June 2007 Archives

There has been controversy over a particular quote of Cheri Pierson Yecke. The Princeton (MN) Union-Eagle reported on October 9th, 2003 that Yecke had said local schools districts could teach “intelligent design”. I copied that quote in a post on my blog on August 30, 2005. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from ReputationDefenders on Yecke’s behalf asking for removal of the quote on the grounds that it was false.

Several Minnesotans have said that the position noted by the Princeton Union-Eagle was, in fact, accurate. Over on Greg Laden’s blog, “Cat’s Staff” noted that a Minnesota TV station had video of Yecke discussing the science standards. I viewed it, then transcribed the relevant part. As far as I am concerned, the Princeton Union-Eagle is vindicated in this matter; at the time that they reported, Cheri Pierson Yecke was indeed saying that teaching “intelligent design” was a decision that local school districts could undertake. Both the quote from the Princeton Union-Eagle and the subsequent criticism I made of Yecke’s position on the issue are upheld by this source.

The issue really is intelligent design and evolution and the there was language that was put in the conference committee report that accompanied the no child left behind act that said you know students should be exposed to all sides of a controversial issue. […] And it is well understood now that this is a decision that would be made by local school boards and not the state.

Continue reading at the Austringer.

A rather unsavory character, Dr Johannes Lerle, was jailed in Germany for violating their laws against neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial. I discussed this earlier this week, and as Gerard Harbison and Andrew Brown have recently pointed out, he was not a very nice man at all…a bit of a kook, really.

For dinner this evening RPM over at evolgen organized a science bloggers dinner. Prof. Steve Steve and I managed to make it. (Of course, Steve Steve is just happy that he is not stuck in the AA system anymore.) On the suggestion (direction?) of John Logsdon we headed to il Mercato for some lovely Italian food. I had seafood spaghettini, and it was mm—mm—good.

At the end of dinner the waitress was nice enough to take a group picture.

smbe07.jpg

Back: John Logsdon Jason Stajich RPM Julius Lucks Reed Cartwright Prof. Steve Steve Rosie Redfield ?

Front: Jacob Tennessen ? ?

I’ll post names and urls of people as people claim themselves in comments.

2007-07_NG_cover.jpgGiven that malaria is more or less the preeminent case of intelligent design in Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, I think everyone would find it interesting to read the July 2007 cover story of National Geographic, which is on malaria and the history of attempts, failures, and hopes of eradicating it. The story focuses on Zambia, where the infection rates are sometimes over 100% (i.e., people are infected more than once a year). I have a somewhat personal interest in this since when I was seven my family went to Zambia for a year, as my dad was on sabbatical. We all took chloroquine weekly – a nasty-tasting drug to a seven-year old, mind you. And despite religiously taking the nasty-tasting drug, I got malaria in the end anyway (the chloroquine-resistant kind, naturally), came down with it on the plane ride back to the states, and then, sick as a dog, I was paraded around undiagnosed before baffled American doctors who had never seen malaria, until someone had the bright idea that maybe I had picked up the most common disease in Africa. More nasty medicine cured it, but that was an early lesson in evolution for me, let me tell you.

The Supreme Court today issued an important decision addressing when taxpayers may sue government for spending taxpayer money in ways that support religious groups. The Justices had been urged to overrule a long-standing case that gave taxpayers unique power to sue the government in such cases, and they did not; but they did sharply restrict the ability to challenge such expenditures in ways that may have a major impact in future cases addressing the conflict between creationism and evolution education. The case is Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., and you can read it online here.

First the background:

AdamandSteveStevesmaller.png

On June 17, I had the opportunity to return to Ken Ham’s House of (take your pick - Horrors, Thrills, Bible Stories) and really poke around the place. My friends Jason, Tara, and Wesley were there, along with some other great folk. I really learned a lot from the place, and I thought I would share some of my adventures with readers. Let’s take a look. (Warning - lots of images below the fold, may load slowly, especially for dial-up connections.)

Dembski versus Europe

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Logo130X120.jpgAfter lamenting the honorary degree bestowed on Judge Jones, Dembski has set his sights on the Council of Europe who recently released a working document

The theory of evolution is being attacked by religious fundamentalists who call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of it. From a scientific view point there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth.

Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes.

The Assembly calls on education authorities in member States to promote scientific knowledge and the teaching of evolution and to oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline.

