January 2008 Archives

Determining where a genome has been produced or altered by an intelligent designer is a matter of some importance. Consider the claims that the HIV virus was engineered as a biowarfare weapon, or the concern that virulence genes from other organisms could be inserted into viruses and bacteria to “weaponise” them. For example the engineered mouse pox virus that turned lethal (Nature. 2001 May 17;411(6835):232-5 see also Nat Genet. 2001 Nov;29(3):253-6) and limits on the sequencing of the 1918 strain of the flu to stop flu from being weaponised (Fed Regist. 2005 Oct 20;70(202):61047-9,). A method that could reliably detect the action of human intelligent design in the genomes of microorganisms would be of significant advantage.

Thus we issue the “Intelligent Design Challenge”. Below the fold are 6 gene sequences. At least one of them has been produced by a human designer. All you have to do is to determine which one(s) have been acted on, what the designed sequence does, and explain the method you used to determine this (in sufficient detail to replicate your determination eg. if you used an approximation of Chaitin information, a brief description of the algorithm you used).

I’ve re-written the contest rules slightly as some people were confused as to what designer they were supposed to detect.

To win, you have to:

1) Identify which sequences have been produced by a human designer
2) Describe how you identified the sequence as being designed (eg. I used PKZip to compress the sequences as an approximation of Chaitin information and ordered the output according to the following criteria etc. etc.)
3) Describe what the sequence does (eg. “This is the active site of a triose phosphate isomerise engineered into a riboprotein – this due to the catalytic triad signature” real example BTW: this isn’t as hard as it sounds once you have the designed sequences)

Obviously, the groups who produced these sequences are not eligible to enter, and if you walked down the corridor and asked the groups who produced these sequences what they did, you are also not eligible. You need to have done some actual work related to the sequences presented here. Simply looking up all journal references to “designed sequences” in Pubmed doesn’t count (obviously this is all public domain, I’m not going to release the engineered killer mousepox virus sequence am I).

If you are in an emergency ward, trying to discover if the superflu screaming through the population is a bioweapon, you won’t find the answer that way. And you won’t have the luxury of having a full viral sequence to BLAST against known genes [thus discovering that the M2 ion channel had been replaced with the amandatine-insensitive Vpu ion channel, so that your antiviral drugs won’t work], but short sequences like the ones above.

Remember, in a real biowarfare situation, everyone will be short of time and resources. A simple, reliable procedure to determine if a sequence has been human-engineered is of the utmost importance.

So, in the spirit of the Robot Soccer Challenge and the NASA Spacecraft Challenge, look at the sequences below the fold and off you go.

The first successful determination of the designed sequence(s) and their function will win a copy of OpenLab 2007.

Comments will be will be opened for your entries at 10:30 pm Australian Central Daylight Saving Time (GMT +10:30), 1 February.

The comments are now live, write in your entries. The first correct answer fulfilling the conditions will receive a copy of OpenLab 2007. As tonight is my sons’ birthday, and I have an occultation to observe as well, don’t expect much input from me for a while.

Reason And Common Ground

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My article “Reason And Common Ground: A Response to the Creationists’ ‘Neutrality’ Argument” will appear in the next issue of the Chapman Law Review, which subscribers should receive in the mail in a week or so. You can download it on SSRN. The article is a reply to a creationist article that the Chapman Law Review published last year, entitled “Evolution, Science, And Ideology: Why The Establishment Clause Requires Neutrality in Science Classes,” by Stephen W. Trask.

Read an excerpt from the opening of my article at Freespace

The title says it all.

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Roger Ehrenberg dissects Ben Stein’s shaky grasp of markets in “How to Lie With Statistics” a/k/a Ben Stein’s Modus Operandi. So Stein’s an Evil Darwinist Conspiracy theorist and an Evil Traders Conspiracy theorist. I wonder if he’s an HIV denialist or a global warming “skeptic” to complete a woo trifecta.

