May 2010 Archives
Todd Wood, a young earth creationist at Bryan College, provides summary data on YEC organizations’ finances over the 2003-2008 period. There are several interesting things about those data.
First, as Wood points out, AIG’s share of the creationist dollar grew over that period, from 61.6% ($9M) of the market in 2003 to 68.2% ($22.7M) in 2008. AIG’s growth in market share came at the expense of all the other YEC organizations, with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and and the Creation Research Society (CRS), the two elder U.S. creationist organizations, contributing most of the change. While ICR’s revenues also increased over those years, from $4,5M to $8.7M, as a percentage of the total creationist dollar it decreased from 30.6% to 26.2% and CRS’s percentage declined from 1.7% to 1.0% as its dollar revenues declined from $250K to $230K. The smaller YEC organizations also lost share.
Second, Eric Hovind, offspring of jailed tax evader Kent Hovind, entered the list in third place in 2008 with his “GodQuest” (DBA Creation Science Evangelism) at $930K for 2.8% of the creationism market, far behind ICR’s $8.7M but well ahead of CRS’s $230K.
Third (and pretty depressing to see), NCSE’s gross revenue as a percentage of AIG’s gross revenue has steadily declined over those years, dropping from 7.8% in 2003 to just 5.7% in 2008. In 2008, 85% of NCSE’s revenues ($1.1M of $1.3M) came from direct public support–memberships and donations from you and me. While the amount has increased in absolute terms over those years, as a proportion of creationist revenues it has dropped significantly. C’mon, people. Let’s put our money where our mouths are.
Hat tip to Wood for doing the digging in form 990s.
William Dembski calls envious attention to the funding (reportedly $25M) by NSF of the BEACON (Bio/computational Evolution in Action CONsortium ) project, a multi-institutional consortium that is intended
…to conduct research on fundamental evolutionary dynamics in both natural and artificial systems, educate a generation of multi-disciplinary scientists in these methods, and improve public understanding of evolution at all levels. The center will unite biologists who study natural evolutionary processes with computer scientists and engineers who are harnessing these processes to solve real-world problems.
Among the researchers associated with the consortium is Joe Felsenstein, who guest posts here on occasion. On a fast run-through of the personnel listing I also see at least four senior people who have been associated with the AVIDA project at Michigan State (Pennock, Lenski, Ofria, and Wilke) and other leaders in both evolutionary biology and computer modeling of evolution. The consortium includes Michigan State University (lead institution), along with the University of Washington, the University of Texas at Austin, North Carolina A&T, and the University of Idaho. I’ll be interested to see what comes out of it, especially given its lofty goals:
BEACON will have a powerful legacy: we will reframe public perceptions of evolution and increase understanding of scientific methods. At the same time, we will produce a conceptual framework to firmly establish evolutionary biology as an experimental science and cement its links to computing in a crossfertilization that enhances both fields.
See also here:
K-12 and general public education.
In this area, BEACON will pursue four main goals:
* Demonstrate the fundamental power and importance of evolution. BEACON will contribute to the pressing national need to bolster U.S. pre-eminence in science and technology by educating people about the importance of understanding, managing and harnessing biological and computational evolutionary processes and deconstructing the false dichotomy of micro- versus macro-evolution.
* Disseminating materials generated by BEACON. Our team includes experts in science education and outreach who will work with all BEACON researchers to adapt BEACON research for use in science classes in schools in ways that address national science standards and goals.
* Increasing participation in science and engineering. We will broaden participation in STEM disciplines by introducing teachers and students from underrepresented groups to the new research opportunities afforded by BEACON’s applied evolutionary tools and research programs.
* Preparing responsible citizens. We will deepen student’s understanding of evolution-related challenges, such as responding to the evolution of infectious diseases and limiting the evolution of antibiotic and pesticide resistance, and have them learn to protect the integrity of the scientific process.
Those are high aspirations.
First R. Kelly Hamilton, John Freshwater’s attorney, pissed off the judge in the federal suit against Freshwater, and now Freshwater himself has done so.