Dembski was not amused:

Dembski Wrote:

The Council of Europe may justly be renamed as “The European Council for the Advancement of Atheism.” To believe in a God who acts in the world (aka theism) henceforward constitutes “religious extremism.” It will be interesting to see at what point advocacy of ID is regarded in Europe as a “hate crime” against … science? … society? … humanity?

This just after the Discovery Institute were touting the ‘expansion’ of ID into Europe. What has gone wrong?

As a side note, the term religious terrorism was used in the statement but in a rather different context. And neither does the proposal mention that the advocacy of ID is seen as a hate crime as the document is about the dangers of creationism (which includes ID) in education.

Given all of the recent ignorant yammering about “junk DNA” on the Discovery Institute’s blog and other ID blogs – unfortunately partially derived from a fair bit of ignorant yammering in the science media on the same topic – I think it is worth it to post a very simple and insightful post from April 2007 by T. Ryan Gregory entitled “The Onion Test.” Gregory is a professor at the University of Guelph and runs genomesize.org, an online database of animal genome sizes. He has recently become one heck of science blogger (at Genomicron) and has been doing a yeoman’s job of attempting to explain patiently and calmly to the world what the real scientific issues are with genome size, the “junk DNA” concept, and the problems with the ubiquitous-but-bogus storyline about junk DNA. Said ubiquitous-but-bogus storyline goes something like this: “Scientists have found that junk DNA is functional! Weren’t scientists (er, other scientists) stupid to think it was junk! What morons! Three cheers for our pet idea, which is that junk DNA does X.” ID advocates, who don’t even have an “X”, repeat the story but instead just riff off the vague idea that someone somewhere has explained what the function of “junk DNA” is, have played this storyline for all it’s worth, adding a completely vapid “We told you so!” on top of it.

For a dose of reality, I recommend that everyone read Gregory’s Onion Test. I quote it below for your convenience.

A correction to the paper by Liu & Ochman, “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system,” was just published in PNAS. PT readers will recall that I and others had many problems with the methods and conclusions of this paper (see PT posts 1, 2, 3 for commentary and 4 for comprehensive links). The correction and brief comments are below.

A new ID book, a new selection of yummy delicious quote-mines to ponder. EoE offers up quite the little smorgasbord. Over at EvolutionBlog I analyze a tediously commonplace example of Behe not merely removing a quotation from its proper context, but actually deleting part of it to give a false impression of its meaning. Behe has done this before, as I also discuss. Comments can be left there.

I was back in Ohio last week to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. While I was in the area, a number of the PT regulars also met up south of Cincinnati to take our own tour of Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum. (Wesley has a picture of the group here; I’ll also try to scan in another “official” picture tomorrow).

My brain still hurts. My thoughts on everything over at Aetiology (with photos, of course).

The Hobbit on Darwin Day

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A few months ago I attended a talk by Professor Colin Groves of the Australian National University: ‘An update on Homo floresiensis, a.k.a. the “Hobbit”’ (available on YouTube in seven installments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). As is well known, there has been an unusually bitter scientific debate over the last couple of years as to whether the hobbit is indeed a new species, or just a small microcephalic human. The term ‘microcephaly’ covers a range of conditions which cause unusually small brain sizes. (Disclaimer: Groves is not a disinterested participant in this debate, having coauthored a paper which argues against the microcephalic interpretation.) Groves went over a long list of unusual features of the hobbit. The limb bone ratios are unlike those of any apes or humans. They are also very robust: in spite of their small size, hobbits would have been remarkably strong. The arms are too long for humans, and they had unusually large feet (like Tolkien’s hobbits!). The lower jaw lacks a chin, a feature found in all humans (even people who look chinless), and that is also true of a second jaw which has been found. The upper end of the humerus has a twist not found in modern humans, but which was then found in the Turkana Boy Homo erectus/ergaster skeleton once it was looked for. Groves’ conclusion: all of these features make it overwhelmingly unlikely that the hobbit was just a small microcephalic human.

In the question time afterwards, I asked Groves whether the scientific community was coming to any consensus about the hobbit.

Tangled Bank #82

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The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is available at gregladen.com, but don't give Greg any credit for it. It's written by some guy named Derwin Darwin II; Laden is probably slacking off at the lake, fishing.

On Uncommon Descent Luskin asks Ayala the following question:

How would dual coding genes, which are nearly impossible to arise by chance, evolve via Darwinian processes?