Michael Shermer of Scientific American fame has a new book out (which will be arriving in the mail soon, I hope) about evolution and economics, called The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, And Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics. His theme is how the market, like evolution, is a process of spontaneous order—a “self-organized emergent order.” He read an excerpt from the book and commented on it at the Cato Institute this month, and here’s a video excerpt from that talk. You can watch the entire event here.

One thing that really pisses me off is when lawyers abuse their status as lawyers to frighten people without justification. Casey Luskin, whose ignorance and intellectual dishonesty have been repeatedly documented on Panda’s Thumb and elsewhere, did this in a particularly amusing way, as S.A. Smith of the ERV blog points out: suddenly, it appears, an ID spokesman is worried about copyright infringement.

Read the rest at Freespace…

Epistasis, neutrality and evolvability

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Some may know that one of my ‘hobby’ aspects of evolution involves the evolution of evolution, aka evolvability and how neutrality is a necessary requirement for evolvability. Let’s walk through an example which helps explain my position.

I will use a recent paper by Andreas Wagner “Hypothesis: Robustness, evolvability, and neutrality” FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 1772–1778

Our friend Abigail Smith aka ERV provides us with an entertaining posting about who else but Behe

Remember Behe’s crusade for Intelligent Design at KKMS 980AM, a Christian radio station?

For those who cannot stand the torture of listening to Michael Behe making claims that science can reliably detect ‘design’, let’s first explain what exactly Intelligent Design is all about and reject ID’s hollow claims.

Very early this morning, the Discovery Institute’s Rob Crowther posted an article over at the DI’s “why’s everyone always picking on us” blog. I’m not exactly sure what inspired Rob to get some work done late on a Saturday night, but the result is an article that’s so chock full of hysterically absurd misrepresentations and bizarre claims that it’s impossible to resist the urge to comment.

The apparent cause for Rob’s rant was his displeasure with an op-ed that was published in the Austin American-Statesman on Friday. The op-ed was written by the past-president, president, and president-elect of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas, on behalf of the entire Board of Directors of the organization. In the op-ed, they noted that recent events in Texas have caused many scientists in the state to become more concerned about attacks on science education, and stated that the position of their organization is that Intelligent Design is not science, and should not be taught as such. The authors’ position is clearly stated and their tone is reasonable. That’s what I thought when I read it, anyway.

Rob Crowther disagrees. In fact, he thinks that the authors of the op-ed compared the Intelligent Design movement to Nazis. His reasoning is so completely and utterly insane that it defies the imagination.

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

Evolution Weekend has approximately 750 participants from 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 9 other nations; last year, Evolution Sunday garnered a bit over 600 participants (see my earlier posting at http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]sunda-3.html ). Here, for anyone willing to help publicize Evolution Weekend, is part of an e-mail I received from the organizer, Michael Zimmerman:

By way of GrrlScientist, I notice that Fieldiana (the journal of the Field Museum is now freely available online. For us here at the Panda’s Thumb, it means that DD Davis’ classic study “The giant panda: a morphological study of evolutionary mechanisms” of 1964 can now be enjoyed by one and all. Over three hundred pages, detailing everything you’d want to know about giant panda morphology. Steve Steve urges you all to check it out!

Florida Citizens for Science have posted another article showing what is the real motivations behind the opposition to the Florida science standards.

Norris, who is also a Lutheran minister, has stated that evolution should not be taught as fact and that students should be able to discuss creationism in class.

School Board Vice Chairman Andy Tuck said Thursday, “as a person of faith, I strongly oppose any study of evolution as fact at all. I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory.

Help us educate these school boards. They seem to be confused that the standards call evolution a fact when it doesn’t. They also seem to believe that there may be competing theories of evolution; there are none.

And keep those postings coming, as they are documenting a clear religious component to the resolutions passed.