Freshwater has taken to providing “updates” to the Mt. Vernon Board of Education regarding the administrative hearing on his termination. He uses the public comment period during Board meetings for those “updates.” In his most recent, on May 10, 2010, among other things Freshwater revealed the terms of settlement negotiations being held under the Court’s aegis, and provided the Board with email from the Dennis family’s attorney with a settlement offer, an email that was clearly marked “Confidential.”
The Dennis family through its lawyer subsequently asked the federal judge to issue a gag order, and following a hearing on the request on May 26, 2010, the judge issued that order binding on all parties to the suit. In his order the federal judge said
Cognizant of the fact that Plaintiffs have not behaved in any way that would warrant this Court’s application of a gag order against them, the Court indicated that it would grant Plaintiffs’ request for a gag order and that the order would be applicable to all parties and attorneys involved in any way in this action. The Court then explained to Mr. Freshwater that, aside from the privilege issue, his behavior jeopardizes the Court’s ability to seat an impartial jury in this matter, which it has a duty to do.
And from the last paragraph of the order:
The Court, reiterating its stern warning given to Mr. Freshwater in court, will not tolerate violations of this Gag Order. Any violation will meet serious consequences, including monetary sanctions and other sanctions up to and including the most severe this Court can impose.
The trial of that suit is due to begin July 26. It’s becoming very clear that the federal judge will not permit the kind of shenanigans Hamilton and Freshwater have been engaging in during the administrative hearing.
Borodin was an amateur. So was Charles Ives. Bobby Jones was an amateur. Bill Tilden was an amateur, at least until he was 37 or 38. Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson were amateurs. According to Publisher’s Weekly, so is Mark Sumner.
Sumner is the author of the book The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature. It is difficult to classify this book, but if I had to do so, I would say that it not only tells the history of natural selection in biology but also relates it to business and commerce. And it does so in an interesting, compelling way: Even though I thought I knew something about the contents of many of the chapters, Sumner managed to introduce some tidbit, some wrinkle that I did not know into virtually every discussion.
Well, more like great-great-many-times-great-aunt of all squid, but it's still a spectacular fossil. Behold the Cambrian mollusc, Nectocaris pteryx.
(Click for larger image)
Reconstruction of Nectocaris pteryx.
Though most in the community that reads PT have undoubtedly already heard, I’ll repeat here that Martin Gardner, a central figure in recreational mathematics, skepticism, and the testing of claims of the paranormal, died at age 95 on May 22, 2010, in Norman, Oklahoma, where his son Jim is on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma.
I had the great pleasure of meeting him once at his son’s graduation from the college where I taught. He was a gracious and gentle man, and he suffered hero worship with nearly invisible discomfort. One of the highlights of my career was to achieve passing mention in one of his Scientific American columns for a statistical note I sent him on the misuse of p-values as indices of effect size in psi “research.”
Jim Lippard has links to memorial tributes by Richard Dawkins, Douglas Hofstadter, James Randi, Wendy Grossman, and Phil Plait, and also has a link to a documentary on Gardner from December 2008. I recommend it highly. It captures the man well. Would that we all could live as full and fruitful a life as he did.
I think sometimes academics and bloggers who oppose creationists don’t really fully get the cultural and emotional context that the creationists are living in. You need to watch this May 20th episode of TBN’s “Praise the Lord”, devoted to creationism. Featured interviewees include Sean McDowell (son of Josh), Eric Hovind (son of Kent), Hugh Ross, Ray Comfort…and well-known non-creationist, Stephen Meyer. But the first 15 minutes of the show gives you some idea of just how far this is from being an academic issue.
The Texas State Board of Education is making the final votes today on their controversial social studies curriculum. This vote will have ramifications across the nations as most K–12 textbooks are written to appease the standards in Texas. The board members are not curriculum experts, but partisan politicians, and have produced a set of social studies standards that seeks to promote a sectarian political viewpoint. Some of you may remember their continual monkeying around with the science standards—no offense to actual monkeys. But it takes some some chutzpa to remove Thomas Jefferson from history standards.
Texas Freedom Network is following today’s events.
I teach a short unit on scientific ethics in my senior design class, so when I was offered a review copy of the book, On Fact and Fraud, by David Goodstein, I took it. The title of this essay is in fact the subtitle to Professor Goodstein’s book.
