Snopes.com yesterday verified that a “science” test (below the fold) given to 4th graders at a sectarian school is in fact real. Answers in Genesis, meanwhile, vilifies anyone who objects to such nonsense being taught as science, calling them “intolerant atheists” who “viciously attack [a] Christian school.”
Recently in Assault on Science Category
On the topic of how kangaroos got to Australia after Noah’s Flood: at 2pm tomorrow, April 16 Answers in Genesis will hold a live chat at Facebook about AIG’s marvelous Super-fast Ice-Age Timeline and Map (which has the Ice Age lasting from about ~2220 to ~2115 BC, and all recorded human civilization post-2100 BC). I predict that any pointed questions they receive will be deleted quickly and permanently, so if you want some entertainment you will have to monitor it live. You may want to copy and archive any choice questions they receive before they’re deleted.
I presume that AIG’s “2:00 pm” is Eastern Daylight Time (=1800 GMT). Diogeneslamp0 has some representative questions one might ask at the linked comment.
Here. An excerpt:
Galileo’s achievement was the end of geocentrism, but it was hardly the end of ignorance and magical thinking. When obstinacy places reason under siege, as it does to this day – when fundamentalism defames biological science in the classroom, or the politics of denial prevent action to deal with a changing climate, it helps to recall our debt to a man who set a different example more than 400 years ago. It took just a wooden tube and some polished lenses, a critical and inquisitive mind, and four points of light that didn’t behave the way they were supposed to.
I’d replace just one word in that: “obstinacy.” It’s not obstinacy that’s the problem. It’s the stultifying religious fundamentalisms, the AIGs and Harun Yahyas of the world, the purveyors of ignorance and irrationality, that are the problem.
Irrationality and ignorance buttressed by religion are formidable foes, but the alternative to fighting them is to acquiesce in the decline of humanity into a fetid swamp of superstition.
This started as a comment on my earlier post responding to a comment by John Harshman, but it outgrew comment length so I’ll do it as a post. It may appear to be beating a long-dead horse that’s suffered enough, but there’s an aspect of Gauger’s commentary that is again part of the Disco ‘Tute’s efforts to undermine common descent and impugn the credibility and honesty of evolutionary scientists in general that deserves attention.
I don’t deny that the green screen is a valid target for ridicule. And it is indeed a fine metaphor for the whole DI exercise (though I really like “cargo cult science”). I had two points:
1. There’s been too much attention to the green screen in proportion to its importance. This may be because it’s a subject for which those who don’t know much about the biology feel free to contribute. It might be that the green screen is equally understandable and meaningful for the ignorant public, and so should be emphasized, but I don’t think that argument is a strong one.
Nor do I think it’s particularly strong except as a manifestation of the ‘business as usual’ approach to rhetoric of the Disco ‘Tute. And having earned a degree in anthropology many decades ago, I too like the “cargo cult science” characterization.
Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger, both of the BioLogic Institute, have put out a series of videos summarizing some of the content of “Science and Human Origins.” They attempt to undermine the case for common descent, and in particular the descent of humans from non-human ancestors. John Harshman, in comments on my posts on the use of a commercial stock photo of a lab as a background for Ann Gauger’s blather about “… a hidden secret in population genetics and in evolution,” argued that the focus on the green-screening diverts attention from the real issue, which is her mangling of the science (see here for an example). While John is right that setting the record straight on the science is important, it’s also the case that the green-screening is but one aspect of a larger effort on the part of the Disco ‘Tute to erode public confidence in ‘mainstream’ science. And that effort is what underpins the newest strategy of the Disco ‘Tute and its fellow travelers, which is to promote legislation embodying so-called “academic freedom” for public school teachers who want to teach creationism and intelligent design (see here for an overview and here for a Barbara Forrest video on it).
David Klinghoffer, Disco ‘Tute apologist, has responded to the recent kerfuffle involving Ann Gauger’s mangling of population genetics and phylogenetics (see Joe Felsenstein’s comment on Sandwalk) whilst green-screened over a stock laboratory photograph. Klinghoffer doesn’t bother to address the scientific nonsense Gauger promoted, of course–how could he?–but claims that the green-screened lab was convenient because
Typically, filming in a genuine location like this would be troublesome for us and bothersome for others who work there – a distraction for all involved, including viewers, when the intent is to focus on the argument. Many other times, in other contexts, we have similarly used backdrops where, to get to an actual locale, it would require travel not to mention complicated, time-consuming setup and many other headaches. Going with a green screen makes sense for an organization that operates under a constrained budget.
