Burt Humburg Archives

Nature Endorses Obama


Updated: Disclaimer appears below. Link to journal endorsement is here.

This journal does not have a vote, and does not claim any particular standing from which to instruct those who do. But if it did, it would cast its vote for Barack Obama.

Politics impacts science. From which research emphases get funded to which school board member to vote for, science and politics often cross paths. PT’s supporters come from all walks of life and bring to the pro-evolution discussion opinions on other matters that span everything from conservative to liberal. To the extent possible, PT tries to avoid overtly being political, partly because we don’t want to needlessly alienate those supporters, but mainly because it’s beyond the charter of this website and that there are many other blogs that serve that purpose better than ours. Occasionally, though, this blog encounters a crossroads between science and politics, entailing posts that necessarily make political statements. This is one.

During this election, there is a difference between the candidates running for president. Palin is a creationist of the first water. Her disbelief that money spent in support of autism research was going to labs in France that used fruit fly models, reported at Pharyngula, speaks volumes.

At least from the standpoint of science advocacy and at least to this PT contributor, the decision during this election appears straightforward. Nature’s endorsement is timely and appropriate.


PS - And novel! According to this post from DailyKos.com, it would appear that this is first time Nature has endorsed a candidate.

Just wanted to inform readers of The Thumb that I’m going to be appearing on a radio debate with Dr. Cornelius Hunter. The show will broadcast live from 10:05am to 11:30am EST Saturday morning April 28th. You can call in at 904.854.1320 or e-mail your questions/comments to [Enable javascript to see this email address.].



In 2001, evolution was poised to return to the the Kansas Science Standards. The Intelligent Design Network objected to them and proposed changes that would have left open the door to teaching creationism. Kansas Citizens for Science responded to their proposal, which was sent to all members of the state board. One might suspect the response to have been too parochial for anything other than Kansas creationism; one would be wrong: the response serves as a prototype response for many creationist arguments and works nicely as a reference for letters to the editor even today.

Find it below, after the fold. It is also available in PDF and RTF formats.

In 1999-2000, the Kansas State Board of Education was running their PR machine full-bore, trying to convince the public that the central organizing theory of modern biology and biotechnology was a dead idea. Creationist speaker after creationist speaker was flown into town to put on a dog and pony show. If you were a Young-Earth Creationist, you might have seen Duane Gish/Fred Whitehead nondebate. If you liked ID creationism, you might have seen Johnson or Wells. Back then, it was a very big tent.

Well, KCFS wasn’t going to take things lying down, so we thought we’d prepare a few flyers to inform the audience to help them be ready for the creationists when they arrived. One of those flyers, “Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What is He Doing, and Why?” turned out to be pretty important.

Fast forward to Spring 2005, after the creationists had taken over the state board of education again and ran roughshod over the accepted processes of curricular review. They rejected the recommendations of the experts who developed very good standards and held a show trial, in which evolution would be dragged before them to answer the tough ID creationists’ questions.

The details of the story are described elsewhere, but one of the “witnesses” was Jonathan Wells, who during his testimony claimed that he was not influenced by religion. Within the span of an hour, KCFS was able to print several copies of our Wells flyer to distribute to interested members of the press. The result was that in the following day’s newspapers, Jonathan Wells testimony and his quotations were seen in juxtaposition to each other, making of his credibility to journalists what those in the know had deemed of it for years.

Find the flyer on the flipside. It’s also available in RTF format. Please note that the DI has since changed their name from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to simply the Center for Science and Culture. So clearly it’s no longer religious.

During my time in Kansas Citizens for Science, I was privileged to work with science supporters of all walks of life as I developed flyers and pamphlets on evolutionary topics or criticizing aspects of the intelligent design creationism movement. When some ID creationism speaker would come to town, KCFS would be there, passing out flyers that informed the audience what they would be hearing from the creationist and why it was wrong or disingenuous. (When Phillip Johnson came to Lawrence, it was fun to see everyone in the hall reading our brightly colored pamphlets prior to his talk. Everything he said, we already had written down in our pamphlets.)

