Wesley R. Elsberry Archives

Avida-ED is educational software that provides an accessible presentation layer on the Avida artificial life platform. The first version was released nine years ago, and today marks Prof. Rob Pennock’s release of version 3, with a formal presentation at Evolution 2016. Avida-ED is geared toward the needs of undergraduate and advanced high school curriculum use.

The new version, Avida-ED Web 3.0, is a web application: it runs in your browser (Firefox or Chrome currently; Safari, Internet Explorer, and Edge have some compatibility issues). To get it, visit the canonical Avida-ED site, or the mirror site. As a web application, Avida-ED Web 3.0 lowers the barriers to use, restoring the ability for those running Linux to use Avida-ED, and giving Windows users access to the latest feature set. While installation is not required, there are installers for MacOS and Windows that set up a local HTTP server and launch a local copy of Avida-ED Web in the default browser. This latter option may be useful for people who expect to be without internet access when they want to use the program. More discussion below the fold.


Brandon Haught at Florida Citizens for Science does a deeper dive on the educational assessments coming out of the Florida Department of Education (DOE). The DOE says that student performance in science improved by a percentage point this past year. Haught shows that they redefined science performance in order to have an improvement, no matter how slight.

The War Before Kitzmas


Over at Elizabeth Liddle’s “The Skeptical Zone” (TSZ) blog, Salvador Cordova had something to say about being banned from the “Uncommon Descent” (UD) blog, now being managed (loosely speaking) by Barry K. Arrington.

Arrington did something for Cordova that he doesn’t do for most people banned from UD, which was to send Sal an explanatory letter, which Sal included in his TSZ post. I’ll quote it below the fold.

The Honors program at the University of Central Florida has a documentary film class whose previous projects have been well-received. Now, they are crowdsourcing funding for their latest project, “Filthy Dreamers”. This one is about antievolution efforts in Florida following the 1925 Scopes trial.

In the late 1920’s a controversy sparked about the teaching of evolution to women students at Florida State Women’s College. Nearly 100 years later, public figures and activists are still trying to control curriculum in public schools, colleges and universities. The students enrolled in this Honors class through the University of Central Florida aim to educate and inform our viewers about the long history of censorship in the classrooms, the libraries and around the campus.

Please check it out.

JPL Prevails in Lawsuit


While the final decision hasn’t been written, the judge in the Coppedge v. Caltech and JPL case has made an order for a final ruling in JPL’s favor.

In his wrongful termination suit, Coppedge claimed he was demoted in 2009, then let go for engaging his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and for handing out DVDs on the topic while at work. Intelligent design is the belief that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

Late last night, I got word from Ed Brayton that Panda’s Thumb blogger Skip Evans was found dead at his Madison, Wisconsin home. Skip had been having problems with his cardiovascular system, and so far as we know now those problems appear to have been the cause of his death.

Skip should be well known to most of our readers, either by his posts here or by some of the contributions that he made to advancing science education and countering the socio-political machinations of the creationism movement. A couple of the high-profile things Skip did included much of the concept of NCSE’s “Project Steve” and its naming, plus taking on (now convicted felon) “Dr.” Kent Hovind concerning his “doctoral disssertation”. Skip personally requested a copy of Hovind’s dissertation from “Patriot University”, and they shipped Skip the original, including taped-in graphics Hovind had scissored out of science magazines.

I’ll plan to add some photos later, but I wanted this news to go out soonest to our community. Skip was a friend of mine, and I appreciated his good humor. I already miss him.

His colleague posted this comment on Facebook:

To ease the pain of Skip’s dear friends, please know that he has so many people who loved him here. He was only with our company a year, but brought more life and energy to us in that short time than most people do in a lifetime. I went to a presentation on the fallacies of creationism a few weeks ago, where Skip gave an irreverent and poignant and funny talk. Over 150 people were in stitches. We were lucky to know him.