So in Klinghoffer’s head there are just two alternatives: use a stock photo and green-screen Gauger into it, or tape Gauger speaking in her own lab. Here’s a third alternative for Klinghoffer and the DI’s film producers: Take a still photo of Gauger’s lab, which might be 10 minutes or so of interruption of the horde of minions working in it, and then green-screen her into that photo. That would have saved $19.00 (the reported cost of the stock photo) for the constrained budget of the DI. But it would also mean escaping from a false dichotomy, and ID proponents seem to be cognitively unable to entertain more than two alternatives at once; witness their decades-long efforts to equate (mostly specious) critiques of evolution with evidence for ID.
This deserves its own post. Yesterday I pointed to a post at Larry Moran’s Sandwalk about a Discovery Institute video showing Ann Gauger, a “researcher” at the Disco ‘Tute’s BioLogic Institute, in which she mangles phylogenetics and population genetics. Commenters on Youtube and both Sandwalk and here have identified the laboratory in which Gauger was supposedly speaking. It is a stock photograph from a commercial photo site. It’s a green screen job, which is a peculiarly appropriate method by which to present the DI’s pseudoscience. Fake lab, fake science.
Can we say “pathetic”?
Phylogenetics and population genetics, that is. Larry Moran calls attention to the confusion of Ann Gauger, ID-pushing BioLogic Institute “researcher.” My favorite comment in the thread is from (PT crew member) Joe Felsenstein:
I must be totally confused. I wrote a book on reconstructing evolutionary trees – and it’s the standard textbook in that area. But it does not mention many basic population genetics concepts. I have another book (a free downloadable e-book) that is a textbook of theoretical population genetics. And it does not mention homoplasy at all.
So I must misunderstand what “population genetics” is. And here I’ve been giving courses on it for the last 44 years. At the university where Ann Gauger got her Ph.D. degree, for that matter.
My second favorite is from Piotr Gasiorowski:
Precisely. The cult members gather in mock laboratories full of imitation equipment, where they mimic the way scientists speak and behave.
My friend and colleague at Berkeley Laurel Barchas has entered the blogging world with a post at Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars. We mostly follow the creation/evolution fight here at PT, but the battles over things like climate change and stem cells seem to have become similarly politicized and religious-ized in recent years. And proponents of good science will sometimes get flack over it, as Laurel found out here (random example, although that guy spelled Berkeley as Berkely).
Laurel got in the game early on stem cell policy in California several years ago, and she is the Director of Academic Outreach for the Genetics Policy Institute, which is advertising the World Stem Cell Summit in December in Florida. See her post for an update.
Meanwhile, science rolls on, with a Nobel Prize today going for important discoveries in the history of stem cell research.
Dan Phelps, author of a recent PT article on the Creation “Museum”, sent us this link to a “documentary” on “replicating” the Ark. The “documentary” is a three-part series and has supposedly been produced for PBS stations.
Mr. Phelps says he could not find any PBS stations that are actually airing the “documentary.” Can any reader point to a PBS station that has shown it or plans to show it?
***Update, October 10: Joe Sonka, in an article for the Louisville newspaper LEO Weekly, reports that PBS has no knowledge of any documentary. He quotes Ken Ham, however, as saying that PBS had agreed to three documentaries. Perhaps Mr. Ham is exaggerating.
The director of the “documentary,” Johan Bos, incidentally, is associated with an oddball outfit that offers classes in film production and guarantees, “This class is a Christian safe environment. This class does not teach secular or worldly views.” A Christian-safe environment. I had no idea that Christianity was so fragile.***
On Biodork there’s a guest post reporting a visit by several skeptics/atheists to a Creation “Evidence” Expo held recently in Indianapolis. A couple of excerpts to entice you to read it all:
It turns out creationism is still alive and kicking. Okay, maybe not kicking so much as floundering so it doesn’t drown.