The book is composed largely of essays that Goodstein had published elsewhere, and the cautionary tales are mostly from physics. Among other anecdotes, Goodstein discusses Millikan’s oil-drop experiment, cold fusion, the case of Jan Hendrik Sch�n at Bell Laboratories, a little-known case where a Caltech postdoc apparently falsified a figure in a paper, and the successful discovery of high-temperature superconductivity.
The ENCODE project made a big splash a couple of years ago — it is a huge project to not only ask what the sequence of a strand of human DNA was, but to analyzed and annotate and try to figure out what it was doing. One of the very surprising results was that in the sections of DNA analyzed, almost all of the DNA was transcribed into RNA, which sent the creationists and the popular press into unwarranted flutters of excitement that maybe all that junk DNA wasn't junk at all, if enzymes were busy copying it into RNA. This was an erroneous assumption; as John Timmer pointed out, the genome is a noisy place, and coupled with the observations that the transcripts were not evolutionarily conserved, it suggested that these were non-functional transcripts.
It’s a closely-guarded secret that can now be revealed - on Friday, May 14, Steve Matheson and I served as the critics for an event at Biola University the focus of which Stephen Meyer and his book “Signature in the Cell”. (Well, actually, this was the lead-in to some big hoopla about the release of a new Illustra DVD entitled “Darwin’s Dilemma”. But that will have to be the subject of someone else’s writing, since I didn’t go to the screening, nor did I bother to scarf up a DVD.) The format for this was a bit different from your usual debate - thus, after the glitzy Meyer presentation, a panel of hand-selected critics (chosen by the event organizers) would be given opportunities to grill Meyer. In other words, there would be no tit-for-tat here, but rather a one-way exchange of Q&A. This is roughly what transpired, but in a shorter period of time than I had expected.
I have posted a longer essay on my blog, where comments may also be made. I’ll summarize the most important points here, focusing just on the questions I was able to ask. Due to the time constraints, I only got to ask three questions. The answers and discussion that followed these included some interesting (and perhaps important) concessions. Briefly, Meyer did not offer to disagree with the notion that there are in some senses a disconnect between the quantity of specified information (in whatever sense he uses the term in his book - please refrain from rehashing this issue in the comments) and biological function. He also granted that some of the analogies he uses in his book were not really strong selling points for the design argument. (My question focused on the analogy with computers and engineered objects.) Finally, he intimated that high specified information content was not a feature of all proteins. This latter point may seem obvious, but I think it important to have ID advocates backing down from claims or even hints that all (or even most) proteins have high specified information contents.
That’s my experience in a very small nutshell. I would have liked more time for questions, to be sure. But in general the format that was proposed to me was followed. To be sure, Meyer danced around many of the issues, but in retrospect this may have been because I pressed him on things that he was not familiar with.
I haven’t tried to sum up Steve Matheson’s questions or impressions. I suspect that he will give his these on his blog. Stay tuned.
A news article in today’s issue of Science suggests that global warming may drive many lizards to extinction. I have not read the technical article, which you may find here. According to the news article, Barry Sinervo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleagues suggest that lizards, which generally can tolerate high temperatures, may nevertheless suffer if the periods of high temperature grow longer. Specifically, if the lizards have to spend more time protecting themselves from the heat, then they become less fit because they must spend less time foraging for food. Sinervo and colleagues note that Mexico has lost 12 % of its lizard species in the last 35 years, and they suggest that 40 % of lizard populations could disappear and 20 % of lizard species could become extinct by 2080. Additionally, Sinervo says here that lizards that can move to higher elevations may end up outcompeting other species and driving them to extinction, so the 20 % figure may be conservative.
If you find yourself in the Albuquerque NM area this Sunday, consider heading down to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science to meet Charles Darwin.
Not the real Darwin of course, but entertainer/storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis.
Here are the details.
Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle with Storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis Sunday, May 16th 2 p.m. NM Museum of Natural History & Science
After spending five years circumnavigating the globe aboard H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin has spent the past twenty years as a recluse in the study of his home near London, researching and writing his great work, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. With the recent publication of this controversial book, Charles Darwin is making a rare public appearance to tell his side of the story, share the adventures from his monumental trip and outline the intricacies of his theory of evolution!