Earlier this week, Jeffrey Kluger wrote an article about Coppedge v. JPL and Caltech that appeared on Time’s website. Kluger is a lawyer himself, and had a pretty tough take-away message concerning Coppedge’s apparent chances of success in the lawsuit:

Groups like the intelligent design community are not always free to pick their poster children, and it’s unfortunate for them that Coppedge is one of theirs. It’s true enough that employers and colleagues in a science-based workplace might be uncomfortable with the idea of a coworker who believes in intelligent design. But neither the Constitution nor employee-protection laws can regulate feelings – no more than they can or should regulate belief systems. They can, however, circumscribe behavior on both sides of that faith-divide. From the filings at least, JPL appears to have stayed well within those boundaries. Coppedge appears to have jumped the rails entirely.

Yes, even disinterested third parties get it now.

JPL’s brief discusses a lack of self-awareness on Coppedge’s part. The tone-deafness isn’t just Coppedge, though. It permeates the DI and the IDC community. They are so intent on instantiating their myths that they cannot seem to wrap their heads around the idea that one of their own could be in the wrong. You’d think with all those lawyers in their camp that they would be better at this than they are.

But Kluger’s conclusions are simply what one expects when someone comes to this without an ideological precommitment. Another observation made by Kluger takes us down a rabbit hole and straight to Wonderland’s mad hatter’s tea party in progress.

Far more bizarre is Coppedge’s inclusion of a three-page “screenplay” dramatizing his interactions with one of the complaining coworkers, including such dialogue as “I’m so uncomfortable with David approaching me about watching an intelligent design DVD and talking about my stance on Proposition 8.” The coworker then, in the “screenplay” version of the incident, sobs.

It is not a legal leap to suggest that none of this helps Coppedge’s case. Nor does his footnote to the scene, which concedes “Some liberties have been taken with the dialogue and action as artistic license.” Legal briefs, of course, are not typically the place for artistic anything – especially license.

The specific document in question is the “Plaintiff’s Trial Brief” from the NCSE website. The “screenplay” starts on page 4, in the section headed as “Weisenfelder”.

Unfortunately, the PDF is an image-based one and I don’t have an OCR program to hand. The screenplay is immensely entertaining, though, please give it a read. If someone transcribes it, please send it along and I’ll update this post.

Since January 10, 2012, I’ve been unable to connect to my email or any of the web applications serving Antievolution.org, Austringer.net, and TalkDesign.org from my Verizon FIOS residential internet service account. The servers hosting those are on a Verizon FIOS Business service account.

This isn’t a problem with the servers. I’m able to access everything fine via my smartphone or from other ISPs.

This isn’t a problem just at my house. My parents’ ISP is Verizon FIOS, and they’ve been unable to access the Austringer blog since January 10th, too.

This limits my efficiency on dealing with things if my home internet doesn’t actually get me to the sites I do system administration on and the email where various lists are handled. I’m using AnonymoX just to be able to hit various sites in my browser, which is a real pain.

The favor: If you have Verizon FIOS, try pulling up the Austringer blog. If you have the same problem, your browser will timeout rather than display anything. Please leave a comment saying whether you were successful or unsuccessful in getting the blog. If you are unsuccessful, I’d really appreciate it if you could enter a ticket with Verizon technical support. Reference ticket numbers TXP08R8CY and FLCP08R8EN if you put in your own ticket. I’ve had tickets in since January 10th, but no solution has turned up, and a high-level Verizon network person tonight seemed to be on the verge of cancelling the tickets that are currently active without fixing the problem.

Upcoming television series on PBS: Inside Nature’s Giants, begins January 18th at 10 PM.

Professor Joy Reidenberg is an unlikely TV star. She’s a comparative anatomist with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Physically, she is diminutive, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and not the sort of slender sylph in morphotype that TV producers seem to favor. But Joy has deep anatomical knowledge and a gift for communicating what she knows, and that led the producers of the documentary series, “Inside Nature’s Giants”, to feature Joy in their program.