I’m now out in Pennsylvania. While KCFS is still going strong (and about to host Monkey Girl author Edward Humes’s lecture at JCCC this Thursday), one thing I have missed from KCFS is the availability of easy-to-find pamphlets or flyers on ID creationism or evolution. I’d like to fix that.

So, I’ve updated “A Word About Intelligent Design Creationism.” Its text appears below as the extended entry as well as in PDF and RTF formats. Please feel free to adopt the text of this flyer to your own purposes, though appropriate attribution with a plug for the Thumb would be appreciated.

I’ve added a new “Category” of Flyers/Pamphlets under which we’ll hopefully amass quite a library of pro-science literature broadsides and pamphlets. Alternatively, if you have flyers that you’ve made, let us know via comments below. (We might be able to make those available here or on other archive sites as well.)

Scarecrow2.jpgOver at the Discovery Institute’s Ministry of Media Complaints, to which he has recently become a contributor, SUNY neurosurgeon Michael Egnor responds to my criticism of his post, “Why Would I Want My Doctor to have Studied Evolution?” Dr. Egnor couldn’t think of much to say in response to my criticism because he never responded to my criticism; rather, he responded to a version of my criticism that he invented just for his essay. In other words, he’s responding to a straw man version of my argument, and straw men (wearing the jerseys of the opposing team, say) are a lot easier to defeat than the actual opposing team.

Let’s start simply. Dr. Egnor, in his original post, wrote:

Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no ‘professors of evolution’ in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools. No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology. [Therefore, evolutionary] biology isn’t important to modern medicine. (Quotes are excerpted.)

Medical schools think evolution is pretty important so they’ve made the MCAT, in part, to test the student’s understanding of evolution. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have what he did in his essay in the light of what the MCAT evaluates.

Some of the most brilliant insights in evolutionary biology and some of the worst scientific defeats for creationist arguments have come from professors that teach primarily at medical schools or are charged with teaching medical students. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of those faculty appointments.

I suspect it could be said accurately that no recent Nobel prize could have been won without the insights and assumptions afforded by evolutionary biology. In any case, I did show in my essay several Nobel prizes that had been awarded on the basis of or strongly appealing to evolutionary biology concepts. Dr. Egnor hasn’t explained how he could have written what he did in his essay in the light of the research that has earned those Nobel prizes.

Dr. Egnor did respond, however, to the criticism of his thesis that “random heritable variation and natural selection is responsible for all biological complexity” is an unsound statement. His objection would have been an perfectly straightforward inclusion had he ever made it or had I ever objected to it. But he didn’t make that argument and I wouldn’t have objected to it if he did.

More on the flipside.

Wear the Whale!


As a followup to my recent fisking of Egnor, I wanted everyone to know that T-shirts are still available. (Do an in-article find for “ambulocetus” and check out the links.) I just bought mine today and it should arrive by the end of the week.

Get your T-shirts here.

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is totally awesome way to show your support for evolution, seem ostensibly athletic, and needle Behe* all at the same time, but that’s okay. (I don’t get out much.)


*To understand the reference, Behe liked to drop the lack of whale transitional fossils (search for “whale” in that link) as a problem for evolution wink wink nudge nudge must have been ID. That was before a dude named Thewissen, who later became head football coach at NEOUCOM got a grant to dig in the Indus Valley. (Behe doesn’t mention whale evolution any more, for some reason. But you should.)

Those who haven’t had the experience of reading Dr. Egnor’s contributions to the creation/evolution conflict will not know that he is a neurosurgeon at Stony Brook who has trumpeted his support for intelligent design and against evolution. Dr. Egnor has recently written an essay at the Ministry of Media Complaints of the Discovery Institute. Ever on-message, Dr. Egnor seems to think that doctors don’t need to know evolution because he objects to the Alliance for Science’s essay challenge. (Alliance for Science asked high schoolers to write an essay entitled and organized around the thesis, “Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution.”)

