September 2009 Archives

Ohio Supreme Court denies Freshwater mandamus motion

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The Ohio Supreme Court today denied John Freshwater’s motion for a writ of mandamus to compel Board of Education members to testify at the administrative hearing on his termination. The Court web site says only

09/30/09 DECISION: Upon consideration pursuant to S.Ct.Prac.R. X(5), cause (sic) dismissed

According to a news report (see also here) the justices voted 7-0 to deny the motion. Since it is a procedural issue, the Court will not elaborate in an opinion.

No word yet on what effect that will have on the course of the hearing.

Louisiana is sinking

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As some will recall, a while back the Lousiana state legislature adopted one of the “Academic Freedom” acts pushed by the creationist lobby. At that time it was clear that the act would open the door to teaching creationism in the public schools of that state.

Now the creationists are going further, rigging the procedure by which classroom materials are evaluated for appropriateness. Barbara Forrest, stalwart in the defense of teaching honest science and the separation of church and state, has a long press release outlining what has happened. [Note: URL now fixed.] From that release:

On September 16, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education [BESE] ignored the recommendations of science education professionals in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and allowed the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a Religious Right lobbying group, to dictate the procedure concerning complaints about creationist supplementary materials used in public school science classes under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA).

In other words, the creationists are now the umpires in Louisiana.

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has an excellent post on the press release, as well as a good background post. Read them, and help as you can in Forrest’s efforts.

langseth.jpg (Photo courtesy LDEO)

September 29th, 2009 Project UPDATE

Courtesy the University of Oregon, which reports on Sept. 22nd that

After 30 days at sea and 16 days of successful seismic surveying of deep-sea hydrothermal ecosystems on the Pacific Ocean floor off British Columbia, researchers from two Northwest institutions have returned to dry land. Their mission to study the deep crustal structure of the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca ridge had drawn last-minute opposition by environmental groups, who in court filings had sought to stop the seismic surveying because of potential harm to whales and other mammals. A portion of the ridge includes the Endeavour Marine Protected Area that was established to foster conservation and responsible scientific study. Canadian courts rejected the groups’ cases. Prior to sailing, the project – the Endeavour Seismic Tomography Experiment – underwent a thorough environmental assessment by Canadian and U.S. regulators. The timing of the expedition was chosen to minimize marine mammal encounters. During the survey, certified marine mammal observers monitored the region on a 24-hour per-day basis. “Not a single marine mammal was either visually observed or acoustically detected during the seismic survey,” said Doug Toomey, professor of geological sciences at the University of Oregon and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-funded project that was done from the research vessel Marcus G. Langseth.

Update continues below the fold…

Erosional Landscape

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Photograph by Dan Moore.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Moore.Sunrise at Zabriskie Point - Dan Moore.jpg

Erosional landscape at Zabriskie Point, Amargosa Range, Death Valley National Park. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley sank and widened.

To keep this short, I’ll just quote the NCSE announcement:

he new film about Darwin, Creation, will be distributed in the United States after all, according to a story in the Hollywood Reporter (September 24, 2009). The film is expected to be released by Newmarket Films in December 2009. Earlier the producer of the film, Jeremy Thomas, lamented to the Telegraph (September 11, 2009), “It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it’s because of what the film is about. … It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America.” A few days later, however, NBC Bay Area (September 15, 2009) reported that a distribution deal was imminent.

In her review of Creation at The Panda’s Thumb blog, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as “a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public – for the good.” It also received praise from Steve Jones in Time Out London (September 22, 2009), who called it “a great film about a great man and a greater theory” and by Adam Rutherford in his Guardian blog (September 23, 2009), where he wrote, “we should … be grateful that this film is moving and beautiful, just like the creation Darwin so luminously untangled,” adding, “Creationists the world over deserve to see it.”

Huzzah!