Zimmer and Shubin on Tiktaalik

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Zimmer interviews Shubin on Bloggingheads discussing how Tiktaalik was correctly predicted and eventually found by the researchers. The video which lasts over 50 minutes discusses many aspects of the find and also touches on Dover. Remember that Dover involved a creationist book called Of Pandas And People which implied that fossils like Tiktaalik had never been found and likely would never have been found.

Another gap closed.

Enjoy the video.

flantievolutionr2un4.jpg Latest Count

Confirmed in support of science (1)
Unknown (46)
On Watch List (8)
Anti Science Resolution Passed (6)
Resolution on future Agenda (5)

Highlands County
Educate a school board
school board contact information

Norris, who is also a Lutheran minister, has stated
that evolution should not be taught as fact and that
students should be able to discuss creationism in class.

Source


Washington County joins the list
Madison County joins the list
Three new additions: Jackson County, Nassau County, and Putnam county. More on this below the fold

green_bullet.jpgBrevard County first to reach green status

The St Petersburg Times has another great article on what the school boards really mean when they want to teach alternative theories.

Evolution is “going to be taught as fact, and everyone knows it’s not fact,” said Dennis Bennett, the superintendent in Dixie County, west of Gainesville. “There’s holes in it you can drive a truck through.

Those amazing slime moulds

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Philip Ball reports in Nature on new findings that show how the slime mo[u]ld can anticipate periodic events.

The actual paper is published as Amoebae Anticipate Periodic Events in Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 018101 (2008) by authors Tetsu Saigusa, Atsushi Tero, Toshiyuki Nakagaki and Yoshiki Kuramoto

Abstract:

When plasmodia of the true slime mold Physarum were exposed to unfavorable conditions presented as three consecutive pulses at constant intervals, they reduced their locomotive speed in response to each episode. When the plasmodia were subsequently subjected to favorable conditions, they spontaneously reduced their locomotive speed at the time when the next unfavorable episode would have occurred. This implied the anticipation of impending environmental change. We explored the mechanisms underlying these types of behavior from a dynamical systems perspective.

Buy The Open Laboratory 2007

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OpenLab07-cover-adj.jpg

For more information, see what Bora and I have written.

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers shows how Intelligent Design continues to be a scientifically vacuous concept.

Desperate to show that evolution can be detrimental to scientific inquiry, ID proponents have been arguing not only that junk dna was a prediction by ID, a statement which is logically flawed, but also that evolution and particularly Darwinism was the reason why people called non-coding DNA and pseudogenes ‘junk’.

The latter assertion has been more than once corrected on this blog but it seems that ID remains dogmatic in its claims, unable to learn from its own mistakes.

The same applies to the creationist understanding of the meaning of vestigial which they somehow believe to be equivalent to ‘no function’.

Wikipedia explains:

Vestigiality describes homologous characters of organisms which have lost all or most of their original function in a species through evolution.

Original function…

Over at the Discovery Institute’s blog, Rob Crowther is playing up the “Dissent from Darwinism” list. Again. The list is nothing new. They’ve been working on it for several years now, and have managed to accumulate “over 700” signatures from around the world. Given the number of scientists on the planet, and the degree to which the DI folks have relaxed their definition of “scientist”, it’s hardly a stellar performance on their part. As much as I’d like to ignore the list for being the laughable public relations gimmick that it is, I’m not going to this time. Crowther managed to punch one of my buttons with his latest attempt to describe the reasons that people sign this list:

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left:

Florida Citizens for Science presents us with yet another newspaper editorial supporting science, making the count at least 11.

They also remind us that

This is a reminder that the Nassau County school board will be meeting tomorrow (Thursday), and one item on the agenda is an anti-evolution resolution. If you are in the area, please attend.

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the School Board District Office, 1201 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034 (Map). (904) 491-9900. Here is contact information for the school board members.

Tangled Bank #97

Wired‘s blog has a post by Brandon Keim on the situation in Florida. Andrew Coulson offers some further thoughts.