(Originally posted at Austringer)

As most of you already know, the production company Premise Media went bankrupt. Their execrable propaganda film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, is on the auction block. The online auction is proceeding now, and will end on Tuesday, June 28th.

The auction promises that besides all available rights and interests in the finished film itself (there is an existing distribution contract), the winner will get all the production materials and rights to them. Want to know what was in the rest of the interviews with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers? I know I would like to have that material archived and made available to the public, among other things that Premise Media found inconvenient to include in their film.

There was talk among individuals on “After the Bar Closes” about the auction. Kristine Harley pointed out that, depending on exactly what is in the production materials, there may well be “Wedge Document 2” in there somewhere. When the “academic freedom” label on religious antievolution goes to court, it could be very handy to have those materials on hand.

But any one individual is unlikely to have the wherewithal to make the winning bid on this.

Today, the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation approved a resolution to use our funds on hand to put in a bid on “Expelled”. We hope to make many of the materials freely available and to collaborate with other groups seeking to produce rebuttals to claims made in “Expelled”. To that end, we would like your help. Our final bid amount will be determined by funds on hand and what has come in via our PayPal donation button by Monday, June 27th. This is because there are delays in transfers between PayPal and the bank, and (hopefully!) we’ll need to pay out of our bank account.

Ken Fair, our secretary and treasurer, wrote a detailed discussion of donations and bidding. The short of it is that while we hope to bid and win the auction, we don’t know what the bid prices will be come the 28th, and cannot guarantee that we will win the auction, especially since it has an unknown reserve price on it. We cannot refund donations, so even in the case of us making the winning bid, donations that take us beyond that amount would remain part of the TOAF funding. On the other hand, contributions to the TOAF are tax-deductible for USA residents and will be used in accordance with the TOAF’s mission.

I hope that by providing a single point at which we can pool our resources, we’ll have a better chance to put in the winning bid on “Expelled”. Even if we don’t manage to make the winning bid, every bit that we can do to raise our bid helps in that the other side will have to take even more money out of their current projects in order to beat the bid.

Update: Professor Richard Dawkins has chipped in to help the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation “Win Ben Stein’s Movie”. If you haven’t taken a moment to visit the Foundation’s donation page and chip in your own stake, remember that our bid amount tomorrow (Tuesday) will be based on what can be cleared through the system into our bank account today (Monday).

As predicted by Joe Meert, Florida’s legislature is once again considering antievolution legislation. This particular attempt is done as a change to a law rather than as a standalone effort.

And the strategy in this one is to label it “critical analysis”, like Ohio did in 2002.

See the Florida Citizens for Science blog for further coverage and advice on activism.

(More at the Austringer.)

Asserting that the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2LoT) means that evolution is false is a perennial favorite out of the ensemble of religious antievolution arguments. It takes a subsection of the Index to Creationist Claims to cover the various ways it most often gets presented by a religious antievolutionist. The TalkOrigins Archive has a series of longer responses to the sometimes bizarre range of 2LoT folderol coughed up by religious antievolutionists. Even “Answers in Genesis” notes that one variant, that 2LoT started with “The Fall”, is among arguments that should never be used.

So what can one make of a recent attempt to publish a batch of 2LoT religious antievolution as if it were a genuine scientific contribution? E. Granville Sewell, a mathematician at the University of Texas at El Paso and “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocate, submitted a manuscript to Applied Mathematical Letters (AML) titled, “A second look at the second law”. AML apparently indicated acceptance of the manuscript to Sewell, leading to gloating on an IDC blog. That in turn led to action by David vun Kannon from the “After the Bar Closes” forum, who wrote the editors at AML to point out the problem. AML responded to vun Kannon, saying that they were withdrawing the manuscript.

More below the fold.

