March 2007 Archives

The Smarch of My Life

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Three weeks ago I attended the the 2007 Drosophila Conference at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel. RPM of evolgen was nice enough to allow me to stay in the hotel with him, sleeping on the floor and giving me the bed. RPM took losts of picture and has posted a four part series on his blog.

Steve Steve has the Smarch of his Life – Volume 1: Marriott Hotels Suck

Steve Steve has the Smarch of his Life – Volume 2: Visiting the Poster Session & Grabbing a Beer

Steve Steve has the Smarch of his Life – Volume 3: 12 Drosophila Genomes

Steve Steve has the Smarch of his Life – Volume 4: The Morning After

In 2001, evolution was poised to return to the the Kansas Science Standards. The Intelligent Design Network objected to them and proposed changes that would have left open the door to teaching creationism. Kansas Citizens for Science responded to their proposal, which was sent to all members of the state board. One might suspect the response to have been too parochial for anything other than Kansas creationism; one would be wrong: the response serves as a prototype response for many creationist arguments and works nicely as a reference for letters to the editor even today.

Find it below, after the fold. It is also available in PDF and RTF formats.

In 1999-2000, the Kansas State Board of Education was running their PR machine full-bore, trying to convince the public that the central organizing theory of modern biology and biotechnology was a dead idea. Creationist speaker after creationist speaker was flown into town to put on a dog and pony show. If you were a Young-Earth Creationist, you might have seen Duane Gish/Fred Whitehead nondebate. If you liked ID creationism, you might have seen Johnson or Wells. Back then, it was a very big tent.

Well, KCFS wasn’t going to take things lying down, so we thought we’d prepare a few flyers to inform the audience to help them be ready for the creationists when they arrived. One of those flyers, “Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What is He Doing, and Why?” turned out to be pretty important.

Fast forward to Spring 2005, after the creationists had taken over the state board of education again and ran roughshod over the accepted processes of curricular review. They rejected the recommendations of the experts who developed very good standards and held a show trial, in which evolution would be dragged before them to answer the tough ID creationists’ questions.

The details of the story are described elsewhere, but one of the “witnesses” was Jonathan Wells, who during his testimony claimed that he was not influenced by religion. Within the span of an hour, KCFS was able to print several copies of our Wells flyer to distribute to interested members of the press. The result was that in the following day’s newspapers, Jonathan Wells testimony and his quotations were seen in juxtaposition to each other, making of his credibility to journalists what those in the know had deemed of it for years.

Find the flyer on the flipside. It’s also available in RTF format. Please note that the DI has since changed their name from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to simply the Center for Science and Culture. So clearly it’s no longer religious.

I’m sure you’ve seen the posts here at Panda’s Thumb or over at Scienceblogs about the Discovery Institute’s newest protégé, Dr. Michael Egnor. A professor of neurosurgery at SUNY-Stony Brook, Dr. Egnor has been pontificating on how “Darwinism” has nothing to offer to medicine; and indeed, that evolutionary biology has “hijacked” other fields of study. Mike has already aptly pointed out many of Egnor’s strawmen and intellectual dishonesties, so I won’t review them all. I’ve stayed out of the fray until now because I’ve had limited time and others have been handling it quite ably, but he keeps treading into (and butchering) my territory, so I just wanted to point out a few other things Egnor is waving away when he makes statements like this:

Preventing the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria is important work, but the insight that Darwinism brings to the problem – the unkilled ones eventually outnumber the killed ones – is of no help. We can figure that out ourselves. The tough work on preventing the emergence of resistant bacteria is done by microbiologists, epidemiologists, molecular geneticists, pharmacologists, and physicians who are infectious disease specialists. Darwinism, understood as the view that “chance and necessity” explains all biological complexity, plays no role.

Sigh.

Others have already addressed the blatant ignorance of this statement (spouted following a paragraph wherein he claims that the evolution of antibiotic resistance is just a tautology), so I’m actually going to leave the antibiotic resistance stuff alone for the time being. What I want to address instead are other areas where evolution is critical for insights into many of those fields Egnor mentions, especially since my own research is at the convergence of the first three he lists: microbiology, epidemiology, and molecular genetics.

(Continued over at Aetiology).

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a really interesting paper on mammal evolution in the latest issue of the journal Nature. The authors of the paper compiled a really fantastic sampling of molecular data that included data from about 99% of all currently known extant mammals. The data was then used to conduct an analysis that was by far the most comprehensive look at the molecular evolution of mammals ever undertaken. The researchers concluded, based on this analysis, that mammals diversified a lot earlier then was previously believed - so much so, in fact, that it seems to cast some doubt on how important the K-T mass extinction really was to mammal evolution.

The nature article is behind the subscription wall, unfortunately, but if you have access it’s a good read. (You can find the full citation at the bottom of the post.) They did some cool stuff, and got some cool results. How the results should be interpreted, on the other hand, is much more complex and will take a lot longer for scientists to work out.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Don’t blame the dinosaurs

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The mammalian tree is rooted deeply and branched early!

mammal_tree_sm.gif
(click for larger image)

All orders are labelled and major lineages are coloured as follows: black, Monotremata; orange, Marsupialia; blue, Afrotheria; yellow, Xenarthra; green, Laurasiatheria; and red, Euarchontoglires. Families that were reconstructed as non-monophyletic are represented multiple times and numbered accordingly. Branch lengths are proportional to time, with the K/T boundary indicated by a black, dashed circle. The scale indicates Myr.

That's the message of a new paper in Nature that compiled sequence data from 4,510 mammalian species (out of 4,554) to assembly that lovely diagram above. Challenging the 'conventional wisdom' that mammalian diversity is the product of an opportunistic radiation of species after the dinosaurs were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, the authors instead identified two broad periods of evolutionary expansion among the mammals: an early event 100-85 million years ago when the extant orders first appeared, and a radiation of modern families in the late Eocene/Miocene. A key point is that there is no change in rates of taxon formation across the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary—mammalian diversity was rich before the dinosaurs disappeared.

Continue reading "Don't blame the dinosaurs" (on Pharyngula)

What did evolution have to do with the deciphering of the genetic code?

According to the Discovery Institute’s [Egnorant] News and Views, nothing.

According to the actual research, everything.

This is interesting:

Creationists welcomed their new leaders to Knoxville last weekend for a convention held by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle non-profit that acts as a publishing house and endowment for proponents of intelligent design (ID). The institute supports a dozen senior fellows and more than two dozen other scientists. Staff scientists are working to develop an intelligent design curriculum, and advance copies of Explore Evolution, a biology textbook soon to be released by the organization, were available at the convention. Program Director Stephen Meyer told the crowd it is “premature” to teach intelligent design in public schools. Meyer said, “We encourage people not to push this in schools right now.”

The science of ID isn’t fully developed, and it shouldn’t be pushed in schools, but the revolutionary research movement founded with a textbook is producing another textbook! (and another!)

There's a very good reason I reposted an old reply to a creationist today. It's from 2004, way back shortly after I'd started this blog, and it addresses in simple terms the question of how ordinary biological mechanisms can produce an increase in information. I brought it up because Casey Luskin is whining again. He says the "Darwinists" have not answered any of the questions Michael Egnor, their pet credentialed creationist du jour, has asked.

Yet for all their numbers and name-calling, not a single one has answered Egnor's question: How does Darwinian mechanisms [sic] produce new biological information?

I had an op-ed in the Albuquerque Tribune a couple of weeks ago, on the topics of a rash of creationist bills in the New Mexico Legislature, and the super-sneaky tactics of the New Mexico Science Foundation.

