June 2008 Archives

Evolving proteins in snakes

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Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

We've heard the arguments about the relative importance of mutations in cis regulatory regions vs. coding sequences in evolution before — it's the idea that major transitions in evolution were accomplished more by changes in the timing and pattern of gene expression than by significant changes in the genes themselves. We developmental biologists tend to side with the cis-sies, because timing and pattern are what we're most interested in. But I have to admit that there are plenty of accounts of functional adaptation in populations that are well-founded in molecular evidence, and the cis regulatory element story is weaker in the practical sense that counts most in science (In large part, I think that's an artifact of the tools — we have better techniques for examining expressed sequences, while regulatory elements are hidden away in unexpressed regions of the genome. Give it time, the cis proponents will catch up!)

This morning, I was sent a nice paper that describes a pattern of functional change in an important molecule — there is absolutely no development in it. It's a classic example of an evolutionary arms race, though, so it's good that I mention this important and dominant side of the discipline of evolutionary biology — I know I leave the impression that all the cool stuff is in evo-devo, but there's even more exciting biology outside the scope of my tunnel vision. Also, this paper describes a situation and animals with which I am very familiar, and wondered about years ago.

Analysis of Lousiana “Academic Freedom” bill

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This was just posted as a comment by “laminu” to the Help Louisiana post. I’m promoting it (with some minor editing for a few typos) to a full post because it deserves wider reading.

Notes from a lawyer and law teacher who’s been following this bill throughout the process:

1. About the discussion to this point:

a) Generalizations won’t do – you’ve got to read the bill, now Act 473, to see what the actual effect will be. (b) Louisiana NEVER adopted the Code Civil that is associated with Napoleon’s name: Louisiana’s original Civil Code was developed by three pretty darn good Louisiana lawyers from French (a projet of the Code Civil) and Spanish sources, to which they added provisions to cover the commercial laws dealt with elsewhere in French law. (Louisiana had been Spanish, not French, for decades when Jefferson sent Monroe to buy the Ile d’Orleans from Napoleon, such that it made sense to the redactors of the Louisiana code to follow Spanish legal traditions with respect to personal and family law issues.) Civil law reigns in most countries of the world outside the US and England, anyway, and to my way of thinking gives clearer guidance and quicker, more efficient justice in civil matters than the common law – much of which has already been replaced by clumsily written “codes” in the US. So, please, give the canard that “Louisiana is different in all legal respects because of the Napoleonic Code” a rest. The Civil Code has precisely NOTHING at all to do with the teaching of creationism in the public schools anyway.

Bill Barrow of the (New Orleans) Times Picayune has the bad news:

Gov. Bobby Jindal attracted national attention and strongly worded advice about how he should deal with the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Jindal ignored those calling for a veto and this week signed the law that will allow local school boards to approve supplemental materials for public school science classes as they discuss evolution, cloning and global warming.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will have the power to prohibit materials, though the bill does not spell out how state officials should go about policing local instructional practices. … Critics call it a back-door attempt to replay old battles about including biblical creationism or intelligent design in science curricula, a point defenders reject based on a clause that the law “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine … or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”

In signing the bill, Jindal issued a brief statement that read in part: “I will continue to consistently support the ability of school boards and BESE to make the best decisions to ensure a quality education for our children.”

Political observers said Jindal’s signature will please one of his key local constituencies: conservative Protestants in north Louisiana. Jindal’s long-term political challenge, they said, particularly if the Brown University biology graduate ever seeks national office, is not allowing his political image to be defined by such moves.

“It’s good politics if you are a conservative Republican politician,” said Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “That being said, not every place is Louisiana. … Certainly this is not going to do anything to endear Bobby Jindal to a majority of voters in places like California and Massachusetts and New York.”

Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat said: “The ideal candidate is one who has broad appeal. … To become president today, you can’t become isolated as the candidate of the religious right.”

Yet a cadre of scientists, national groups with a secular agenda, editorial writers and even Jindal’s college genetics professors suggested the bill could push Jindal toward that kind of identity.

Too bad Jindal didn’t heed Prof. Barbara Forrest’s appeak to veto the bill. Now it’s become a political hot potato, with possible implications come November.

The Louisiana Coalition for Science will have more coverage as events unfold, as will NCSE, which notes

… bill supporter David Tate, a member of the Livingston Parish School Board, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune (April 18, 2008), “I believe that both sides – the creationism side and the evolution side – should be presented and let students decide what they believe,” adding that the bill is needed because “teachers are scared to talk about” creationism.

