May 27, 2007 - June 2, 2007 Archives


In chapter 14 of the Origin of Species, Darwin wondered about the whole process of metamorphosis. Some species undergo radical transformations from embryo to adult, passing through larval stages that are very different from the adult, while others proceed directly to the adult form. This process of metamorphosis is of great interest to both developmental and evolutionary biologists, because what we see are major transitions in form not over long periods of time, but within a single generation.

We are so much accustomed to see a difference in structure between the embryo and the adult, that we are tempted to look at this difference as in some necessary manner contingent on growth. But there is no reason why, for instance, the wing of a bat, or the fin of a porpoise, should not have been sketched out with all their parts in proper proportion, as soon as any part became visible. In some whole groups of animals and in certain members of other groups this is the case, and the embryo does not at any period differ widely from the adult: thus Owen has remarked in regard to cuttlefish, "There is no metamorphosis; the cephalopodic character is manifested long before the parts of the embryo are completed." Landshells and fresh-water crustaceans are born having their proper forms, whilst the marine members of the same two great classes pass through considerable and often great changes during their development. Spiders, again, barely undergo any metamorphosis. The larvae of most insects pass through a worm-like stage, whether they are active and adapted to diversified habits, or are inactive from being placed in the midst of proper nutriment or from being fed by their parents; but in some few cases, as in that of Aphis, if we look to the admirable drawings of the development of this insect, by Professor Huxley, we see hardly any trace of the vermiform stage.

Why do some lineages undergo amazing processes of morphological change over their life histories, while others quickly settle on a single form and stick with it through their entire life? In some cases, we can even find closely related species where one goes through metamorphosis, and another doesn't; this is clearly a relatively labile character in evolution. And one of the sharpest, clearest examples of this fascinating flexibility is found in the sea urchins.

Continue reading "Evolution of direct development in echinoderms" (on Pharyngula)

Statement from Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy

On Friday, June 1, I informed Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, of my decision to deny his tenure appeal.

As part of this decision process, I appointed a member of my staff to conduct a careful and exhaustive review of the appeal request and the full tenure dossier, and that analysis was presented to me. In addition, I conducted my own examination of Dr. Gonzalez’s appeal with respect to the evidence of research and scholarship. I independently concluded that he simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy – one of our strongest academic programs.

Gonzalez has 20 days to appeal the decision to the Iowa State Board of Regents.

Ever want some good ole fashioned southern California creationism? Well the Jesse Nickles, an international studies major at UC Irvine, has your answer: Evolution Doesn’t Make Much Sense. With arguments like these he will be running the Discovery Institute in no time.

Females: Although debatable, humans are the only species in which the females are more physically attractive than the males—the sole exception being, perhaps, Stephen Colbert….

Time: According to the theory of evolution, it took millions of years for mankind to figure out how to cultivate, hunt, invent the wheel, etc., and yet, in the last few hundred years alone, we’ve discovered the steam engine, the car, electricity, the computer and the safety pin? You’ve got to be kidding me.

And don’t miss the surprise ending.

The Discovery Institute is so relieved — they finally found a textbook that includes a reworked version of Haeckel's figure. Casey Luskin is very excited. I'm a little disappointed, though: apparently, nobody at the Discovery Institute reads Pharyngula. I posted a quick summary in September of 2003 that went through several textbooks, and showed a couple of examples where redrawn versions of Haeckel's diagram were used. More recently, I posted a fairly exhaustive survey by Patrick Frank of the use of that diagram since 1923, which showed that it was rare, and that the concept of recapitulation was uniformly criticized. Really, guys, the horse of recapitulationism is dead. Biologists riddled it with bullets in the 19th century, and have periodically kicked it a few times to be sure. For Intelligent Design creationists to show up over a century later and flog the crumbling bones of a long extinguished horse and crow victory is awfully silly.

So how can you still find any vestiges of Haeckel's work in textbooks?

Continue reading "Return of the Son of the Bride of Haeckel" (on Pharyngula)

Yesterday, Casey Luskin posted yet another article outlining still more of the Discovery Institute’s complaints about the Iowa State decision to deny tenure to DI Fellow and ID proponent Guillermo Gonzalez. This one complains about the characterization of Gonzalez as “having slowed down considerably” and “not started new things.” (That characterization appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.)