Luskin “argues” that

Leading evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala recently wrote in Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that “Chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process.” Ayala then explained why he thinks Darwinian evolution is right and ID is wrong: “Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of preconceived design. The design of organisms is not intelligent but imperfect and, at times, outright dysfunctional.” (“Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer,” PNAS, 104:8567–8573 (May 15, 2007), emphasis added.) This questionable standard and conclusion is Ayala’s punchline against ID.

Ignoring for a moment the empty rhetoric of Luskin, let’s explore how Ayala may answer the question. Oh wait…

Let’s Talk Junk

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So-called “junk DNA” has been much the buzz lately. A recent (and outstandingly lousy) Wired magazine article on the topic uncritically printed assertions by the Discovery Institute’s lead hack Stephen Meyer that the discovery that some regions of DNA once thought to be functionless do have functions is, “a confirmation of a natural empirical prediction or expectation of the theory of intelligent design, and it disconfirms the neo-Darwinian hypothesis,” The author of the Wired article does not provide us with any explanation of how ID “theory” made that prediction, but a more recent article at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division does.

The basis for this astounding prediction (yes, I am using “astounding” sarcastically) is actually pretty simple, as Casey Luskin explains. “[D]esign theorists,” he tells us, “recognize that ‘Intelligent agents typically create functional things.’” That’s right. We can predict that noncoding DNA has some sort of function for the animal because we know that designers usually design functional things. If you have paid any sort of attention to what Intelligent Design proponents have said over the years, I should probably apologize to your next of kin, because there’s a pretty good chance that your head just exploded.

For the survivors, here’s why the sheer chutzpah of Casey’s assertion is enough to cause neurological overload.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Over at Uncommon Descent, Dembski wonders how the NCSE will deal with "the growing number of non-religious ID proponents" and links to this blog which is something called ICON-RIDS "an international coalition of non-religious ID scientists & scholars." Turns out ICON-RIDS is a one-man coalition, and that the man in question is an "ID Pleasurian ... a non-religious amalgam of ID science and Hefnerian Playboy philosophy."

Read more at Stranger Fruit, where comments can be made.

Altruism: Even Plants Can Do It

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A recent paper (free access) by Associate Professor Susan Dudley, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters argues that some plants recognize their kin.

Kin recognition is important in animal social systems. However, though plants often compete with kin, there has been as yet no direct evidence that plants recognize kin in competitive interactions. Here we show in the annual plant Cakile edentula, allocation to roots increased when groups of strangers shared a common pot, but not when groups of siblings shared a pot. Our results demonstrate that plants can discriminate kin in competitive interactions and indicate that the root interactions may provide the cue for kin recognition. Because greater root allocation is argued to increase below-ground competitive ability, the results are consistent with kin selection.

Although it were gardeners who knew this all along:

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin contends in this post that librarians in public schools are “censoring” Intelligent Design by refusing to put copies of Michael Behe and Philip Johnson books on their shelves. Of course, Luskin cites the famous Supreme Court decision Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), claiming that it holds that the First Amendment is violated when school districts refuse to stock certain books on their library shelves.

As y’all know, a frequent topic of conversation here is communicating science to the public. While many of us do it directly via sites such as this one, the bulk of science writing that the public will read is done by the pros–people writing for the magazines and newspapers, among other outlets. Often, their stories include interviews with research scientists. However, we’re not always so easy to get in touch with, and we blow reporters off altogether–apparently, pretty frequently.

On a listserv I subscribe to, there recently was a discussion amongst writers regarding how to get academics (and business-types; don’t feel the question is limited *only* to academics) to respond to interview requests. However, given the wording of the question and some of the responses, I think the question itself highlighted a bit of the gulf between journalists and academics, so I’m putting some of my own thoughts on why academics don’t respond first at Aetiology (and particularly when they are at conferences or on business travel, which was the topic of one comment), and I welcome any suggestions you have on how you prefer to be contacted–and what might improve response rates for writers. (It would be great if any writers out there added their additional comments as well–imagine, a dialogue!…)

Science journalism is a business filled with a few bright shining stars standing amidst a lot of writers whose stars are… let’s just say, they don’t shine as bright. Concerning the latter, there is a recent article in Wired magazine titled, One Scientist’s Junk Is a Creationist’s Treasure. It’s your standard attempt at journalistic “balance” that puts crackpots on an equal playing field with actual scientists whose work the former group misrepresents. There’s no excuse for this when a little background knowledge and a little more attention to what the real scientists are saying should show why the creationists are spouting nonsense.