Discovery Magazine reports on a continuation of experiments involving evolvable robots, communication and concepts such as altruistic cooperation and lying.

By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

Some robots, though, were veritable heroes. They signaled danger and died to save other robots. “Sometimes,” Floreano says, “you see that in nature—an animal that emits a cry when it sees a predator; it gets eaten, and the others get away—but I never expected to see this in robots.”

Fascinating how simple processes of variation and selection can explain the evolution of altruism, cooperation as well as cheating. What has ID done recently that increases our understanding of how cooperation, cheating and altruism arose?

Nothing really

FSU prof: Gibbs memo is ‘hollow threat’

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Remember the memorandum by Gibbs III ‘arguing’ that teaching evolution as a foundational principle for biology would violate the establishment clause?

As reported by our diligent friends at Florida Citizens for Science, FSU law Professor Steven G. Gey, a leading scholar on religious liberty issues calls this a hollow threat. Grey’s full comments can be found here.

In the mean time, enjoy the following excerpt

Does science disprove religion?

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Does science disprove religion?

Again, the National Academy of Sciences is clear with a resounding no. Although, religion can be foolish enough to make claims which are at odds with scientific facts by rejecting scientific findings and methods, science can only address these minor concepts of religion while it remains unable to address the larger issue of ‘is there a God”.

Science can neither prove nor disprove religion. Scientific advances have called some religious beliefs into question, such as the ideas that the Earth was created very recently, that the Sun goes around the Earth, and that mental illness is due to possession by spirits or demons. But many religious beliefs involve entities or ideas that currently are not within the domain of science. Thus, it would be false to assume that all religious beliefs can be challenged by scientific findings.

As science continues to advance, it will produce more complete and more accurate explanations for natural phenomena, including a deeper understanding of biological evolution. Both science and religion are weakened by claims that something not yet explained scientifically must be attributed to a supernatural deity.

Theologians have pointed out that as scientific knowledge about phenomena that had been previously attributed to supernatural causes increases, a “god of the gaps” approach can undermine faith. Furthermore, it confuses the roles of science and religion by attributing explanations to one that belong in the domain of the other.

Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies have increased their awe and understanding of a creator (see the “Additional Readings” section). The study of science need not lessen or compromise faith.

Evolution: A fact and a theory

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Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?

In a recent book titled “Science, Evolution, and Creationism”, the Committee on Revising Science and Creationism (A View from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies), explains why evolution is both a fact and a theory. Although these distinctions have caused much confusion amongst creationists who insist that we teach alternative theories of evolution, the simple fact is that there exist no alternative theories. And while a skeptic attitude is important in science, skepticism is reduced when the facts end up supporting the theory time after time and when the theory can be used to make successful predictions.

David Gibbs III has released a second document which was sent to the Florida State Board of Eduction ‘suggesting’ that teaching evolutionary theory would have a negative impact on religious faith and thus would violate the establishment clause.

More on the document later since it presents some claims from Kenneth Miller’s book which I feel are taken out of context.

Does ID Predict Anything?

ID folks make numerous assertions said to represent scientific challenges to conventional evolutionary theory. These claims are uniformly wrong, which is one of the reasons scientists generally ignore them.

But ID folks also claim that adopting a design perspective could lead to great progress in science, if only scientists would take off their materialist blinders. There is an acid test for all such claims: Go discover something! Writers are fond of saying “Show, don't tell,” and that adage applies very well here. If your perspective is so useful, then prove it by discovering something the conventional methods had overlooked.

Denyse O'Leary has posted her very own list of nine “predictions” that follow from ID. Why do I put the word “predictions” in sneer quotes? Because with this post O'Leary has achieved a level of cluelessness to which most ID proponents can only aspire. I elaborate over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

Florida State Board of Education

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Although various school boards have somewhat recklessly passed resolutions asking the Florida State Board of Education to revise the proposed standards to include ‘alternative theories of evolution’, the final decision rests in the hands of the following people at the Florida State Board of Education. You may want to remind them of the simple fact that there are no competing theories, as admitted to by several leading Intelligent Design proponents or that Intelligent Design has no predictive powers. It is important that these people as well as the media come to realize that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous as it provides no competing explanations.