Of course, in this “Tit-for-tat” world of ours, our local Intelligent Design Creationists finagled an op-ed response. Joe Renick, Executive Director of the Intelligent Design Network, is the author of Fear of exposure: The fight against academic freedom is rooted in the worry that Darwinism’s weakness will be revealed. It’s quite a ramble, but this little tidbit is what caused me to have a coffee spit-take:

Joe Renick Wrote:

The greatest threat to the Darwinian dogma today is science itself.

There is a revolution underway in the biological sciences. A whole new field of biology called “Systems Biology” has emerged during the past 10 or 15 years. This revolution is just as profound for the biological sciences today as the transition in physics was from classical physics to quantum physics and relativity in the early part of the 20th century.

In this exciting new field, research is guided not by Darwinian principles but by design principles because design principles are needed to explain design-like features.

Now hold on just a minute! Sure, “Systems Biologists” use words like “design” occasionally, but that doesn’t automatically mean they think “designs” in nature must be “poofed” into existence by an un-named magical being.

I would like to see a few (or even a dozen) letters from bonafide Systems Biologists setting Renick straight in the Albuquerque Tribune. It’ll be a quality Lesson for New Mexico Creationists: completely misrepresent an entire discipline, and you might just get chewed out.

Some comments on “Systems Biology,” along with information on writing the Trib, appear below the fold.

Mangolicious Tangled Bank #76

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The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is online at Balancing Life. I hope you like mangos.

Last night (March 26), a friend in Longmont, Colorado, sent me an e-mail in which she told me of a science teacher who had run a debate on global warming – among sixth graders (see the story in the Longmont Times-Call at http://www.longmontfyi.com/Local-St[…]asp?ID=15357 ). I was in class all day today, but fortunately PZ Myers was on the job and posted 2 articles on the subject (“Another Bad Teacher,” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/[…]_teacher.php , and a followup, “What’s the Matter with Colorado?” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/[…]colorado.php ).

I will therefore just alert our readers to Mr. Myers’s essays and also add that the Times-Call today ran another article (“Debunking Darwin,” http://www.longmontfyi.com/Local-St[…]asp?ID=15426 ) to the effect that the teacher will retire at the end of the year to devote himself to writing and opposing “Darwinism.”

The teacher noted that the district “might breathe a sigh of relief when I’m gone.” So will I.

Answers In Genesis is getting set to open their new Creation Museum, the one that is so well placed it’s miraculously within a 6-hours’ drive of 2/3rds of the American population.

But it’s not all fun and games. Trying to figure out how to cram Earth history into 6000 years, how to cram thousands of species onto a wooden Ark, and how to cram all this nonsense down people’s throats can be hard work. That’s why they’ve called in a team of crack scientists to resolve some of the hairier issues. One of the museum’s scriptwriters explains:

In designing a museum for the next generation, we clearly understood from the start that we had to be forward thinking, to gather the latest research, and to imagine where science will be five years from now. We needed a science reference board, made up of some of the very best experts in every field.

And what are these best experts working on?

“Based on genetics, I think Adam’s chest hair needs to be short, like Sean Connery’s.”

The conversations with scientists were never dull. In one memorable discussion, a sixty-something college professor threw back his chair, jumped up, then started lumbering about like an ape to explain how a monkey walks.

Decades of education and research have clearly paid off.

Panda Paper

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Prof. Steve Steve has a new job: producing raw material for paper production.

Researchers at a giant panda reserve in southern China are looking for paper mills to process their surplus of fiber-rich panda excrement into high quality paper.

Liao Jun, a researcher at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base in Sichuan province, said the idea came to them after a visit to Thailand last year where they found paper made from elephant dung. They thought panda poop would produce an even finer quality paper, he said.

I can see it now: Prof. Steve Steve’s Old Fashioned Panda-Processed Paper.

A Field Guide to Design Detection

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Via John Wilkins, a law student’s dissection of his professor’s insistence that the universe displays evidence of design. It’s an excellent analysis of the emptiness of the intelligent design movement’s argument for detecting design in the world. An extract:

I said that in order to infer intelligence from something, you would need an analytical framework. For example, “These particular factors, present in a given phenomenon, are indicative of intelligence for these reasons. Etc. Those factors are present in this phenomenon, therefore we can conclude that this phenomenon is the result of intelligence.” It seems like a simple framework; no more than instructions on how to recognize something, a sort of “Field Guide to Discerning Intelligence in the World.”

Some people, whose intellectual honesty is as questionable as my professor’s, have actually tried to posit “particular factors” that should be indicative of intelligence. Popular methods include Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” and William Dembski’s “specified complexity.” Neither is satisfactory. Behe’s idea has been shown wrong by experiment and Dembski’s idea assumes that we can know the probability of the occurrence of any phenomena. (“Specified complexity” is supposed to be anything that is both highly complex and highly unlikely. Except how do you know if it is unlikely? What is the probability of trees? Impossible to say.)

Nobody has yet come up with a convincing “Field Guide to Discerning Intelligence in the World,” but that did not stop my professor from insisting that I have no basis for failing to see intelligence in “natural” phenomena. Apparently it did not occur to him that since he (via Cicero, or vice versa) was making the proposition that “Intelligence is evident in natural phenomena,” it was up to him to explain why exactly that proposition should be accepted, not up to me to demonstrate why it is incorrect.

Just so. ID creationists endlessly assert that they have a methodology for detecting design in biological things, but when push comes to shove, they never ever actually apply it. Has anyone ever seen systematically gathered validation or reliability data on any of their design detection methods? I haven’t. So why is the methodology so difficult to apply? Because it rests firmly (and solely) on the claim “I know it when I see it”. And who is doing the “seeing” is the main variable, not the “it”. It’s an entirely subjective notion.

RBH

Happy Birthday, Richard Dawkins!

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Go on over to his place and leave a birthday greeting, and be sure to check out the multimedia collection of good wishes.

We wondered what we could do to express our appreciation, and had a hard time figuring out what would be appropriate … until a student asked to borrow one of my copies of The God Delusion because he couldn't find one anywhere in town. Instead of giving Dawkins a present directly, the Myers family is donating a copy of his book to the local library, where we hope some receptive minds will discover it.

The Dallas News reports that at the Southern Methodist University, several science professors have objected to a planned presentation on “Intelligent Design”. Acutely familiar with the history of Intelligent Design, the science professors state that:

“These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits,” said the letter sent to administrators by the department. “They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask.”

The SMU quickly clarified its position

“Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU’s endorsement of the presenters’ views,” the statement said.

The concern is real namely that

Many SMU science professors say they are worried that merely allowing “Darwin vs. Design” on campus could give the public impression that Intelligent Design has support from scientists at the school.

Which led the departments of Anthropology, Biological Sciences and Geological Sciences to respond as follows:

“In this case, the Departments of Anthropology, Biological Sciences, and Geological Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences wish to reaffirm their commitment to applying rigorous scientific principles to teaching and research on the subject of evolution.”

During my time in Kansas Citizens for Science, I was privileged to work with science supporters of all walks of life as I developed flyers and pamphlets on evolutionary topics or criticizing aspects of the intelligent design creationism movement. When some ID creationism speaker would come to town, KCFS would be there, passing out flyers that informed the audience what they would be hearing from the creationist and why it was wrong or disingenuous. (When Phillip Johnson came to Lawrence, it was fun to see everyone in the hall reading our brightly colored pamphlets prior to his talk. Everything he said, we already had written down in our pamphlets.)

