December 3, 2006 - December 9, 2006 Archives

Have you voted today for the Panda’s Thumb as the best science blog of 2006? Remember that you can vote every 24 hours.

Right now we are in a race for third place with In the Pipeline.

I hate to give my English brother-in-law something to crow about, but a December 7 article in the Guardian, “Ministers to ban creationist teaching aids in science lessons,” by James Randerson, gives him ample opportunity. According to the article,

The government is to write to schools telling them that controversial teaching materials promoting creationism should not be used in science lessons.

The packs include DVDs and written materials promoting intelligent design, a creationist alternative to Darwinism, that were sent to every school in the country by the privately-funded group Truth in Science. Advocates of the theory argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Last week, the Guardian revealed that 59 schools had told Truth in Science the materials were a “useful classroom resource”.

For more details, check here,,1…

and for a sardonic comment, check here…

Reasonable Kansans has a positive writeup of a lecture Behe gave yesterday in Kansas. It seems that the “intelligent design” activists are still smarting from their loss in Dover a year ago. It looks like Behe and his DI breathern are trying out some new talking points about the trial.

It’s worth a read to keep up with the continuously morphing public relations campaign of the “intelligent design” activists: Reasonable Kansans: Behe Lecture.

Oliveiria_etal_2006_HIV_phylo_Tripoli6_Fig2.jpgBecause I’ve apparently been living in a cave, I only just heard the full story of the “Tripoli Six”: five foreign nurses and a doctor that the Libyan government has imprisoned for seven years, tortured, and sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly causing an outbreak of 400 cases of AIDS in a Libyan children’s hospital in 1998. Apart from the problems with torture and firing squads, the major problem here is that these poor people didn’t do it. The infections were caused by poor hygiene practices, like reusing needles, that existed at the hospital long before these nurses arrived in 1998. But the Libyan government is scapegoating some foreigners to distract the populace from the fact that the government is the real criminal here.

What does this have to do with evolution, you ask? Well, out here in the real world (outside of Libya and creationist circles), the way you tell where an HIV strain actually came from, and when, is by doing a standard molecular phylogeny. If you are a creationist who doesn’t believe in this sort of thing then you should really just stuff it, because the criminal courts, relying on their “beyond reasonable doubt” standard, have been using phylogenetic methods as forensic evidence for years (so much so that an HIV phylogeny was used on the TV show CSI).

Pile it on!

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Remember last month when Nature published that crank creationist letter from Polish politician and scientist Maciej Giertych? Well this week Nature has published responses to that letter. PZ has posted the list on his blog: ‘Pigpile on Maciej Giertych!‘.

Go check them out and come back here and tell me which one is the best.

Tangled Bank #68

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The Tangled Bank

Take a voyage with Captain Collins on the 68th Tangled Bank expedition. No squid or pirates were spotted this time, but it's still fascinating stuff.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

The Panda's Thumb and several other worthy blogs have been nominated for the Weblog Awards, in the category of Best Science Blog. Here are the nominees:

John Hawks Anthropology Weblog
Good Math, Bad Math
Mixing Memory
The Panda's Thumb
In the Pipeline
Bad Astronomy Blog

Voting begins on Thursday, December 7. Vote early and often, and may the best html-formatted display of text information from an online database win.

According to a short blurb, “Dawkins Versus the Gods,” by Eliot Marshall, in the December 1 issue of Science, Richard Dawkins has started a new foundation dedicated to promoting science and reason. Here is Mr. Marshall’s blurb in its entirety:

After scanning the titles in a local bookshop, Oxford University geneticist Richard Dawkins discovered that “real science” was “outnumbered three to one by pseudoscience.” Concerned that “the enlightenment is under threat,” the author of The God Delusion has created and will help fund the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason. The new charity, with U.S. and U.K. branches, will support research on “the psychological basis of unreason,” produce videos and books, and run a Web site ( Another goal, “to oppose … well-financed efforts to teach creationism in science classes,” will put it up against the U.K.–based Truth in Science, which recently sent “intelligent design” promotional packs to 5700 British secondary schools. Truth in Science claims it received 59 positive responses.

The foundation’s Website is very preliminary right now, but the trustees plan to incorporate in both the US and the UK, partly for tax reasons. The Website includes a video by Professor Dawkins, which I will not discuss because the transcript is posted as well; links to books by Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Matt Ridley, and Sam Harris (but not, alas, Why Intelligent Design Fails); and a short list of lecturers, not least P.Z. Myers. We can additionally look forward to a calendar and a newsletter.

I wish Professor Dawkins luck, but I fear it is 300 years after the Enlightenment, and unreason seems to be increasing, not decreasing. He (and we) have a long, hard row to hoe.

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