Recently in Assault on Science Category

Anyone who relies on the Supreme Court to guarantee that creationism will not be taught in public school or that the Ark Park’s threatened lawsuit will necessarily fail might want to read an article by Erwin Chemerinsky in the January 1 issue of The Washington Spectator. In that article, which I take to be a longish abstract of his book, Chemerinsky argues that the Court has generally not lived up to its “lofty expectations” and indeed has more often “upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.” The Chemerinsky article does not appear on the Spectator website, so I will abstract it very briefly below the fold.
Update, January 5, 2015. The article is now available here, so you may read it for yourself and not take my word for what Chemerinsky says.

… because it (gasp!) uses the word, “abortion.” But wait – there is a glimmer of hope: The new superintendent, who was ordered to offer a plan for redacting the textbooks, says that the books comply with the law already and instead plans to hold a public discussion.

Meanwhile, as a service to the affected high-school students, Rachel Maddow has posted the offending page on a blog,, which her show apparently owns. If you are curious or have a prurient interest, you may also see the verso of The Page, as well as several other pages on human reproduction.

For the record, the book is Reece, et al., Biology: Concepts and Connections.

According to an article in Science today, a creationist group has booked a room for a conference at Michigan State University. Science is more discreet than I have to be, but it appears that they duped a student group into booking a room for them, and they are scheming to hold another conference at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Science writes that the conference, scheduled for November 1 and

called the Origins Summit, is sponsored by Creation Summit, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit Christian group that believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and was founded to “challenge evolution and all such theories predicated on chance.” The one-day conference will include eight workshops, according the event’s website, including discussion of how evolutionary theory influenced Adolf Hitler’s worldview, why “the Big Bang is fake,” and why “natural selection is NOT evolution.” Another talk targets the work of MSU biologist Richard Lenski, who has conducted an influential, decades-long study of evolution in bacterial populations.

All that old familiar nonsense.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to the indefatigable Dan Phelps for the tip.


Because of the cognitive dissonance required to buy into pseudoscientific beliefs, it’s not surprising when an adherent of one pseudoscience is sucked into believing another one. For example, there is considerable overlap between advocates of 9/11 Truth beliefs and advocates of anti-Semitic causes, or between young-earth creationists and climate change deniers. The Discovery Institute has been engaging in climate-change denial for some time (see here and here, for example), so it’s really not surprising to see today’s banner article on the Heartland Institute’s news page by Discovery’s Casey Luskin. (Last we saw, Luskin was was attacking Neil deGrasse Tyson and COSMOS with straw-man misrepresentations.)

Luskin’s July 10th article in Heartland’s site is titled “Nation’s Schools Targeted with Mythical Alarmist ‘Consensus’ Program.”. The post is

… the first in a two-part column on how the National Center for Science Education is targeting the nation’s schools to enforce a mythical consensus on global warming alarmism.


A follow-up on the Nye-Ham debate in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education: Andrew J. Petto said it wasn’t a real debate, which is sort of true, but the most interesting observations, to me, were those made by John W. Patterson. Prof. Patterson, an engineering professor, correctly gives Ken Ham credit for not obfuscating, for not pretending that creationism is based on anything but his interpretation of the Bible. He thinks that other creationists may fault Mr. Ham for his candor, but he argues that

there will be far less public confusion about the distinctions between legitimate evidence-based science and the faith-based biblical varieties so successfully propounded by creationist debaters. In contrast, Ham’s approach lays bare what’s really behind all creationism, from the young-Earth biblical literalism to the more inchoate ‘intelligent design’ models.

Climate and creationism


The economist Paul Krugman has come to the “somewhat surprising conclusion” that global warming denial is not mainly about vested economic interests but rather asks us to

think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn'�t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

I do not want to be flip, but almost any reader of PT could have told him that; just substitute “Book of Genesis” in place of “Ayn Rand,” make other substitutions as necessary, and you will see what I mean. If Krugman is right, and I am sure that he is, he brings bad news: People will deny global warming with their last breath, and they will not be convinced even by a mountain of evidence or the testimony of the vast majority of experts.

Indeed, there is far more money behind global-warming denial than behind evolution denial, and denialists will fight even quintessentially conservative solutions like cap and trade until, as the columnist Leonard Pitts put it today, the west Antarctic ice sheet falls into the ocean and our grandchildren vie for beachfront property in St. Louis.

Note added approximately 2:50 MDT: See also an article in the Daily Kos linking David Koch to climate-change denial. Mr. Koch, according to the author,

Kentucky geologist Daniel Phelps yesterday sent us a press release noting that AIG’s Allosaurus fossil will go on display this weekend; see the AP release by Dylan Lovan here. Mr. Lovan quotes Mr. Phelps to this effect:

Daniel Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, said in a release Thursday that the Creation Museum “has decided, without doing research, that the dinosaur fossil is evidence of Noah’s flood.”

What Mr. Lovan left out is far more interesting.

Once again, desperately dissing Avida


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 doppelg�nger 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


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


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.

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