February 2014 Archives

By Dan Phelps ([Enable javascript to see this email address.])

This is a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who participated in a sort of warm-up debate before the infamous Nye–Ham debate. Mr. Phelps’s contribution was inspired in part by a challenge for a formal debate by his interlocutor, Terry Mortenson, who, astonishingly, admitted that he has “no credibility in the scientific community and little even within Christian circles.” Mr. Phelps evidently looked further into Dr. Mortenson’s background and discovered at least some of the reasons that Dr. Mortenson lacks credibility, period.

NCSE webinar, “Talking to the media about science education,” tomorrow, February 27, at 11:00 PST. You may register here or view the webinar, along with earlier webinars, here.

According to NCSE’s announcement,

The panel will include: Robert Luhn, Director of Communications for NCSE; Liz Craig, a freelance writer and board member with Kansas Citizens for Science, and David Wescott, director of digital strategy at APCO Worldwide. Luhn leads NCSE’s media outreach efforts, and has been a journalist for 40 years for technology, environmental, and medical publications. Craig led KCFS’s media strategy through the 1999 and 2005 battles over creationism before the state board of education and is a freelance writer covering a range of topics. Wescott, formerly a staffer for Sen. Kennedy, develops and implements online outreach strategies on topics including education, science, and the environment for an international clientele. Moderator Josh Rosenau is a programs and policy director at NCSE.

Don’t hold your breath, but Ken Ham, who is in Nashville for a religious broadcasters’ conference, plans an announcement about the Ark Park.

I have a few media interviews lined up over the next couple of days to discuss the debate [with Bill Nye] and also to share something about the Ark Encounter.

Dare we speculate?

Sarcodes sanguinea


Photograph by Jim Norton.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Sarcodes sanguinea – snow plant, a saprophytic plant with no chlorophyll. King’s Canyon National Park, California, July 3, 2010.

Debate tonight


Sorry about the late notice, but we just heard about this from a commenter known as “eric”. Tonight, at 7:00 Central Standard Time (or 8:00 Eastern Standard Time), Sean Carroll will debate William Lane Craig on the subject, God and Cosmology. Professor Carroll is a physicist and cosmologist working on dark energy and dark matter at Caltech; Professor Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and a well known Christian apologist. You may see their biographies at the link above.

The debate is part of a forum sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It will be streamed live here. Professor Carroll has announced the debate here. I may report on the debate after it is over, but I will leave comments open here in any case. The amnesty on certain trolls will not be extended, however.

An AFP press release the other day noted that 1 in 4 Americans does not know that the earth revolves around the sun, according to a poll of 2200 people conducted by the National Science Foundation. Additionally, approximately half do not know “that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals” – or, perhaps more precisely, will not admit it. The average score on the 9-question quiz was 6.5. Americans nevertheless remain “enthusiastic” about science. The survey is part of a report that NSF will submit to the President. I could not immediately find any further information.

Coccinella septempunctata


Photograph by Buddhini Samarasinghe.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Coccinella septempunctata – seven-spotted ladybird beetle. Also, ladybug, lady beetle. Scotland, UK.

How is sex determined?


A fun video introducing the variety of sex determination systems:


I like this as an introduction, which sets some good rules of thumb, but there are some excellent exceptions to these rules that we can get into. For example, in mammals (even humans), the part of the Y chromosome that is most responsible for turning on the male-determining pathway doesn’t always function as it should, resulting in individuals with an X and a Y chromosome who have female physical characteristics (for more see Ed Yong’s article about Chen et al.’s 2013 paper).

Science secrets: book review


The subtitle of this book by historian Alberto Martinez is, “The truth about Darwin’s finches, Einstein’s wife, and other myths,” and if you read it you will learn that

Sterna antillarum browni


Photograph by Marschal Fazio.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Sterna antillarum browni – California least tern. Mr. Fazio writes, “This species is listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It nests along the California coast on sandy shorelines; as humans have encroached, the tern has lost much of its nesting habitat and now nests in overcrowded sites or mudflats, making them more prone to predation.”

By Josh Rosenau.

Reposted from NCSE’s Science League of America blog.

Crystal Disco. ballA Crystal disco ball to celebrate the crystal anniversary of the Disco. ‘tute’s entry into the creationism business.

Fifteen years ago yesterday, a mail clerk in Seattle was handed a document to copy. As the Seattle Weekly reported, the packet was labeled “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION,” and the cover sported an Illuminati-esque triangular design and a copy of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” The title: “The Wedge”; the author: a newly-created division of the conservative Discovery Institute, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC). Later, the Center would drop “renewal” from its title to escape the religious reference, and also switched its logo from the Creation of Adam to a picture of God creating DNA, then to a more secular galactic nebula, and now a mashup of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man and a DNA strand.

The Wedge Document, as the packet came to be known, laid out a bold plan by which the Center would “re-open the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature,” and “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” From its first sentence, the document proclaimed its sectarian goals, stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.”

Nye-Ham debate an hour away


And you may watch it here on NBC or here on WCPO, Cincinnati.

Piers Morgan will interview the debaters on CNN at 9:45 EST, and MSNBC will interview Bill Nye during the 10:00 hour, EST. C-Span will rebroadcast the event Wednesday, February 19 at 8 p.m. EST, according to WCPO.

If you cannot wait till the end of the debate, you may leave comments below at any time. I suggest that we allow comments from (many of) our creationist trolls, as long as they are coherent. I will not allow comments that are merely insulting.

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate_f_improf_645x254.pngEveryone seems to be talking about the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate which is occurring in a few hours. I’m not going to watch it, at least not immediately. I’m not 100% against debating creationists, but I do think science-defenders should try to not give the contest away before it even starts.

For a long time I’ve been developing a list in my head of what scientists and science educators should think about even before they even agree to appear in a debate. Bill Nye made all of these mistakes at once, and therefore, even if he and his bow-tie have the best day of their lives, he’s lost on a lot of fronts already. All Ken Ham has to do to win is not break down in tears and admit he’s based his life on a horrible mistake.

Therefore, here are my…


The hedgehog and tenrec diverged from one another over 100 million years ago. To put that in perspective the lineages leading to human and mouse also diverged roughly 100 million years ago (maybe closer to 90ish). And yet, the tenrec and hedgehog have independently evolved very similar features, likely because of similar environmental pressures. This independent evolution of features is called convergent evolution, and it is just fantastic to observe.

Tenrecs are found in Madagascar and Africa:

Tenrecs at Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Own work

Petroica macrocephala


Photograph by Erik Duerr.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Petroica macrocephala – South Island tomtit, New Zealand. Mr. Duerr writes, “I would never have been able to get such a close up photo of such a small bird if it weren’t for the fact that birds in NZ are designed not to be afraid of humans.”

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