I have no intention of getting into a debate over the precise merits of Dr. Gonzalez’s case, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m one of those who believes that the effort that Gonzalez has put into undermining quality science education in the primary and secondary public schools is something that should be considered when looking into tenure decisions. Second, I am not an astronomer and am not qualified to judge the quality of his scientific work either before or after he joined the Iowa State faculty. Finally, I am not a member of his department, and I do not know what was involved in the tenure decision in this case.

I am, however, someone who has enough reading comprehension skill to recognize when someone is playing word games, and enough of a sense of integrity to be offended when it happens. In the case of this latest Gonzalez article, that’s exactly what Casey has done. Three times.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

DDOS Slowdown

| | Comments (13)

The slowdown seen today was the result of a DDOS “attack” on PT. I’ve banned nearly 50 IP addresses that I think were the cause of it. Let me know if there is any collateral damage.

The previous thread, “Is Creationism Child’s Play?“, was closed by an admin because it was getting so long that it was loading slowly or not at all. A contributing factor is that PT has apparently been experiencing some kind of denial-of-service attack which is also slowing things down.

I have been out of town and not able to contribute to the thread much, or even read all of it, but apparently it has evolved from mudslinging into a reasonable dialog with a young-earth creationist, Mark Hausam, who actually wants to discuss the issues. Mark has pretty much acknowledged that his belief is based on a literal, inerrant interpretation of the Bible, and that he is willing to invoke miraculous “appearance of age” arguments to explain away physical evidence that conflicts with his interpretation of the Bible. Usually this sort of person is about six months away from complete deconversion from creationism. With the appearance-of-age argument, they have already admitted that the physical evidence on its face is totally against them, and that they have admitted that Last Thursdayism is as well-supported as young-earth creationism (Last Tuesdayism, of course, is unspeakable heresy). Once they’ve gone this far, most people can’t maintain the necessary doublethink for very long (Paul Nelson, John Mark Reynolds, Kurt Wise, and Marcus Ross are about the only exceptions, and they each have the peculiar ability to remorsely drown their scientific conscience whenever reality intrudes upon their textual interpretation).

This sort of discussion should be encouraged so I am starting a new thread for those who wish to discuss the issues. I will be watching the thread to ensure that it remains courteous.

My wife says she will disown me if I continue to describe every human behavior and every human trait as adaptive. I had better get a separate bank account, because I have just read David Sloan Wilson’s splendid book, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives (Delacorte, 2007).

Professor Wilson begins by showing how intuitive evolutionary theory really is: Variation plus consequences of that variation plus heredity. A population of moths varies in color (the variation), and some are more subject to predation (the consequence). The offspring of the more cryptic (camouflaged) moths resemble their parents (heredity), so gradually the color of the population drifts toward more crypsis. That’s it. To show his students that they are now experts, Professor Wilson pairs them up and has them conceive possible reasons why infanticide may be adaptive. If you answered lack of resources, poor quality of offspring, and uncertain parentage, you are an expert evolutionist and ready to read the book.

Review copies of Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution are now out – the book is officially coming out on June 5 – and now the reviews are starting. Mark C. Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math, has beat us all to the punch. I perceived many of these problems while giving The Edge of Evolution my own read-through, but it takes a mathematician to comment on Behe’s abuse of fitness landscapes and probability arguments with the appropriate sense of outrage.

I am sure we will have much more on Behe’s latest starting in June. My first take is that The Edge of Evolution is basically an incompetent attempt to provide a biological foundation for the silly assumptions that were made in Behe and Snoke’s (2004) mathematical modeling paper in Protein Science. (You will recall that it received its most thorough critique here at PT and also in a rebuttal written in Protein Science by Michael Lynch; and a biological rebuttal in this 2006 paper in Science – see also summary by Adami.)

Sam Brownback has an op-ed in the NY Times today, in which he explains with much straining at gnats why he was one of the Republicans who did not believe in evolution. Short summary: he reveals his own misconceptions about the biology, and mainly pounds the drum on how important Faith and Religion and God are. It will be persuasive to people who are already convinced that God is the most important thing in the universe, right down to what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms, but it underscores my conviction that faith is the enemy, the source of many of our problems…such as the promotion of incompetent politicians to positions of power on the fuel of the ethereal Spirit.

