September 2006 Archives

Preview graphic of chart showing hominin cranial capacity over time. Different taxa shown by color/symbol. Summary: fossil hominid brain size over the last 3 million years. Data from De Miguel and Henneberg, 2001, chart by Nick Matzke of NCSE.  Free for nonprofit educational use.Due to popular demand I have made some more charts that are slightly more complex than the hominin cranial capacity chart from yesterday’s post.

In the first chart, I have taken the “favored” taxonomic labels for each specimen from De Miguel and Henneberg (2001). Many specimens have been put in different species or different genera by different taxonomists, but these are supposed to represent something like the consensus, as the authors judged it in 2000. Australopithecus fossils are in red with various symbols, early Homo fossils (Homo habilis and others just labeled “early Homo” or “Homo”) are in orange, H. erectus is in green, and the asundry variations on Homo sapiens are in blue.

New webspace for KCFS

Kansas Citizens For Science is happy to announces the re-design of the KCFS webste and the KCFS News and Resources weblog, as well as the grand opening of our new discussion forums (which have actually been running for a few weeks.)

Many thanks go to Jeremy Mohn for doing the redesign work. The KCFS Website and the KCFS News weblog now have coordinated themes that are bright, clear and quite aesthetically pleasing, in our opinion. We invite you to take a look:

Also, you might want to visit Jeremy’s personal site, An Evolving Creation.

KU Students for Science

KCFS is also pleased to announce the formation of KU Students for Science. Laura Murphy, a graduate student in anthropology who recently moved here from Ohio, has formed KU Students for Science at the University of Kansas. KCFS Board members Chris Hauffler and Phil Baringer have agreed to be faculty sponsors, and KCFS is looking forward to working with KUSFS in any way we can.

Laura hopes to build an organization that will serve as a model for similar organizations at universities around the country, perhaps working in collaboration with the many Citizens for Sciences groups that have formed. Please visit the KUSFS website.

Hox complexity

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Here's a prediction for you: the image below is going to appear in a lot of textbooks in the near future.


That's a technical tour-de-force: it's a confocal image of a Drosophila embryo, stained with 7 fluorescent probes against different Hox genes. You can clearly see how they are laid out in order from the head end (at the left) to the tail end (which extends to the right, and then jackknifes over the top). Canonically, that order of expression along the body axis corresponds to the order of the genes in a cluster on the DNA, a property called colinearity. I've recently described work that shows that, in some organisms, colinearity breaks down. That colinearity seems to be a consequence of a primitive pattern of regulation that coupled the timing of development to the spatial arrangements of the tissues, and many organisms have evolved more sophisticated control of these patterning genes, making the old regulators obsolete…and allowing the clusters to break up without extreme consequences to the animal. A new review in Science by Lemons and McGinnis that surveys Hox gene clusters in different lineages shows that the control of the Hox genes is much, much more complicated than previously thought.

Continue reading "Hox complexity" (on Pharyngula)

Preview graphic of chart showing hominin cranial capacity over time. Summary: fossil hominid brain size over the last 3 million years. Data from De Miguel and Henneberg, 2001, chart by Nick Matzke of NCSE.  Free for nonprofit educational use.For some time I have been annoyed that charts of the changing cranial capacity of fossil hominin skulls are not more common. There is this chart online at the Talk.Origins Fossil Hominids FAQ, derived from this 1994 PNAS paper, but that is about it. I wanted to make my own chart, but there was no easy way to get all of the relevant data. Then, this week, I ran into this amazing paper (De Miguel and M. Henneberg 2001*), which conviently included a 29-page Appendix listing every known published measurement of a hominin skull older than 10,000 years old.

While killing my brain cells by listening to the radio broadcast of the ID movement presenting cutting-edge research in the USF Sun Dome conducting an old-fashioned creationist revival in the USF Sun Dome,** I schlepped all 602 measurements and metadata into Excel.

