February 2013 Archives

My Freshwater analysis is a few days out there.

A brief note to let readers know that my analysis of the oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court will be up in a couple of days. I have some background material coming from outsiders that’s yet to arrive, and my tomorrow is almost fully booked already. So: Friday at the earliest, and possibly Saturday.

Updated: Freshwater: Ohio Supreme Court oral arguments next week


UPDATE: Video of the oral arguments is now up.

Oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court on the termination of John Freshwater’s contract as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, are scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, February 27. Freshwater’s case is second on the schedule. Fifteen minutes of oral arguments are allotted to each side in each case, and I don’t know how long the break between cases is, so Freshwater’s case will be heard sometime after 0930 EST (1430 UT). Oral arguments will be live streamed on The Ohio Channel, and I was told by an administrator at the Court that video of the arguments should be archived at the same site that evening.

The documents in the Court’s review are here. The core documents are Freshwater’s Merit Brief (PDF here) and the District’s Merit Brief (PDF here). In addition, Steve and Jenifer Dennis, the National Center for Science Education, the Secular Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have filed amicus curiae briefs, all available at the general documents link above.

Recall that two lower courts, the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals, both ruled against Freshwater. I still have no idea why the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the case for review, particularly in view of the bait and switch Freshwater’s attorneys pulled on the Court.

I suggest that interested folks preview a couple of the archived oral argument videos to get a feel for how the Court operates. In general, attorneys for both sides get to start their presentations but are rather quickly interrupted by questions from members of the Court.

Dipsacus fullonum


Dipsacus fullonum – common teasel, Boulder Creek Path, Boulder, Colorado. See also here and here.

Junk in the Trunk


Sadly I don’t have time for a full blog, but PT readers should read a caustic paper by Dan Graur et al. (Graur of chicken entrails fame), which is doing the most thorough take-down to date of the ENCODE project’s widely-advertised claim last year that 80% of the human genome is functional and that the junk DNA concept has been debunked. It’s open access, and the media is starting to pick it up: http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/conte[…]ull.pdf+html

The major weakness is that Graur et al. do not discuss the huge variability in eukaryote genome size much, although they do cite Ryan Gregory’s Onion Test. And the tone is such that tone itself is becoming an issue. On the other hand, many of us feel that ENCODE steamrolled basic, well-known scientific facts when it shot the “80% functional” claim around the world’s media. Certainly there’s a lot to discuss!

Pachydiplax longipennis


Photograph by Kurt Andreas.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Pachydiplax longipennis – blue dasher (male), New Paltz, New York, August 13, 2010.

Project Steve’s 10th Anniversary


Today is the 10th anniversary of NCSE’s Project Steve:

“Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”

Conceived in discussions amongst NCSE staffers and members of the old TalkDesign group (several of whom went on to be founding contributors to Panda’s Thumb), the Steve-O-Meter currrently shows 1,239 scientists whose first name is Steve or a cognate, including the two eligible living Nobel winners (Chu and Weinberg), who have signed on to this statement:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

Since “Steve” and cognates comprise roughly 1% of first names, that corresponds to over 120,000 scientists concurring with the statement.

Compare that to the wishy-washy Scientific Dissent from Darwinism statement maintained by the Disco ‘Tute:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

Cell Reports special Darwin Day issue


Cell Reports, an open access journal of cell biology, has a special Darwin Day issue:

In celebration of Darwin Day 2013, we offer this collection of papers published in Cell Reports on various aspects of evolutionary biology. Topics range from experimental evolution in real time to explorations of the origins of signaling pathways in existence for nearly a billion years. Like all papers in Cell Reports, these articles are open access, free to read and distribute. We hope you enjoy the collection, which is perhaps best prefaced by Mr. Darwin himself:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

- On the Origin of Species, first edition, closing paragraph


The egg came first


I have been saying it for years: The transition from dinosaur (figuratively speaking) to chicken was gradual, but at some time we stopped calling it a dinosaur and started calling it a chicken. Or would have if we had been there. The chicken therefore emerged from an egg laid by a dinosaur. Hence, the egg came first. See Robert Krulwich’s article on NPR and the splendid video he links to if you do not believe me.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to Dave Carlson, who asks, “Which came first, the panda or the panda’s thumb?” for the link.

Cynomys ludovicianus


Photograph by Vivian Dullien.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Cynomys ludovicianus – black-tailed prairie dog. The one on the left is a juvenile.

Basics of evolution at BioLogos


Dennis Venema, an evolutionary creationist, senior fellow of BioLogos, and associate professor and chair of the biology department of Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, is starting an elementary introduction to evolution at BioLogos. The series of posts will be aimed at

… just average folks who would like to learn more, but need to start at the beginning and work up slowly - not jump in halfway through, with technical terms and jargon flying around. They need a context for the discussion. They need to explore the basics, first, before building on that understanding to explore the finer details.

Venema is a bright, knowledgeable guy who has strongly criticized the intelligent design movement and old earth creationists like Reasons to Believe. He comments here occasionally, and I’ll be interested to see the response to his series. It’s a worthy effort, and I wish him well with it.

Montana Creationism Bill: dead in committee(?)


As Matt noted above, one of the creationist so-called “academic freedom” bills was filed in the Montana state legislature. Now the Sensuous Curmudgeon reports that the bill has been tabled in committee, whatever that means. In that post SC also has a video of some of the testimony at the committee hearing on the bill, noting that the proposer, Representative Clayton Fiscus, was the only speaker in support while a couple of dozen professors, teachers, and citizens testified in opposition. It’s worth watching both for the testimony in opposition and for the almost sad ignorance and confusion of Representative Fiscus. I genuinely wonder how he navigates through life given his evident inability to think coherently. if he’s the best the Disco Tute can come up with to sponsor their bills, they’re in deeper trouble than I thought.

That video is edited from the full hearing, and another set of excerpts consisting mostly of speakers’ identifications is on NCSE’s YouTube channel. It does not include Representative Fiscus’ remarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if video of the full hearing including all testimony is somewhere, but I haven’t looked for it.

SCOTUSBlog is running a symposium on the case of Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, which presents the question of whether human genes are patentable. I blogged about the case when the Federal Circut upheld the patent.

Allium sp.


Photograph by Jay Worley.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Allium sp. – ornamental onion. Mr. Worley writes, “A flower from the Allium genus, unknown species. Shown is not the flower stage, but rather seeds (black) in their, I suppose, pods (?).”

Update, February 4, 2013. NCSE has just reported that the Colorado bill has failed to make it out of committee. First in the nation, for this year at least! Unhappily, the vote was 7-6, which is entirely too close for comfort.

January is barely gone, the groundhog may or may not have seen his shadow, and the National Center for Science Education reports that already 8 anti-science bills have been filed in 6 states: Colorado, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma (two bills), Arizona, and Indiana.

As Barbara Forrest notes, “Creationists never give up.” The bills have been carefully sanitized, but all will allow teachers to teach the purported strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, most commonly “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” According to NCSE, the bills are also generally “protective” in that they forbid state and local authorities to prohibit such teaching. The bills pretend to foster debate, but the language is clearly code words for creationism.

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