I’m now out in Pennsylvania. While KCFS is still going strong (and about to host Monkey Girl author Edward Humes’s lecture at JCCC this Thursday), one thing I have missed from KCFS is the availability of easy-to-find pamphlets or flyers on ID creationism or evolution. I’d like to fix that.

So, I’ve updated “A Word About Intelligent Design Creationism.” Its text appears below as the extended entry as well as in PDF and RTF formats. Please feel free to adopt the text of this flyer to your own purposes, though appropriate attribution with a plug for the Thumb would be appreciated.

I’ve added a new “Category” of Flyers/Pamphlets under which we’ll hopefully amass quite a library of pro-science literature broadsides and pamphlets. Alternatively, if you have flyers that you’ve made, let us know via comments below. (We might be able to make those available here or on other archive sites as well.)

Just when you believe that ID activists could not shoot themselves in the foot any further, Casey Luskin comes to the rescue, and Dembski decides to add some fuel to the smoldering fire. So what is going on this time that ticked of our friends at the Ministry of Media Complaints at the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Religion? At Red State Rabble, Pat Hayes and at the Austringer Wesley Elsberry explain Casey Luskin’s misplaced ‘outrage’ and show how once again, poor reading and listening skills (see also my previous posting about Dembski mangling Darwin) allow ID activists to create yet another strawman.

While ID is busy with their theological arguments, science is still waiting patiently for ID to present a scientific case ever since ID was found and ruled to be scientifically vacuous.

Enjoy.

On Red State Rabble, Pat Hayes shows the vacuity of Dembski’s ‘arguments’. Dembski had blogged on his Uncommon Descent website a quote from Darwin’s Descent of Man. What follows is Pat Hayes fisking Dembski’s comments.

Dembski Wrote:
Darwin Wrote:

The reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: “The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts—and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal ‘struggle for existence,’ it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed—and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.”

Sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? But is it?

What has the ID movement been up to, following Kitzmiller and subsequent defeats? Apparently, they are going back to their base. In 2006 and 2007, the ID movement has hosted a number of “conferences” around the country. They call them “conferences” because it sounds scientific, but they are more like weekend revivals, actually, where the ID guys are flown in, give their standard talks to the public, and with a full-time professional apologist like Thomas Woodward (apologetics.org) or Lee Strobel (author of The Case for a Creator, The Case for Christ, etc.) emceeing the event. In fact, the “largest ID conference ever held” was held last September in the Florida Sun Dome, well-known to be a common venue for scientific conferences.

So anyway, this year a series of “Darwin vs. Design” conferences have been set up, apparently in a cookie-cutter format with identical guests and topics, and hosted by Lee Strobel.

The bios of the speakers are online (PDF). This bit is interesting, and shows us another thing that the ID movement has been up to:

Session #3 Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science & Culture, editor of Darwinism, Design and Public Education, and co-author of the forthcoming textbook Explore Evolution, will explain why the information encoded in DNA points powerfully to a designing intelligence.

Oh my, what a clever title for the new Discovery Institute textbook! It’s almost like they picked one of the most common phrases for mainstream evolution education projects and websites, so that they could appear to be teaching science rather than doing religious apologetics.

And as we all know, picking new labels easily solves all conceivable problems with creationist textbooks.

I was recently interviewed by Karl Mogel for his podcast show The Inoculated Mind. Topics include flagellum evolution and Kitzmiller v. Dover, and Casey Luskin’s inability to admit error. Have a listen if you get a chance.

Free Hovinds

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I’m not sure what they are, but there is apparently a site offering free hovinds: FreeHovind.Com. Can anybody tell me what a hovind is before I order a free one?

An ever-deepening Egnorance

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By this point, the name Michael Egnor should be familiar to readers of this blog - but if you need a reminder, he’s the neurosurgeon who recently signed on to the staff of the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog. Over the last week or two, Egnor has been trying to convince people that evolution is really not important in any way to medicine.

His last attempt, before today, came less than a week ago, with this spectacular piece of inane argumentation. I responded to the arguments that he made, Orac responded to the arguments he made, Afarensis responded to the arguments he made, Mark responded to the arguments he made, and many other people have also chimed in on the topic. A couple of hours ago, Egnor decided to take another swing at the argument.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Egnorance Overload

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Over at A Blog Around The Clock, Cortunix has gone to the task of putting together a “brief” list of blog posts where the egnorance of Dr. Michael Egnor has been taken to the woodshed: “Michael Egnor. Who?.”

If you have a few hours to kill, you might want to drop by and read the massive fisking that this man has taken. After all, it looks like he is here to stay as the DI’s new expert on evolution.

A news story today from Oregon (story here) is headlined “Oregon teacher fired after veering from evolution textbook.”

The story says, in part:

During his eight days as a part-time biology teacher at Sisters High School, Kris Helphinstine included Biblical references in material he provided to students and gave a PowerPoint presentation that made links between evolution, Nazi Germany and Planned Parenthood.

That was enough for the Sisters School Board, which fired the teacher Monday night for deviating from the curriculum on the theory of evolution. …

Helphinstine, 27, said in a phone interview with The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he included the supplemental material to teach students about bias in sources, and his only agenda was to teach critical thinking. “Critical thinking is vital to scientific inquiry,” said Helphinstine, who has a master’s degree in science from Oregon State. “My whole purpose was to give accurate information and to get them thinking.”

That was the title of an article by Stephen Prothero in the Boulder Daily Camera this morning (March 19). Professor Prothero is the chairman of the religion department at Boston University, and his article was run on the Web site (latimes.com) of the Los Angeles Times under the title, “We live in the land of biblical idiots: Public school courses that promote Bible literacy can enhance our civic life.” Professor Prothero argues in favor of teaching the Bible as literature and the Bible in history. His primary argument is as follows:

The deniers of science Part 2

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In part 1, I showed how GilDodgen’s concerns about computer models show how Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous, but since evolution deniers often also tend to be global warming deniers (often for very similar reasons), it may be helpful and beneficial to explore in more depth the value of computer models in science.

Let’s first explain how computer simulations of global warming take place and why we can indeed trust the results. We often hear arguments from global warming deniers which take shape as follows:

We all know that the weather is unpredictable beyond a certain time frame of 7-10 days so how can climate models be trusted?

This fallacious argument is based on a confusion of weather and climate. Climate is a statistical concept based on the outcome of many computer runs with slightly different models, conditions, weather is a local (and real) phenomenon (I already pointed out these differences when discussing Bill Dembski’s flawed understandings of these basic concepts.

Definition of climate (Edward Lorenz): “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.”

Updated for the 21st century (Myles Allen): “Climate is what you affect, weather is what gets you.”

Climate modelers use what is commonly known as General Circulation Models (GCM) which differ from weather prediction models in several important aspects.

…and still more on Egnor

The Michael Egnor article that I blogged about earlier today was a response to an article written by Scienceblogger Mark Chu-Carroll. Mark has has written his own response to Egnor’s latest post (Pigheaded Egnorance, Antibiotic Resistance, and Tautologies). It’s absolutely worth going over there and giving it a read.

While you’re there, you might also want to take a look at this post by Afarensis and this one by Orac, both of which address the Egnorance of yesterday.

Comments may be left at the home blog for each of those posts.

