Recently in Assault on Science Category

A commenter on an earlier thread directed our attention to an article by Zack Kopplin in the Daily Beast, “School teaching creationism with video from Islamic sex cult.” The headline may be a bit over the top, but the gist of the article is that the school district is employing materials developed by Harun Yahya. To give due credit, here is what the commenter, “Charley Horse,” wrote on the earlier thread:

A bit off topic … but of interest.

School Teaching Creationism With Video From Islamic Sex Cult. An Ohio school district is using a video made by a Holocaust-denying Muslim to undermine evolution in science class.

QUOTE A BIT:

A curriculum map recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.”

…The district’s curriculum map calls for teaching “an alternative theory called Intelligent Design,” which is another name for creationism. Youngstown suggests teachers show a creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, produced by the right wing Christian advocacy group, Focus on the Family and by the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank.…

“Students are reminded how the irreducibly complex system like the flagellum of a bacterial cell could not have evolved slowly, piece by piece and serves as a counter-example to evolution,” says the curriculum, citing another disproven creationist talking point. It also recommends the video Darwin’s Dilemma, also produced by the Discovery Institute. Other materials call evolution a “theory in crisis,” and were created by the All About GOD ministries.

The Daily Beast article directs us to a “curriculum map” and notes,

A curriculum map (PDF) recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.” The Cambrian Explosion was a time period, nearly 550 million years ago, where, over the next tens of millions of years, the number of species on Earth experienced a (relatively) rapid expansion by evolutionary standards. Christian creationists regularly point to this explosion of life as evidence for creation by God and against evolution.

Blink and you’d miss the Islamic connection in the video. A black screen flashes for less than one second that says “this film is based on the works of Harun Yahya.” In the right corner, there’s a gold bubble that says, “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” in Arabic.

I followed the link to the curriculum map. I am not a biologist, and I did not read all 24 pages in detail, but, sure enough, on page 3/24, I found,

Dan Phelps just sent us an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader. The editorial accuses Kentucky of seeking science jobs while at the same time denying science: not just evolution but also global warming, alternative energy sources, and conservation. The editorial notes that Kentucky is “perennially short of money,” in part because of tax breaks like that for the Ark Park, and concludes,

Kentucky forgoes tax revenue to help deny science while telling students they need to learn it. In homage to coal, Kentucky dumbly stints on alternative energy technologies, or even conservation, while telling young people they need to prepare to work in advanced manufacturing.

The messages aren’t just mixed, they’re in open conflict.

That about sums it up.

NCSE informs us that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has rendered a decision in the appeal of Cope vs. Kansas, which we reported on here. Specifically, the Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s earlier dismissal of the case, largely on the basis of standing. Additionally, NCSE notes, “Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for ‘teleological’ explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.” NCSE’s report on the decision follows, printed with permission:

A DECISION IN THE COPE APPEAL

The creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview” failed again on April 19, 2016, when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case, COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.

The court’s decision mainly addressed the question of standing, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims. Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for “teleological” explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.

As NCSE previously reported, the lead plaintiff, COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education, is a relatively new creationist organization, founded in 2012 but its leaders and attorneys include people familiar from previous attacks on evolution education across the country, such as John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

The NGSS have been adopted in eighteen states – Arkansas (so far only for middle school), California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – plus the District of Columbia. The treatment of evolution and climate science in the standards occasionally provokes controversy, but COPE v. Kansas is the only lawsuit to have resulted.

You may find the court’s decision (PDF) here, courtesy of NCSE.

And you may find NCSE’s collection of documents from COPE v. Kansas here

______

Thanks to Glenn Branch of NCSE for allowing us to reproduce their essay.

I do not know why it is coming to light only now, but a few years ago a Kentucky elementary school rewarded students with “perfect” attendance by taking them on a field trip to the Creation “Museum.” Americans United has reported the story here, and a few days ago we received a press release from Daniel Phelps, a persistent critic of the Ark Park and the Creation Museum. Mr. Phelps has sent his press release to the Associated Press and elsewhere, but he tells us that he cannot get any reporter interested in investigating. We will reproduce his press release below the fold.