Fox Ellis is a storyteller, author, and educator. He has been touring as a performer and educator since 1980. He is a dynamic teller with a warm and entertaining manner. Fox is the author of nine books including, “The WEB at Dragonfly Pond” and nine CDs. He also writes for more than a dozen magazines. Ellis presented “Audubon” last fall at the Museum, and the audience asked for more–so here he is, back by popular demand!
Free, open to the Public! 2 PM at the Museum.
I hope to see you there! Hey, it’s FREE!
The signs are all over, but here is a particularly insidious one from Canada. Woo Fighters points to a review of a book on evolution for children in a publication of the Manitoba Library Association. The review, by no less than an Assistant Professor of Science Education, includes this paragraph:
Although the text is very good in describing the theory of Evolution, there are points in the book where the author makes comments that could imply that Evolution is more than a theory. For example, “…Charles Darwin revealed the solution to the mystery of evolution” (p. 7). He also makes the comment that Evolution is the most important idea in all of biology (p. 7). Such phrases may lead the reader into thinking that scientists completely understand the theory of Evolution which would be incorrect, else Evolution would be a principle or a law and not a theory. As well, it is a bit bold to claim that evolution is the most important idea in all of biology - biology is a huge field of study with other key discoveries.
Read it and weep. That reviewer, who seems to specialize in mathematics, physics, and chemistry education, is busily teaching Canadian college students about science education at a university that advertises itself as “one of Canada’s Best Universities.” Since she’s on the physics side of things, someone might mention to her that Einstein’s theory of relativity has not yet been ‘promoted’ to a principle or law.
Many readers will be familiar with longtime TalkOrigins regular Doug Theobald – he is the author of “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent,” pretty much the most impressive FAQ of all time. Oh, and he’s a professor too, and has published some other stuff.
Today he has published a pretty impressive paper in Nature. It is entitled “A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry.” Basically, it applies the likelihood-based and Bayesian phylogenetic techniques that have been developed over the last decade or two, adds in some standard model-selection theory, and uses these to assess “universal common ancestry” (UCA). A lot of arguments “for common ancestry”, e.g. biogeography, are really arguments for the common ancestry of groups of modern-day organisms – like mammals – rather than arguments that every living thing we know about shares common ancestry. There have been some powerful arguments for UCA over the years – e.g. the extremely conserved (if not quite identical) genetic code (and as everyone except Paul Nelson knows, “almost identical” and “identical” are virtually the same thing statistically, so his decade of yammering about the non-universality of the genetic code has had no impact on this evidence). However, although the arguments remain powerful and convincing, they weren’t usually quantitative and statistical, and it takes some serious work to construct a statistical assessment of something as deep and universal as common ancestry. This is what Doug has done.
You don't have to tell me, I know I'm late to the party: the news about the draft Neandertal genome sequence was announced last week, and here I am getting around to it just now. In my defense, I did hastily rewrite one of my presentation to include a long section on the new genome information, so at least I was talking about it to a few people. Besides, there is coverage from a genuine expert on Neandertals, John Hawks, and of course Carl Zimmer wrote an excellent summary. All I'm going to do now is fuss over a few things on the edge that interested me.
Someone please tell me this is a hoax…
As you will recall, two of John Freshwater’s trial attorneys in the federal suit in which he is a defendant, attorneys who were retained by the school’s insurance company, withdrew in late April citing professional ethics concerns. Freshwater then requested that the insurance company appoint new counsel, arguing that with the withdrawal of Stoffer and Deschler he was left with no legal representation. However, Stoffer and Deschler had said in their request to withdraw that
Defendant Freshwater continues to be represented by R. Kelly Hamilton.
The insurance company has agreed to retain another attorney for Freshwater but asked that Freshwater request a continuance from the Court so that new attorney could get up to speed. In an email, the insurance company’s claim analyst wrote
Mr. Hamilton is your attorney for purposes of defending the lawsuit against you, as was the firm of Mazanec Raskin, Ryder & Keller [Stoffer’s and Deschler’s home firm].