Ventastega

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Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
ventastega_recon.jpg

The paleontologists are going too far. This is getting ridiculous. They keep digging up these collections of bones that illuminate tetrapod origins, and they keep making finer and finer distinctions. On one earlier side we have a bunch of tetrapod-like fish — Tiktaalik and Panderichthys, for instance — and on the later side we have fish-like tetrapods, such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. Now they're talking about shades of fishiness or tetrapodiness within those groups! You'd almost think they were documenting a pattern of gradual evolutionary change.

The latest addition is a description of Ventastega curonica, a creature that falls within the domain of the fish-like tetrapods, but is a bit fishier than other forms, so it actually bridges the gap between something like Tiktaalik and Acanthostega. We look forward to the imminent discovery of yet more fossils that bridge the gap between Ventastega and Tiktaalik, and between Ventastega and Acanthostega, and all the intermediates between them.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

This is an amphioxus, a cephalochordate or lancelet. It's been stained to increase contrast; in life, they are pale, almost transparent.

amphioxus.jpg

It looks rather fish-like, or rather, much like a larval fish, with it's repeated blocks of muscle arranged along a stream-lined form, and a notochord, or elastic rod that forms a central axis for efficient lateral motion of the tail…and it has a true tail that extends beyond the anus. Look closely at the front end, though: this is no vertebrate.

amphioxus_closeup.jpg

It's not much of a head. The notochord extends all the way to the front of the animal (in us vertebrates, it only reaches up as far as the base of the hindbrain); there's no obvious brain, only the continuation of the spinal cord; there isn't even a face, just an open hole fringed with tentacles. This animal collects small microorganisms in coastal waters, gulping them down and passing them back to the gill slits, which aren't actually part of gills, but are components of a branchial net that allows water to filter through while trapping food particles. It's a good living — they lounge about in large numbers on tropical beaches, sucking down liquids and any passing food, much like American tourists.

These animals have fascinated biologists for well over a century. They seem so primitive, with a mixture of features that are clearly similar to those of modern vertebrates, yet at the same time lacking significant elements. Could they be relics of the ancestral chordate condition? A new paper is out that discusses in detail the structure of the amphioxus genome, which reveals unifying elements that tell us much about the last common ancestor of all chordates.

People looking for passionate defenses of theistic evolution certainly have a lot of options this summer. Having recently reviewed Ken Miller’s Only a Theory, I decided next to have a go at Karl Giberson’s book Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College.

Those of us who believe that the union between evolution and Christianity is at best an unhappy marriage are often lectured about having an unsophisticated view of theology. I can only reply that I judge theistic evolution by the arguments I find in the books defending it, and those arguments are not very convincing, in my opinion. I elaborate on this statement in my review of Giberson’s book. Comments may be left there.

Tangled Bank #108

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is now available at Wheatdogg.

Recently, we learned of an instance of the de novo origination of a new protein-coding gene in yeasts. This instance involved a mechanism or pathway that seems difficult to some, namely the random appearance of an open reading frame in an otherwise noncoding segment of DNA via judicious appearance of translation start and stop codons. The question naturally arises as to the relevance of such a pathway to real-life biology; was/is this a rather rare event that doesn’t really contribute to protein evolution, or is it a common means by which the protein-coding capacity of a genome is augmented?

A paper that is in press in Genome Research (Zhou et al., “On the origin of new genes in Drosophila”) gives us some insight into this question. The abstract of this paper summarizes things as well as I can:

Once again, Richard Lenski has replied to the goons and fools at Conservapædia, and boy, does he ever outclass them. For a quick outline of the saga, read this summary at A Candid World; basically, Andy Schlafly has been demanding every bit of data from Richard Lenski's work on the evolution of E. coli, despite the fact that Schlafly doesn't have the background to understand it and doesn't have any plan for what he would do with it if he got it. Lenski has been polite and helpful in his replies; his first response is a model for how to explain difficult science to a bullying ideologue. Now his second response is available, and while he has clearly lost some patience and is unequivocal in denouncing their bad faith efforts to discredit good science, he still gives an awfully good and instructional discussion.

I've put the whole thing below the fold, in case you'd rather not click through to that wretched hive of pretentious villainy at Conservapædia.

