September 10, 2006 - September 16, 2006 Archives

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

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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

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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?

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:


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.)

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