Science, Non-Science, and Pseudoscience

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John Wilkins points to a post by Nick Smyth with the delightful title Science, Pseudoscience and Bollocks on the demarcation problem and what Smyth thinks is a flawed tactic in the war against ID/creationism. Smyth’s basic argument is that labeling ID/creationism as non-science, or as pseudoscience, fails because there is no clear demarcation between science and non-science; we do not have criteria such that we can draw a bright line between science and all other human intellectual enterprises.

However, ID/creationism was once “science” – William Paley used the best science available to him in his Natural Theology. But ID/creationism is a failed scientific endeavor; Philip Kitcher calls it “dead science” and calls its proponents “resurrection men.”

Unfortunately, Smyth’s post implicitly equates “pseudoscience” and “non-science.” That conflation leads him to mistake the core issue and to reverse the nature of the appropriate approach. He thinks the lack of a clear demarcation criterion that tells us what “science” is makes it impossible to classify, say, ID/creationism as non-science or pseudoscience. But the task as I see it is not to define science in such a way that one can point to something and say “That’s science.” It seems to me that it’s quite possible, in principle at least, to argue that ID/creationism, for example, is “pseudoscience” without the necessity of reference to a demarcating definition of science. If one starts with the complementary problem, namely defining pseudoscience independent of any particular definition of science, then we might make more progress. That is, it may be more fruitful to demarcate pseudoscience than to attempt to demarcate science.

This approach has the advantage that it does not require us to worry about questions like whether history is a science or an art (the topic of a faculty development workshop I attended eons ago). We don’t have to wonder if the conjecture of the existence of multiple universes is ‘real’ science or fanciful speculation. We can focus on the pathology and ask what its defining properties are.

Irving Kristol and Evolution

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With all the hagiography going on for conservative “intellectual” Irving Kristol, who died on September 18, let’s not forget one of his many idiotic statements: that Darwinism is on the way out because it “is really no longer accepted so easily by [many] biologists and scientists.”

As Glenn Morton has exhaustively shown, the trope that “more and more scientists doubt evolution” is one of the oldest falsehoods in creationism. But then, Kristol believed that not all truths were suitable for all people, an echo of Martin Luther’s view that lying for his god was acceptable.

Anti-evolution idiocy seemingly ran in the family. In 1959, Kristol’s wife Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote a terrible book, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, demonstrating a lack of understanding of biology and a warped view of Darwin’s influence. One perceptive reviewer penned that Himmelfarb had “an advanced case of Darwinitis, a complaint that afflicts those of a literary bent and strong attachments to pre-scientific culture, who find in the theory of evolution a disturbing and mysterious challenge to their values”. Kristol wrote a favorable review of Himmelfarb’s book for Encounter, without bothering to mention that he was Himmelfarb’s husband. So much for Kristol’s ethics.

Read more at Recursivity

Baby Panda Cam

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The San Diego Zoo has a webcam up on their baby panda: Panda Cam. If you don’t get enough cute in your day, you need to check it out.

HT: Jerry Coyne

Cartooning Evolution

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Mark Aldrich of Smith College has posted a prodigious number of cartoons under the title “Cartooning Evolution, 1861-1925.” You may look at thumbnails listed under various categories: Darwin and Evolution, Evolution as Social Comment, Victorian Science, and The Scopes Trial as interpreted by northern and southern newspapers and national magazines. Each thumbnail has a link to a larger image. According to Mr. Aldrich, many of the cartoons are readily available from the Library of Congress and other sources.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education for the reference.

Danaus gilippus

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Photographed by Kaitlyn Arvesen, age 10.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Kaitlyn.Arvesen - Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus).jpg

Danaus gilippus–wing of the queen butterfly taken through a dissecting microscope.