Check the Florida Citizens for Science Call to Action Pages for latest information

Remember that the ‘offending text’ in the draft standards describes evolution as follows

Standard 2. Evolution and Diversity
A. Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.
B. Organisms are classified based on their evolutionary history.
C. Natural selection is the primary mechanism leading to evolutionary change.

REP. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has written the following letter to the editor which was published in the Palm Beach Post: Intelligent design teachings not smart for public schools

Florida is in the midst of determining whether intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in our public schools. It would be a great mistake to give intelligent design, or any other faux science, a home in Florida’s science classes.

The state Board of Education will soon vote to accept or reject new science standards for teachers that must be updated to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the culture wars are heating up. When the Department of Education released its proposed standards in October, for the first time the word evolution was included as a standard to the agreement of many in the educational and scientific community.

The Board of Education is likely to vote on the new science standards in February. No matter what the outcome, legislators will have an opportunity to have their say when the legislative session convenes the following month. I fear the worst.

With friends like these …

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It’s one thing for ID creationists to misrepresent evolutionary theory (and they do, of course). It’s quite another to read misrepresentations, or at least incomprehensible representations, from what are allegedly science news sources. Case in point: Today, Science Daily has a story on some research on nematodes performed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The Science Daily story reproduces a press release from the American Technion Society, an organization that supports higher education in Israel.

Now, consider just the first two paragraphs of the press release:

According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, individuals in a species pass successful traits onto their offspring through a process called “deterministic inheritance.” Over multiple generations, advantageous developmental trends - such as the lengthening of the giraffe’s neck - occur.

An opposing theory says evolution takes place through randomly inherited and not necessarily advantageous changes. Using the giraffe example, there would not be a common neck-lengthening trend; some would develop long necks, while others would develop short ones.

An opposing theory? What opposing theory? Can someone parse those paragraphs for me? Is that supposed to be making some sort of contrast between adaptive evolution and neutral drift? I can’t figure it out.

Today is the 100th birthday of one of my greatest intellectual heroes, Jacob Bronowski, the mathematician, poet, philosopher, historian, and author of The Ascent of Man. I paid tribute to him a few years ago on the Thumb. I also wrote about him for Liberty magazine.

Here is a famous scene from The Ascent: the most moving in this whole marvelous show.

Behe on Christian Radio

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At 4:00 Eastern time today (Jan 18), Michael Behe will be on Christian radio KKMS in Minneapolis. It’ll be streamed live – I haven’t yet figured out whether it will be archived. It’s advertised as

Dr. Michael Behe, Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University will explain why Darwinism just isn’t factual and why Creationism is a very plausible reality.

I’ll be interested to see just how (or whether) they integrate Behe’s self-professed acceptance of an old earth and common descent into their young earth worldview, and how they treat his view that malaria was intentionally designed.

RBH

(There ought to be a hat tip here, but I can’t remember where I read about it the other day – Pharyngula, maybe?)

One of our visitors (DC) left a description of what happened in Clay County. Keep those reports coming. On a somewhat more somber note, rumors have it that “some folks may have been receiving threats and personal attacks”.

Such attacks and threats are not only illegal but also very counter productive. I hope that those people reading PT can focus on the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design, the fact that many ID proponents agree that ID does not provide an alternative theory and the fact that many of these people seem to be confused by the meaning of such terminologies as theory and fact. Educate not alienate…

DC Wrote:

The Clay County School Board just approved a modified form of the resolution by a vote of 5-0. 22 of the 27 speakers at the meeting opposed the resolution and they covered pretty much all the bases. Some were quite eloquent, including several retired pastors. The five supporters said nothing we hadn’t heard before although the word dogma and its variants showed up a lot when referring to Darwinism. Two (Including a teacher at my own school. Sigh.) emphasized teaching all the “facts” and letting students decide. I was surprised that the local churches didn’t try to pack the meeting room until someone pointed out that this didn’t start to get publicity until after last Sunday’s services.