Dr. Egnor has been the subject of multiple fiskings recently and this is a curiosity itself. I’m personally acquainted with at least four attending-level physicians who were creationists at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Up at Minnesota, a chief resident in the department of surgery was a creationist. And now at Penn State, there’s at least one creationist. The Discovery Institute, fresh off their defeat from Dover, put a lot of effort into developing a five-page list of physicians who think evolution isn’t such a big deal - so why is Egnor getting all the infamy for his incredulity? I don’t have a good answer for that: maybe he’s just the DI “Flavor of the Month” or the only physician willing to write essays. What I can answer are Dr. Egnor’s claims that evolution is not needed in medical school.

And I’ll do it on the flipside.

It would come as no surprise to us here at the Thumb that our readers would accept a physician not giving antibiotics for an ailment unless that physician felt that the infection was bacterial, that the therapy was warranted, and that the selection of antibiotics was appropriate for the suspected organism. Doctors restrict their antibiotic use because of evolution: indiscriminate use of antibiotics leads to the evolution of resistance to those antibiotics in those bacteria that survive the infection. I suspect many of our readers also know that antibiotics are given to livestock routinely to help them grow bigger, faster. Our friends at ScienceBlogs are all over this topic and the problems it presents. By way of summary, if you give animals an antibiotic that looks and acts like one you give humans, resistance will also evolve there, just as surely as it will from a doctor who reaches for his prescription pad before he’s taken an adequate history or completed an adequate exam.

This morning’s Washington Post has a disturbing article on the approval of cefquinome for use in cattle. It’s disturbing for a number of reasons, and we’ll discuss them on the flipside.

Evolution by Any Other Name


A little more than a week ago, word went around our circles here at The Thumb regarding a paper published on Public Library of Science on the use of the word evolution in medical journal articles. In essence, the authors compare the use of the word evolution in articles written by and published in journals generally read by evolutionary biologists versus physicians. Unsurprisingly, the evolutionary biologists mentioned evolution more by name, even if both groups appealed to the same concepts. Why physicians don’t use the word evolution to describe implications or the concept of evolution is the issue.

Other authors (PZ Myers, Orac, and Sequiteur, among others) have dealt with the topic, but it hasn’t appeared here on PT yet, so I thought I’d just ditto Orac’s opinion with a few thoughts of my own. Find them below, after the jump.

Stand Up for Science this Tuesday


In a post entitled, “Where are They Now,” RedStateRabble points out a difference between the Kansas BOE creationist political message during the primary (when they were fighting for votes between Republicans) and their message during the runup to the general election. Take a look at it, then come back here, because there’s more below the fold…

We here at the Thumb are taking advantage of the long weekend to rest and recuperate: please don’t expect another review to be posted before Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’ve posted a review of modern cardiological techniques today. The backstory is that a few of the contributors to the Panda’s Thumb have, in their time, suffered chest pain or heart attacks. A question was recently asked about the difference between ballooning and stenting and, in an email of response, I ended up summarizing the history of invasive cardiology and thrombolytics in a brief essay. Below the fold, I post a version of that essay with hyperlinks to web resources where you can learn more about cardiology.

Best wishes for a great weekend from The Panda’s Thumb crew!

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Chapter 15 is entitled “Darwinism’s War on Traditional Christianity”. For much of this chapter, the reader will find Wells on his soapbox about this or that aspect of, you guessed it, “Traditional Christianity”. And, like “Darwinism” in the first chapter, Wells struggles to find a definition for his term. Wells chooses a current version of the Nicene Creed as the sort of “creedal affirmations that” traditionally unite Christians. (Apparently the litmus suggested by Jesus was inadequate.) Wells almost approaches clarity when he implies that if one doesn’t adhere to the tenets of the (current?) Nicene Creed, one cannot seriously consider him or herself as a Christian. (No word yet on the apparently non-Christians who affirmed a prior version of the Nicene Creed.)

There are two important things to say about Wells’s definition of a “Traditional Christian”. First, the commitment to the tenets of the Nicene Creed is hardly a universal litmus for determining who is and who is not a Christian. A Protestant, even one who subscribes to every tenet of the Nicene Creed, who thinks that Wells is right is encouraged to try to obtain the sacramental elements from a Catholic communion and see how far he gets. (According to Catholic tradition, Protestants cannot receive Catholic communion.)

The second important thing to note is that Jonathan Wells is styling himself as a defender of “Traditional Christianity.”