Dr. Michael Egnor is, once again, trying to explain why evolution isn’t important to medicine. This time he’s responding to Mark Chu-Carroll’s post on Tautology. In his latest post, Egnor continues to challenge the conventional wisdom that an understanding of evolution in general and natural selection in particular is essential to understanding and dealing with the phenomenon of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Here’s his latest statement along those lines:

Mark, your dad’s illness didn’t happen because his doctor didn’t know enough about random mutation and natural selection. Our battle against bacterial resistance to antibiotics depends on the study of the intricate molecular strategies bacteria use to fight antibiotics, and our development of new antibiotics is a process of designing drugs to counter the bacterial strategies. We use molecular biology, microbiology, and pharmacology. We understand that bacteria aren’t killed by antibiotics that they’re resistant to. We understand tautologies. Darwin isn’t a big help here.

Thus far, Dr. Egnor has only discussed the phenomenon of bacterial resistance in general. I’m going to present a pair of real, specific, and relatively recent scenarios where I think an understanding of evolution by natural selection has played an important role in public health debates involving appropriate uses of specific antibiotics. My question - and challenge - to Dr. Egnor is this: can you explain why an understanding of evolution by natural selection was really not important in these specific cases? If you cannot, can you please explain why you still believe that an understanding of evolution by natural selection is irrelevant to medicine?

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Scott Adams reads Newsweek. Uh-oh.

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If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the insignificant, minute information Adams has on evolution must be exceedingly risky—it's like the atom bomb of ignorance. In this case, it's not entirely his fault, though. He read the recent Newsweek cover story on evolution, which fed his biases and readily led him smack into the epicenter of his own blind spots, and kerblooiee, he exploded.

This is a case where the flaws in a popular science article neatly synergize with an evolution-denialist's misconceptions to produce a perfect storm of stupidity.

Continue reading "Scott Adams reads Newsweek. Uh-oh." (on Pharyngula)

On Uncommon Descent we learn why global warming deniers share so much with evolution deniers and why people should be wary of Intelligent Design:

Gildodgen Wrote:

Computer simulations of global warming and Darwinian mechanisms in biology should not be trusted, because they can’t be subjected to empirical verification. In these two areas, computer simulations and models can degenerate into nothing more than digital just-so stories — in one category about the future, and in the other about the past. The programmer can produce whatever outcome he desires, by choosing initial assumptions and algorithms, and weighting various factors to produce a desired output.

First of all GilDodgen explains why one should be critical about Intelligent Design when he ‘argues’ “Don’t Trust Computer Simulations And Models That Can’t Be Tested Against Reality”. In other words, the scientific vacuity of ID should be a major source of concern. But there is more and I will address this in my second installment.

Egnor and natural selection

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Neurosurgeon and recent addition to the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division blog Dr. Michael Egnor is at it again. He’s responded to Burt’s latest response to his prior response to Burt’s earlier response to his - you get the drift. Burt’s been doing a great job of responding to Egnor, and I don’t want to step on his toes, but Egnor says a couple of things this time that I think would benefit from the perspective of someone who is studying evolutionary biology.

First, though, I’d like to address this delightful bit of less-than-honest rhetoric:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

yanoconodon_tease.jpg

The latest Nature reveals a new primitive mammal fossil collected in the Mesozoic strata of the Yan mountains of China. It's small and unprepossessing, but it has at least two noteworthy novelties, and first among them is that it represents another step in the transition from the reptilian to the mammalian jaw and ear.

Continue reading "Yanoconodon, a transitional fossil" (on Pharyngula)

Charismatic island megafauna

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A new species of leopard has been described from Borneo and Sumatra. Read more over at Stranger Fruit.

When we think of the spread of antibiotic resistance between animals and humans, we tend to think of it going from Them to Us. For example, much of the research over the past 20 years on the sub-clinical use of antibiotics in animal feed has looked how this use of antibiotics as a growth promotant breeds resistant organisms in animals, which can then enter the human population via the food we eat. Along a similar line, I just mentioned Burt’s post post on cephalosporin use in cattle and the evolution of antibiotic resistance, where the worry is that use of these broad-spectrum antibiotics in animals will select for resistance that can then spread to humans. However, spread of resistant organisms is not a one-way street. For example, it has been suggested that transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been transmitted both from horses to humans and vice-versa (see, for example, this Emerging Infectious Diseases paper). A new paper suggests that this phenomenon can happen even in animals that aren’t in such close contact with humans: chimpanzees.

(Continued at Aetiology)

The lovely stalk-eyed fly

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stalk_sphyrocephala.jpg
Sphyrocephala beccarii

Here is a spectacularly pretty and weird animal: stalk-eyed flies of the family Diopsidae. There are about 160 species in this group that exhibit this extreme morphology, with the eyes and the antennae displaced laterally on stalks. They often (but not always) are sexually dimorphic, with males having more exaggerated stalks—the longer stalks also make them clumsy in flight, so this is a pattern with considerable cost, and is thought to be the product of sexual selection. The Sphyrocephala to the right is not even an extreme example. Read on to see some genuinely bizarre flies and a little bit about the development of this structure.

Continue reading "The lovely stalk-eyed fly" (on Pharyngula)

A week or so ago, I spent a fascinating weekend attending the 2007 Symposium, “Inscribed in Stone: Evolution and the Fossil Record,” of the Western Interior Paleontological Society [1]. At the keynote address by Donald Prothero of Occidental College, I learned that stasis was more important than I had thought, at least according to paleontologists, and that there was somewhat more friction between paleontologists and evolutionary biologists than I had realized. The next few talks were tutorial, as was Professor Prothero’s, and, I thought, fascinating. Not surprisingly, by Saturday afternoon, the talks became far too narrow for a nonpaleontologist, so I lay low for a while and waited for Judy Scotchmoor’s workshop on “Teaching Evolution” Sunday morning at what seemed like the crack of dawn.

Scarecrow2.jpgOver at the Discovery Institute’s Ministry of Media Complaints, to which he has recently become a contributor, SUNY neurosurgeon Michael Egnor responds to my criticism of his post, “Why Would I Want My Doctor to have Studied Evolution?” Dr. Egnor couldn’t think of much to say in response to my criticism because he never responded to my criticism; rather, he responded to a version of my criticism that he invented just for his essay. In other words, he’s responding to a straw man version of my argument, and straw men (wearing the jerseys of the opposing team, say) are a lot easier to defeat than the actual opposing team.

Let’s start simply. Dr. Egnor, in his original post, wrote:

Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no ‘professors of evolution’ in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools. No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology. [Therefore, evolutionary] biology isn’t important to modern medicine. (Quotes are excerpted.)

Medical schools think evolution is pretty important so they’ve made the MCAT, in part, to test the student’s understanding of evolution. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have what he did in his essay in the light of what the MCAT evaluates.

Some of the most brilliant insights in evolutionary biology and some of the worst scientific defeats for creationist arguments have come from professors that teach primarily at medical schools or are charged with teaching medical students. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of those faculty appointments.

I suspect it could be said accurately that no recent Nobel prize could have been won without the insights and assumptions afforded by evolutionary biology. In any case, I did show in my essay several Nobel prizes that had been awarded on the basis of or strongly appealing to evolutionary biology concepts. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of the research that has earned those Nobel prizes.

Dr. Egnor did respond, however, to the criticism of his thesis that “random heritable variation and natural selection is responsible for all biological complexity” is an unsound statement. His objection would have been an perfectly straightforward inclusion had he ever made it or had I ever objected to it. But he didn’t make that argument and I wouldn’t have objected to it if he did.

More on the flipside.

How does Conservapedia founder Andrew Schlafly respond when asked on NPR about the poor quality of its entries?

Carl Zimmer has transcribed the response.

Tangled Bank #75

Nothing to do this weekend?

