February 2012 Archives

Freshwater: RNCSE article published online

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For the addicts, my article on the Freshwater affair was published online today in Reports of the National Center for Science Education. Table of Contents of the issue, and PDF of the article.

Note: This topic is outside of my specialty, so it may be that I have missed some important points. I think I’ve got the basics correct, but this is a very complex topic. I will be interested in critical but constructive posts in the comments.

Update: required reading, which basically confirms my points I think:

Weiss, K. M. and J. C. Long (2009). “Non-Darwinian estimation: My ancestors, my genes’ ancestors.” Genome Research 19(5), 703-710.

Nievergelt, C. M., O. Libiger and N. J. Schork (2007). “Generalized Analysis of Molecular Variance.” PLoS Genetics 3(4), e51.

On Monday, Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True posted on “Are there human races?” While acknowledging the very bad history of the race concept in human history, and noting some of the problems with applying the concept to humans, Coyne concluded, basically, that the answer was yes, there are human races. While reviewing Jan Sapp’s piece which concluded that human races did not objectively exist, Coyne wrote:

As those who have followed the comment thread on the previous post know, the link to the webpage for the forthcoming creationist/ID “Biological Information: New Perspectives” volume on the Springer website went dead yesterday, approximately 24 hours after the PT post went up. This may mean that the volume had already been identified as problematic, and the webpage was put up due to some oversight or failure to update a database.

Surprisingly for the ID movement, which normally cries “oppression” and “freedom of speech” at the first sight of criticism, there has been virtually no reaction so far. The only creationist reaction is from Todd Wood, who is a lone wolf in the creationist movement in several ways. David Klinghoffer at the Discovery Institute (DI) did put a post up at the DI Media Complaints Division soon after my post, but it was taken down before anyone saw it, except apparently for Google blog aggregators.

Red Lynx

I added some new features to Red Lynx recently. So go check it out. Now.

http://scit.us/redlynx/

Note: The Springer webpage for the book was taken down about 24 hours after this post; see update post.

It looks like some creationist engineers found a way to slither some ID/creationism into a major academic publisher, Springer. The major publishers have enough problems at the moment (e.g. see the Elsevier boycott), it seems like the last thing they should be doing is frittering away their credibility even further by uncritically publishing creationist work and giving it a veneer of respectability. The mega-publishers are expensive, are making money off of largely government-funded work provided to them for free, and then the public doesn’t even have access to it. The only thing they have going for them is quality control and credibility – if they give that away to cranks, there is no reason at all to support them.

(A note: even if you bought the ridiculous idea that ID isn’t creationism, they’ve got John Sanford, a straight-up young-earth creationist for goodness sakes, as an editor and presumably author!)

Here’s the summary:

Biological Information: New Perspectives

Series: Intelligent Systems Reference Library, Vol. 38

Marks II, R.J.; Behe, M.J.; Dembski, W.A.; Gordon, B.L.; Sanford, J.C. (Eds.)

2012, 2012, XII, 549 p.

Hardcover, ISBN 978-3-642-28453-3

Due: March 31, 2012 $179.00

Argema mimosae

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IMG_2241_MoonMoth_600.jpg

Argema mimosae – African moon moth, Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster, Colorado. The eyespots are interesting, but the antennas are more so. In the 60’s and 70’s, Phil Callahan showed that many insect antennas are miniature TV antennas tuned for submillimeter wavelengths. He suggested using submillimeter lasers to control certain insect pests. An admittedly cursory search turned up nothing recent. Does any reader know whether anything has come of Callahan’s research?

Dive the Marianas Trench

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The deepest spot in the earth’s oceans is the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench in the western Pacific, at 10,994 meters. The BBC has a magnificent interactive graphic of the Trench. Pause as you descend to play the clips at various depths. (And yes, you’ll see the same CIO dating commercial at every stop!)

Hat tip to Talking Points Memo.

The problem with evo devo

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Last week, I gave a talk at UNLV titled "A counter-revolutionary history of evo devo", and I'm afraid I was a little bit heretical. I criticized my favorite discipline. I felt guilty the whole time, but I think it's a good idea to occasionally step back and think about where we're going and where we should be going. It's also part of some rethinking I've been doing lately about a more appropriate kind of research I could be doing at my institution, and what I want to be doing in the next ten years. And yes, I want to be doing evo devo, so even though I'm bringing up what I see as shortcomings I still see it as an important field.

I think of myself as primarily a developmental biologist, someone who focuses on processes in embryos and is most interested molecular mechanisms that generate form and physiology. But I'm also into evolution, obviously, and recently have been trying to educate myself on ecology. And this is where the conflicts arise. Historically, there has been a little disaffection between evolution and development, and we can trace it right back to Richard Goldschmidt and the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

Can Ken Ham be far behind?

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Chrysaora fuscescens

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Photograph by James Draginda.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Draginda.Chrysaora_fuscescens.jpg

Chrysaora fuscescens – Pacific sea nettle.

Intelligent design news, commentary and discussion from the 11th of February to the 19th of February, 2012. 