So the insurance company regarded Hamilton as co-counsel in the federal suit’s defense.
In their request for a continuance Freshwater and Hamilton claimed that Hamilton had never represented Freshwater in the Dennis’s federal suit but only represented him in the counterclaim that the Court dismissed a few weeks ago. But as the Court’s ruling says, in opposing the motion for a continuance the Plaintiffs argued that Hamilton
… has been intimately involved with the preparation for the trial, including participation in discovery, participation in conferences before this Court, in person and on the telephone, after the dismissal of Freshwater’s counterclaims. (Italics in the original.)
While the judge granted the continuance until July 26, 2010, he had some strong words for Hamilton:
This court agrees with Plaintiffs’ assessment of Attorney Hamilton’s involvement in Freshwater’s defense. Despite Hamilton’s insistence that he was not involved in Freshwater’s defense, his actions spoke otherwise. After this Court’s dismissal of Freshwater’s counterclaim Hamilton on several occasions held himself out as trial counsel for Freshwater and this Court accepted him as such. Indeed, after the final pretrial conference during the approximately five hours of settlement negotiations held with this Court’s assistance, Hamilton participated most aggressively on behalf of Freshwater. The Court is sorely disappointed at the current unbelievable assertions of uninvolvement made by Hamilton.
I titled an earlier post Playing fast and loose with the truth. It appears that Hamilton does that in a federal court as well as Freshwater does in radio interviews.
I know virtually nothing about this subject, and I will try very hard to avoid odious comparisons between Neanderthals and anyone else, but it appears that white and Asian people, but not sub-Saharan Africans, have 1-4% Neanderthal genes in our genomes. You may read news articles about it in the New York Times free or in Science with a subscription. Science also has provided a special feature on the Neanderthal genome and has made two technical articles available without charge, but not the news article cited above. This paragraph has almost completely exhausted my knowledge of the Neanderthal genome.
John Freshwater has embarked on a mini-media campaign to discredit Zachary Dennis, the student whose arm was burned by a Tesla coil in a classroom demonstration in December, 2007, and his parents. Based on his representation of the testimony of other students on April 29 and 30, Freshwater is claiming publicly that Zachary is lying. But Freshwater’s story has some pretty significant holes and in important respects misrepresents the testimony. Moreover, it is a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the actual matters at issue, including Freshwater’s inconsistent sworn claims about whether the Tesla coil even marked students and whether the display of religious materials, including multiple displays of the Ten Commandments, in Freshwater’s classroom was appropriate. Freshwater played fast and loose with the facts of the matter in the interview, and I’ll detail some of those offenses below the fold.
I recorded most of an interview Freshwater gave on local talk radio yesterday, May 6, and I’ll describe some of Freshwater’s claims and their problems below the fold. The full interview ran about 24 minutes; I have about 20 minutes of it recorded, punctuated by dogs barking (apparently at phantoms) and radio transmissions from my fire department pager that make it occasionally hard to hear the interview. I call it an “interview” but it was really an infomercial. The host, Dave Bevington, is a strong Freshwater supporter and served up softball questions that had clearly been briefed before the show began. [See note below.] Out of character for the “Open Debate” name of the show, no calls were accepted from listeners. (Remind anyone of the comment policy at an ID “blog” we know and cherish?)
The informercial interview is a target-rich environment, and I am going to have to work to keep this post to a reasonable length, under 3,000 or so words. I’ll try, but there are many temptations there.
Note added in edit May 13 The host of the talk radio show, Dave Bevington, denied on the air on May 11 that he bad discussed his questions with Freshwater before the show. That may be, but it still had the distinct feel of an infomercial rather than a journalistic exercise.
Some of you may be interested in a new blog at the NY Times: Scientist At Work: Notes from the Field. For the next few weeks, Dr. Christopher Raxworthy, a herpetologist from the American Museum of Natural History, will be blogging his expedition in Madagascar to study reptiles and amphibians.
There are already a series of post up about the beginning of the expedition.