Freshwater Update (Re-updated 21 Sept)

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Update Sept 21: In the comments there is some speculation about the strategy being followed by Kelly Hamilton, John Freshwater’s attorney. Thursday of last week, the 17th, Hamilton and Freshwater were interviewed on a radio program hosted by David Barton, notorious revisionist pseudo-historian who is in the process of polluting social studies standards in Texas. Late in the interview (there are no time markers) Hamilton explains his motivation for taking Freshwater’s case:

Everybody in this world is given an opportunity to be obedient at any given time, and it just so happens that I’ve known for several years prior to this event taking place that God made it very clear that one day I would be arguing about the First Amendment as it relates to His Bible. I’ve known this and I can’t wait to share that with others. But, you know, for anybody that doubts God’s intervention in this particular matter, they simply have to recall chapter 6 in Ephesians and the spiritual battle and the [bounty?] that is being fought. The symbolism is so great in this particular case. Recognize that “fresh water,” of course, represents baptism, and that’s exactly .. that’s John’s last name. There is a .. the opposing attorney in this particular case, his last name is Millstone. All you need to do is go to the book of Luke, and when you take a look at the book of Luke it will say, you know, “It would be better for someone to put a mill stone around their neck than to keep these little ones from me.” Then, of course, the judge’s last name in this particular case, his last name is Shepherd. So you start putting some of the symbolism together just on the names, you start to see some of the unique intervention that God has had in this particular matter.

There you have it. It’s a done deal. It’s all in the names.

Note also that Hamilton throws in some snark alleging the family who brought the affair to light were just after money. Recall that they settled their suit with the district for $5,500 and costs. Big money, all right. Hamilton’s gratuitous snark came after the announcement of the settlement.

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Original post

As is obvious, the administrative hearing on John Freshwater’s appeal of the decision of the Mt. Vernon Board of Education to terminate his employment as a middle school science teacher did not resume on Sept 10, as had been previously hoped. The hold up is Freshwater’s request that the Ohio Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus that compels (at least) two members of the Board of Education (Jody Goetzman and Ian Watson) to testify in the hearing.

To recap the other legal proceedings associated with the situation, last month a partial settlement was reached between the Dennis family and the school district defendants in the federal suit the Dennis’ brought against the district, several administrators, and Freshwater. Freshwater remains a defendant in that suit.

The other federal lawsuit was brought by Freshwater against a range of defendants – board members, administrators, and miscellaneous John and Jane Does. One defendant is David Millstone, the Board’s attorney for the administrative hearing. As I posted on Sept 2, on September 1 Millstone’s attorney filed a motion with the federal court requesting that he be removed as a defendant. I’ve now got the text of Millstone’s filing and memorandum of support (I suspect it’ll be up on the NCSE docs site soon), and it’s more than a simple request to be removed as a defendant. Millstone is asking the federal court to impose sanctions and fees against R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, arguing that Hamilton’s inclusion of Millstone as a defendant as an “agent” of the Board of Education, when in fact he is a private attorney hired by the Board, violates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The filing says

Defendant Millstone is moving the Court for sanctions and fees based on specific conduct by Plaintiff’s [Freshwater’s] counsel that violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Plaintiff’s Complaint against Defendant Millstone violates Rule 11 because it only serves to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation. Further, the claims asserted against Defendant Millstone are not warranted by existing law and are not supported by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law. (p. 2)

The rest of the 17 page document provides the support for the request for sanctions and fees. Millstone’s attorney filed this motion after an attempt to resolve the inclusion of the Board’s attorney as a defendant in Freshwater’s lawsuit failed because Hamilton did not respond to a request to discuss the issue informally.

Hamilton’s claims about Millstone in Freshwater’s suit (documents here) do seem a bit strange to a lay person. For example, Hamilton accuses Millstone of “conspiring” with the Board of Education. Erm, is a client consulting with its attorney engaging in a “conspiracy”? Seems a little weird to me, and is part of the basis for Millstone’s request for sanctions and fees against Hamilton.

Actually, one begins to wonder if Hamilton is taking his legal cues from the Thomas More Law Center. We all know how well that worked out for the Dover Area Board of Education. More seriously, something I’ve been watching for in the various twists and turns of this situation is some sign that Hamilton is getting coaching from the ‘professional’ creationist defense outfits. So far I see nothing that suggests that. Hamilton is apparently screwing it up on his own.