So, it happened again: the Discovery Institute decided to notice something I wrote about them. I’m not sure if it’s because I write for The Panda’s Thumb and they see me as the weakest, undergraduate link in its strong chain of esteemed, proper biologists, or because my criticisms of their ideas are annoying, but they seem to focus on me quite a lot. Ah well, any recognition is good recognition, right?

This week I’ll be focusing mostly in their response to me, but also on the Discovery Institute’s move into the iAge (which must be very exciting for them), as well as a curious post that highlights yet another major problem with the way the intelligent design movement operates.

Freshwater: Is Hogwarts a religious school?

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Those who are unfamiliar with issues sometimes raised by religious fundamentalists may be excused for finding the question that is the title of this post a little weird. But out here in Knox County, Ohio, home of the Freshwater affair, it could turn out to be a serious question.

Accountability in the Media is a blog that comments mainly on local doings here in Knox County. Its author, a fundamentalist Christian, is a strong supporter of John Freshwater. He regularly videotapes Board of Education meetings, and has posted numerous videos on Youtube. (Those who are morbidly interested can see me in one.)

In December 2011, Accountability wrote about Freshwater’s appeal of the decision of the Court of Common Pleas upholding Freshwater’s termination. As an aside in that post, Accountability published a photo of the Hogwarts coat of arms on a banner hanging in the middle school library where school board meetings are held, and captioned the photo

(The Mount Vernon Board of Education met recently below a poster that could be interpreted as being of a religious nature: The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry coat of arms.)

I can’t tell you how amusing it is to see a fundamentalist Christian implicitly equating the Bible with a work of fiction, and how much fun I’ll have with that if the author of Accountability and his co-religionists push that notion. I suppose it’s possible that Accountability was engaging in humor here, but given that there is a history of fundamentalist religious hysteria over Harry Potter (see, e.g., here for an example and here for an overview), I wouldn’t be amazed to learn that Accountability is serious.

[Republished from Homologous Legs]

Intelligent design, as a scientific hypothesis, is in trouble if it doesn’t have peer-reviewed papers establishing, analysing and providing evidence for its core ideas - so it’s no surprise that proponents of ID are quite adamant that such papers do in fact exist.

Casey Luskin, intelligent design expert and apparent head writer over at Evolution News & Views, is naturally no exception, and he recently answered an objection to the claim that over 50 peer-reviewed articles support ID: namely, that the majority of the articles cited by the Discovery Institute in this list do not mention ID at all.

Four years ago in a post titled “Dissent Out of Bounds on Uncommon Dissent (Oops, make that “Descent”)” I wrote of the banning of Elizabeth Liddle, a British neuroscientist whose nom de net is Febble, from Uncommon Descent (UD), the ID blog founded by William Dembski. That occurred during the reign of DaveScot as UD moderator, and resulted from DaveScot’s hissy fit about Liddle’s quite reasonable argument that Dembski’s definition of “intelligence” operationally made natural selection an intelligent process. Later DaveScot fell out of favor and was himself banned from UD.

Now under the reign of Barry Arrington, a lawyer, UD is engaged in a wholesale purge of commenters who are ID critics. At last rough count 20 commenters have been banned in the last couple of days, most of them ID critics. Once again, Lizzie (I’ve known her online for long enough to call her “Lizzie”!) is banned from UD. She wasn’t notified of it but (like other bannees) found she could no longer log in to UD. However, she has a new home, the The Skeptical Zone, to which I commend readers’ attention.

More below the fold

Homo nivis

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Photograph by Rachel Shannon.

SnowmanPanorama_600.JPG

Homo nivis – snowman. According to Wikipedia, snowmen “are customarily built by children.” The ages of the two specimens of H. sapiens have not been determined.

Tomorrow is Darwin Day

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Tomorrow, February 12, is Darwin Day, and you can find lots of lectures and whatnot through next weekend at the website of the International Darwin Day Foundation. If you live near a university, you might also want to Google the words “Darwin Day” along with the name of your university, because the Foundation’s listing is apt to be incomplete. If you want to announce any events here, please do so in the comments section.

Intelligent design news, commentary and discussion from the 17th of December, 2011 to the 10th of February, 2012.

Huh? Intelligent design, what’s that? Oh, oh, yes. Yes, you’re quite right. I’m sorry, I’ve been out of the loop a bit and I’d forgotten this little movement I like to keep an eye on from time to time. Well, it’s actually supposed to be a weekly thing, but… things have been crazy around here. Leave me alone, I’m a university student on holidays, I have no time to do anything.

Anyway, what has the intelligent design community been up to online since we last saw them? Not a huge amount, actually, although certainly more stuff than is feasibly possible to fit into one blog post. So, like normal, I’ll skim off the cream floating at the top of this ID think-tank and have a peer into the beaker I used to do it.

This time we’ll be looking at speciation, the glowing past and future of ID, ID as a default assumption in science, appeals to historical authority, and the Discovery Institute distancing themselves from a creationist bill in Indiana.

