January 2013 Archives

The correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace

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The correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace is now online. And here’s an interesting “interview” with Wallace, with Wallace’s answers drawn from that correspondence.

Episyron biguttatus

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Photograph by Kurt Andreas.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Episyron biguttatus – spider wasp predating on Araneus diadematus – garden spider, New Paltz, N.Y., August 20, 2011.

The Revisionaries on PBS

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A somewhat shortened version of the movie, The Revisionaries, will be shown on PBS Monday night at 10 Eastern Time. The Revisionaries is a documentary about attempts by the Texas State Board of Education to inject creationism into the school standards.

Here is what PBS says about the program:

Creationism bill in Colorado

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Update, January 27: Phil Plait reports here that the bill almost certainly will not make it out of committee.

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy reports here on the latest creationism bill in Colorado. As always, the bill is disguised as an academic freedom bill but, as Plait says, questions evolution, cloning, and global warming and omits, say, religion and literature:

If this were really about academic freedom, why is it so specific? Why not include all fields of science, instead of just those three? In fact, why not include all academic fields? I’d be fascinated to see literature, art, and math added to that. Or religious study…how about supplementary texts that show the contradictions in the Bible? I wonder how that would go over. [Ellipsis in original.]

Me? I do not wonder at all.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to Mike Klymkowsky and James DeGregori for the link.

The NYTimes on science denial

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Here. An excerpt:

Galileo’s achievement was the end of geocentrism, but it was hardly the end of ignorance and magical thinking. When obstinacy places reason under siege, as it does to this day – when fundamentalism defames biological science in the classroom, or the politics of denial prevent action to deal with a changing climate, it helps to recall our debt to a man who set a different example more than 400 years ago. It took just a wooden tube and some polished lenses, a critical and inquisitive mind, and four points of light that didn’t behave the way they were supposed to.

I’d replace just one word in that: “obstinacy.” It’s not obstinacy that’s the problem. It’s the stultifying religious fundamentalisms, the AIGs and Harun Yahyas of the world, the purveyors of ignorance and irrationality, that are the problem.

Irrationality and ignorance buttressed by religion are formidable foes, but the alternative to fighting them is to acquiesce in the decline of humanity into a fetid swamp of superstition.

Papilio glaucus

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Photograph by Dragoness.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Papilio glaucus, male. The (female) black morph was shown in the photography contest, here.

Todd Wood has just announced that Bryan College is discontinuing support for the Center for Origins Research (CORE). I am actually kind of sad about this. Wood was almost the sole representative of critical thinking in the creationist movement. He also had the virtually unique trait of understanding what modern evolutionary biology actually said before opening his big mouth about it. I can’t think of a time when he quote-mined Gould’s punctuated equilibrium quotes or blamed Darwin for Hitler or used the other careless, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics ubiquitous with creationists of the ID or AIG varieties. And I can think of many times when he called shenanigans on creationists engaging in those sorts of sins.

According to an article in the Pasadena Star-News, Jet Propulsion Laboratory has finally won the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by David Coppedge. NCSE has posted the judge’s decision here. You may see an interpretation of the case here.

Hoyt stromatolites

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Photograph by James Kocher.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Stromatolites in outcrop, cryptozoon proliferum (Hall, 1882). Hoyt limestone, late Cambrian (~500 Ma). Lester Park, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., July, 2012.

Erinaceus europaeus

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Photograph by Sarah Boosey.

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Erinaceus europaeus, hedgehog, East Dereham, Norfolk, UK.

Due to scheduled electrical maintenance, this website and the rest of my scit.us server will be taken off line Monday night and will not come back on until some time Tuesday morning.

Carl Woese dead at 84

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I just heard word that evolutionary microbiologist Carl Woese has died. Woese is probably most famous for defining the Archaea, the “third domain of life”.

Intelligent design proponents have touted Woese’s ideas about horizontal gene transfer as a challenge to evolutionary theory, even claiming that Woese argued there were multiple, independent origins of organisms. This was wrong, of course. Almost exactly a decade ago, I asked Woese to give his thoughts on his work and ID. I leave you with some of his comments:

It’s basically correct to say that I do not challenge common ancestry per se but rather the concept that there was a single common ancestor cell or organism that gave rise to the three cellular domains of life.

In a way my theory is more of a problem for creationists and their ilk than the old way of looking at things – though those folks do not seem to sense this yet. Special creation starts with a given type of form that may or may not change but in any case remains “true” to its original character. “Intelligent design” seems to see different mechanisms being designed individually, just as an inventor or engineer would do. Well, in my theory none of this is the case.

I have no trouble with a claim to the effect that God set the world up so that it progressed in an evolutionary fashion. That would affect my work no more than the belief that God’s world was a mathematical world affected Newton’s work; one can scientifically procede the same way with or without the assumption. And creationist or intelligent design views will be back where they belong, in the realm of (immature) religion.

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