nat_hist_feb_08.jpg

Neil Shubin, recent guest on The Colbert Report, author of the cover story of this month's Natural History magazine, author of the newly released book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and most significantly, well known scientist and co-discoverer of the lovely transitional fossil, Tiktaalik roseae, has made a guest post on Pharyngula, describing his experiences in preparing for appearing on television — it's good stuff to read if you're thinking of communicating science to the mass media, or if you're a fan of either Shubin or Colbert.

Shubin apparently reads Pharyngula now and then, and he'll probably take a look at the comments on that article — if you've got questions, ask away, and maybe we'll get lucky and he'll grace us with a reply.

The Colorado Daily reports that Michael Korn, the person who emailed death threats to biology faculty at Colorado University - Boulder was sent a restraining order in email on December 6th, and agreed to its terms in minutes. They apparently used email because no one seems to know just where Michael Korn might reside.

The article relies in part upon material quoted here on Panda’s Thumb.

Brandon Haught at Florida Citizens for Science reports on the likely source of the anti-evolution resolutions.

A lengthy article in the Florida Baptist Witness doesn’t come right out and say it, but the source of the anti-evolution resolutions seems to be:

Speaking of brazen antics, PT commenter Glen Davidson over on the AtBC forum blew the whistle by posting the “Expelled Challenge” FAQ. Apparently, these folks are running scared that their project will be little more than one step up from “direct to video” projects, and are coordinating mass attendance of students and their parents from literalist-Christian schools. They are providing what amounts to a kickback to school administrators for movie ticket stubs from attendees who go to the “Expelled” movie during its first two weeks in the local theater.

(Continue reading at the Austringer.)

Where do the hagfish fit in?

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Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Hagfish are wonderful, beautiful, interesting animals. They are particularly attractive to evolutionary biologists because they have some very suggestive features that look primitive: they have no jaws, and they have no pectoral girdle or paired pectoral fins. They have very poorly developed eyes, no epiphysis, and only one semicircular canal; lampreys, while also lacking jaws, at least have good eyes and two semicircular canals. How hagfish fit into the evolutionary tree is still an open question, however.

Continue reading "Where do the hagfish fit in?" (on Pharyngula)

Darwin Day 2008 in Iowa City

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Darwin Day is fast approaching, and we’ll be celebrating with 2 and a half days’ worth of festivities here in Iowa next month, on February 14-16. We’re featuring talks by Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Dr. Martha McClintock, and University of Iowa paleontologist Dr. Christopher Brochu, as well as a dinner social Friday night (tickets required, and they’re already going fast!). Head over to Aetiology for all the details.

Expelled in Texas

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In FortBendNow we hear from a teacher about her experience with teaching the science of evolution

I taught sixth grade in Texas for three years 2001-2004. During that time, I was absolutely warned to not begin to say the word “evolution” or we would have every preacher in the district, as well as the media, breathing down our necks, and then there would truly be no teaching or learning. Sadly, I needed the position, so I played the “hide the issue and hide the learning” game.

The teacher concludes

God forbid that we should teach knowledge over “beliefs.” No wonder our politicians keep repeating the mantra “I believe …this and I believe …that” The “belief” word demands free reign to twist reality without being questioned. It is a true tragedy when believing trumps thinking, especially in our schools.

Fun with Amazon rankings

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Current Rank7-Day Average30-Day Average90-Day AverageLifetime AverageBest RankWorst Rank
31,98128,45921,44221,44221,4424,539


Dembski_DOL.jpg

Current Rank7-Day Average30-Day Average90-Day AverageLifetime AverageBest RankWorst Rank
1122351,2296,86913,11716679,226

Dawkins_Delusion.jpg

Guess which one is which?