As most of you probably know, there’s been a bit of discussion over the question of whether or not the pro-Intelligent Design textbook Of Pandas and People qualifies as a “challenged” or “banned” book as a result of the ruling in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover lawsuit. A few things have happened since my first two posts about the “banning.” In this post, I’m going to summarize the recent events, and explain what I’ve learned about the ALA’s views on this situation.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Via Dean and Science, Just Science comes this story about a new group trying to get ID into class in the UK:

Parents are being encouraged to challenge their children’s science teachers over what they are explaining as the origins of life.

An organisation called Truth in Science has also sent resource packs to all UK secondary school science departments.

It promotes the idea of intelligent design - that there was an intelligence behind the creation of the universe.

On their website, Truth in Science notes that they’ve already sent “ a mailing to all Secondary School and College Heads of Science in the United Kingdom.” Busy little bees, aren’t they?

And boy, doesn’t this sound familiar:

It quotes the Edexcel examining board as explaining that students “need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, going ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the workings of science and how it impacts on society and their lives”.

The Truth in Science website says: “We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons.”

Something sure has evolved: the anti-evolution catchphrase. “Critical analysis” and its kin are obviously being positively selected!

(Continued at Aetiology).

Tangled Bank #63

Tangled Bank #63 The Tangled Bank

The Indian Cowboy has put up Tangled Bank #63.

There are days when I simply cannot believe how dishonest the scoundrels at the Discovery Institute can be. This is one of them. I just read an essay by Jonathan Wells that is an appalling piece of anti-scientific propaganda, an extremely squirrely twisting of some science news. It's called "Why Darwinism is doomed", and trust me, if you read it, your opinion of Wells will drop another notch. And here you thought it was already in the gutter!

Continue reading "Wells: “Darwinism is Doomed” because we keep making progress" (on Pharyngula)

Monday, I posted an entry here that discussed, in part, a Discovery Institute blog article claiming that the Dover ruling qualifies the cdesign proponentsists textbook Of Pandas and People as a “banned book.” As I explained at the time, the claim is complete and total nonsense, so I suppose I really should have guessed that the anti-evolution movement would get behind it in a hell of a hurry.

That appears to be just what’s happening. The latest twists involve the Uncommon Descent blog and the Wikipedia entry for banned books.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Last week, both PZ Myers and I posted about some anti-evolution candidates running for the school board out here in Hawaii. The state primary election was Saturday, so I thought an update on this election might be a good idea.

There’s good news, not-too-bad news, and bad news. Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Help, help, I’m being repressed!


Two recent posts over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division blog have me ready to break out the world’s smallest violin. Their new (well, newish, anyway - it’s popped up from time to time before) argument is that they are being discriminated against. In the first of the two articles, Rob Crowther argues that “Darwinists” are trying to “censor” academic freedom in Michigan. In the second, John West starts by suggesting that “Of Pandas and People” should be the “Banned Book of the Year,” and concludes with the outrageous and insulting claim that the “ultimate goal here is to ban ideas.”

The two posts, unsurprisingly enough, are jam packed with statements that are in gross conflict with reality. I’m not going to go into those here, although there are one or two I’m considering taking a swing at later. Instead, I’m going to focus on their root claim that objecting to what they want to do in the classroom constitutes some sort of “censorship.”

Read more (at the Questionable Authority):

Well, it’s only Monday, but I think I’ve already got the Silliest Thing I’ve Heard All Week: that the creationist/cdesign proponentsist/intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People is banned from libraries.

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

The seventh chapter of Wells’s book could be summed up in a single sentence: “biology doesn’t need no steeekin’ evolution!” Wells argues that, because medicine and agriculture were already doing just fine prior to Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, clearly then, these fields (and others) haven’t benefited from an application of evolutionary principles in the time from 1859 to present day, and that Dobzhansky’s “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is one big joke.

Wells focuses on medicine and agriculture because these are two fields that we all benefit from and are more easily understood than biological disciplines that are a bit more removed from the common man. Animal and plant breeding and domestication is something that resonates more with middle America than the speciation events Wells describes in Chapter 5 (review of that yet to come), and certainly the great strides made in medicine are familiar even to those who don’t have much of an interest in the field. Wells claims that these fields have been “darwined”; that “Darwinists steal credit for scientific breakthroughs to which they contributed nothing,” and calls it a form of “intellectual larceny.” (pp. 80-81):

A little more irony.


