September 2013 Archives

NCSE community training coming soon to a monitor near you.

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NCSE is ginning up to run webinar training sessions for folks interested in defending the teaching of honest science out in the field:

The National Center for Science Education will soon present monthly online training sessions that will show you how to defend science education in your schools and your community.

There’s a questionnaire at Survey Monkey to gauge interests. I’m not (yet) sure of the registration procedure, though the questionnaire solicits the relevant info and an expression of interest in attending/participating.

Some years ago I attended a meatspace workshop at NCSE in Oakland aimed at (more or less) the same objective, and it was well worth the time. I’ll be taking at least one of the webinars, too.

Cyclura lewisi

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Photograph by Jeremy Lyon.

Photography Contest, Honorable Mention.

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Cyclura lewisi – Grand Cayman blue iguana, Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. Mr. Lyon writes, “Warning signs posted in the parking area inform visitors to check under their cars and behind their wheels before starting their vehicle. Unfortunately, road kills have played as large a role as any other in threatening the native population.

“A very recently declared species, the blue iguana is an example of a radiation event from the Cuban iguana, which has deposited subspecies on the other Cayman islands as well. Once critically endangered with wild individuals numbering little more than a dozen or so, this species has been brought back from the brink of extinction due to intensive conservation over the past few decades. The blue iguana is fighting threats from loss of habitat, invasions from imported common green iguanas, and predation from feral dogs and cats. Fortunately, the efforts of the wildlife conservationists have allowed the wild population to bound back to many hundred wild individuals in recent years.”

Speaking of NCSE …

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Anthropologist Eric Meikle, NCSE staffer, has started a series of posts on human evolution at Science League of America, NCSE’s new blog. The first two posts in Eric’s series are here (#1) and here (#2).

Creationists sue Kansas over Next Generation Science Standards

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Most PT readers doubtless already know that an organization called “Citizens for Objective Public Education” (COPE) has sued a range of Kansas defendants (PDF of complaint), including the Kansas State Board of Education, alleging that the Next Generation Science Standards are unconstitutional, in that they “…will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2)” (quoted in the NCSE article linked below).

NCSE has the full story here. I note with parochial interest that Robert Lattimer, a chemist, is involved in COPE. Lattimer was a leading light in SEAO, the American Family Association project to shove intelligent design creationism into the Ohio science standards in the early 2000’s.

Ondatra zibethicus

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Ondatra zibethicus – muskrat, Elmer’s Two-Mile Creek, Boulder, Colorado. Once I saw a pair of muskrats there, but I think they were lost in the recent flooding.

By now most of you will have seen the breathless reports that claim alien life has been found in cometary debris collected by a high altitude balloon during the Perseid meteor shower. The facts however are far more mundane.

A fragment of diatom caught in the upper atmosphere by the sampling ballooon. Image Credit University of Sheffield.

You can see the actual research the news paper reports are based on  here. The summary in the conclusion of the paper is a bit less triumphal than the news reports

“To conclude we note that the results presented here provide unequivocal evidence that a diatom fragment has been found in the lower stratosphere.”

Yes. That’s the whole paper basically. “We found a diatom fragment, it’s unlikely that diatom fragments can last that long in the high atmosphere, therefore it came from outer space”

Have you ever noticed how boring Creationism and/or Intelligent Design are? How many times must we endure hackneyed claims like “The Flagellum proves Intelligent Design,” or “The Cambrian Explosion Defies Darwinism” ?

Science, however, is continuously being refined and improved, and new discoveries are the order of the day. Here are a few current stories that have relevance to the creationism-versus-evolution “debate.”

  • Darwin’s Dilemma Resolved: Evolution’s ‘Big Bang’ Explained by Five Times Faster Rates of Evolution
  • Functioning ‘Mechanical Gears’ Seen in Nature for First Time
  • DNA Double Take

More below the fold.

Asclepias speciosa

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Asclepias speciosa - showy milkweed, Boulder, Colorado, June 17, 2013. The flower of the seed pod posted last week, with a friend.

By Dan Phelps

On September 12, 2013, I received a letter (see Appendix) signed by Ken Ham and a slick advertisement from the Ark Encounter touting funding the Ark Park via bonds. The bond issuer will be the City of Williamstown, Kentucky. According to the website mentioned in the letter, the co-borrowers will be Crosswater Canyon, Inc., a non-profit organization controlled by Answers in Genesis, and Ark Encounter, LLC (co-borrower, solely owned by Crosswater Canyon, Inc.).

Discovery Institute still spinning Bryan Leonard

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Long-time readers of PT will recall the Bryan Leonard affair in Ohio. Now Casey Luskin harks back to that to criticize one of the Ohio State professors who called attention to anomalies in Leonard’s quest for a Ph.D. in science education from the Ohio State University.

To recap, in 2005 I wrote

Bryan Leonard is a recently visible figure in the intelligent design creationism movement. Leonard is a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus. As an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, he was the author of the IDC-oriented “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education last year, and he recently testified at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings. The credential that endears him to the IDC movement is that he is a doctoral candidate in science education at the Ohio State University, and his dissertation research is on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Leonard was scheduled to defend his dissertation yesterday, June 6, but we learned late last week that his defense has been postponed.