Of some note, creationists have already picked up the ENCODE project’s “80% of the genome is functional” meme that’s polluting mainstream media and the blogosphere. (See T. Ryan Gregory for a representative critique of the PR misrepresentations of the ENCODE papers, and Nature News for an overview of some of the critiques. And here’s Nature’s portal to the ENCODE data.) At the Creation “Evidence” Expo YEC Nuclear chemist Dr. Jay Wile is reported to have used ENCODE’s bogus ‘80% functional’ claim:
He began quoting biology books from 1989 and talking about “junk DNA”. He informed the audience that junk DNA doesn’t exist because god made us and that they now know 80% of what our DNA does.
Ewan Birney, lead coordinator of ENCODE, has a lot to answer for.
The Sensuous Curmudgeon has obtained the Disco ‘Tute’s Form 990 for 2010. There are several interesting aspects of it, but I’ll mention just one. (See the linked post for more.) In the breakdown of funds, roughly $3m–75%–of the DI’s total budget was devoted to the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. However, just $220K, 7.3% of the CSC’s total, was devoted to actual scientific research (assuming that the BioLogic Institute does actual scientific research). Undoubtedly that number has grown since 2010, but I would be surprised to see it approach even a quarter of CSC’s revenue. Kind of sad for a purportedly scientific enterprise.
As we all know, the new book from the Disco ‘Tute, Science and Human Origins, has taken a considerable amount of flak for various and sundry flaws. Paul McBride has a chapter-by-chapter review starting here. Amusing among the critiques was Carl Zimmer’s quest to get a reference from the authors for a specific claim, summarized here. Nick Matzke posted an equally amusing account of a Facebook exchange with (presumably) the authors in a thumb comment. The Disco Tute authors ended that exchange by closing comments on the thread, running for a venue that doesn’t allow comments.
Now Afarensis has dissected another claim made in an excerpt from the paleo chapter by Luskin (who is a lawyer writing on paleo) about what Luskin calls Later Hominins: The Australopithecine Gap, I strongly recommend Afarensis’ takedown to our readers. I particularly call attention to Afarensis’ analysis of Luskin’s quote-mining and misrepresentations about Lucy. Is anyone surprised?
Dan Phelps, right, armed for battle, with his new friend, Ken Ham.
On July 28, 2012, Answers in Genesis (AIG) held a “Behind the Scenes” event at the Creation “Museum’s” Legacy Hall. The event was free but with RSVP required via the Ark Encounter website. I made it a point to register well in advance and ask for a space for a guest. I invited reporter Joe Sonka from LEO Weekly to come along since he has done numerous critical news articles and blog postings on the Ark Park. Indeed it was Joe who asked Governor Beshear and Ark Encounter representatives some embarrassing questions revealing that the Ark would have dinosaurs on it when the project was announced in December, 2010. What follows is my account of the event and summary of the status of the proposed park.
I wish I had thought of that title, but it is actually an article by Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper, LEO Weekly. According to Sonka, the Ark Park (properly known as Ark Encounter) will have to raise $22 million before it can even start construction, and $44 million an additional $22 million to complete the project (it was unclear to me whether that is an additional $44 million, above the first $22 million). Sonka further estimates that the project will take at least 3 years to complete, and an estimated $53 million will have to be invested over the next decade. If the project takes that long to complete, however, they will presumably lose at least some tax incentives.
But cheer up! There is hope: If you invest $100,000, the minimum investment, they project a 20.6 % return on investment. At this point, I am torn between a quotation attributed to P. T. Barnum and a myth concerning the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ken Ham, the driving force behind the Ark Park, claims that PBS will air a documentary this fall, but I could find nothing on the PBS website besides this broadcast, a year ago. According to Sonka, Ham claims that the PBS documentary will net the Ark Park 2 million visitors per year, an attendance that Sonka says would rival that of a big amusement park in Cincinnati, a city of roughly 300,000. Grant County, by contrast, has a population of around 25,000 and is located at least an hour’s drive from any major metropolitan area.
In addition to being the bananaman, Ray Comfort is the co-popularizer of the crocoduck. Comfort believes that because modern biology shows that birds are descended from theropod ancestors, there must be a transitional form between extant birds and extant reptiles; hence a half-crocodile, half-duck. Here’s the video in which Comfort’s ex-child actor sidekick Kirk Cameron made that claim.