Here’s an interesting take on why theistic evolution (TE) might be a bad position to hold:

So essentially, both Dawkins and Miller see no evidence of design, and their philosophy as to how evolution works is the same, yet Dawkins follows that evidence and declares the world is without a designer and Miller claims to believe there is a designer. Bizarre. So Miller apparently, like most TE’s, holds to his religious beliefs on faith ~alone~. That’s the problems with TE’s - they can give you no reason whatsoever as to why they believe what they do in regard to their religious beliefs other than they take it all on faith. (source)

Here’s why it’s interesting (at The Questionable Authority):

Charles Kitcher, a law student at Columbia Law School, won the 2006 E. Allan Farnsworth Student Note Writing Competition with this article, Lawful Design: A New Standard for Evaluating Establishment Clause Challenges to School Science Curricula, which appeared in the Columbia Journal of Law And Social Problems (vol. 39 p. 451). It's an excellent piece and deserves serious attention from anyone considering these issues.

I was particularly pleased with Kitcher's proposal of how courts should evaluate whether a science curriculum really is a science curriculum or not. Adapting the test for scientific validity that the Supreme Court used in the Daubert case, Kitcher proposes that when a court is trying to decide whether a curriculum is really a science curriculum, or is just religion in disguise, it should not only take into consideration the sincerity of the school board's purported reasons for adopting the curriculum, but also whether the curriculum includes material that is testable, reliable, and includes other features distinctive to science.

This is important because, as Kitcher acknowledges, the Intelligent Design movement has tried hard to disguise its religion as science, and sometimes it may be difficult for judges (who are, of course, not trained scientists) to tell the two apart. In the wake of Kitzmiller, it seems possible that ID proponents will only try harder to disguise their religious intentions. "In these cases, the purpose inquiry will become increasingly less effective, thereby creating a corresponding need to scrutinize the content of the proposed curricula to make determinations of scientific legitimacy."

Congratulations to Mr. Kitcher for an excellent article and a well-deserved award.

Update: It turns out Charles Kitcher is the son of Philip Kitcher, author of Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism.

Meet Selam

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One of the more hilarious absurdities of the creation/evolution debate is as follows: creationists love to hop up and down and point at gaps in the fossil record (sometimes real, often not), but for the one species that creationists would dearly love to be specially created, human beings, we are actually swimming in a stunning set of transitional fossils. The hominid fossil record isn’t even especially “jerky” when examined quantitatvely at fine-scale resolution, so the creationists don’t even have their usual incompetent misconstrual of punctuated equilibria (which is actually about morphologically small gaps between closely-related sister species) to rely upon.

The poor creationists can’t even agree on which fossils are human and which are ape, and even Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute has tried his hand at this (proving he is a creationist, by the way), arguing that the genus Homo is a specially created “basic type”, except for the inconveniently transitional Homo habilis, which he removes from the genus by creative citation, thus proving that there is a gap between Homo and other hominins! Because of course everyone knows if you switch the label on a fossil, it’s transitional features disappear and it can be safely ignored! (If you are counting, Luskin’s position appears to be closest to that of the creationists in the middle column, including Gish and others, which appears to be the median creationist position.)

As if designed to ruin Luskin’s weekend, Nature has just published yet more hard fossil evidence of human evolution:

You are here


You are here. See also this from Cassini, the real-life Lord of the Rings.