Harvard Darwin150 Webcast tonight

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Sorry for the late notice, but there’s a webcast tonight at 8:00 Eastern time from Harvard on “The World Before Darwin,” by Everett Mendelsohn, a social historian of science. A friend who was a teaching fellow for Mendelsohn tells me he’s a very good speaker. The webcast is free, but you must register. When I registered a few minutes ago there were 599 699 webcast ‘tickets’ left.

This is apparently the first in a series of talks in Harvard’s “Darwin150” program celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of OoS.

Hat tip to Patricia Princehouse, the former Harvard Teaching Fellow mentioned above.

This essay is the third of a series authored by Dave Wisker, Graduate Student in Molecular Ecology at the University of Central Missouri.

This series of essays counters common Intelligent Design/Creationist arguments against the fixation of the fusion that produced human chromosome 2. To recap briefly, ID/C’s argue that the fusion would have resulted in a chromosome with two centromeres, which would then be torn apart during meiosis. In “The Dicentric Problem” I explained how the presence of two centromeres does not necessarily interfere with proper segregation. ID/C’s also claim that heterozygotes for the fusion suffer from greatly reduced fertility, preventing the fusion from ever becoming fixed. I explained how this is not true for centric fusions in “The Fertility Problem” . Using realistic values for human populations, “Fixation Within a Deme” showed that the fixation probability of the fusion within a local breeding population, or deme, may be between 4.5 and 10 percent. This final essay will look at the probability of fixation for the fusion in the species as a whole.

Lande (1979) looked at the problem of fixation for chromosomal rearrangements with heterozygote disadvantage. He constructed a model with populations subdivided into numerous, semi-isolated subpopulations, or demes, in which spontaneous chromosome rearrangements with heterozygote disadvantage occur. In addition, the model included random extinction and colonization of demes. Lande did not include mechanisms like meiotic drive (see “Fixation Within a Deme” for explanation) in his model, letting genetic drift (i.e., chance) be the primary force for fixation within a deme. He found that the biggest obstacle to overall fixation was establishment of the fusion within one deme. The overall fixation probability turned out to be the probability of fixation within that first deme:

Once established in a deme, a negatively heterotic [one with a selective disadvantage for heterozygotes–DW] gene arrangement can spread in homozygous form through a subdivided population by random local extinction and colonization. For this process, the fixation rate in a species composed of many semi-isolated demes is approximately equal to the rate of establishment of new gene arrangements in a single one of its demes.

In “Fixation Within a Deme”, I showed that meiotic drive plays a major role in influencing fixation of centric fusions in humans. In addition, the probable structure of early human populations is very similar to that used in Lande’s model. It is therefore reasonable to suggest the overall fixation probability for the human chromosome 2 fusion is at least the value of 4.5 -10% determined earlier.

Interestingly, there may be another factor that influenced the rise in frequency of human chromosome 2. Hedrick and Levin (1984) suggested a mechanism that greatly increases the probability of fixation for negatively heterotic chromosome rearrangements during migration and colonization of other demes. They pointed out that the process of colonization often involves small groups of individuals, so genetic drift in the form of the “founder effect” plays an important role. Furthermore, the individuals in these founder groups may be closely related. So, if a chromosome rearrangement becomes established in a deme, then any founder groups derived from it will already have the rearrangement at a very high frequency to start with. If the group establishes itself in an unoccupied area, fixation would be instantaneous for that deme. If the group joins another existing group, given that most demes are small, the newcomers may compose a significant percentage of the combined deme. Therefore, the initial frequency of the rearrangement could already be high enough to exceed the unstable equilibrium frequency (see “Fixation Within a Deme” for discussion of this) and thus drive the rearrangement to fixation there as well. Hedrick and Levin called this “kin-founding”. They note that kin-founding is common in many groups of organisms. Anthropological data confirms this in humans (Fix, 1978). Since Lande’s model does not incorporate mechanisms that influence fixation such as meiotic drive and kin-founding, there is reason to believe that the overall fixation probability for human chromosome 2 may be higher than the base calculation for the deme.