As the title should tell you, the article has to do with so-called “junk DNA” and a recent paper concerning the opossum (Monodelphus domestica) genome. The authors of the paper found that a small fraction of transposable elements shared by the opossum and human genomes appear to contribute to host fitness, apparently by contributing to gene regulation. (Update: That particular paper isn’t involved with the opossum genome project; the conserved sequences are found within “boreoeutherians” which include primates, rodents, and carnivores – not the opossum.) This is a highly interesting if not exactly Earth shattering find.

Unfortunately, every time a new study comes along showing that some small fraction of so-called “junk DNA” turns out the have a function, the ID people do a strange sort of victory dance, as if this somehow proves that they’ve been right all along. In fact this is starting to become a frequent talking point with them. As with most creationists myths it’s taken on a life of its own, and I’m sure we’ll see it wandering around like a zombie for years to come in spite of the fact that it was DOA from the get-go. The new paper of course doesn’t support ID by any stretch of the imagination, nor do any recent findings concerning junk DNA, but the author of the Wired piece, Catherine Shaffer, just credulously repeats claims made by Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer as if they had some measure of legitimacy. Which is why it’s got Paul Nelson crowing about it. Below I will do the work that Shaffer didn’t and explain just how wrong these guys are.

Behe Blows It (in other news, dog bites man)

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The iconic image of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania was Michael Behe sitting on the witness stand, a pile of papers and book chapters on the evolution of the vertebrate immune system on his lap, steadfastly denying the existence of research on the evolution of the vertebrate immune system. In his new book, The Edge of Evolution, Behe continues his practiced denial, minimizing or ignoring a pile of research in order to maintain his claim that evolution can’t produce this or that biological structure because it is “irreducibly complex”. While I didn’t get a review copy, I know a friendly bookstore owner who encourages customers to read in the store.

I will leave it to others to evaluate Behe’s claims about the various specific biological systems (and many have: see Science after Sunclipse for a complete listing). I will return to a piece of research that demonstrates that Behe’s conception of how evolutionary processes produce complicated structures is amazingly over-simplified and empirically false, and that his conception of what evolutionary processes are capable of is pure caricature.

Mark Chu-Carroll has already dissected Behe’s misuse of probability and his utter ignorance of the properties of high-dimensioned and plastic fitness landscapes and ERV nicely illustrates the point. As Nick Matzke has remarked,

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.

Mark analyzed Behe’s argument from teeny-weeny numbers, showing that it is based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the topography of fitness landscapes and the supposed inability of evolving populations to escape from local maxima. I’ll show that Mark’s analysis has empirical corroboration – Behe’s probability model generates wholly absurd results. In addition, I’ll describe data, some of it from new analyses, that flatly contradict Behe’s claims about what evolutionary mechanisms allegedly cannot do. To put it in the most direct terms possible, Behe is either ignorant or actively ignores evidence that contradicts his fundamental assumption about what evolutionary mechanisms can do. I’ll show that in addition to producing entities that are irreducibly complex by Behe’s original Darwin’s Black Box definition, computer models of evolution also produce those entities via evolutionary pathways that are irreducibly complex by Behe’s second so-called “evolutionary” definition, pathways that contain multiple unselected mutational steps. Neutrality lives! Then I’ll make a few remarks on Behe’s probability calculations in the light of computer evolutionary simulation runs, and make a few remarks on Behe’s notion of fitness landscapes.

More below the fold.

Reed Cartwright just forwarded me (and a few others) an email that was just sent out to an evolutionary biology mailing list. I’m going to quote it in full below. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the technical terms in there - you don’t need to know what Bayesian methods are, or how they’re used in phylogenetics, or even what phylogenetics is to understand why this email is important, and why all concerned should be proud of themselves.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

featured in openlab 2006

The OpenLab 2006 has been reviewed for Nature by nuclear physicist and PT reader Paul Stevenson: “Blogger’s Unite.” (Don’t miss the editor’s summary as well: “Brought to blook”).

The review is pretty positive for something that was put together at the last moment using material that wasn’t made for print media.

The entries highlight the great variety of styles that can thrive in the blogosphere. Most of the pieces are a little chattier than the usual book or magazine article, but those chosen are formal enough not to grate on the printed page. Occasionally, the prose is loftier than a typical popular science book. Some even veer too much towards the tone of a research article — leaving terms like suprachiasmatic nucleus or a zygomaticomaxillary suture unexplained.