Americans United notes that the school’s definition of “perfect” is somewhat flexible, in that one absence counted as perfect. More importantly, they note

And kids have a right to learn about [certain religious concepts] - on their own time or in Sunday school. Such ideas are not appropriate for an official public school field trip, even if that trip was only offered to a handful of students. Instead, kids should be learning sound science - not religious dogma.

Mr. Phelps argues that the trip is “a clear violation of the separation of church and state” and “an act of educational malpractice.” He is concerned that, although this trip happened in 2012, there may be many like it, and he claims that Answers in Genesis “brags that they have stealth missionaries in the public school system.” Mr. Phelps’s entire press release follows.

Luskin.jpg

From yesterday’s announcement on ENV:

It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I write this to announce that, as the year 2015 closes, I am leaving Discovery Institute. I am doing so in order to fulfill a lifelong goal of furthering my studies. My colleagues, who entirely support this decision, are people of the utmost integrity and they have been incredibly generous and welcoming to me and my family. I know we will miss each other. Working here over the past ten years has been a wonderful experience for which I am extremely grateful.

I think this will be good for Casey. Who knows, next time he reviews a show on TV about the science of evolution, he’ll now have time to actually watch the entire episode before writing a critique.

Discuss.

PhyloWiki_Matzke_2015.pngOn PhyloWiki, I have just posted a page of bonus material on the Science paper “The Evolution of Antievolution Policies After Kitzmiller v. Dover.”

Highlights include:

  • pre-print text (for those without university access to Science or ScienceExpress)
  • supplemental material & data (also archived at Science, but may not be generally available until the article moves from ScienceExpress to Science
  • A version of the phylogeny that is CC BY-SA 4.0 licensed (for those of you who want to make t-shirts; or conceivably, other uses)
  • A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section that aims to be introductory
  • Bonus graphics: PDFs of character maps for all characters and traits
  • List of media links
  • List of blog links

I do not know whether Cope will turn out to be the mouse that roared or the Energizer bunny – or maybe Don Quixote – but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments the other day in Cope’s appeal of a ruling in favor of the Kansas State Board of Education. I am inclined toward the Energizer bunny, but the Appeals Court rejected Cope’s attempt to file a surreply, which I gather is sort of a reply to a rejoinder to a response and is generally prohibited. At any rate, the lawsuit against the Kansas State Board of Education (hereinafter, as your lawyer might say, Kansas) was dismissed in December of last year.

PT first reported on Cope here; you may learn more about them here. According to Charity Navigator, their annual income is less than $50,000 per year, so they do not have to file Form 990 with the IRS. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State quoted Steven Case, director of the science center at the University of Kansas, to the effect that their lawsuit was “about as frivolous as lawsuits get.” Evidently, the Judge, Daniel D. Crabtree, agreed; he dismissed the case in large part because the plaintiffs (Cope and a number of others including parents of children in Kansas schools) lacked standing. You may find the documents in the case here.

Standing seems like a concept that only a lawyer could love, but all it says is that you have to be harmed or imminently harmed in order to sue someone (“injury in fact”). Additionally, if you are harmed, you must sue the entity who harmed you, not a third party. And finally (a new one to me), the harm that was done to you must be redressable by a favorable decision by the Court. Taxpayers, not incidentally, do not have standing to sue a government agency merely because they are taxpayers.

Cope, chugging along tirelessly, appealed Judge Crabtree’s ruling in March of this year, and Kansas replied in June. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last Wednesday morning, so I hopped on a bus and went down to Denver. To no one’s surprise, John Calvert represented Cope. Kansas was represented by Dwight Carswell, an assistant solicitor general for Kansas. I frankly thought that Calvert was somewhat more effective in his presentation than Carswell.