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Just a reminder that there will be a symposium this weekend discussing evolution and intelligent design at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa (and featuring PT-er Wes Elsberry). The event is geared toward those interested in matters of faith or science; teachers; principals; college students majoring in education, science and religion/philosophy; clergy; and parish educators. Scholarships are available for the first 200 K-12 educators, board of education members, school administrators, etc. who apply–still plenty of those left, so if you know anyone who’d be interested, point them in our direction. I’m including the text of one press release below the jump; all the information (including registration and hotel) can be found at the symposium website.

PZ has done a splendid job of disemboweling Casey Luskin’s silly screed about my op-ed from yesterday’s Albuquerque Tribune.

Speaking of me, Luskin complains

He says that the “creationists” are getting “sneakier,”…

But, readers of the Thumb already know this is exactly what’s happening. This is a totally inappropriate use of scare quotes, and I’m calling Luskin on it.

The Coulter hoax

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This post’s sole author is Peter Olofsson. I am posting it as a courtesy to Peter and have not contributed a single word to it. Here starts Peter’s text:

When confronted with Ms. Ann Coulter’s diatribe against evolutionary biology in her 2006 book Godless, many educated readers will be upset, annoyed, outraged. However, if one instead assumes that Ms. Coulter is only joking, in fact providing a faux criticism of evolution in order to expose the ID movement in a Sokalian fashion, her writing suddenly becomes a brilliant satire.

Continue reading The Coulter Hoax at Talk Reason

Dave Thomas has written an op-ed opposing a bill in New Mexico that would promote Intelligent Design creationism in the classroom under the guise of academic freedom. This is a standard ID game; carefully word the bills so that they refer vaguely to some evidence that doesn't exist, so that they can pretend they are asking for equal time for the same category of scientific story when it is actually a case of promoting the guesswork, handwaving, and religiously-motivated biases of the creationists to have equivalent status with the evidence of scientists.

Casey Luskin is on the job, though, and he tears into Thomas's op-ed … or rather, he tears it into little pieces and rearranges the words until he's got a pastiche he can criticize. It's a shameful performance that puts the dishonesty of the Discovery Institute on display.

Continue reading "Luskin and the New Mexico creationists" (on Pharyngula)

Evolution and Accident

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A common attack upon evolutionary biology, from ranking clerics in the Catholic church to the meanest creationist blogger, is that it implies that life arose and came to result in us by accident. We are asked to believe, they say, that three billion years led to us as a series of accidents. No matter how often evolutionary biologists and informed respondents try to point out that the sense of “accident” in biology is based on the lack of correlation between the future needs of organisms, the trope is repeated ad nauseum.

Why?

Read on at Evolving Thoughts

While The Thumb is primarily interested in the Intelligent Design movement in its current manifestation (infestation?) as exemplified by the Disco Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, let it not be thought that the old-time YECs are out of the game. After all, YECs compose the majority of the ID movement’s foot soldiers in the culture wars (not to mention some of its officers). Answers In Genesis is a ubiquitous (iniquitous?) player in the anti-evolution battles, and publishes nonsense that’s right up to (down to?) Disco Institute standards. A recent article on AiG’s site on Tiktaalik roseae was written by creationist anatomist David Menton. Not surprisingly, Menton gets everything wrong. Martin Brazeau (a student of Per Ahlberg at Uppsala) has a lovely takedown on The Lancelet. A sample:

In the article, Menton’s only claims about the anatomy of Tiktaalik relate to the pelvic fins and girdles (i.e. the hips and legs) of Tiktaalik. There is no disucssion of the skull or shoulder girdle, and only tacit reference to the fin skeleton. Menton explains in relation to fishes and tetrapods that:

[t]he hind limbs [of tetrapods] in particular have a robust pelvic girdle securely attached to the vertebral column. This differs radically from that of any fish including Tiktaalik. Essentially all fish (including Tiktaalik) have small pelvic fins relative to their pectoral fins.

Menton is a liar. He cannot possibly know anything about the pelvic fins of Tiktaalik. The two papers describing Tiktaalik offer absolutely no descriptions of the pelvic fin skeletons or girdle. I’ve seen the material first-hand and there are no such details of the pelvic fin.

Menton’s article is in the best Disco Institute tradition of “research” along the lines of, say, Jonathan Wells. I commend Martin’s post to PT readers’ attention.

RBH

Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education had several letters responding to J. Scott Turner’s January 19 piece that rhetorically asked, “Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design?” One of them was actually from me. I sent it back in January and figured it had been forgotten about, but I guess not. It is cut down a bit, but has the essential points. See also good replies from David Barash and Gred Laden.

The letters are freely available at the CHE website not freely available, so I will post the text of my original submission below the fold.

As an addendum to Burt’s excellent take-down of Dr. Egnor’s latest nonsense, I’d like to address one of Egnor’s claims that I’ve touched on before, which is the following:

Doctors know that, from the intricate structure of the human brain to the genetic code, our bodies show astonishing evidence of design. That’s why most doctors—nearly two-thirds according to national polls—don’t believe that human beings arose merely by chance and natural selection. Most doctors don’t accept evolutionary biology as an adequate explanation for life. Doctors see, first-hand, the design of life.

Egnor claims that two thirds of doctors don’t accept evolution, and that this is because doctors have some sort of special insight into living things. He is not the first to make this claim; his new handlers at the Discovery Institute have said this before, based on a survey published by the Louis Finkelstein Institute, going so far as to claim that “a majority of doctors favor intelligent design over Neo-Darwinism.”

Would you be surprised to learn that the survey doesn’t say these things at all, that in fact it says the exact opposite? More below.

A researcher at the University of Florida and his colleagues have used game theory, which is important to evolution and economics, to show that net neutrality encourages internet service providers (ISPs), companies that offer dial-up, cable modem, DSL, or similar access to the internet, to increase their bandwidth. The ISP industry is currently pressing congress to pass legislation ending net neutrality.

Under the current, net neutrality law, ISPs are required to partition their bandwidth based on the size of a site and how much their customers access a site. However, if net neutrality is ended then ISPs will be allowed to partition their bandwidth based not on their customers needs but on which websites can pay the most money. If net neutrality is ended, then ISPs will be able to extort money from content providers like Yahoo, Google, or even small fry like us, by offering to increase (or threatening to decrease) the speed at which the customers of said ISP can access the content provider’s sites.

According to an article in ScienceDaily, the researchers showed that customers lose out if net neutrality is ended, for the simple fact that ending net neutrality encourages ISPs to decrease the bandwidth available to their customers.

More important, the researchers found that the incentive for broadband service providers to expand and upgrade their service actually declines if net neutrality ends. Improving the infrastructure reduces the need for online content providers to pay for preferential treatment, Bandyopadhyay said.

“The whole purpose of charging for preferential treatment to content providers is that one content provider gains some edge over the other,” he said. “But when the capacity is expanded, this advantage becomes negligible.”

He gave the analogy of the expansion of a two-lane highway where drivers willing to pay a toll to subsidize road improvements are rewarded with exclusive use of a faster lane.

“If the road is upgraded from two to four lanes, with one express lane, these drivers might say ‘Three lanes are good enough for me. I don’t want to have to pay a toll any longer,’” he said. “So the desire to pay a toll when the road is expanded gets lesser.”

The experience of other countries also suggests that better service – up to three times faster – results when there is greater competition, Cheng said.

“In Japan and Korea, where there is net neutrality and much greater competition among broadband providers than in the United States, there are also higher broadband speeds,” he said.”

Hat Tip: Cortunix.

Wear the Whale!

