Recently in Assault on Science Category

Once again, desperately dissing Avida

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One of the characteristics of a pseudoscience is repeating discredited arguments as though they were new. And sure enough, once again an Intelligent Design Creationist is flailing around trying to discredit research in digital evolutionary models that shows that structures displaying IDC’s central concept, irreducible complexity, are evolvable via Darwinian processes. I have previously looked at earlier attempts to discredit that research; see here and here for examples.

Now it’s happening again. This month, Winston Ewert, affiliated (according to the paper) with the Discovery Institute’s Biologic Institute (though he doesn’t appear on their published list of personnel), published a review and critique of several computer models of evolution in the DI’s captive journal Bio-Complexity. Ewert was a graduate student of Robert Marks at Baylor, where he was associated with Marks’ and Dembski’s Evolutionary Bioinformatics Lab. He now has a Ph.D. from Baylor, the first in Baylor’s combined electrical engineering and computer science graduate program.

In his critique Ewert looks at five programs: Avida, Tom Schneider’s Ev, Dave Thomas’s Steiner tree GA, Suzanne Sadedin’s geometric model, and Adrian Thompson’s “digital ears”, a program realized in field programmable gate arrays. Here I will analyze Ewert’s critique of Avida; I am less familiar with the other models Ewert discusses. However, given the errors I find in his discussion of Avida, I am very dubious with respect to his analysis of the other programs. If he does so badly with something I know pretty well, why should I trust his judgement in areas I don’t know so well?

After repeating an introduction to Avida that I wrote some years ago, I will follow (roughly) Ewert’s analysis, in which he first describes all five programs and then criticizes them. Hence, I’ll look at Ewert’s description of Avida, and in particular note several errors in it, and then I’ll evaluate his criticisms. I find that his description is faulty and his critique ill-founded.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Schizophrenia is a specific medical diagnosis, and it does not mean holding two views at the same time. But its etymology does imply something like split mind, and I cannot think of a better way to describe this:

The Creation “Museum” has put on display the Allosaurus fossil that we reported on here. And they are tickled pink. Their house geologist, Andrew Snelling, who used to do real geology (or his doppelgänger did) said of their Allosaurus,

From the website of the Schilling School, “A Nationally Recognized K-12 [Charter] School for the Gifted in Cincinnati, Ohio”:

Dr. Michael Behe to present at Schilling. Mark your calendar for Sunday, April 6th from 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm to hear him present, “ Feeling left out by the Ham-Nye Debate? The Reasonable Middle Ground of Intelligent Design.” Call 489-8940 for ticket prices and group rates.

Congratulations to our 2014 U.C. Science Fair winners. All of our students won a cash prize. Two of our students Salma and Daniel have been invited to participate at the state science fair in Columbus next month. Good luck to the both of them!

And may they not be seduced by pseudoscience.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to an alert reader for sending us the link.

I finally watched a tape of the first installment of the new “Cosmos” series the other day. I thought it was a bit overdone and maybe a little slow, and I thought the cartoons were ghastly. (Also, there were gobs of commercials; why oh why is this series not showing on PBS?) Never once did I imagine that anyone would accuse such a completely innocuous television program of being propaganda for materialism. Yet according to a Salon article by Andrew Leonard, the far right has accused the program of being precisely that. Ironic that is showing on the Fox network!

I have not looked at the primary sources, so I will have to take Leonard’s word for it, but they may be right about Giordano Bruno. The conventional wisdom is that Bruno was burned for supporting the heliocentric theory, but the historian Alberto Martinez, in his book Science Secrets, thinks that it may as well have been because of his theological views: doubting that Jesus was born of a virgin and denying that he was actually God. Bruno was, nevertheless, an early and vigorous supporter of the Copernican theory, and only an idiot or a conspiracy theorist (but I repeat myself) would think that Bruno was introduced into the program for nefarious reasons.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Walter Plywaski for showing me the Salon article.

By David MacMillan

Following the joint interview with Dan Phelps and Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, David MacMillan wrote a letter to Dr. Mortenson. This article is based on that letter. Dr. Mortenson responded to Mr. MacMillan’s letter, but unfortunately requested that his response be kept confidential. Odd behavior, it seems to me, for someone who is itching for a debate; Dr. Mortenson is welcome to respond here any time he likes.