Get ready. It's a whole succession of reiterated platitudes about how important faith is, with no evidence that it actually is — we are, apparently, supposed to take that on faith.

Continue reading "Sam Brownback, defender of the faith" (on Pharyngula)

Presidential candidate Sam Brownback was one of three Republican candidates who raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution.

Today he has an op-ed piece in the New York Times wherein he explains his stance. If you’re looking for something original, meaningful, or interesting, it’s not for you. It’s your standard “I’m a creationist but am too cagey to come out and say it so I’m going to dance around the issue and exude platitudes about faith…” There’s a fair chance it was ghost written by a member of the Discovery Institute. Consider this:

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

And what if evolution means what it really means, namely that various species (say, humans and great apes) share common ancestry? Brownback totally dodges that one.

The great thing about the internets though is that new-fangled things call blogs allow people to let it all out and say what they really think, the kinds of things they would never publish in the New York Times. You know, unhinged, stream-of-consciousness rantings. Things like this:

Senator Brownback is among a tiny handful of 2008 potential Presidential candidates who understand that ANNUIT COEPTIS is what makes America great. Senator Brownback’s belief in a Higher Power goes far beyond reasonable belief. We know beyond any and all possible doubt that gravity had to have come from somewhere and by inference that this “Intelligent Designer” has favored our undertakings.

Brownback apparently didn’t get the message that the “Intelligent Designer” is an unknown entity that might well be an evil space monster, because ID is not a religious belief no sir it’s not, but he’s hardly unique in that regard. Putting that aside, what the heck was that about gravity? Here it is again:

It would take a miracle from God himself to convince non-believers that patterns statistically beyond random chance that prove an “Intelligent Designer” to be behind the creation of gravity. Maybe this miracle, or series of miracles has already happened. Belief in a Higher Power taught to our school children will increase discipline in our public schools, thus increase our economy. Reasonable belief that gravity had to have come from an “Intelligent Designer” is just the kind of miracle that America needs.

Brownback is a proponent of Intelligent Falling! We knew there had to be one out there somewhere. And apparently gravity is coming in for quite a shellacking, because they’ve even created their own category for it on the blog:

Tags : Gravity, Higher Power, ID, ethics, morals

Sadly, this is the only post under “Gravity” for now.

(Cross-posted to Sunbeams from Cucumbers.)

In the comments to a post I have up at Aetiology discussing the recent XDR-TB case in the U.S.,, Scott suggested that bloggers were putting too much emphasis on whether the TB patient was stupid/arrogant/self-centered/whatever, and later that “waxing indignant is pointless.” I started this as a response to those comments, but thought instead it might be an interesting conversation to have–is such indignation pointless? Certainly indignation about this guy’s behavior won’t change what’s happened. Indignation about creationists’ abuse of science won’t make them stop or change their mind. Indeed, some would suggest that even mild rants that don’t necessarily outright insult an opponent still hurt our cause in the long run. So, does such indignation have a point? If so, what? What do you think? Feel free to comment here; I have my own thoughts on it over at Aetiology.

[Edited to add: while the TB story is what spawned this musing, don’t limit it to that…certainly we here do this a lot with creationists and science teaching/literacy in general as well, so feel free to address those topics too.]

After having retired from a university where I taught physics, I was approached by some friends who requested that I reply to a number of very popular books whose authors diligently tried to prove the compatibility of the biblical story with science. Among the writers subjected to my critique happened to be both religious preachers (like Grant Jeffrey) without any scientific credentials, and also holders of advanced degrees, sometimes from prestigious institutions, for example from MIT (Gerald Schroeder), or from some other good universities (Hugh Ross) and even professors currently teaching physics at quality universities (like Nathan Aviezer). However, there was little difference between writing of either Jeffrey or, say, Aviezer, in that both not only offered plainly fallacious arguments, but also displayed sometimes amazing lack of knowledge and understanding of even seminal concepts of science in general and physics in particular. It was easy to dismiss pseudo-arguments of, say, Schroeder, by pointing to such absurd claims as his statements that masers emit atoms, or that mass and weight are the same, or, say, by revealing the misinterpretation of probabilities by Aviezer. What credibility could be afforded their pro-biblical “arguments” if they obviously were confused about elementary facts of science and/or math?