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As a followup to my recent fisking of Egnor, I wanted everyone to know that T-shirts are still available. (Do an in-article find for “ambulocetus” and check out the links.) I just bought mine today and it should arrive by the end of the week.

Get your T-shirts here.

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is totally awesome way to show your support for evolution, seem ostensibly athletic, and needle Behe* all at the same time, but that’s okay. (I don’t get out much.)

BCH

*To understand the reference, Behe liked to drop the lack of whale transitional fossils (search for “whale” in that link) as a problem for evolution wink wink nudge nudge must have been ID. That was before a dude named Thewissen, who later became head football coach at NEOUCOM got a grant to dig in the Indus Valley. (Behe doesn’t mention whale evolution any more, for some reason. But you should.)

Lynn Margulis blog tour

Lynn Margulis has sent the opening statement for her blog tour to Pharyngula. You should feel free to come on over and respond to it, raise other questions of any relevant sort, or say whatever you want in the comments; she'll be along later today to respond to those that interest her. I will be policing the comments, so trolls, please don't bother; serious comments only, and keep in mind that she's only going to respond to a limited subset, so make 'em good.

In addition, she'll be available later today in the Pharyngula chat room (channel #pharyngula on irc.zirc.org; if you don't have an IRC client, that link will let you use your browser to join in) from 12:00-1:30pm ET. Dive in there for a more interactive give-and-take with Dr Margulis.


Lynn Margulis is in the house right now—join the chat room if you have anything to say, or just want to eavesdrop.


The chat is now over, but you can still read the transcript.

RNA Designed to Evolve?

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On Uncommon Descent, JohnnyB states that

I’m currently working through Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems, and came across the following information which seems to be right in line with Denton’s evolution by natural law ideas:

A final, especially counterintuitive feature of RNA sequence space is that all frequent structures are near each other in sequence space. Consider a randomly chosen sequence that folds into a frequent structure and ask how far one has to step away from the original sequence to find a sequence that folds into this second structure…For instance, for RNAs of length n = 100 nucleotides, a sphere of r = 15 mutational steps contains with probability one a sequence for any common structure. This implies that one has to search a vanishingly small fraction of sequence space…to find all common structures.

Yes, laws of nature have indeed led to RNA space being extremely suitable for ‘evolution’ due to its scale free nature. Of course, scale free networks have been shown to be able to arise from the simple process of duplication and preferential attachment. And that’s exactly what we observe in for instance gene duplication. In other words, johnnyb has once again observed how the designer is quite natural, reducing even further ID’s standing and underlining ID’s scientific vacuity as it provides NO explanations as to why, how etc. Unlike science.

I have discussed these fascinating properties of RNA space and the topic of evolvability in many postings at PandasThumb. It’s good to come to realize that some IDers are actually reading scientific research, even though accepting scientific explanations completely undermines ID’s attempt to hide in ignorance. JohnnyB also gives me some hope that IDers, properly exposed to real science, will quickly reject Intelligent Design as scientifically vacuous.

Convention Draw?

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The Cincinnati Post has a story about the possibility that AiG’s creation science museum will encourage religious groups to hold conventions in the Cincinnati area. No word yet on whether it will discourage the realty base community from coming to Cincinnati as well.

But I guess that, with Kent Hovind in jail, AiG is going to have to pick up the slack in the mis-education of America.

Those who haven’t had the experience of reading Dr. Egnor’s contributions to the creation/evolution conflict will not know that he is a neurosurgeon at Stony Brook who has trumpeted his support for intelligent design and against evolution. Dr. Egnor has recently written an essay at the Ministry of Media Complaints of the Discovery Institute. Ever on-message, Dr. Egnor seems to think that doctors don’t need to know evolution because he objects to the Alliance for Science’s essay challenge. (Alliance for Science asked high schoolers to write an essay entitled and organized around the thesis, “Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution.”)

Dr. Egnor has been the subject of multiple fiskings recently and this is a curiosity itself. I’m personally acquainted with at least four attending-level physicians who were creationists at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Up at Minnesota, a chief resident in the department of surgery was a creationist. And now at Penn State, there’s at least one creationist. The Discovery Institute, fresh off their defeat from Dover, put a lot of effort into developing a five-page list of physicians who think evolution isn’t such a big deal - so why is Egnor getting all the infamy for his incredulity? I don’t have a good answer for that: maybe he’s just the DI “Flavor of the Month” or the only physician willing to write essays. What I can answer are Dr. Egnor’s claims that evolution is not needed in medical school.

And I’ll do it on the flipside.

God Creates a Kitten.

kittens500.jpg

Happy Half Century, PZ.

I find it interesting that despite several articles on the confluence of science and blogs in science magazines and journals and the establishment of blogs by many mainstream science news outlets, the AAAS’s EurekAlert! refuses to grant embargo credentials to bloggers. As Dr. Hsien Hsien Lei of Genetics and Health was recently told:

I appreciate your email, Hsien, but unfortunately, the decision must stand. Our eligibility criterion does not include writing blogs of any kind. Feel free to re-register in the future, should your writing outlets expand.

Did you get that? Blogging is a narrow outlet. I guess AAAS doesn’t think that thousands of daily readers is a broad enough audience to promote their articles. I guess such an derision of Web 2.0 might explain why PLoS has been successfully cutting into Science’s market.

How about we show EurekAlert! that there is a market out there for blog-based science news? I suggest that all the science bloggers out there, who read this, go apply for journalist access to EurekAlert!. Just fill out this form and mention your position as a blogger. Don’t forget to leave a comment here about your experience.

Hat Tip: Coturnix

Update:

In the comments, Ginger Pinholster, AAAS’s director of public programs, has clarified their position. It looks like those of us with dual affiliations, e.g. scientist-bloggers, are out of luck.

Our local “Dissenter from Darwinism,” Fred Skiff, gave a talk last Friday. Prior to the talk, I predicted:

One, that Skiff will provide a strawman version of evolutionary theory (heck, and science itself) as he did last time I saw him speak… Two, that Skiff will assert or imply that evolution implies atheism, and that if one accepts methodological naturalism, one therefore must also accept philosophical naturalism, and choose between evolutionary theory and their religious beliefs. Three, that he will assert that “intelligent design” is the sensible alternative to “orthodox” science, but its study is being repressed by “Darwinists” or something of that nature.

All I gotta say is: damn, I’m good. In a bit of what I assume was unintended irony, Skiff was introduced with a comment noting that discussions about intelligent design frequently generated “heat” but not a lot of “light,” after which Skiff spent much of his time railing against “Darwinists” and “Darwinism,” creating a strawman presentation of evolutionary biology, misinforming about theRichard Sternberg case, claiming that supporters of evolution were out to make it “illegal to question Darwinism” and that the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has said to “destroy intelligent design by ruining reputations.” Is it any wonder Skiff receives a lot of heat after inflammatory rhetoric such as that? A summary of the rest of the talk is over at Aetiology.

I know that SUNY Stony Brook has a great evolutionary biology program. That being said, the ignorant rantings of neurosurgery professor Dr. Michael Egnor have to be an embarrassment to Stony Brook. Orac, a surgery professor himself, gives Egnor another drubbing over the incredulous comments he made on a recent Discovery Institute pod cast.

Just when I thought I could put the paper bag away…

…That all around evolution-ignorant but nonetheless eager lapdog of the Discovery Institute, SUNY Stonybrook Professor of Neurosurgery Dr. Michael Egnor, is back.