The book works well enough as a standalone anthology of science writing, but I share the editor’s hope that it will prompt eager print readers hitherto unfamiliar with the vibrant young medium that is science blogging to have a look, and maybe even have a go.

I am serving as the editor for the 2007 edition and Bora serves as series editor. As the Nature review mentions, we are already accepting nominations for next year. Click the image below to submit something. We’ll probably be making an early cut in July, so get your favorite posts from the first half of the year in.

Openlab 2007

Note that you can put this banner on your own blog.

(Hat Tip: Neurophilosophy)

Jason Rosenhouse has already noted that Tom Woodward opined that "in the next six to twelve months, Darwinism will go into a steep nose dive as the result of Behe’s new book." How is this "tremendously important" book going to change the landscape of ID? Early indications appear to say ... not at all.

Read more at Stranger Fruit where comments can be left.

Jerry Coyne educates Behe about a few common misconceptions about evolution and shows why Intelligent Design, especially ‘at the edge’ is fully scientifically vacuous.

Coyne reviews Behe’s latest book ‘the Edge of evolution’ and like many before him finds the book unconvincing and ‘rather pathetic’.

What has Behe now found to resurrect his campaign for ID? It’s rather pathetic, really. Basically, he now admits that almost the entire edifice of evolutionary theory is true: evolution, natural selection, common ancestry. His one novel claim is that the genetic variation that fuels natural selection–mutation–is produced not by random changes in DNA, as evolutionists maintain, but by an Intelligent Designer. That is, he sees God as the Great Mutator.

Egnor and ignorance

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Egnor Wrote:

It’s clear that Dr. Gonzalez was denied tenure for only one reason: he stated publicly that he believes there is evidence for design in the universe. As I observed in a previous post about Georges Lemitare, the Catholic priest who is the father of the Big Bang theory, many of the most prominent astronomers in history have shared Dr. Gonzalez’s opinion about the evidence for design in the universe. Nowadays, it is very dangerous to state such beliefs in science departments of many universities, including Iowa State University.

In spite of the evidence to the contrary, the Discovery Institute insists that Gonzalez was denied tenure for believing that there is design in the universe. Even Hauptman was clear that it was not an issue of belief but an issue of science and that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Hauptman Wrote:

Intelligent design is not even a theory. It has not made its first prediction, nor suffered its first test by measurement. Its proponents can call it anything they like, but it is not science.

and

Hauptman Wrote:

I believe the comment that somehow this decision had something to do with the feelings of the community was also reprehensible, as are statements that this tenure decision is a denial of free speech.

It is purely a question of what is science and what is not, and a physics department is not obligated to support notions that do not even begin to meet scientific standards.

Source: Des Moines Register: Rights are intact: Vote turns on question, ‘What is science?’ John Hauptman, letter to the editor, June 2, 2007

In other words, its all about the science not the belief.

There’s a very interesting post on the Newsweek blog by science journalist Sharon Begley about the existence of genes for synapses in the sea sponge, which has no need for such structures. Begley is discussing an article in PLoS One that found that the same genes that code for synapses are present in sea sponges, one of the most primitive multicellular organisms on the planet, which have no nervous system and therefore no need for synapses.

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

You may have noticed that the Montana Law Review let the DI folks have the last word in their symposium on the Dover trial; I’m going to fix that. Pete Irons has graciously sent me his full reply to the “rebuttal” written by Luskin, West and DeWolf and given me permission to post it here. The first article can be found here. Irons’ first reply is found here. The DI’s response is found here. You can read Irons’ final reply to their rebuttal, go to Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

In more news of the weird concerning the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, it seems that the actor who played “Adam” in one of the museum’s videos has had other scantily-clad appearances. Eric Linden is the owner and sometime star of a pornographic website, “Bedroom Acrobat”. Linden’s reply when asked about this was:

Linden tells the AP that he is no longer affiliated with the site.

A check of “whois”, though, says otherwise:

I've managed to accumulate a small collection of reviews of parts of Michael Behe's new and horribly awful book, The Edge of Evolution, over on Pharyngula, so here's a listing of links to those various pieces.

Science after Sunclipse also has an extensive list of links to reviews other than those at Pharyngula, so if you want a complete takedown, that's the place to start.