The Altruism Equation

Just wanted to call everyone's attention to a very engaging new book called The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness, by University of Louisville biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin. Dugatkin traces the history of attempts to explain the evolutionary origin of altruistic behavior starting with Darwin, Huxley and Kropotkin and concluding with William Hamilton. Actually, one small criticism of the book is that it's a bit unclear who the seven scientists are, since more then seven people receive serious discussion in the book. This notwithstanding, it makes for a very enjoyable and informative read. I've posted a more detailed review over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

Anyone who has been a “creationism watcher” for any length of time is familiar with the venerable creationist tactic of “quote mining.” Since creationists, essentially universally, can’t (or don’t want to) deal with actual scientific data pertaining to evolution, they attempt maintain a facade of respectibility by quoting statements from biological authorities. This can take many forms; for example, for the 1987 Supreme Court Edwards v. Aguillard case, the creationist lawyer Wendell Bird, apparently with the help of Paul Nelson, assembled a massive 500-page brief that consisted almost entirely of thousands of quotes from authorities on every topic bearing on “creation science”, from astrophysics to biology to philosophy to religion. This failed to convince the Supremes, but Bird turned his brief into a large two-volume book, The Origin of Species Revisited. Other elaborations on creationist quote-mining include various “Quote Books”, including The Quote Book (1984 booklet, inserted in Creation magazine I believe) and The Revised Quote Book (1990) from Answers in Genesis, the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter (now online), and Henry Morris’ That Their Words may be used against Them (comes with CD!). Then we have endless collections of quotes on creationist websites, 50 of which were recently surveyed and ranked against the Talk.Origins Quote-Mine Project. Sometimes these quotes evolve and mutate over time (here is an example from Of Pandas and People), and sometimes they even spontaneously generate from thin air, as with this imaginary quote from Clarence Darrow.

You may be saying, “Surely this is a problem, but only famous authorities get quote mined. It would never happen to me!” Think again. On September 5, 2006, an article I coauthored in Nature Reviews Microbiology on flagellum evolution was published on the NRM website as an Advanced Online Publication. Before the ink was even dry – heck, before the ink was even wet, the October issue hasn’t come out yet – Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute is quote mining it! The mining occured in Luskin’s insta-response to the revised edition Chris Mooney‘s book The Republican War on Science. Check this out:

Macroevolution FAQ updated


The Macroevolution FAQ is now in version 2. The original FAQ was a bit light on for discussion, and I wanted to deal with some technical issues. It is not a comprehensive review of the concept, but of the meaning of the concept and a couple of philosophical issues it raises.

In my very unusual line of work, I read silly stuff all the time. Some weeks, it is difficult to tell what is most silly: most creationist arguments are not new and you stop being surprised by them after awhile.

DI’s Latest Attack on Kitzmiller Ruling

It has been fascinating watching the DI handle the Dover case right from the start. Their position has, ironically, evolved several times since mid-2005, when the Dover school board began discussing how to get ID creationism into the science classrooms. They’ve gone from support to rejection to hoping it would go away to trying to minimize the damage to, finally, falsely claiming that the damage is minimal. In the aftermath of the court’s ruling, despite publicly claiming that the ruling is no big deal, they’ve committed enormous resources to attacking every tiny aspect of the ruling, as well as to impugning the integrity of Judge Jones, the expert witnesses and the attorneys for the plaintiff. They’ve done everything but dig up dirt on the parents who filed the suit (knock on wood). Their latest attempt to tear down Judge Jones is this post on the DI blog by Logan Gage, about Eric Rothschild’s cross examination of MIchael Behe. In this bit of revisionist history, they’re attempting to portray one of the key turning points in the trial for the plaintiffs into nothing more than picking on their poor witness unfairly.

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

Reflection by Red State Rabble


Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) attended the Ken Miller talk at KU last Thursday and has followed the ensuing internet discussion closely. Here in its entirety is an entry from Pat’s blog Red State Rabble in which Pat offers a reflection on the affair. Pat is a thoughtful commentator, and I felt his comments deserved a wider audience (although many people already have Red State Rabble on their list of daily blog reading.)