“It is not, however, possible to be a Christian DARWINIST without contradiction. A Christian Darwinist is bound to maintain logically incompatible positions: that evolution is both a tool and an autonomous process, that providence and chance are both ultimately real, that design is potentially detectable and that it is a priori indetectable. This intellectual schizophrenia cannot be maintained.”

Such concludes a posting on UcD by a new poster named Thomas Cudworth.

The problem is that Thomas has failed to recognize several logical fallacies. First of all, the claim that design is potentially detectable is not one which logically follows from a Christian perspective. In fact, YEC have given up on detecting design and rejects any discrepancies between science and their faith. Furthermore, it is hardly self evident that God’s Design should be detectable. In fact, some have argued that this lack of detectable evidence is both a requirement for free will as well as a foundation for our faith.

So how can (Darwinian) evolution be a tool and autonomous process at the same time? Charles Darwin already provided the answer.

Christian Nazis?

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This article is for people who think that “Darwinists” were responsible for the Holocaust. Yesterday, presumably because I am listed as a scientist in support of the Clergy Letter Project, I received an e-mail from a Christian clergyman, Steven D. Martin, who has this to say:

I am a United Methodist pastor who has turned to filmmaking as an extension of my ministry. While my films are not directly related to your work in the field of evolution, perhaps they might be interesting as a way of illustrating the importance of constantly working to have a constructive conversation between science and religion.

My web site, http://www.vitalvisuals.com, is full of resources for the church and university classroom that might help you. “Theologians Under Hitler” is a film about three major Protestant theologians who supported Hitler during the Third Reich. This film is a good resource for helping Christians understand the importance of keeping nationalism at bay. I think this relates directly to the debate over evolution, where a false science is being promoted for nationalistic/religious purposes.

Over and over we hear from the Disco ‘Tute boys that they’re not pushing the teaching of intelligent design creationism and that they’re only interested in teaching the controversy or critically analyzing evolution or teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Most recently they are pushing the “academic freedom” bills being introduced in state legislatures and, in the case of Louisiana, being passed by those legislatures. Of the Louisiana bill the Disco ‘Tute piously claims that

Why is the law needed?

For two reasons. First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it. Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do.

When one inquires just a dab deeper, though, that “scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory” turns out to be creationist crap, much of it filtered through Jonathan Wells’ Moonie spectacles in Icons of Evolution. And the creationist teachers claim cover from the state actions.

Does that really happen?

Sure it does. In my update on “Coach” Dave Daubenmire’s appearance on Geraldo At Large, I noted that Daubenmire floated a new defense of Freshwater’s teaching of creationism in 8th grade science. Daubenmire said that in 2003 Freshwater

… began to teach what was then the state standards to teach the controversy of evolution.

Daubenmire is apparently referring to the Disco ‘Tute’s “critical analysis of evolution” ploy, first tried out on the Ohio State Board of Education. That Board subsequently adopted (but later abandoned) a grade indicator in its 10th grade biology standards that said

23. Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.

I’ve read some of the materials that Freshwater used and I’ve talked with his students. Freshwater was feeding them the worst of creationist trash and through his spokesman is now claiming that he was following state standards that explicitly disavowed the teaching of intelligent design!

Reviewing Ken Miller

I have spent the last few days reading Ken Miller's new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. Short review: Well worth reading, but also a bit disappointing in places. Miller is at his best when he is describing the science behind evolution, and he has many illuminating things to say about the importance of the evolution/ID issue to the future of American science. But I find his theological arguments to be a bit weak, and there are places where his arguments against the ID folks are not as sharp and forceful as they might have been. Click here for my full review, and let me know what you think!

Howler Fest

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A bunch of us PT/TO/TD/AE people are hanging out this week at Evolution 2008 at UMN-Twin Cities. Most are giving talks or posters. If you want to track us down, just look for Prof. Steve Steve.

Freshwater Termination Resolution

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Update at the bottom of the post starring Geraldo Rivera!

In a post just below PvM gave the background to the Freshwater case in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The 5-member District Board of Education met this afternoon and after a 3.5 hour executive session, voted unanimously to initiate termination proceedings against Freshwater. Those proceedings start with a copy of the resolution being provided to Freshwater via registered mail. On receipt of the notification, Freshwater has 10 days to request a hearing before the board or a referee. If he elects to not request the hearing, the Board will consider the termination at its July meeting. If he does request it, Board action will be delayed until a hearing has been held.