In conclusion, this series of essays effectively counters every ID/C claim about the probability of fixation of human chromosome 2, using actual data from human populations as well as population models based on plausible assumptions. It is up to the ID/C community to present data that specifically supports their contentions.

Many thanks to Art Hunt for discussions and publishing help, and the PT crew for encouragement. Many thanks also to the ID proponent ‘Ilion’ (wherever he may be) for getting me mad enough to actually put it all together.

References

Fix AG (1978). The role of kin-structured migration in genetic microdifferentiation. Ann. Hum. Genet. Lond. 41: 329-339.

Hedrick PW & DA Levin (1984). Kin-founding and the fixation of chromosomal variants. Amer. Nat. 124(6): 789-787

Lande R (1979). Effective deme sizes during long-term evolution estimated from rates of chromosomal rearrangement. Evolution 33(1): 234-251.

What a difference a week makes.

According the Bay Area NBC website, there is now a “bidding war” for the US distribution rights for “Creation,” the movie about Charles Darwin. That’s quite a difference from last week when it opened in theaters in the UK with little hope of finding a US distributor.

Argiope aurantia

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Photograph by Makayla Arvesen, age 8.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Makayla.Arvesen - Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia).jpg

Argiope aurantia–garden spider.

The perfect phrase

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Back in June 2008, in a post reporting about the Mt. Vernon Board of Education voting on a resolution to terminate John Freshwater’s employment as a middle school science teacher, I described a conversation with one of Freshwater’s supporters at the special meeting of the BOE. I wrote this:

I also spoke with one of Freshwater’s adult supporters. The No True Scotsman fallacy was alive and well in that conversation. There was an enlightening moment when I recommended that he read Francis Collins’ The Language of God to get an idea of how an evangelical Christian who is a scientist tries to deal with the conflict. The man asked if Collins accepts Genesis. I replied that Collins is an evangelical Christian, but that he doesn’t read Genesis literally and believes that evolution is the means by which God created the diversity of biological life. The man then refused to consider reading it, saying “I don’t need to look at beliefs I don’t agree with.” That level of willful ignorance pretty much says it all.

This evening I happened onto the perfect phrase to describe that mindset. In a March 2009 talk (video) to the British Humanist Association, Daniel Dennett outlined his approach to the roots of religion. A questioner in the Q&A period asked why people (his relatives, actually!) hang onto religion so tenaciously, “so locked in until they die.” Dennett answered, in part (around 1:13:30ff):

One of the really powerful ideas [in religions] is the idea of sacred truths. And a sacred truth is one that even thinking about it is evil. Don’t even think about it! And when you can establish that about anything, when you can build that taboo against thinking and internalize it – and people internalize it – then they become their own jailers. They become very effective protectors of their own incarceration. (Emphases in Dennett’s intonation)

That is exactly the right phrase: “they become their own jailers.” It perfectly describes my fellow’s mindset.

Dmanisi in the news

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The English media is full of articles about the Dmanisi fossils, based on a talk by David Lordkipanidze at the British Science Festival. The articles mention the discovery of five or six specimens, with some giving the impression that these are new discoveries. The New Scientist commented that “it’s not clear whether Lordkipanidze was presenting new data, or simply wrapping up the story so far for a more lay audience at the festival.” However some of the other newspapers such as the Guardian clarified that most of these fossils were discovered early this decade, along with another recent discovery that is not yet published. According to The Times, this recent find is “a fifth well-preserved skull, the most complete yet”, which will make it a spectacular fossil. This is probably the specimen shown a photo in many of the articles, still half-embedded in rock.

As is usual, a number of newspapers somewhat overstated the significance of the find, especially the Daily Mail with its headline “Ancient skeletons discovered in Georgia threaten to overturn the theory of human evolution”. This is highly misleading. The Dmanisi fossils are a tremendous discovery, and may well change our ideas about some details of where, when, and how we evolved, but they’re certainly not going to overturn the idea of human evolution. They are actually superb evidence for human evolution.