Uniting Against the Common Enemy For a couple of days now, RSR has been digesting the reaction – some would say the over-reaction – to Ken Miller’s speech at KU last Thursday. We’ve exchanged a couple of e-mails with Miller, which we’ll get to in a moment, but first there’s something I want to get off my chest:

Semmelweis: ID hero


You may or may not be familiar with the name Ignaz Semmelweis. It’s not one that’s typically taught to school children, like Koch or Pasteur may be. He even tends to get glossed over in upper-level biology courses. But Semmelweis was an important figure in the history of microbiology (indeed, I picked his work as the greatest experiment in my field). Here’s what I wrote about him in that post:

Semmelweis was a physician in Vienna in the 1840s, with an interested in “childbed fever,” a leading cause of mortality in women who’d given birth. During this time, he noticed that the mortality rate from this disease in a hospital division where medical students delivered babies was 16%, while in a division where midwives delivered them was ~2%. It was also known that childbed fever was rare when women gave birth at home. Semmelweis thought there was something the med students were doing that served to raise the rates of childbed fever in those divisions.

In 1847, Semmelweis’ friend, another physician, died due to a wound acquired while performing an autopsy. Semmelweis examined the tissues of his friend, and noticed the pathology there was similar to those in women who’d died of childbed fever. According to history, this led to his “eureka” moment: medical students performed autopsies, and midwives did not. The students must be bringing some contagious agent from the autopsy room back to the delivery room.

To test this, Semmelweis instituted a procedure, requiring students to wash their hands in a chlorine solution before entering the maternity ward. Mortality dropped dramatically, and Semmelweis extended the procedure to include surgical instruments as well. However, colleagues scoffed. Semmelweis actually lost his job, and took a position in Budapest–where he again instituted his handwashing protocol, with similar incredible results. Sadly, he died in 1865 in an asylum, disgraced.

Of course, many of you realilze that IDers love to tell the stories of scientists who were persecuted and scorned when they first proposed their idea, only to have history vindicate them. They compare their own ID supporters to Galileo, Barry Marshall, and other noted scientists (and, of course, Dembski’s been called the “Isaac Newton of information theory,”) and like to pretend that, like these esteemed scientists, history will give them the last laugh. Well, it seems that Semmelweis also has become something of an iconic figure to some who support “intelligent design.” Find out more about it at Aetiology.

Tangled Bank #62

The Tangled Bank 3dembryo.jpg

The newest edition of the Tangled Bank, Tangled Bank #62—Travel Bingo edition, is now up at the Hairy Museum of Natural History. The editor went all out for this one and made custom icons for each entry: don't you wish you'd submitted something now?

Third and Long for ID

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Every university has people that work on university P.R., recruitment of new students, and alumni donations. They especially worry about the “image” of the university. Often, sports can have a disproportionate impact on that image. When I was at tiny little Valparaiso our basketball team made it to the NCAA playoffs, and via a miracle shot by Bryce Drew (son of the coach) we made it to the Sweet 16. I think student applications quadrupled the next year.

The sports program of Baylor has had some very bad public scandals in recent history. Fortunately, it looks like they are on the mend (I note with interest that Baylor hired Valpo’s basketball coach a few years back), and this is all for the good, both for the school and its beleagured PR people. But I have to say that this article by sports writer J.V. Holland about the Baylor football team and its upcoming game vs. the Washington State Cougars might leave something to be desired from a P.R. standpoint. Check out the opening paragraphs of this football story:

Baylor aiming for Intelligent Design on field

By J.V. HOLLAND Correspondent Posted Sep 12, 2006

TO THE CHAGRIN OF BAYLOR football fans, once steeped in the steady success of Grant Teaff during his Hall of Fame coaching career that concluded in 1992, their East-Central Texas school is now better known for its controversial role in the dubious effort to move the study of creationism, typically limited to philosophy and religion classes, into the arena of science.

Once upon a time, the name Baylor conjured images of a giant slayer in the Southwest Conference. In the late 70s and early 80s, Bears All-American Mike Singletary, tenacious on the field and a scholar off it, was the exemplar of all that was good about college football.

Nowadays you mention Baylor and you’re more likely to get a blank stare or a reference to Charles Darwin rolling over in his grave.

Indeed, on the gridiron, the Bears of the last decade could have used a heavy infusion of intelligent design. They’ve gone 10 straight seasons without a winning record. Last year’s 5-6 showing marked the first time in eight campaigns they won more than three games.

In the halls of academia, however, Baylor has been a regular in the headlines.