The Board’s resolution cited four basic grounds for its resolution:

The Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education (CESE) is sponsoring a free public performance by Brian “Fox” Ellis (of Fox Tales International), titled Charles Darwin And The Voyage Of The Beagle.

It’s at 1:00 PM on Saturday, June 21st, at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology Lecture Hall (Room 163).

Come on down! Did I say it was FREE? Refreshments will be served.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that a much awaited report on the activities of John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon teacher, has finally been released.

The conclusions are straightforward and shocking

A Mount Vernon teacher undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design, a probe has found.

Worse, the teacher “burned crosses onto students’ arms, using an electrostatic device, in December. Freshwater told investigators the marks were Xs, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses.”

While his defenders argued that the teacher merely used the device to draw ‘X’, the picture shows otherwise.

MTVERNON.jpg

To me this clearly looks like a cross, not an ‘X’.

Ken Ham, chief wackaloon at Answers in Genesis, was invited to speak…at a Pentagon prayer breakfast.

Just let that sink in.

There are people at the Pentagon who are in charge of planning where your sons and daughter and nephews and nieces and other beloved family members and friends will be sent to put their lives at risk. There are people there who can send missiles and bombers anywhere in the world. There are people there who control nuclear weapons.

And they think Ken Ham is a fine-and-dandy, clever feller.

It's almost enough to make me wish I could pray. It's not just Ham, either — it's that the people with the big guns have prayer breakfasts.

And then, somehow, he segues into babbling about the existence of life on other worlds. He doesn't think there is any. Look at the logic this kook uses:

The real world is the biblical world--a universe designed by God with the Earth at the spiritual focal point, not an evolutionary universe teeming with life. … Extraterrestrial life is an evolutionary concept; it does not comport with the biblical teachings of the uniqueness of the Earth and the distinct spiritual position of human beings.

Because the bible says we are the focus of the entire universe, there can't possibly be any competitors. Of course, this means that his god created this vast, empty, uninhabitable space for no reason other than that we'll have twinkly little stars in the sky at night…but hey, that's the crazy Christian deity, always doing irrational stuff and encouraging his followers to be equally nuts.

Howling Nightmare

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Three years ago I mentioned that the creator of the Sims was working on a new game-of-life called Spore. It now looks to be nearly done and they’ve offered an early showing of their “creature creator” to celebrities and choice bloggers to help advertise their game. Although inspired by the science of evolution, the developers have taken plenty of artistic liberties with the concept to make this game. Don’t expect Spore to be anything like Avida anytime soon.

sporemore.png

While I tried to make a Prof. Steve Steve inspired creature, it didn’t work too well. Instead I opted on creating a “Howling Nightmare”. This is the creature’s description:

Howling Nightmare, Alouatta pandas, is a flying carnivore covered in hard armor and known for its powerful howls and painful bites. It typically hunts at night, ambushing large, slow herbivores while they sleep. A single pair can consume five thousand times their body weight during a breeding season to feed their ravenous brood. Although this secretive creature is rarely seen, its kills litter the landscape, while its frightening howls remind you that it is never far away.

Help Louisiana!

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As noted a few days ago, Louisiana is in the process of adopting the Disco ‘Tute’s execrable “Science Education Act.” It has been passed by both legislative bodies and now all that remains is for Governor Bobby Jindal to sign it. While there is little doubt he’ll do so – he has argued that both evolution and ID should be taught in public schools – it is still very important to let him know what he’s doing.

The Louisiana Coalition for Science has posted an open letter to Governor Jindal and is asking that anyone concerned about the subversion of science education to contact him and urge him to “…veto SB 733 in the best interests of our children and to protect the reputation of our state.” Keep them clean, please.

The full text of the open letter is below the fold. More info and other relevant links are here.

Download Day 2008

Firefox 3 was released today, with several nice features that improve some subtle glitches in our layout. Yay!

Dueling Blurbs: Collins vs. Coulter

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Some years ago Bill Dembski wrote that “Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution.” The italics were in the original. Thursday Dembski reinforced that assertion while commenting on Ken Miller’s new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Dembski’s post is titled Theistic Evolutionists Close Ranks: Let the Bloodletting Begin!

It turns out that Dembski also has a new book coming out called Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language. His co-author is Sean McDowell, the head of the Bible Department at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools. (Nope, ain’t no religion here!)