The Dmanisi hominids are from the country of Georgia (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/d2700.html). A number of skulls have been found so far, ranging from about 850 cc (the lower end of the H. erectus range) down to 600 cc (well into the H. habilis range). In 2007, details of some skeletal material was published.

The brain sizes of these skulls straddle the gap that creationists like to claim exists between humans and australopithecines. The skulls are also intermediate anatomically, looking like primitive H. erectus skulls with some habilis features. The same is true of the skeletal material: the creatures were indisputably bipedal, but have a number of primitive features.

Naturally, creationists don’t have a clue what these fossils are. Some of them think they’re humans, some think they’re apes, and, as I blogged last year, they’re both wrong:

Dmanisi fossils - more transitional than ever
Dmanisi and Answers in Genesis

Note: In the initial version of this post, I thought the articles were referring to new fossil discoveries, which turned out to be (mostly) not the case, so the post has been corrected accordingly.

Rationality Now’s tour of Ham’s “museum”

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To add to the various accounts of tours of Ken Ham’s creationism museum, Rationality Now has an excellent series of six posts starting here The posts are particularly noteworthy for the excellent photographs, and I commend them to your attention. The last two paragraphs of the last post are quoteworthy. Referring to children with their families he saw in the museum, Dan writes:

Some of those kids will be stuck in that world for their entire lives. They’ll be raised that way and protected from any alternate viewpoints or ideas. They’ll be shuttered away from any kind of real, intellectually challenging science. They’ll be constantly given misleading or incorrect information about our world. Their parents will steep them in dogma, ritual, and ancient scripture for as long as they can manage… and the Creation Museum will be right there to back them up with pretty lights, bells, and whistles.

The museum is loathsome and its creators should be very, very ashamed.

But they aren’t, of course.

Hat tip to the Friendly Atheist.

by Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education

The new movie Creation (movie website, Adobe Flash 10 required | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes), a British drama about of key moments in Darwin’s professional and personal life, just opened at the Toronto Film Festival and will soon be released in the UK. NCSE staff were invited to a pre-screening of the movie. Genie Scott’s review and commentary are below.

Update: Roger Ebert has posted some comments on his online journal (and I guess he’s quite the Darwin fan!).

I and NCSE staff were invited to view the new Jon Amiel movie, Creation, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly. I believe it to be a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public—for the good. The acting is strong, the visuals are wonderful, and it treats with loving care the Victorian details of the furnishings at Down house and other sites (such as Malvern), and the local church.

The movie takes place after Darwin has returned from the Beagle voyage, and has settled down with his wife, Emma. It concentrates on their relationship, on the growth of their family, and of course, on the production of his most famous scientific work, On the Origin of Species. It looks hard at Darwin’s growing disenchantment with Christianity, especially the concept of Providence, and how poorly it fits Darwin the naturalist’s knowledge of a very unpeaceable kingdom. Darwin’s frequent illness is portrayed with brutal honesty. Sometimes pale, nauseated, unable even to eat dinner with his family, much less work on his science, Darwin is shown suffering from vague symptoms which he attempts to cure with what we would recognize as quack treatments.

A centerpiece of the movie is the death of Annie, the Darwins’ beloved 10 year old daughter, and how it affected the relationship of Charles and Emma. Much of the movie takes place as flashbacks to when Annie was alive; much takes place after her death, when her father imagines conversations with her. In some reviews the later Annie is described as a ghost. Not really. Creation is not a ghost story. Rather, the filmmakers are taking dramatic license to make Darwin’s thoughts about her visible to us. Also given much attention is Darwin’s reluctance to set down his scientific ideas on evolution and natural selection for fear of upsetting the devout Emma, and society in general. Huxley and Hooker encourage him to publish, but Darwin procrastinates.

As someone with a stake in how the public understands evolution and its most famous proponent, the bottom line for me was that the science be presented accurately. The second was that the story of Darwin’s life be presented accurately.

Another smackdown of Dembski & Marks

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As most readers know, William Dembski and Robert Marks recently published a paper in an IEEE journal that purports to show that

In critiquing his [Dawkins’] example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.