That general false claim–the claim that evolution predicts that there must be an evolutionary pathway directly linking two extant organisms or extant biological structures–is not unique to creationist loons, though. Doug Axe has posted a response to Paul McBride’s review of “Science and Human Origins” on ENV, and has disabled comments on his post. I won’t elaborate, but will note that an amusing part of Axe’s response is this:
Ann [Gauger] and I conducted experiments to find out how many changes would have to occur in a particular enzyme X in order for it to begin performing the function of another enzyme, Y. We found that they are too numerous for unguided evolution to have accomplished this transformation, even with the benefits of a massive bacterial population and billions of years. Having carefully made the case that our chosen X and Y are appropriate for the aims of our study, we think this result has catastrophic implications for Darwinism.
As has been shown, though, the research that Axe cites, The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzymes Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway, does not test an evolutionary hypothesis. By studying whether one extant enzyme in a family of enzymes could have evolved from another extant enzyme in the same family, when the evolutionary account is actually that both evolved from a common ancestor, Gauger and Axe are making precisely the same error that Comfort and Cameron made: the notion that “common descent” means that related extant populations evolved from each other, rather than from a common ancestral population. That about equivalent to claiming that common descent means that I am descended from my cousin Keith.
Even young-earth creationist biochemist Todd Wood rebutted that particular claim more than a year ago. Wood wrote
Instead of ancestral reconstruction, Gauger and Axe focused directly on converting an existing enzyme into another existing enzyme. That left me scratching my head, since no evolutionary biologist would propose that an extant enzyme evolved directly into another extant enzyme. So they’re testing a model that no one would take seriously? Hmmm…
Axe and Gauger quite simply didn’t test an evolutionary hypothesis in the paper Axe cited, but Axe continues to claim that it says something about the limits of evolution. But when even an honest young-earth creationist sees the error, persisting in it is no more than perverse. Axe is doing the equivalent of waving Ray Comfort’s crocoduck over his head, hollering “Evolution couldn’t do it!” Maybe Ray will have an opening in his ministry for Axe when the BioLogic Institute sinks beneath the waves.
The BioLogic Institute, the purported research arm of the Disco ‘Tute, now has a Facebook page where they post miscellaneous anti-evolution notes, many from the recent book by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin titled “Science and Human Origins”. One recent note was headed
From the scientific evidence, it is stubbornly uncertain how the first humans arose, whether from a lineage including ape-like creatures and far humbler ancestors or not.
Nick Matzke did a lovely job of rebutting that claim in the comment thread on the post. In the end, ‘BioLogic Institute’ abandoned the field, saying
I am closing this discussion because we are talking past each other. Our responses will be posted separately at www.biologicinstitute.org.
Where, as Jeff Shallit noted, comments are not allowed. As is their habit, when challenged the brave scientists of the Disco ‘Tute retreat to their insulated world, safe from those pesky critics’ comments.
Troy Britain at Playing Chess with Pigeons flays a post by Casey Luskin about a recent paper on proto-feathers on dinosaur fossils. Britain shows how Luskin doctors a quotation by replacing a comma with a period, uses strategic ellipses in quotations to conceal relevant context, and in the end questions the common descent of dinosaurs. Yup, that means that Luskin really did imply something like the separate creation of ornithischians, saurischians, and theropods, three major clades of dinosaurs.
In other news, dog bites man.
“Science and Human Origins” (Amazon; Barnes&Noble) is a slim book recently published by the Disco ‘Tute’s house press. It’s by Ann Gauger and Douglas Axe, members of the Disco Tute’s Biologic Institute, along with Casey Luskin. The book is blurbed thusly:
In this provocative book, three scientists challenge the claim that undirected natural selection is capable of building a human being, critically assess fossil and genetic evidence that human beings share a common ancestor with apes, and debunk recent claims that the human race could not have started from an original couple.
In other words, down with common descent, and while we’re at it, a literal Adam and Eve could have been the ancestors of the whole human species.
And by three scientists? Ah, yes, I momentarily forgot that Casey Luskin got a Master’s in Earth Science before he went off to law school and then got a job with the Disco ‘Tute, where he is now listed as “Research Coordinator” (and is there called an attorney rather than a scientist). Once again, one detects a touch of inflationary credentialism.
Fortunately for me, I’m spared the chore of reading and critiquing the book. Paul McBride, a Ph.D. candidate in vertebrate macroecology/evolution in New Zealand who writes Still Monkeys, bit the bullet and did a chapter by chapter (all five chapters) review of the book. The book doesn’t come out looking good (is anyone surprised?). I’m going to shamelessly piggyback on McBride’s review. I’ll link to his individual chapter reviews, adding some commentary, below the fold.