Teaching real science

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Under that headline, Bruce Alberts, the editor of Science magazine, announced the first of 15 winners of the Science Prize for Inquiry-based Instruction. The first winner, An Inquiry-Based Curriculum for Nonmajors, describes “an inquiry-based curriculum designed to increase the scientific literacy of those who are not science majors and to impart a fundamental understanding of the nature of scientific investigation.” The curriculum uses a series of independent modules in which the students design their own experiments. The curriculum described in the paper is Light, Sight, and Rainbows. It Includes a scattering experiment and a solar oven experiment designed by the students, and looked to my (optical) eye like very sound pedagogy.

wikipedia_peppered_moths.jpgToday a paper came out that should get special attention from evolutionary biologists, evolution educators, and creationism fighters. It is:

Cook, L. M.; Grant, B. S.; Saccheri, I. J.; Mallet, J. (2012). “Selective bird predation on the peppered moth: the last experiment of Michael Majerus.” Biology Letters, Published online before print February 8, 2012. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2011.1136. Abstract at Journal, Supplementary Online Material.

Abstract

Colour variation in the peppered moth Biston betularia was long accepted to be under strong natural selection. Melanics were believed to be fitter than pale morphs because of lower predation at daytime resting sites on dark, sooty bark. Melanics became common during the industrial revolution, but since 1970 there has been a rapid reversal, assumed to have been caused by predators selecting against melanics resting on today’s less sooty bark. Recently, these classical explanations of melanism were attacked, and there has been general scepticism about birds as selective agents. Experiments and observations were accordingly carried out by Michael Majerus to address perceived weaknesses of earlier work. Unfortunately, he did not live to publish the results, which are analysed and presented here by the authors. Majerus released 4864 moths in his six-year experiment, the largest ever attempted for any similar study. There was strong differential bird predation against melanic peppered moths. Daily selection against melanics (s ≃ 0.1) was sufficient in magnitude and direction to explain the recent rapid decline of melanism in post-industrial Britain. These data provide the most direct evidence yet to implicate camouflage and bird predation as the overriding explanation for the rise and fall of melanism in moths.

As long-time readers of Panda’s Thumb know, I’ve had an axe to grind about the peppered moth case since the beginning of my serious involvement with creationism-fighting. Back in 2002 I wrote a long review of Jonathan Wells’s creationism/ID book Icons of Evolution for Talkorigins.org. Wells’s strategy was very clever; rather than attacking the science of evolution head-on, he attacked high school biology textbooks. He engaged in a delicate dance of selective citation and quote-mining so as to make it appear that the criticisms of standard textbook examples used to introduce various evolutionary concepts were coming from scientists.

…is probably this one.

Freshwater: The role of the appeals court

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Given some dispute and confusion in comments earlier, I asked Ken Lane, an attorney friend of mine who has considerable prosecutorial and civil law experience, especially in legal issues associated with local governments and administrative agencies, to write a paragraph or two on the role of appellate courts in cases like Freshwater’s appeal of his termination by the Mt. Vernon City Schools Board of Education. His excellent and helpful response is below the fold.

Toxomerus marginatus

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Photograph by Kurt Andreas.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Andreas.Toxomerus_marginatus.jpg

Toxomerus marginatus – hoverfly. See also here.

Carnival of Evolution

The Proceedings of the 44th Carnival of Evolution are up on Atavism. The Proceedings include

Session 1. Symposium on the evolution of novelty

Session 2. Evolutionary ecology and life history evolution

Session 3. Philosophy and evolution

Session 4a. Experimental Evolution

Session 4b. Timing and tempo of evolution

Session 5. Outreach and anti-creationism

and a Poster session.

Freshwater: Appeal goes to the court

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I’ve learned that leave has been granted for acceptance of the amicus briefs from the Dennis family and NCSE. The briefs in the case are now complete (see NCSE’s compilation). I’m told that Freshwater requested an expedited hearing, meaning that only the initially submitted briefs–plaintiff’s, defendant’s, and the two amicus briefs–will be in play. The case has been submitted to the appeals court where it will be heard by a three judge panel. They may or may not schedule oral arguments. If they do, I’ll try to be there.

Since January 10, 2012, I’ve been unable to connect to my email or any of the web applications serving Antievolution.org, Austringer.net, and TalkDesign.org from my Verizon FIOS residential internet service account. The servers hosting those are on a Verizon FIOS Business service account.

This isn’t a problem with the servers. I’m able to access everything fine via my smartphone or from other ISPs.

This isn’t a problem just at my house. My parents’ ISP is Verizon FIOS, and they’ve been unable to access the Austringer blog since January 10th, too.

This limits my efficiency on dealing with things if my home internet doesn’t actually get me to the sites I do system administration on and the email where various lists are handled. I’m using AnonymoX just to be able to hit various sites in my browser, which is a real pain.

The favor: If you have Verizon FIOS, try pulling up the Austringer blog. If you have the same problem, your browser will timeout rather than display anything. Please leave a comment saying whether you were successful or unsuccessful in getting the blog. If you are unsuccessful, I’d really appreciate it if you could enter a ticket with Verizon technical support. Reference ticket numbers TXP08R8CY and FLCP08R8EN if you put in your own ticket. I’ve had tickets in since January 10th, but no solution has turned up, and a high-level Verizon network person tonight seemed to be on the verge of cancelling the tickets that are currently active without fixing the problem.

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