The discussion centered largely on the harm that may have been done to the plaintiffs. Much of the Judges’ questioning concerned the fact that the standards (Next Generation Science Standards) adopted by Kansas are only advisory, and local school districts are not required to adopt them. Indeed, school districts are required to teach science, but not instructed how to do so. The Judges questioned Carswell closely on the content of Kansas law and the discretion of local school boards on implementing standards adopted by the State Board of Education. Additionally, no evidence has been presented to suggest that any school district has adopted the standards, nor that any plaintiff has been harmed by the standards. I think one of the Judges remarked that the school teaches children, and the children are not the plaintiffs. On another occasion, a Judge rhetorically asked Calvert whether he had jumped the gun, filing his lawsuit before any district had actually adopted the standards. Calvert was also asked why he sued Kansas and not a school district. What precisely does he want the Court to enjoin?

Calvert argued that the NGSS adopted by Kansas establish a religious preference - a nontheistic religious worldview - because they support methodological naturalism, which he described as an orthodoxy. He further opined that “origins science” should not be taught at all to children in K-8, because they are too young to engage in such discussions, which Cope considers to be inherently religious. Asked whether he would be satisfied with a clause requiring creationism to be taught in addition, Calvert replied, “No,” and argued that an objective view of science that included “critical thinking” and provided alternatives to methodological naturalism would suffice.

Other questions posed to Calvert: What is the injury in fact? Is a nontheistic religious worldview really being taught? Where do we find methodological naturalism in the standards? Do not local school districts have discretion whether to adopt the standards? What areas of Kansas law are pertinent? Precisely what do you want us to enjoin? Would you be satisfied with a declaratory judgment?

Carswell, who was somewhat hard to understand, was asked what normative standard the NGSS might establish. Asked whether the law precluded alternate theories, he responded that the law recognized that the curriculum may be extended and school districts may teach alternative scientific theories. Asked whether any districts had actually implemented the NGSS, Carswell responded that he did not know of any. There was also some discussion about whether (presuming that harm had in fact been done) a declaratory judgment would redress that harm.

Other questions posed to Carswell: Why do we have standards if districts have discretion about them? Is not this whole case speculative because NGSS has not been implemented? Does not injury depend on actual implementation of the standards, as opposed to their adoption?

After the hearing, I met Clare Leonard, an education activist and fellow Colorado Citizens for Science member, in the hall. Calvert was holding, um, court surrounded by a half-dozen or more of his minions. If the decision is based on acting ability, Calvert wins. But I had the impression that the Court was much more skeptical of his position than of Carswell’s, particularly of his claim that there was an injury in fact.

Cope takes the position that science is a religion. They may be tilting at windmills; but they can still do real damage.

Acknowledgments. Thanks to Glenn Branch for inciting this whole expedition; to Deanna Young and Clare Leonard for pertinent discussion following the hearing; to Clare Leonard for the coffee; and to all three for numerous emendations, including many of the questions posed by the Court..

Dan Phelps alerted us to the fact that AIG’s Allosaurus fossil had been donated by an organization headed by Michael Peroutka, a man affiliated with “a white supremacist, neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist organization that has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Mr. Phelps now writes,

Interesting that this press release didn’t get any coverage when I sent out the information last year. The Creation Museum received an Allosaurus dinosaur fossil appraised at $1 million from a donor who was on the Board of Directors of the League of the South. Various politicians are returning donations from hate groups after the recent Charleston shooting. According to the Encyclopedia of Modern American Extremists and Extremist Groups (by Steven E. Atkins, 2002, Greenwood Press), “Close ties have been formed between the LOS [League of the South] and the Council of Conservative Citizens with a significant cross-membership” (p. 174). Horrifyingly, Dylann Roof received some of his inspiration from the Council of Conservative Citizens [a direct descendant of the White Citizens’ Councils that were established in the 1950’s, primarily to oppose school integration].

Answers in Genesis (the owners of the Creation Museum) admirably makes anti-racist statements at times, but has taken a valuable donation from Michael Peroutka, a former Board Member of the racist hate group known as the League of the South. Why doesn’t the Creation Museum return the fossil or give it to a real science museum?

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, ArizonaHonorsBiology.com, 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.

heartland-disco-institute.jpg

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.

Discuss.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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