There is a grassroots movement afoot to repeal the Louisiana law privileging creationism and other dreck under a false banner of “academic freedom”. Check out the site and lend what aid you can.

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The “intelligent design” creationists over at the Discovery Institute have long maintained a hypocritical stance. For public consumption, they say that they favor “teaching the controversy”. However, almost any time they control the forum, they pretty ruthlessly make it impossible for one to hear anything but their own spin on a topic. Now, they are asking for comments.

The Discovery Institute has long had an interest in promoting itself at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. An early meeting held there featured several of the future DI CRSC Fellows a few years before the 1996 establishment of the CRSC. More recently, the DI tried to browbeat SMU faculty into validating a dog-and-pony show that would put an official imprimatur on DI Fellows appearing there. And in current events, the DI put on an event on September 23rd sponsored by Victory Campus Ministries at the SMU campus, but have been outraged, yes, outraged, by the critical reception they received from various of the SMU faculty.

Lecturer John G. Wise has put up perhaps the most extensive critiques of the DI’s presentation and co-authored a letter to the SMU campus paper, eliciting DI responses from Casey Luskin (1, 2) and a joint response from several of the DI CSC Fellows.

Wise pointed out problems like the claim that stuff published in ‘Bio-complexity’ meets the standard of peer-reviewed literature. Ouch.

Associate Professor Mark Chancey published a letter in the SMU campus paper discussing some of the reasons that the DI doesn’t get a unanimous vote of approval from the SMU faculty despite the religious background of the university. Chancey reviews some of the history of the DI and its enthusiasm for SMU.

Unfortunately, the Discovery Institute has a track record of using SMU’s prestige and academic reputation to bolster its own claims to legitimacy. Consider this quote from Phillip E. Johnson, a chief ID architect: “The movement we now call the Wedge made its public debut at a conference of scientists and philosophers held at Southern Methodist University in March 1992.”

Johnson goes on to characterize that conference as “a respectable academic gathering.” This language implies that SMU sponsored an academic conference in which ID proponents participated as full-fledged scholars. In fact, the 1992 event, too, was sponsored not by any academic unit of the university but by a campus ministry-a detail conspicuously absent from Johnson’s description.

Yes, annoying details like that often go missing in the DI propaganda. Not getting the official recognition they want from SMU and getting unwelcome critical attention of SMU faculty just doesn’t sit well with the DI.

We’ll Be Back


The server for PT will be physically moving to a new location later today. Along with the new place is a new service account that promises higher upstream bandwidth. But it does mean that PT and other domains served here will be off the air for a while. The DNS entries for all those have to be entered and propagate. Some may see PT again in a couple of hours after it initially goes offline, but DNS changes may not fully propagate for up to 48 hours.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) selected evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll to serve as its vice president for science education. Carroll replaces Peter J. Bruns, who is retiring after serving nine years in that role at HHMI. Carroll is a researcher in evolutionary consequences of developmental processes, or “evo-devo”, and a noted science writer. HHMI is a significant supporter of science education, having invested over $1.6 billion dollars in science education programs over the years.

We congratulate both Carroll and HHMI, and hope this new collaboration does great things.

Oxford University’s previous Charles Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science, Richard Dawkins, visited Michigan State University in East Lansing on March 2nd and 3rd. Prof. Dawkins gave a lecture on “The Purpose of Purpose” to a sold-out crowd at the Wharton Center on the evening of the 2nd, and held an hour-and-a-half question and answer session at the Fairchild Theater on campus in the morning of the 3rd.

(Original post at the Austringer)

A Video Birthday Card

I got this from Rob Pennock:

Society for Study of Evolution has created a video birthday card to wish Charles Darwin a Happy 200th Birthday. You can view the YouTube birthday greetings at the following link:


Other details of the SSE Darwin 200 outreach projects are or soon will be posted at:


Please help SSE extend this outreach project, by forwarding the links broadly to your other professional societies, departments, groups and friends.

Happy Darwin Day!


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