel against materialism."

Over at Stranger Fruit, I reply. You too can comment there.


I've been getting swamped with links to this hot article, "Evolution reversed in mice," including one from my brother (hi, Mike!). It really is excellent and provocative and interesting work from Tvrdik and Capecchi, but the news slant is simply weird—they didn't take "a mouse back in time," nor did they "reverse evolution." They restored the regulatory state of one of the Hox genes to a condition like that found half a billion years ago, and got a viable mouse; it gives us information about the specializations that occurred in these genes after their duplication early in chordate history. I am rather amused at the photos the news stories are all running of a mutant mouse, as if it has become a primeval creature. It's two similar genes out of a few tens of thousands, operating in a modern mammal! The ancestral state the authors are studying would have been present in a fish in the Cambrian.

I can see where what they've actually accomplished is difficult to explain to a readership that doesn't even know what the Hox genes are. I've written an overview of Hox genes previously, so if you want to bone up real quick, go ahead; otherwise, though, I'll summarize the basics and tell you what the experiment really did.

Continue reading "Regulatory evolution of the Hox1 gene" (on Pharyngula)

Doping ID

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Over at ID the Future, Paul Nelson has a brief post regarding the doping scandal that will likely deprive cyclist Floyd Landis of his recent Tour de France victory. For those who do not follow cycling, several tests performed after the race showed that Landis had an unusual ratio of testosterone-like hormones in his blood, and that the hormones found contained amounts of specific carbon isotopes not compatible with endogenous origin (for a thorough discussion of the tests and the reasons for Landis’s failure, see this post at Jake Young’s Pure Pedantry blog, as well as links and follow-ups therein). The conclusion from the anti-doping agency was that Landis had (voluntarily or not) taken artificial steroids, and therefore ought to be disqualified.

Nelson extracts his own moral from the story, which is that we can scientifically detect the result of intelligent action without having to exclude every possible natural source of the hormonal imbalance, and, implicitly, that therefore ID is a viable scientific program and - ta-dah! – those evil Darwinists who claim otherwise are just selling smoke. However, Nelson’s attempt at ‘roiding up ID is just as easy to spot as Landis’s.

The Anti-Wedge Document

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The Society for the Study of Evolution has published the anti-Wedge Document

The document is titled “Countering the Wedge: A multi-pronged, multi-year strategy to oppose creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum of public schools” and is authored by Massimo Pigliucci, David Baum and Mark McPeek

Anti-Wedge Document Wrote:

The existence of a massive and well-funded network of anti-evolutionary groups has contributed to the persistence of creationism, but at the same time scientists could have been more effective in outreach and education (Pigliucci 2002, 2005). Thus, while scientists certainly cannot hope by themselves to overcome the problem, it seems increasingly clear that inaction is no longer an option. The public already perceives academics as aloof and isolated, lost in a pampered world of irrelevancies, unwilling or unable to come out of the ivory tower even for brief periods to explain why their research is worthwhile (Sagan 1995). We think that professional societies ought to take the lead and generate an internal cultural change within academia, to help scientists rethink their priorities and make outreach and public involvement a matter of normal practice, rather than a suspect activity carried out only by a few individuals.

Lungfish petition

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There is now an online petition to save the Australian Lungfish (you can read more about the threatened lungfish here, here, and here). Take a moment and put your name on it!

Also, it's not just the lungfish—as Monika Dieker reminded me, there's also the Mary River Turtle at risk.

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