I can hear the groans in the PR office from here. The story continues:

Patterning the nervous system with Bmp


I'm a little surprised at the convergence of interest in this news report of a conserved mechanism of organizing the nervous system—I've gotten a half-dozen requests to explain what it all means. Is there a rising consciousness about evo-devo issues? What's caused the sudden focus on this one paper?

It doesn't really matter, I suppose. It's an interesting observation about how both arthropods and vertebrates seem to partition regions along the dorso-ventral axis of the nervous system using exactly the same set of molecules, a remarkable degree of similarity that supports the idea of a common origin. Gradients of a molecule called Bmp may be the primitive mechanism for establishing dorso-ventral polarity in animals.

Continue reading "Patterning the nervous system with Bmp" (on Pharyngula)

(Note: I am posting a webified version of the Ohio Citizens for Science analysis of the new “son of critical analysis” proposal, a “debate template” which may come up for a vote tomorrow. The original PDF is available at the OCS website, but a web version may reach more readers and show up better in google. Particularly interesting in the OCS analysis are the graphics of the early versions of the lesson plan which originally became the famed (now defunct) “Critical Analysis of Evolution” lesson. Examination shows that the creationists in Ohio have been thinking of framing evolution as a “debate” or “trial” from the very beginning. If you pay attention to such things this is creationist “contrived dualism” going back to the 1980s and probably before – notably, the “Two Model Approach” advocated by the creation scientists and debunked in McLean and Edwards.)

Ohio Citizens for Science Call for Action on Resolution 31 and Response to the Proposed Framework for Teaching Controversial Issues aka “Controversy Template”

Contacts: Steve Rissing 614-791-0153 Patricia Princehouse 440-478-5292

Ohio Citizens for Science urges the Ohio Board of Education to accomplish the following at its meeting scheduled for 11-12 September 2006:

Ohio is back in the news because yet another creationism-inspired proposal may come up for a vote tomorrow (Tuesday, September 12). This time it’s called The Great Evolution Debate, er, Macroevolution on Trial, er, The Great Macroevolution Debate, er, Critical Analysis of Evolution, er, Critical Analysis of Evolution, Global Warming, and Stem Cells, er, the “Controversial Issues” Template. (Yes, all of these are policies or proposed policies that the creationists in Ohio have tried to shove down the throats of public school students and teachers. See this amazing analysis of the history by Ohio Citizens for Science, which includes images of actual drafts of the “Critical Analysis of Evolution” lesson plan that was in place in Ohio until it was voted out in February 2003. I will try to post a text version of the OCS analysis later.)

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 654, byte 654 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/mach/5.18/XML/ line 187.

Ken Miller’s talks at KU

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Thursday (9-7-06) Ken Miller spoke at the University of Kansas on ““God, Darwin, and Design: Creationism’s Second Coming” as part of a great series we are having this fall entitled “Difficult Dialogues.” (Later we having Judge Jones, Dawkins, Genie Scott and Behe - a busy fall here at KU.) The next day Miller spoke at an extended question-and-answer period as a followup to his speech.

The first two thirds of Ken’s speech was about the state of ID today - an entertaining and substantial discussion centered on the Dover trial, culminating in the two conclusions that ID is totally vacuous as science and that ID has been thoroughly exposed as religious.

Then Ken tackled the difficult topic. I haven’t gone back and listened to the recording (more on that in a bit,) but here is a summary of the issue, taken from Ken’s speech but containing some of my own interpretation and language.

Ken Miller at Kansas

Red State Rabble describes Ken Miller's talk at the University of Kansas the other evening. While I'm sure it endeared him to the fans of Jesus, his call to creationists that they should take potshots at humanists rather than evolutionists basically declares a majority of his colleagues in biology to be the enemy, and as far as I'm concerned, puts him in the creationist camp.

I suspect that my growing dislike of the Ken Miller strategy of embracing superstition is not going to be popular here at the Panda's Thumb, so any comments you want to make will have to be made at Pharyngula.