What caught my eye in Dembski’s post was his juxtaposition of blurbs for Miller’s book and his own.

A recurrent theme amongst ID proponents is the supposed difficulty of protein evolution, especially as it relates to the origination of new protein-coding genes. This is, I suspect, a key reason why ID proponents such as Paul Nelson are so enamoured of ORFans, and a foundational principle for the application of ID theory to evolution (the idea being that protein-coding genes are possessed of Complex Specified Information, and thus cannot arise by natural processes). Thus, studies that pertain to the origins of new protein-coding genes are going to factor largely in the scientific aspect of the ID debate, especially since ID proponents insist that new protein-coding genes cannot arise “by chance”.

It is in this context that a recent study by Jing Cai and colleagues is of interest. The title of the article suffices to explain the study – “De novo Origination of a New Protein-Coding Gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae”. What these authors describe is a series of studies of a yeast gene, BSC4. This gene was originally identified as a candidate containing a so-called read-through translation termination (or stop) codon. This gene was studied in more depth, whereupon Cai et al. found that the protein encoded by this gene was novel in genome databases, not resembling any other protein in any organism. Importantly, this includes the genomes of related Saccharomyces species; this indicates that this protein in S. cerevisiae arose relatively recently, after this species diverged from its close relatives.

Remember the movie “Expelled” which ‘argued’ how ID Creationists were somehow punished for their beliefs? I wonder what the producers of this movie think of this somewhat disturbing piece by Tom Willis in CSA (Creation Science Association for Mid-America)?

Tom Willis Wrote:

Everywhere the subject of origins is discussed, evolutionists routinely, yea, systematically, denounce creationists as some combination of stupid, ignorant, and… dangerous. If we recall there are two major methods men make momentous decisions: empirical and theoretical. I intend to show in a brief space that belief in evolution requires, at minimum, deep delusion allowing one to believe, or pretend to believe, in a manifestly impossible historical scenario. And it leads, both empirically and theoretically, to grotesquely harmful results in every society in which evolutionists are allowed to have a major influence, including our own.

And “Expelled” believes that ID Creationists face problems?

The Louisiana Coalition for Science has released a press release calling for the Senate to reject the creationist bill approved by the Louisiana House

New group stands up for sound science education in Louisiana

LA Coalition for Science decries House support for SB 733, calls for Senate to reject bill

Baton Rouge, LA, June 11, 2008 — In response to numerous attacks on science education in the Bayou State, concerned parents, teachers and scientists are getting organized. The new group — Louisiana Coalition for Science — calls upon the Senate to oppose SB 733, a bill which will open the door to creationism in public schools.

Spread the news.

PT ranked high among education blogs

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As the badges on the sidebar indicate, Panda’s Thumb has received several honors in the blogosphere – Scientific American’s Science and Technology Web Award, Finalist in the 2006 Weblogs Awards, and two inclusions in OpenLab. Now we’ve received another, a high ranking in blogs dealing with P-12 education. Dangerously Irrelevant has compiled a ranking of such blogs using Technorati’s data, and PT ranks 5th on the list. We’re honored by that ranking.

There is an asterisk, however, since the author of Dangerously Irrelevant acknowledges that the Thumb may not fit comfortably in the category of blogs devoted to primary through grade 12 education. However, if one scans the categories in the sidebar, there are something like 490 posts dealing with education, most of them public school education. So we’re comfortable in the company on Dangerously Irrelevant’s list.

Excellent science education is absolutely critical to the welfare of humanity. The anti-science Dis-enlightenment that is the goal of outfits like the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis seriously threatens not only the United States, but the world. To the extent that policy decisions are being made about biomedical research, medical practice, global warming, epidemiology, vaccines, and so on, all in ignorance of the science underpinning the recommendations of experts, we are all at risk. When citizens – voters – depend on ignorant or deceptive claims about science we are all at risk. When people spend billions of dollars on quackery like homeopathic remedies that dilute their supposedly active ingredients down so far that not a single molecule remains in the preparation, they are at risk. Understanding the process of science is critical to an informed citizenry, and we’re proud to do our bit to help that understanding.

Tangled Bank #107

The Tangled Bank

This is a special edition of the Tangled Bank: you get to choose your own adventure!