Briefly, the composition of Leonard’s committee did not meet the requirements of the program from which he sought the degree, and further, there was no indication that he had sought or received Institutional Review Board or parental permission to conduct his research, using misleading material about evolution, on public school students. As I wrote in 2005,

Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements. It was composed of his advisor, Paul Post from the technology education program area of the section for Math, Science and Technology; Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology in the College of Biological Sciences; and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. For the final defense an Assistant Professor from the department of French & Italian in the College of Humanities was also assigned to the committee to monitor the procedure. Thus, there were no members from the science education program area on Leonard’s final dissertation committee.

That lack was pointed out to the University by three senior members of the University’s graduate faculty, evolutionary biologist Steve Rissing, paleoanthropologist Jeff McKee, and mathematician Brian McEnnis, in a letter to the appropriate administrators of OSU. (Full disclosure: all three are friends of mine.) All three were (and still are) full professors on the OSU graduate faculty. Excerpts from that letter are quoted in an excellent summary in the OSU newspaper.

Waco Mammoth Site needs help

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Someone who identified himself only as Profound Pharynx wrote the other day asking for our help in getting a paleontological resource, the Waco Mammoth Site, designated a National Monument. Specifically, he asks that we sign a petition asking the President to name the site as a National Monument by executive order. The petition must gather at least 100,000 signatures by October 11; as I write, it has 73 signatures, but in a few moments it will have 74.

Here is what Profound Pharynx asked us to publish:

The Sensuous Curmudgeon strikes again

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Those who don’t follow The Sensuous Curmudgeon miss some great stuff. His latest is Discovery Institute’s New Form of Proof. It has a handy list of nine tactics the Disco Dancers use, with links to supporting material, and then adds a tenth, ““You’re afraid to debate me, so I win!” SC comments

Despite the fact that the Discoveroids have no evidence and no theory that challenges evolution (or any other science), they demand endless debates over their empty and valueless rubbish. And when no one pays any attention to them, they declare victory. It’s quite sad, really. But it probably impresses their generous patrons, who keep the cash flowing.

Maybe if they offered a $250K prize like Kent Hovind they’d get a better response. Surely Howard Ahmanson can afford a measly $250K.

Congratulations, Dr. Matzke

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Guest post by Josh Rosenau.

Cross-posted from the NCSE blog, “Science League of America.”

When I started work at the National Center for Science Education six years ago, I was known as “the new Nick.” Nick Matzke was heading off to grad school in evolutionary biology after a productive tenure at NCSE. I had big shoes to fill.

Asclepias speciosa

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Asclepias speciosa – showy milkweed, Boulder, Colorado, Sept. 4.

Another giant is dead

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I became aware of science fiction sometime around 1950, when the “commercial club” in my tiny village–my dad, who managed the lumberyard, Butch Holdredge, who owned a grocery store, two saloon owners whose names I don’t recall, Mr. Hanenberger, who owned the hardware store, the Laudon brothers, who owned the grain elevator, and the village banker, Merle Comingore–arranged for free movies to be shown on a sheet hung on the side of the township building outdoors on summer Saturday nights. Typically, the itinerant projectionist, who drove up from Winona, showed a cartoon (Mighty Mouse was a favorite), a serial, always with a cliff-hanger, and a two-reel feature. One summer the serial was a Buck Rogers saga created 10 years earlier. I was entranced by it.

I remember seeing Destination Moon in a real theater in its first release in 1950 (admission 14 cents). I read the science fiction pulps–Amazing Stories, Astounding Science-Fiction–when I could find them. All that was part of the background that led me to work in aerospace years ago.

Now the last of the founding giants of modern science fiction, Frederick Pohl, has died. RIP.

Science on trial?

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Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

Slaying Meyer’s Hopeless Monster

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One is reminded of the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The limbs keep being lopped off.

Stephen Meyer’s “Darwin’s Doubt” has taken a beating from scientists who have reviewed it. Nick Matzke (recently Ph.D.’d and on his way to postdochood in Knoxville), in Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II, eviscerated Meyer’s understanding of phylogenetics, among other things (see also Luskin’s Hopeless Monster). Don Prothero, in Stephen Meyer’s Fumbling Bumbling Amateur Cambrian Follies did the same to Meyer’s presentation of paleontology. John Pieret has a list of critical reviews.

The most ambitious effort is on Smilodon’t Retreat, the blog of an anonymous scientist. The reviewer is slogging through the book section by section. Eight posts are up and we’re just into Chapter 1 (of 20). Go there, read, comment, and cheer the reviewer on.

Life’s Ratchet: book review

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This is a biology book written by a physicist who performs research in cellular biology. I picked it up and started reading it, but I got stuck somewhere in the chapter on thermodynamics. So I contacted Mike Elzinga, a frequent commenter on PT, and asked him to explain something. In the process, I somehow conned him into writing a review of the book for PT. I will add only that the figures in the book are less than desirable on a Kindle (and some are fairly crude hand sketches), and I indeed intend to read Chapter 7 again when I get a chance.

Here, with appreciation, the book review.

Juniperus occidentalis

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Photograph by James Rice.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Juniperus occidentalis var. australis – Sierra juniper. Mr. Rice writes, “This specimen is called “the Bennett juniper.” It is located in the Stanislaus National Forest of California, and is considered the oldest and largest example at possibly 3000 years old, with a height of 26 m and a diameter of 3.88 m.

“More about J. occidentalis can be found here .

“More about the Bennett juniper can be found here and here.”

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