Rats. I thought that the utter drubbing he took at the hands of myself and my fellow ScienceBloggers (in particular PZ Myers) might have given him the message that he needs to lay low for a while. Apparently not. I guess he must have the monumental ego that more than a few neurosurgeons are famous for. (After all, it takes supreme confidence in one’s own abilities to be able to cut into the human brain and believe that the patient will come out OK.) It’s not enough this time for him to show up in the comments of PZ’s blog to make a fool of himself and embarrass scientific surgeons everywhere. This time around, he’s appearing on the Discovery Institute podcast, to be interviewed by fellow DI lapdog and sometimes attack poodle Casey Luskin in a a truly nauseating lovefest entitled, One Doctor’s Journey to Becoming a Darwin Doubter:

Not surprisingly, basically all Dr. Egnor’s “critique” of “Darwinism” boils down to is his personal incredulity that biological complexity could ever possibly have evolved from more simple elements without the input of intelligence, his anthropomorphizing the genetic code, and his concluding that, because the genetic code functions like a human language and because human language is created only by the “intelligent design” of humans, then the genetic code must have been intelligently designed. That’s it. No data supporting his position, just his “doubts.” His propensity to equate “randomness” with “meaninglessness” also strongly suggests the religious, not scientific, roots of Egnor’s “skepticism” about “Darwinism.”

Read the Entire Piece

Over at The Loom, Carl Zimmer discusses some interesting research on the origin of crabs, not the tasty kind but the ichy-bitey kind.

Question of the Day: How Do You Get Crabs From A Gorilla?

The scientists set out to recover the evolutionary tree of pubic lice, just as they had done with head lice. They analyzed DNA from human head lice, human pubic lice, as well as other species from the same genera that live on chimpanzees and gorillas. They also analyzed DNA from lice that live on monkeys and on rodents so that they could get a better sense of how pubic lice had evolved from a common ancestor with other species. The scientists not only drew branches for each species, but also estimated when those branches split over the course of history.

Their conclusion, which they published today in BMC Biology, is just as striking as their earlier one about head lice. But it is hardly the same. We did not get pubic lice from other hominids. We got them from the ancestors of gorillas.

The Lost World of Kent Hovind

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Make sure you don’t miss this YouTube video on a visit to the now-closed Dinosaur Adventure Land, home base of convicted felon Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind. It’s not exactly film festival material, but there are a lot of interesting tidbits.

HT: Pharyngula

An interesting phenomenon I have observed lately is that now that many Kent Hovind videos are on YouTube, a whole new group of people is realizing just what a wacky dude he was, and just how wacky it is that he is probably the most-known and quoted authority among the creationist public. Check out the Hovind-alia on YouTube (if you have an afternoon to kill…the stuff is strangely addictive).

Lynn Margulis weblog tour

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Here's an interesting opportunity: Lynn Margulis, the controversial scientist, is going on a 'blog tour' to promote her new imprint of science books called Sciencewriters Books. What does that mean? She's going to hang out for a little while on a few blogs and chat and answer questions. If you've wanted to have a conversation with the author of the endosymbiont theory and critic of neo-Darwinian theory, here's your chance.

The tour will kick off on Monday, 12 March, at Pharyngula. She'll be sending me a short article that I'll post that morning, and we'll collect comments and questions. Later that afternoon or evening, she'll browse through those comments and answer the ones she finds interesting.

In addition, she'll be available in the Pharyngula chat room (channel #pharyngula on irc.zirc.org; if you don't have an IRC client, that link will let you use your browser to join in) from 12:00-1:30pm ET.

So mark it on your calendars: an online conversation with Lynn Margulis, next Monday, 12 March, at Pharyngula.

Templeton Answers Dembski

William Grassie, founder of the Metanexus Institute and the man in charge of the grant program for the Templeton Foundation under which Dembski received the grant that ended up being for No Free Lunch, has responded to Dembski’s posting of the grant proposal he made to receive the money. And there are several statements in this response that are very interesting. Like this one:

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

Good news from Idaho

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This good news comes from Idaho’s Science Teachers Association who have approved an official position against teaching intelligent design in Idaho’s public schools.

Ironically, Idaho’s Science Teachers Association has a website at the address “idscienceteachers.org” :-)

The Christian Post reports

In Idaho this past weekend, science teachers officially noted that they will not allow the instruction of intelligent design in their school systems.

The Idaho Science Teachers Association supported their position by saying that intelligent design, an opposing conjecture to evolution theory, is not approved by the scientific community, so it has no place being taught as a science.

“It basically would be unethical to teach creation science or intelligent design because it is not science, and it does not belong in a science classroom,” said Rick Alm, president of the ISTA’s board, in the Idaho Statesman.

I have another observation in pop culture’s war on ignorance. (Okay, that is an oxymoron.)

On tonight’s Family Guy, “Airpot ‘07”, Peter attends “The Redneck Comedy Tour” and decides that he wants to become a redneck. So he buys a pick-up truck, puts the couch on the front lawn, and hits on his daughter. Then he sits down with Brian to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

Scene: Brian and Peter are on the couch watching TV. Peter is wearing cowboy boots, jeans, large brass belt buckle, flannel shirt, and a green John Deere cap.

TV Announcer: We now return to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos … edited for rednecks.

Sagan on TV (occasionally dubbed over by a redneck voice): I’m Carl Sagan. Just how old is our planet. Scientists believe its four b—hundreds and hundreds of years old—Scientists have determined that the universe was created by a—Goooooooood—Big Bang. If you look at the bones of a—Jesus–asaurus rex, it is clear by the use of carbon dating that—Mountain Dew is the best soda ever made.

Brian: Peter, do we have to watch this?

Peter: This is what rednecks watch, Brian.

Peter takes a can of chewing tobacco from his shirt pocket and begins to dip.

Of course, carbon dating cannot be used on the fossils of a “Jesusasaurus rex”; other forms of radiometric dating with longer half-lifes have to be used.

Update: Below the fold, I’ve posted the scene from YouTube. Thanks Chris Hyland.

Hi all,

Last weekend I meet a few friends for lunch in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. We had a great time sitting out side drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. I really want to do it again, both in Raleigh and other great towns. On that note, I’ll be tagging along with Evolgen’s RPM to the Fly Conference in Philadelphia next week. If any of my fans will be at the conference or just in the area, go drop RPM a line and see if we can meet up for cheese steaks and bamboo beer.

Now for some pictures of the Raleigh meetup. [Note: You can find many of my pictures in my gallery, including ones from the Science Blogging Conference, where many people were begging me for photos.]

nic_george.jpg

Nic George, a postdoc at NCSU, is agreeing here to be my vassal. I made him a offer he couldn’t refuse.

Support Steven Gey and ALS Research

I wrote back in December about Prof. Steven Gey, one of the great advocates for evolution and quality science education in the nation, being diagnosed with ALS. A group of his colleagues and students have decided to run a triathlon to raise money for ALS research. You can help them reach their goal of raising $10,000 in the event by going to this page and clicking on “donate now” on the right hand side. Prof. Gey was one of the attorneys who represented the winning side in the landmark 1987 Supreme Court case Edwards v Aguillard. He has been a tireless worker on behalf of protecting science education ever since. This is a small way we can help repay all that he has done in helping us reach our goals.

Intelligent Design is Neither

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Briant Trent, professional essayist, screenwriter and novelist, reports in the American Chronicle on a question he asked Intelligent Design proponent Jonathan Wells during the Cato Insitute sponsored debate between Shermer and Wells.