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

While I was traveling last week, an important paper came out on evolution in E. coli, describing the work of Blount, Borland, and Lenski on the appearance of novel traits in an experimental population of bacteria. I thought everyone would have covered this story by the time I got back, but there hasn't been a lot of information in the blogosphere yet. Some of the stories get the emphasis wrong, claiming that this is all about the rapid acquisition of complex traits, while the creationists are making a complete hash of the story. Carl Zimmer gets it right, of course, and he has the advantage of having just published a book(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) on the subject, with some excellent discussion of Lenski's work.

The key phrase is right there at the beginning of the title: historical contingency. This paper is all about how accidents in the genetics of a population can shape its future evolutionary trajectory. It is describing how a new capability that requires some complex novelties can evolve, and it is saying plainly that in this case it is not by the fortuitous simultaneous appearance of a set of mutations, but is conditional on the genetic background of the population. That is, two populations may be roughly equivalent in fitness and phenotype, but the presence of (probably) neutral mutations in one may enable other changes that predispose it to particular patterns of change.

Ron Bailey on Expelled

The Devil in Dover
Lauri Lebo
The New Press
(http://laurilebo.com)

I had been steadily working on analysis of an experiment that I will be presenting later this month, but Sunday afternoon a line of thunderstorms blew through here, and somewhere in there the power went out. My work laptop runs out of juice quickly when running Avida, so that’s closed up. There’s only so much playing with the puppy that I can handle at a time, and somehow I feel a need to do something.

Several of my fellow bloggers at the Panda’s Thumb have been talking about journalist Lauri Lebo’s new book, “The Devil in Dover”. There’s about five who say that they are in various stages of writing reviews to be blogged here, there, or published in the mainstream media. And they all, to a man (yes, all of them are male), love it. About ten days ago, Lauri Lebo even gave me a personally inscribed copy (I contributed a photo for the front of the dust cover design and set up her personal website for the book). I hadn’t gotten around to actually reading the book, though, until the lights and power went out, reducing my options. But I have to say that the book is good enough to wish for a power outage. I have remedied that piece of ignorance with the help of a flashlight and a couple of changes of battery and can now speak to the content in the about two hours that my personal laptop has available in its battery charge.

The first thing to say is that Lauri’s book (and I do hope that I am not unjustly taking liberties in our acquaintance to say “Lauri”) is not just a journalist’s compilation of data, but rather an intensely personal book. There are several threads of personal involvement that Lauri takes up here. Perhaps the most touching is her relationship and estrangement from her father, who converted to fundamentalist Christianity several years ago and persistently searched for signs that Lauri would also be “born again” as he had been. But also there is the personal struggle with those in her profession who misconstrue journalistic “objectivity” perversely as a charge not to speak the truth when a situation indicates that a “side” is plainly in the wrong.

(Originally posted at the Austringer)

I happened to read PZ’s write-up Local Boy Gets Obnoxious, in which he mentions how he has been interviewed by the Seattle-PI. If I had known PZ was in town, I would have attended the Pacific Science Center talk. Instead I ended up at a Seattle Skeptics “An Evening with PZ MYERS” event. This well attended meetup included a fascinating lecture about the evolution of the eye and introduced me to several aspects of eye evolution with which I had not been familiar.

NYTLogo.jpgIn Opponents of Evolution Adopting a New Strategy , Laura Beil explores the tactics by Intelligent Design Creationists to undermine the teaching of science. This time, their focus is on Texas where Creationists have a close majority on the State Education Board.

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to “creation science,” which became “intelligent design,” which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

Still think ID takes no stand on the identity of the designer? Then check out the latest musings from William Dembski. He writes:

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s signing of a transgender anti-discrimination bill points up the lunacy that ensues in a world without design

Worry over the possibility that transgendered people will be treated with respect and dignity is one of the more bizarre concerns of the ID crowd. Phillip Johnson, afer all, devoted a whole chapter to the issue in his book The Right Questions. I offer some thoughts on the matter in this post. Comments may be left there.

Ono Expelled

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The newswires report that the judge in the case has ruled that the use of copyrighted materials in the movie Expelled is protected by the “Fair Use” doctrine and that the request for preliminary injunction has been lifted.

NEW YORK — Yoko Ono has lost her Manhattan legal battle to block the use of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in a film challenging the theory of evolution.

Lennon’s widow had sued the makers of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” saying they used parts of the song without her permission.

In a decision Monday, federal Judge Sidney Stein says the filmmakers are protected under the “fair use” doctrine. That permits small parts of a copyrighted work to be used without an author’s permission under certain circumstances.

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