Recently a friend wrote to me about another book written by a professional physicist, a professor of physics, thus my younger professional colleague, Stephen M. Barr, which seemed to also promote the thesis about modern science allegedly supporting faith. Unlike the likes of Schroeder or Ross, Barr seems to be indeed a well qualified scientist, with a real knowledge of modern science, and a talent for offering seemingly strong arguments in favor of his position.

Barr’s book was reviewed a number of times, mostly in religious periodicals (like First Thing) and on websites (like Metanexus) where it was acclaimed in superlative terms. The religious reviewers unanimously praised Barr’s “accessible” writing, stressed his impeccable scientific credentials and asserted that he has brilliantly proved his thesis about the supposed “fall” of “materialism” as a consequence of scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

In this review I shall discuss Barr’s opus from the standpoint of a secular scientist, thus estimating whether or not Barr’s arguments sound convincing for a skeptic.

Continue reading Non Sequitur in Five Parts at Talk Reason.

Tonight's edition of the Fox News chat show The O'Reilly Factor featured a segment on the big Creation Museum. Lawrence Krauss defended science and reason against the crazed rantings of Answers in Genesis frontman Ken Ham. Guest host John Kasich was sitting in for Bill O'Reilly. I have posted the full transcript, along with some brief remarks, over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

by Martha Heil, Editor, American Institute of Physics

Scientists fared well in national news about the opening of the Answers in Genesis Creationism exhibit. The scientific process would not recognize the proposition in the creationism exhibits as science-based, because the displays began with a certain conclusion * that the Christian Bible can be interpreted as literal fact * and then found facts and logic to support that idea. This, of course is not how science works * science begins with observations or hypotheses and leads to conclusions, often unpredictable from the beginning of the experiment.

National newspapers correctly reported that scientists are concerned about this Kentucky attraction because it misrepresents scientific thought, and uses deliberate untruths about science to make a specific point. The Washington Post, New York Times, and the country’s best selling paper, USA Today, all recognized that the displays were unscientific. The national newspapers also reported that scientists were concerned about this museum because of its potential to confuse students as to the nature of science.

Zachary Lynn, a student at Eastern Kentucky University was able to tour the $27 Million Lie before the grand opening on “family day”. (He knows the son of one of the AiG leaders.) He has posted his photos on his website. If you don’t want to wait for Prof. Steve Steve’s photos, you can go see Zachary’s.

In The Perimeter of Ignorance, Neil deGrasse Tyson, explains in no uncertain terms why Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Another practice that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet it’s fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how it works. It’s too complicated for me to figure out. It’s too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.

Most notable quote

And what comedian designer configured the region between our legs-an entertainment complex built around a sewage system?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and holds a PhD in Astrophysics and has an impressive CV

What is remarkable is how scientists come to realize more and more how ID is scientifically vacuous, as evidenced fully by its proven inability to contribute in a non-begging manner to our scientific knowledge beyond ‘poof’ and asking for more will quickly be dismissed as ‘pathetic’. Such is the life of an ID proponent…

Hat tip: Red State Rabble (watch the video)

The long-gestating and expensive monument to creationism's folly, the Creation "Museum" of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, is having its grand opening tomorrow. We've collected the blogosphere-wide reaction to this amazingly inane edifice at Pharyngula, in an article called simply The Creation Museum.

We do not take a conciliatory or encouraging view to this development.

By Martha Heil, an editor at the American Institute of Physics

Answers in Genesis, the biblical literalist ministry had a local advance opening of its young-earth creationism museum today. It claims that the museum scientifically proves the Word: that the earth was created in six days, that dinosaurs with pointy stabbing teeth ate only plants before the fall of humankind, and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. They also would not let scientists in their gates today.

Today was for the believers. Today was also a carefully orchestrated event for people who would carry their message to the citizens of the nation. A huge press conference was planned and drew reporters from all over the country. Tomorrow, in another post, we’ll look carefully at the news stories those messengers carried and see the impact that this ministry had on the conversation about a museum that purports to do science, but deliberately misleads its visitors using scientific terms and hand-picked facts.

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