His simple question, and Wells’ answer shows the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design. So what was the question? Brian asked Wells what his alternative to the evidence for natural selection was

“I don’t think I’m obligated to propose an alternate theory,” Wells publicly stated. “I don’t pretend to have an alternate theory that explains the history of life.”

It would come as no surprise to us here at the Thumb that our readers would accept a physician not giving antibiotics for an ailment unless that physician felt that the infection was bacterial, that the therapy was warranted, and that the selection of antibiotics was appropriate for the suspected organism. Doctors restrict their antibiotic use because of evolution: indiscriminate use of antibiotics leads to the evolution of resistance to those antibiotics in those bacteria that survive the infection. I suspect many of our readers also know that antibiotics are given to livestock routinely to help them grow bigger, faster. Our friends at ScienceBlogs are all over this topic and the problems it presents. By way of summary, if you give animals an antibiotic that looks and acts like one you give humans, resistance will also evolve there, just as surely as it will from a doctor who reaches for his prescription pad before he’s taken an adequate history or completed an adequate exam.

This morning’s Washington Post has a disturbing article on the approval of cefquinome for use in cattle. It’s disturbing for a number of reasons, and we’ll discuss them on the flipside.

Openlab 2007

John Dupuis at Confessions of a Science Librarian has good things to say about The Open Laboratory (2006).

At first glance it seems that [Bora] Zivkovic set himself an impossible task trying to pull something decent together, both in terms of the presentation and the quality of the content, in such a short period of time. We can probably only expect something shoddy and half-assed—right? Well, I’m happy to say that all fears of disaster were certainly not justified—anyone that pays attention to Zivkovic’s blog knows that he’s smart, capable, dedicated and without a doubt energetcic and that he wouldn’t let something unworthy out the door.

This review is just in time for Bora’s announcement that we are now taking submissions for the 2007 anthology. Unlike last year, we will begin to compile a list of worthy posts in March instead of at the last minute in December. Any original blog entry made between 12-20-06 and 12-20-07 is eligible.

If you want to spread the word, I have put together a badge that you can use to link to the submission form.

Also for all you 2006 winners, I have made a badge honoring your achievement. Go ahead, place it on your blog so everyone can know how great of a science blogger you are. Note that you can see a demo over in our sidebar.

You can find html code for the badges on my blog.

Wexler on Kitzmiller

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Professor Jay Wexler’s article on the Kitzmiller case, Kitzmiller And The “Is It Science?” Question, 5 First Amend. L. Rev. 90 (2006), has been the source of some glee for Creationist Casey Luskin. In the article, Wexler contends that Judge Jones’s finding that Intelligent Design isn’t science was unnecessary and unwise. Luskin, never one for, you know, legal thinking, immediately pounced on the article to say that Wexler “agreed in print with my position on this question.” Now that I’ve seen the article, I can say that, as is typical for Luskin, this is at best a half truth.

The limits of tolerance.

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Casey Luskin, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog doesn’t like the reaction that an Idaho crowd had to a PZ Myers quote. He believes that both Myers and the crowd were being intolerant.

Here’s the PZ quote at the center of the issue. Actually, as Paul points out in his own response to Casey, the “quote” is actually two separate quotes taken from two totally separate posts, and stuck together with a totally inappropriate ellipsis. (When two statements appear on two separate websites two months apart, you really aren’t supposed to link them with three little dots and pretend that it’s all one quote.)

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Berlinski in Turkey

There was a pro-ID confab in Istanbul last week. Among the speakers was mathematician David Berlinski, whose boneheaded essays appear in Commentary with depressing regularity. A brief abstract of his talk is posted at the conference website, and it stresses five main points that he regards as fatal to Darwinian theory. Over at EvolutionBlog I have posted a few thoughts in reply. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

Tangled Bank #74

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The Tangled Bank

Well, finally…a certain evil monkey quite playing around to bring us Tangled Bank #74, in which he says cruel things about me. You'll want to read it just to see how he crushed my delicate feelings.

Triple Review

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Our own Paul Gross reviews three books concerning evolution and creationism for Skeptic magazine. The books are Arthur McCalla’s The Creationist Debate, Wallace Arthur’s Creatures of Accident, and Francis S. Collins’ The Language of God. Read and enjoy!

Orthozanclus

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orthrozanclus_sm.jpg

Halkieriids are Cambrian animals that looked like slugs in scale mail; often when they died their scales, called sclerites, dissociated and scattered, and their sclerites represent a significant component of the small shelly fauna of the early Cambrian. They typically had their front and back ends capped with shells that resembled those we see in bivalve brachiopods. Wiwaxiids were also sluglike, but sported very prominent, long sclerites, and lacked the anterior and posterior shells; their exact position in the evolutionary tree has bounced about quite a bit, but some argument has made that they belong in the annelid ancestry, and that their sclerites are homologous to the bristly setae of worms. One simplistic picture of their relationship to modern forms was that the halkieriids expanded their shells and shed their scales to become molluscs, while the wiwaxiids minimized their armor to emphasize flexibility and became more wormlike. (Note that that is a very crude summary; relationships of these Cambrian groups to modern clades are extremely contentious. There's a more accurate description of the relationships below.)

Now a new fossil has been found, Orthozanclus reburrus that unites the two into a larger clade, the halwaxiids. Like the halkieriids, it has an anterior shell (but not a posterior one), and like the wiwaxiids, it has long spiky sclerites. In some ways, this simplifies the relationships; it unites some problematic organisms into a single branch on the tree. The question now becomes where that branch is located—whether the halwaxiids belong in a separate phylum that split off from the lophophorate family tree after the molluscs, or whether the halwaxiids are a sister group to the molluscs.

Continue reading "Orthozanclus" (on Pharyngula)

On Uncommon Descent Bill Dembski shows some confusion as to how to interpret the research by Oliver Rando and Kevin Verstrepen. While it may be that Dembski could not spare the time from his supposedly busy research (sic) schedule, a simple reading of the actual article would have resolved much of the confusion.

Remember to use the secret handshake whenever you need to get an ID paper past the Darwinian goalies: “Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, …”

ABSTRACT: According to classical evolutionary theory, phenotypic variation originates from random mutations that are independent of selective pressure. However, recent findings suggest that organisms have evolved mechanisms to influence the timing or genomic location of heritable variability. Hypervariable contingency loci and epigenetic switches increase the variability of specific phenotypes; error-prone DNA replicases produce bursts of variability in times of stress. Interestingly, these mechanisms seem to tune the variability of a given phenotype to match the variability of the acting selective pressure. Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, they suggest that selection and variability are less independent than once thought.

Rando OJ and Verstrepen KJ (2007) “Timescales of Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance” (review) Cell, Vol 128, 655-668, 23.

Odds and Ends from Kansas

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Four little mini-posts:

1. Good standards have returned - what now?

2. The threat of suit?

3. The Intelligent Design network’s rejoinder to Dodos: “Kansas Science Hearings: Exposing the Evolution Controversy”

4. The Discovery Institute hits bottom

Good standards have returned - what now?

Well, as you all probably know, Kansas once again returned to having good science standards which properly describe the nature of science and the basics of evolution. On Tuesday, February 13 the state Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt the standards written by the duly-appointed writing committee, thus throwing out the standards containing all the material inserted by the Intelligent Design advocates back in 2005.

However, we are not breathing too big a sigh of relief.

The DI blog is all abuzz over this “report” about media misrepresentation of the relationship between the Templeton Foundation and the ID movement. Written by Joseph Campana (Who? Good question), it’s a Wiki posting that tries valiantly to focus on one minor misstatement in a New York Times article written over a year ago in order to distract attention from the real issue.

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

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