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a six section overview on Science, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

Section 1: Science as a Way of Knowing
Section 2: Science and Society
Section 3: Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design
Section 4: Why Intelligent Design is not Science
Section 5: Science Education and Intelligent Design
Section 6: Fairness and Balance in the Classroom and Beyond

I would add another section on the scientific vacuity or infertility of Intelligent Design. Ask yourself this simple question: What non-trivial contribution has Intelligent Design made to our scientific understanding? And ask you then a follow-up question: For those systems which ID claims to be designed, how does ID explain these systems?

The answers, or lack thereof, may surprise you.

HT: NCSE

In our last episode, the South Carolina State Board of Education (SBE) had elected a creationist as chairperson-elect and was beginning the process of trying to deny the use of textbooks that contained… you guessed it, evolution. One of the textbooks under scrutiny was coauthored by Ken Miller, and Miller was gracious enough to speak at the SBE meeting held yesterday in which the adoption (or rejection) of the books was to take place. Also attending were numerous members of the SCSE to speak on behalf of the books. These were books, by the way, that were strongly approved by the Department of Education’s evaluation committee and are very popular among teachers in the state. Members of the evaluating committee and teachers were also on hand to express their disapproval with the Board’s shenanigans.

The main instigator of these shenanigans, aside from certain members of the board, is a retired Clemson professor by the name of Horace Skipper. Skipper apparently makes no bones about his young-earth views, and the objections he has are your standard, badly misleading anti-evolution nonsense. But lest anyone allow their opinion of Clemson to be tarred by the likes of Skipper, biologist Jerry Waldvogel was on hand to present a list of 130 signatures from Clemson faculty rejecting Skipper’s claims and supporting Miller. Go Tigers!

Thankfully the board voted 10-6 to adopt the Miller-Levine text. It’s sad that there are even that many board members who voted against what is widely regarded as an excellent textbook simply because it incorporates evolution, as does every other legitimate biology text. But at least for now, we have textbooks that were adopted on the recommendation of competent professionals. That’s far better than having them rejected due to the hangups of religious extremists.

The full story on all of this is at the SCSE website in two parts, plus – and this is really cool – videos of the whole meeting. These include Ken Miller’s presentation and various wacky stuff from the creationists. Well worth watching.

So that apparently does it for this episode. Until the next one.

Ron Bailey has an article at Reason on why people should care what political candidates think about evolution. “It is not acceptable for presidential candidates to argue that teaching religion in the guise of creationism and intelligent design in public schools should be just a local matter. Furthermore, as the foregoing court cases highlight, it is essential that a president nominate federal judges who understand the importance of maintaining the separation between church and state.”

Tangled Bank #96

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is at Aardvarchaeology. I think you have to read it: I believe that is hypnotoad on the top of the page.

Happy Birthday, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Today is the 185th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace. He’s best known, of course, as the young(ish) scientist who, while recovering from malaria somewhere in Indonesia, independently came up with the same ideas about evolution that Darwin had been working on for three decades, wrote them up, mailed them to Darwin, and catalyzed the old boy into finally getting the damn book written. In fact, that part of his career is so well known that it’s hard to find any mention of Wallace that doesn’t also bring up Darwin. Despite his enormous talents as a naturalist, he’s almost always cast as Darwin’s sidekick. Today is his birthday, though, so it doesn’t really seem nice to leave him in the Boy Wonder role. Instead, let’s take a look at an outstanding paper that he published in 1855.

First, though, let’s set the scene properly. By 1855, Darwin had spent nearly two decades actively investigating the evolution of species. For various reasons, he had not yet published his hypothesis, but he had confided it to a friend and colleague of his - botanist Joseph Hooker - in 1844. The question of how species were formed had been the topic of intense debate for years, and a number of scientists were approaching the topic from different angles. And Alfred Russel Wallace had been in the Malay Archipelago for about a year.