Various science bloggers have critiqued it; see here, here, and here for examples.

Now the Metropolis Sampler has published a more technical analysis of the paper, concluding that

The fundamental lesson here is that the Dembski-Marks approach to evaluating model assumptions is both arbitrary and a poor reflection of scientific reasoning. Model assumptions are not accepted or rejected based on a numerical measure of how many logical possibilities that are ruled out or how far probability distributions deviate from uniform measures. Rather, model assumptions are accepted or rejected based on predictive and descriptive accuracy, domain of applicability, ability to unify existing models and empirical knowledge, and so on.

ID creationists persistently use models that misrepresent theories (or in the case of the WEASEL hoorah, misrepresent what the model is intended to represent), and then conclude (on the basis of syntactic manipulations of the model) that the theories are invalid. Dembski, of course, is a serial offender in this respect, and it’s a pity that he’s inveigled Marks into sharing his delusions.

Bloggingheads’ business plan: Borrow credibility and then blow it.

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Most have by now heard about the kerfuffle over Bloggingheads.tv hosting creationists. As a consequence, four of the most prominent science bloggers, physicist Sean Carroll, science writer Carl Zimmer, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, and Pharyngula’s PZ Myers, have elected to not participate further on Bloggingheads. There are comment threads attached to each of the posts linked, with some split in the comments concerning whether the decisions to withdraw are well advised. I myself think they are well advised to withdraw, and I describe why I think that below the fold.

In addition, the Disco ‘Tute’s Bruce Chapman has weighed in, his post invoking the metaphor of the guillotine to describe Blogginghead’s fate.

Romalea microptera

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Photograph by Kimberly Smith, age 11.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

smith_eastern_Landlubber.JPG

Romalea microptera–eastern lubber grasshopper chewing on leaf of pond apple, Annona glabra, Loxahatchee, Florida.

Photo Contest Winners

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Wow! We received so many splendid pictures that we almost feel justified in stating the old cliché, “You are all winners.” In real life, however, some winners are more equal than others, and the following photographs won in each of the 3 categories:

Survival of the Pithiest

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Hello from Kearney Nebraska, where I am lucky to be a speaker along with a great number of actually famous people at the University of Nebraska’s Evolution2009 conference. I am mostly offline at the moment, but I have been told that the Darwin Correspondence Project in Cambridge has just announced that I have won the prize for one of their competitions – finding the true source of a famous, but bogus, quote of Darwin. The quote goes as follows (there are many varieties):

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Freshwater: Losing your case? Sue your opponent’s attorney.

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You will recall that in June John Freshwater filed a federal suit (see PT post here) against the Mt. Vernon City School District, several Board members, several administrators, and a bunch of John and Jane Does. Included among the defendants was David Millstone, attorney for the Board.

Now, according to news reports, Millstone has moved to be dropped as a defendant, arguing that it is improper to sue an attorney in order to pressure the attorney’s client. The news report describes a June 9, 2009, letter from R. Kelly Hamilton to the Board of Education that apparently suggested a settlement, including this sentence: “It will be interesting to observe the developments between Mr. Millstone’s representation and the interests of the Mount Vernon City School System.” According to the news report, Millstone’s filing characterized that sentence as “a ‘veiled threat’ to force Millstone out of representing the school board.”

The news report quotes Millstone’s attorney as saying “The claim against Mr. Millstone appears to be a pressure tactic aimed at the administrative process to terminate Mr. Freshwater’s contract.”

This is of a piece with Freshwater’s basic strategy, which is apparently to attempt to force a settlement one way or another. Freshwater’s pastor, Don Matolyak, has been making noises about settlement for some time now, always, of course, on Freshwater’s terms.

In other legal news, responses to Freshwater’s application to the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel testimony from Board members are coming in. They’re linked from here. The administrative hearing was due to resume September 10, but I strongly doubt it’ll happen that soon.

Now those nasty Darwinists are coming after our band t-shirts!

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