Panda’s Thumb recently posted a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who was interviewed along with Answers in Genesis’s Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, Eastern Kentucky University’s NPR station. Dr. Mortenson, for his part, posted his own discussion of the interview on the Answers in Genesis website. As a former creationist and AIG guest author who has recently been writing about the creation-evolution controversy in light of Ken Ham’s recent debate with Bill Nye, I thought Dr. Mortenson’s comments provided a particularly good example of one of the biggest problems with the creationist movement.

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.

Nye-Ham debate an hour away

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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.

Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, will participate in an “extended interview” with Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis. The participants will discuss the question, “Is teaching creationism harmful to children, society?” at 11:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Thursday, January 30, on WEKU of Richmond, Kentucky. It looks like you can get it streaming. I will refrain from noting that modern journalism thinks there are two sides to every question, even when there are not.

Does any reader know of any other, similar warm-ups or “extended interviews”?

That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

Ham-fisted animal husbandry

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Gwen Pearson, an entomologist formerly known as Bug Girl, has performed sort of a retrospective analysis of the Ark Park‘s facilities for caring for its animals. You might have thought that the Ham-merheaded proprietors of the Ark Park would have performed a prospective analysis but evidently you would have been mistaken. Cheer up! Here is Dr. Pearson’s advice to the Ham-itic designers:

NCSE has just announced the second webinar in its ongoing series, to be held on December 18, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. PST. The webinar will focus on “[s]topping bad legislation and encouraging policymakers to support strong science education…,” according to NCSE.

The webinar will be led by Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director for NCSE; Vic Hutchison, professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, and founder and past president of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education; and Dena Sher, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s national office. You may register for the webinar here.

We reported on NCSE’s earlier webinar here.

The National Center for Science Education has just announced a webinar on what to do when science comes under attack. Details below the fold.

Ark Park as Xanadu?

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A Slate article the other day compared the Ark Park to Coleridge’s Xanadu: “an extravagant vanity project born out of boundless narcissism and ambition.” An apt comparison, except of course that in the poem Kubla Khan actually builds his stately pleasure-dome – and he does not float junk bonds to do so.

The Creation “Museum” in Kentucky recently acquired an Allosaurus fossil, according to an AP release by Dylan Lovan yesterday. The proprietor of the Creation “Museum,” Ken Ham, seems to think that the mere acquisition of a dinosaur fossil gives his “museum” credibility and makes it a real museum. The fossil was donated by the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation of Maryland, about which I have so far managed to learn virtually nothing.

The article quotes geologist Dan Phelps, a perpetual thorn in the side of the Creation “Museum”:

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.

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.

Casey’s still beavering away

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Jeremy Mohn, a high school biology teacher in Kansas and for years a stalwart in the defense of honest science education in that state, points us to another Casey Luskin masterpiece. Jeremy’s post is titled The Dispersal of Doubt: Biogeography, Convenient Omission, and Selective Quotation.

I recently encountered an article that is a classic demonstration of the array of deceptive tactics employed by a well-known critic of evolutionary theory. In a relatively brief essay about biogeography, the critic raises as many doubts as possible through the use of selective quotations from actual experts on the topic. All the while, he conveniently omits important details from the quoted texts that actually reduce the purported severity of the highlighted “conundrums.”

It’s well worth reading.

NCSE launches “Science League of America” blog

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Via Facebook, we learn that the National Center for Science Education has launched a new blog called Science League of America. From Josh Rosenau’s intro post:

In August of 1924, Maynard Shipley–a science communicator and formerly a shoe salesman, music teacher, and criminologist–feared a creationist onslaught. A year before the Scopes monkey trial, Shipley saw that antievolutionists like William Jennings Bryan “have started their campaign against the theory of evolution with the avowed intent of putting in the place of science the Book of Genesis.”* He sent forth a call to friends and compatriots who shared his concern, urging them to join him in establishing “The Science League of America.”

The new NCSE blog is intended to honor Shipley’s goals while updating content. The blog will feature “…NCSE staff and our friends and allies from the field …”. Give it a look; the initial posts–five of them–are up.

That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).

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