Read that again: Jonathan Wells, Traditional Christianity. Not to be impolite, but to us here at the Thumb Wells defending “Traditional Christianity” reads as queer as Ann Coulter defending “traditional values”.

Father Coyne Undergoing Chemotherapy

According to Red State Rabble, Father Coyne is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. This would seem to shed light on the reasons for his recent resignation.

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

By titling his first chapter “Wars and Rumors”, Jonathan Wells invokes a snippet of scripture in which Jesus describes the end times

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

Wells uses such dramatic quotations and general martial language because the struggle between “intelligent design” and science is very much a culture war, at least to him and other creationists. In order to advance his thesis, Wells has to convey the idea that “Darwinism” pits itself against traditional Christianity: to allow pupils to learn it is to give them up to atheism, decadence, liberalism and to lose the culture war.

Note that Wells does not wage war against evolution. In fact, he is at pains to make it (somewhat) clear that he wages war against “Darwinism”, which in context might sound like the sort of thing any sensible Christian would want to guard against. Unfortunately, Wells isn’t exactly clear what he means by Darwinism as opposed to evolution. In this chapter and chapter fifteen, “Darwinism’s War on Traditional Christianity”, we find many references to “Darwinism”. Assuming that even creationist words have meaning, let us set those invocations in series while adjusting the language only to merge them syntactically. Presumably there is consistency of meaning, and this will hopefully help us gain a greater understanding of what this nasty Darwinism thing is.

A Schoolteacher Speaks Out


Kansas State Board of Education member Connie Morris was one of the anti-science gang of six who railroaded changes to the state standards past the normal processes of curriculum development. In “Reasoning Behind Evolution Vote” (full copy available on the flip side), she attempts to justify that decision. Her article was published in the Hays, KS newspaper, and we here at the Thumb were just cracking our knuckles to respond to it.

Alas, one of the stalwart science defenders in Kansas has beaten us to the punch, but we didn’t mope too long because the response was brilliant. Cheryl Shephard-Adams’s “ID Promoters’ Perpetual Folly” is highly recommended and you can find it at the Garden City Telegram Online.

Of note, Ms. Morris is up for re-election this year. She will be opposed by both a Republican, Sally Cauble of Liberal, and a Democrat, Tim Cruz of Garden City.

If you click through to the flip side, you’ll see the Google Cache version of Morris’ original screed and, in case the same fate befalls Shepard-Adams’ brilliant reply, a full copy of it as well.


Via Red State Rabble, we learn that Judge Jones was protected by the US Marshalls back in December, after his Kitzmiller Decision pulled back the curtain from ID and identified it for the warmed over creationism that it is. The reason for that protection? Threatening emails he received following his decision about ID creationism.

More details below the fold…

How to Disprove Evolution?


Some years ago, a creationist challenged me, “Burt, how would you go about disproving evolution? It’s non-falsifiable and, by definition, cannot be science.”

Challenged me it did - I was unable to think of a good answer. At least, I was unable until I consulted with the brainiacs in Kansas Citizens for Science. The answer, like just about any answer when considering involving evolution, is to look at the past and examine evolution when it was back fighting for its life.

We’ll discuss this limited aspect of the history of evolution, along with why it’s important, on flip side…

The idea that evolution is best exemplified in silly or stupid adaptations is an idea with a rich history. Quoting from the late, great Stephen Jay Gould in the essay that provides this site’s namesake (PDF link):

Thus, the paradox, and the common theme of this trilogy of essays: Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design - nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths that a sensible God would never treat but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.

Following in this tradition, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Don Wise has written a little ditty (WMV video link) on “Incompetent Design.”

He’s interviewed in Seed Magazine, in an article called The Other ID.


A week or so ago, I was interviewed by Sarah Smarsh, a writer for a Lawrence, KS-based alternative newspaper. She was looking for people who could comment on the interactions between science and religion, or more specifically how one could be a Christian and also understand evolution.

You can read the article on the web now and I think she did a pretty good job.*


*For the record, the churches I grew up in did not teach that the world was flat. True flat-earth creationists are vanishingly rare these days, creationists having found a way to overcome the flat earth beliefs that a true literalism would demand.

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