I've talked with Ken Miller recently, and I retract my accusation that he's taken sides with the creationists. He has been and will be a reliable opponent of bad science. Unfortunately, I think that in this case he is guilty of sowing some confusion with a muddled proposal for changing the terms of the debate.

Vatican Policy: Not Evolving


Despite the hopes of some ID proponents, the Catholic Church’s position on evolution is unlikely to change significantly in the near time:

Don’t look for a big change any time soon in the Catholic Church’s views on evolution. Although supporters of evolution had feared that the Pope would embrace so-called intelligent design, Pope Benedict XVI gave no sign at a gathering last week as to how he thought the topic should be taught.

The pope said little during the meeting, which included his former theology Ph.D. students and a small group of experts near Rome. Peter Schuster, a chemist at the University of Vienna and president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, attended the meeting and gave a lecture on evolutionary theory. “The pope … listened to my talk very carefully and asked very good questions at the end,” he says. And the Church’s most outspoken proponent of intelligent design, Cardinal Schönborn, seemed to distance himself from the theory.

source: Volume 313, Number 5792, Issue of 08 September 2006 ©2006 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

No book on “intelligent design” would be complete without a mention of the concept of irreducible complexity. Jonathan Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design does not disappoint in this regard; it is the actual discussion of irreducible complexity that is very disappointing and down right misleading.

For my contribution to the ongoing review of Jonathan Wells’ new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (PIGDID), I will be reviewing chapters four and five. Chapter Four covers the record of evolution that is contained in the DNA of all living things, and Chapter Five discusses speciation. A full review of each of these chapters is going to take a while and wind up being rather long. I’ve divided the reviews up into chunks, and I’m going to post each chunk as I finish it. Comments are more than welcome, and might be helpful when the time comes to pull all the separate chunks together into a single document. —

I’m going to start off with Chapter 5, which Wells has titled The Ultimate Missing Link. This chapter is nominally about speciation, which can be defined as the formation of new species from old ones. This is my own field of study, and I’m relatively current with the literature and what’s going on in the field. Reading Wells’ version of speciation, I was appalled. His description and criticism bears absolutely no resemblance to the field I study, and his presentation is packed with distortions and outright lies. In future parts of this review, I will discuss some of the real science involved in the study of speciation. In this part of the review, I am going to focus on three examples of places in Chapter Five where Wells lies to his readers. I do not use the word “lie” lightly here. The statements in question are not merely incorrect; they are statements that Wells must have known to be incorrect when he made them.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

When I returned from vacation today, I was surprised to discover this new article pop up in my automated searches for flagellum stuff in the literature databases:

Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). “From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4(10), 784-790. October 2006. Advanced Online Publication on September 5, 2006. [PubMed] [Journal] [DOI] [Google Scholar]

In the recent Dover trial, and elsewhere, the ‘Intelligent Design’ movement has championed the bacterial flagellum as an irreducibly complex system that, it is claimed, could not have evolved through natural selection. Here we explore the arguments in favour of viewing bacterial flagella as evolved, rather than designed, entities. We dismiss the need for any great conceptual leaps in creating a model of flagellar evolution and speculate as to how an experimental programme focused on this topic might look.

Matzke NJ? Hey, I know that guy!

I thought that this article was not coming out until October, and I would therefore have a few weeks to prepare some suitable PT posts to update everyone on developments in flagellar evolution since my first effort in 2003 (read this for background), and on the litany of errors and pseudoscience that the ID movement has produced regarding their favorite “Icon of Intelligent Design.” But, the powers that be at Nature Reviews Microbiology have seen fit to release the article as an Advanced Online Publication – and put it on their front page, no less – so it remains a secret no longer. C’est la vie.

There are several large flagellum-related topics I still plan to blog in the near future, but for the moment I would just like to hit one topic: what is The Main Point that PT readers should get out of the article?

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

If there’s something embarrassingly dumb to be done or said, it’s probably going to be done or said in the name of “political incorrectness”. That term was first used to bring attention to the political censoriousness at leftist epicenters in the 1990s, but it has mutated into an excuse for saying stupid, outlandish, misleading things. The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History was full of misrepresentations, politically-motivated elisions, and a neo-Confederate interpretation of the Constitution that embarrassed serious constitutional scholars. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science was full of silly pro-“intelligent design” notions, and now The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells has come along to carry this tradition forward—if “forward” is the right term.