Although Wallace had spent some time around the fringes of the highly social and very upper class world of British naturalists by then, he was hardly an intimate member of their group. His modest background deprived him of the luxury of being able to pursue science as a hobby - unlike Lyell or Darwin, he had to work for a living. This turned out to be quite an advantage for him in some ways, though. He supported himself as a naturalist by collecting samples for wealthy people who kept natural history collections as a hobby. This meant that where some of his scientific peers might collect one or two samples of a species, Wallace collected - and examined - many more than that. It also meant that he had an enormous incentive to know what species lived where - it was his livelihood. Over the years that he’d spent time in the Amazon and the shorter time he’d spent in Indonesia, Wallace had looked at and thought about an enormous number of species of plants and animals, and had felt secure enough in his knowledge to not only report some of the facts that he had learned, but to also draw some more general conclusions from those facts.

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left:

Here Genie Scott asks for a breakdown of the signatories of the DI's "Dissent from Darwinism" statement. Here I provide such a breakdown for the 300 signatories in 2004. An analysis of the current 700 signatories will appear in the next few weeks.

The New York Academy of Sciences provides us with access to a talk by Nobel Laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard on how genes drive development, no need for unspecified ‘Intelligent Designers’, no need for miracles, just hard work by scientists who are committed to discovering the details of how, what, when and so on. Compare this with how ID explains the development of the embryo.

Click on the Flash presentation

nusslein15_small.gif

I also suggest that interested readers get their hands on her book “Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development” by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard or read an excerpt of the book: Chapter IX — Evolution, Body Plans, and Genomes

coverThe National Academy of Sciences’ new book, Science, Evolution, and Creationism is now available for free download. It is a revision of an older work and features chapters on the nature of science, the evidence for evolution, and creationist claims. No doubt the Discovery Institute will respond with its usual blather.

T(h)resholds on Comer

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Thresholds’ host George Reiter will be interviewing Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science, and Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom network, on the politics in Texas that led up firing of Chris Comer, director of science at the Texas Education Agency for ‘misconduct and insubordination’ and of ‘siding against creationism and the doctrine that life is the product of ‘intelligent design.’ The show is on KPFT, Houston, 90.1 FM, from 11am-12noon this Thursday, Jan 3, 2008. It can be picked up live on the website, http://www.KPFT.org.

The recording can be found in the Archives section. After a ‘false start’ the interview starts at 5:20

HT: PZ Myers

Information in biology

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In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University Peter Godfrey-Smith provides a useful definition of Shannon Information and biology.

Professor Godfrey-Smith is also author of “Information and the Argument from Design” which was part of the collection edited by Robert Pennock title Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics

In the weaker sense, informational connections between events or variables involve no more than ordinary correlations (or perhaps correlations that are “non-accidental” in some physical sense involving causation or natural laws). This sense of information is associated with Claude Shannon (1948), who showed how the concept of information could be used to quantify facts about contingency and correlation in a useful way, initially for communication technology. For Shannon, anything is a source of information if it has a number of alternative states that might be realized on a particular occasion. And any other variable carries information about the source if its state is correlated with that of the source. This is a matter of degree; a signal carries more information about a source if its state is a better predictor of the source, less information if it is a worse predictor.

NOMA in Ohio, Redux

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The panel discussion on the intersection of faith and evolution (featuring Francis Collins) that I described last month is now available online, together with video of Collins’ other appearances that day.

RBH

Openlab 2007 Well Bora and I and our 30+ judges managed to sort through the nearly 500 submissions and find our 53 winners. Some of use used the stairs methods to assign grades and others programed complex random number machines, while a few decided to read the 400+ submissions.

I am happy to announce that Ian Musgrave will represent the Panda’s Thumb again this year in The Open Laboratory with an essay that fuses two excellent articles:

Stuck on you, biological Velcro and the evolution of adaptive immunity

Behe vs Sea Squirts

Let’s congratulate Ian for his contributions to science blogging.

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