Wednesday morning in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, which is known as Tana, and with all research permits now in hand, it is time to start thinking about the practical aspects of starting the fieldwork. That means trying to plan (and pack) for everything that can go wrong. And a lot can go wrong in Madagascar. For example, when the car breaks down and strands you in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no roadside towing, except maybe a couple of zebu cows in the closest village, if you can find their owner. So, a very good place to start the practical preparation is with the car – my trusty old Land Rover, “Baby.”
For many years, Discovery Institute spokesperson Casey Luskin has been telling the world that the genus Homo is preceded by no transitional forms, because the species typically thought to be transitional between australopithecines and Homo, Homo habilis, is actually an Australopithechus itself. Poof, there goes the transition. As I pointed out long ago, this argument about what names to apply to fossils under Linnaean taxonomy is basically pointless – the fossils stay transitional in time and in morphology no matter what names you give them – but creationists like Luskin don’t care about that (and don’t give me that silliness about ID advocates not being creationists, Luskin is arguing for the special creation of humans, for goodness’ sake!).* Instead, they love to misrepresent the terminological dispute to obscure the actual big picture of the data.
Unfortunately for Luskin, though, other creationists play the same game, and, don’t you know it, it turns out that the transitional specimens come out as transitional in their latest analysis. Bryan College creationist Todd Wood is announcing his “baraminological”** analysis of Homo habilis, Australopithecus sediba, and other fossils. He took a bunch of cladistic datasets from the paleoanthropology literature (all based on crandiodental characters) and put them through his “baraminological distance” algorithm to see where there are clusters and gaps. He concludes that the recently-discovered Australopithecus sediba should actually be Homo sediba, but this is just this is what several paleoanthropologists said after it was published. More significantly for our interests, instead of saying that habilis is just another ape far removed from Homo, Wood concludes that habilis clearly groups with the rest of Homo, and that big, unfillable, magical God-obviously-acted-here gap, which all creationists mindlessly, dogmatically believe in come hell or high water, is actually between habilis and the australopiths. Whoops!
The Aztecs consumed chocolate as a beverage and called it bitter water. Linnaeus, who had more sense, named it Theobroma, the food of the gods. Evidently, the gods (if not the Aztecs) were a bit depressed – a recent study by Beatrice Golomb and her colleagues concluded that depressed people consume more chocolate. I am not surprised.
In spite of John Freshwater’s lawyer, R. Kelly Hamilton, speaking against it in a local talk radio interview a couple of weeks ago, the school district’s 2.75 mill renewal levy passed today, unofficially 2,697 to 2,489 (52%-48%). Five funding requests on the ballot from other county school districts failed (some only have a few voters in Knox County), as did a Community and Mental Health Recovery Board levy. So the majority of folks are hanging in with the district in a bad time for school funding requests generally.
This is the second (of two) renewal levies to pass in the district since the Freshwater affair became public and the administrative hearing has been in progress. The first passed with a larger margin (61%-39%) a year ago, but a pass is a pass. Given the economic situation in this county these days, a situation that’s significantly worse than it was a year ago when the first levy was on, that this one passed at all is a strong statement.
And I have to note that “Coach” Dave Daubenmire, the guy who pushed Freshwater into going public in 2008, got 16% of the Republican vote in this county in the Congressional primary. Eyeball-adjusted for the proportion of Republican registered voters in the county, a fair estimate of the overall percentage of complete and total wingnuts in the county is about 10%. That’s not as bad as I feared. On the other hand, it’s a little disappointing. Dave would have been a real entertainment bonanza in the general election.
The administrative hearing on the termination of John Freshwater as an 8th grade science teacher in the Mt. Vernon Middle School resumed April 29 and 30 after a 15 week hiatus. These two sessions saw testimony from four adults–Freshwater, Ruth Frady, Sherri Perry, and Lori Hubbell–and a parade of former students in Freshwater’s science class in 2007-2008. I’ll treat the two days as though they were one here.
I’ll get to the students’ testimony after I describe the testimony of Freshwater and the other adults. I’ll say just this above the fold. What we saw in R. Kelly Hamilton’s questioning of the students was the shameless exploitation of students, some of them special needs students, by Hamilton. I’ll explain why that’s the case when I describe the students’ testimony below.
More below the fold