An indication of the astonishing degree of misrepresentation and outright lying that The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design employs comes in Chapter 15 when discussing the controversy over an evolution website supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The Thumb covered this pseudo-controversy pretty thoroughly at the time. But here’s how Jonathan Wells describes it:

Ohio Call to Action

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ID Creationists on Ohio’s Board of Education are renewing their attack on Evolution, and adding attacks on climate science, cloning & stem-cell research. Please write to Ohio’s Board of Education TODAY to urge them to follow through on their Feb directive –Resolution 31. Vote against additional creationist language in Ohio’s science standards!

Resolution 31 removed intelligent design creationism’s disingenuous “critical analysis” from Ohio’s science standards & lesson plans, and directed the OBE’s Achievement Committee to determine whether replacement language was needed. It has been over 6 months and the Achievement Committee still has not voted. While they’ve dawdled, creationist activists on the Board have been developing a “teach the controversy” proposal on the side that is on the Achievement Committee agenda for next week’s meeting.

What you can do below the fold:

Poor Francis Collins: now his book has been panned in New Scientist…by Steve Fuller. That Steve Fuller, the pompous pseudo-post-modernist who testified for Intelligent Design creationism in Dover. His criticism has an interesting angle, though. Collins is just like Richard Dawkins. Who knew?

Continue reading "Steve Fuller and Christian Exceptionalism" (on Pharyngula)

Regular readers are very familiar with my refrain that many science deniers use the same tactics: bad arguments, quote-mining, appeals to authority, castigation of originators of respective theories, etc. etc. Another common thread is the complete bastardization of statistical analysis. Mark Chu-Carroll elaborates on Peter Duesberg’s misuse of statistics here, while mathematician John Allen Paulos destroys creationist/ID analysis here. I’ll highlight some of the best parts at Aetiology.



Good news for Minnesota! Minnesota Citizens for Science Education has been officially launched. This is a new advocacy group with the goal of promoting good science education in our state. Specifically—

A scientifically literate population is essential to Minnesota's future. To that end, Minnesota Citizens for Science Education (MnCSE) will bring together the combined resources of teachers, scientists, and citizens to assure, defend, and promote the teaching and learning of evolutionary biology and other sciences in K-12 public school science classrooms, consistent with current scientific knowledge, theories, and practice.

If you'd like to be more involved, join the group. Browse the personal statements of the science advisors. Come on down to Science Education Saturday at the Bell Museum, on 11 November.

Oh, and if you like the logo, buy it on a t-shirt or coffee mug.



Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, has died while filming stingrays at Batt Reef in Australia.

But after years of close shaves it was a normally harmless stingray which finally claimed his life on Monday, plunging a barb into the Crocodile Hunter’s chest as he snorkelled in shallow water on the Great Barrier Reef.

We here at the Thumb are taking advantage of the long weekend to rest and recuperate: please don’t expect another review to be posted before Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’ve posted a review of modern cardiological techniques today. The backstory is that a few of the contributors to the Panda’s Thumb have, in their time, suffered chest pain or heart attacks. A question was recently asked about the difference between ballooning and stenting and, in an email of response, I ended up summarizing the history of invasive cardiology and thrombolytics in a brief essay. Below the fold, I post a version of that essay with hyperlinks to web resources where you can learn more about cardiology.

Best wishes for a great weekend from The Panda’s Thumb crew!

As promised, hot off the presses, here is a little tutorial I’ve decided to call Genetic Algorithms for Uncommonly Dense Software Engineers. Given some of the bizarre commentary issuing from the ID community over at Uncommon Descent regarding my past posts on Genetic Algorithms, I’ve developed this guide to help the folks over there figure out if the Genetic Algorithms (GAs) they are working on employ a “fixed-target” approach (like Dawkins’s Weasel), or if they are instead un-targeted, like most GAs used in research and industry are.


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