The latest at Pharyngula, just added this afternoon, is a discussion of chapter 9, in which Behe dismisses evo-devo. I'll also recommend Sean Carroll's review of the book — poor Behe may be game, but he's outmatched.

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Welcome Back

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We’re back from the dead, having pressed our new server into action earlier than expected. The back end is now running again after we handled having the existing PT site and the new site—it’s still secret—running on the same server.

See Wesley’s note on ATBC about what happened and what changes we’ve made.

Here is a teaser of the new site:

neuvo-tease.jpg

The Answers in Genesis world, that is. That is the impression you clearly get from the 40-page Briese Report posted on the Briese Committee website of Creation Ministries International, formerly known as AiG-Australia, until (according to the Briese Report) a number of amazing/suspicious/incredible events occurred that basically amounted to Ken Ham’s AiG-USA taking over the name, copyrighted content, and mailing lists of AiG Australia. The report makes you realize some things about modern creationism: (1) It’s a big business and the money comes from the subscribers to publications and the speaking tours to fundamentalist churches; (2) thus, economic competition between groups for limited resource of audiences and subscribers is very real; and (3) Ken Ham knows these facts very well, and according to the Briese Report he has twisted a lot of arms to make sure AiG-USA stays on top. I have not been able to find a response from AiG-USA, if anyone finds something please post it.

The Montana Law Review symposium on the Kitzmiller decision has been posted on line. It includes an article by the DI’s David De Wolf, John West, and Casey Luskin, then a masterful response by Peter Irons, then a rebuttal to that by De Wolf, et al. There’s little here that Thumb readers won’t already know—although it’s always nice to see an article like Irons’, which not only makes all the right points, but does so in a wonderfully readable, non-technical style. We’ve responded at length to the DI’s accusation that the Kitzmiller decision is an “activist” decision, but I did want to say a bit more on this. (It appears on pp. 14-17 of the first De Wolf, et al., article.)

Afarensis says that it was actually Polynesians who must have brought chickens to South America in pre-Columbian times, but obviously he and the researchers he cites are unaware of the famed Seafaring Sea Chickens of Tonga who explored the planet well ahead of the Polynesians.

Dover: The Sequel?

It appears that we may be set to begin principal shooting on Dover: The Sequel, this time in Virginia. There has been some uproar in the Chesterfield County School District lately, where the school board has been in the process of ordering new science textbooks and has been under pressure from some in the community to incorporate teaching about intelligent design along with evolution in those classes. The Chesterfield Observer reports on what happened at recent school board meetings in this regard:

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

Well, my own personal copy of Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution arrived via amazon.com today, so I suppose it is fair game. I have linked to a few early blog comments (see more from ERV), and Michael Ruse has a short newspaper comment out today. And several other reviews are coming out in the near future in Science, Discover, etc. None of them positive at all, but it’s amazing how much attention someone can get by sacrificing scientific rigour and inserting divine intervention instead.

I don’t have a full review of the book and I won’t for a bit since I am working on other things. But I want to get dibs on one peripheral but particularly shocking and egregious error that Behe makes in The Edge of Evolution. The error is simple but it points to what I have become convinced is the true core of the mishmash known as “intelligent design”: sloppiness and wishful thinking.

What a delightful and well deserved development! The Australian sister organization to Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis is hammering him with a nasty lawsuit.

The Brisbane-based Creation Ministries International has filed a lawsuit in Queensland's Supreme Court against Mr Ham and his Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis ministry seeking damages and accusing him of deceptive conduct in his dealings with the Australian organisation.

The suit focuses on a dispute over the Australian organisation's production of a creationist magazine, sold in the US to more than 35,000 subscribers, and has led to revelations about the three-year battle between the two ministries.

A 40-page report, written by Mr Briese and obtained by The Australian, reveals a bitter power struggle across the Pacific that began with a challenge to the power Mr Ham allegedly wielded over the ministries.

I honestly don't care who wins. The ideal conclusion will be that of the Kilkenny cats: mutual self-destruction.

Best Behe takedown *ever*

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So I guess DaveScot and Dembski didn’t like Mark Chu-Carroll’s critique (which I linked to) of Behe’s usage of fitness landscape concepts in The Edge of Evolution.

Well, if anyone is still having trouble getting it, check out Good Virus, Bad Creationist at the blog ERV. The reason I say it’s the best Behe critique ever is the style. L.O.L.

PS: And watch out for ERV. She’s clearly going to run the planet someday, or at least the NIH.

pluteus.jpg

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):

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