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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..

The bad news: Only 67 % of Democrats accept evolution. The worse news: Only 43 % of Republicans accept evolution. The very worst news: The Republicans are down 5 % from 4 years ago. This, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, as reported by CBS news in an article entitled “Republicans’ belief in evolution plummets, poll reveals.”

More precisely, Pew asked whether “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, or humans and other living things have evolved over time.” You may see the report, “Public’s views on human evolution,” here.

Pew reports a number of “key findings,” such as organizing the data as a function of religion; no surprises there. Approximately 1/3 of all adults agree “that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution [was] due to natural processes,” whereas approximately 1/4 of all adults believe that “[a] supreme being guided evolution.” 4 % “don’t know,” so altogether 60 % of adults accept evolution. The breakdown by religion was equally unsurprising. Interestingly, however, across every demographic, slightly more people think that “[nonhuman] animals have evolved over time” than that “humans have evolved over time.”

Finally, I use “accept” evolution, rather than Pew’s and CBS’s “believe in,” because evolution – descent with modification – is a scientific fact and not a belief.

Died in committee


According to NCSE’s scorecard, that is what happened to most of 10 anti-science bills introduced in state legislatures. Most of the bills used the now traditional “strengths and weaknesses” or “academic freedom” ploys, but some would have allowed “teachers to ‘intelligently explore’ controversies and help wayward students ‘develop critical thinking skills,’” as NCSE puts it. Four bills attacked climate change in addition to evolution. None of the bills was enacted into law. Unfortunately, a bill to repeal the “notorious” Louisiana Science Education Act also failed.

Ark Park Still in Kentucky Budget


The governor of Kentucky plans budget cuts of $350 million over two years, including $50 million from public education and substantial cuts to higher education – but has managed to find $11 million to build an interchange to a phantasmical Ark Park, according to LEO Weekly, a Louisville alternative newspaper. Presumably the interchange, which will connect to a 1-mile road between Interstate 75 and a town of 3500, will go to roughly the same place as the Bridge to Nowhere or one of its brethren.

The governor, Steve Beshear, reportedly understands that his state “struggles due to the lack of an educated labor force” and admits that his proposed budget “is inadequate for the future needs of our people.” Maybe he should read a recent editorial in Science magazine and ponder whether the poor performance of US students in science and mathematics can be traced to politicians who cut education budgets and pander to anti-scientific crackpots.

As predictable as the sunrise, creationists are launching another round of the disgusting practice of trying to tie every mass murderer to Darwin and evolution, self-consistency and logic be damned. This time it’s about Brevik, the bomber and shooter in last Friday’s killings. We saw this at Uncommon Descent on Sunday (“Norway shooter a Darwinian terrorist?”) – itself relying on an article from the fundamentalist WorldNetDaily (“Terrorist proclaimed himself ‘Darwinian,’ not ‘Christian’”), and today from alleged scholar John West at the Discovery Institute (“Fundamentalist Christian or Deranged Social Darwinist?”).

West does the usual thing, word-searching Brevik’s 1500-page screed for the few references to Darwin, and brazenly playing down the hundreds of references to Christianity and God and the Templars and Christian holy war against Islam. These are just brushed off by West. West pretends that Brevik calls himself a “Christian atheist” through pretty optimistic (optimistic from West’s perspective) readings of some Brevik passages, which completely ignores the various quite direct references that Brevik makes towards his own belief in God. Here’s West:

A high-school student’s activity spearheading a grass-roots movement to repeal Louisiana’s inaptly named Louisiana Science Education Act is “a profile in (evolutionary) courage,” according to Michael Zimmerman, writing in the Huffington Post.

According to Professor Zimmerman, the student, Zack Kopplin, has already succeeded in influencing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to adopt a new biology textbook, in the face of opposition from the powerful Louisiana Family Forum. More recently, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson announced her intention to introduce legislation repealing the LSEA, which promotes the use of “supplemental materials” in the classroom. Supplemental materials is a code term for literature that promotes creationism and attacks evolution.

Wesley Elsberry reported briefly on Mr. Kopplin’s campaign here. Please do not rehash that discussion on this thread.

Instead, please help make sure that Professor Zimmerman’s article gets the widest possible readership.

Yesterday the Discovery Institute held a press conference at the capitol building in Des Moines, to announce Guillermo Gonzalez’s plans to sue Iowa State University over their decision to deny him tenure. Supposedly the lawsuit will be filed pending the rejection of an appeal to the Board of Regents, which is virtually guaranteed simply for the fact that the Regents typically uphold tenure decisions. Joining Casey Luskin, Rob Crowther, Gonzalez’s attorneys, and a few other DI folk was state Senator David Hartsuch (R-District 41).

The core of the DI’s assertion is that there were “secret tenure deliberations” aka a plan to oust Dr. Gonzalez because of his ID views.

Continue reading at Neurotopia.

This Austin American Statesman article, State science curriculum director resigns, has the scoop.

Chris Comer is out of a job. She was a nine-year veteran in the position of director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (Texas-speak for the state’s “department of education”). The TEA administration essentially forced her resignation.

So, why would TEA do that? Comer forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education announcing a talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest to several people with the following addition: “FYI”.

The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.

Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.

“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.

How did that play out?

In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.

Apparently, not being a team player in the The Republican War on Science is a firing offense at the TEA. Why forwarding an announcement concerning a talk whose topic is highly relevant to the conduct of science education by an internationally recognized speaker should cause TEA administrators a problem escapes me. One is forced to wonder whether Ms. Comer would be looking for a new job if instead she were forwarding emails announcing talks by DI fellows about “intelligent design” creationism.

(Read more (including the text of the offending email) at the Austringer and PZ Myer’s “Fear of Barbara Forrest” at Pharyngula)

Presidential candidate Sam Brownback was one of three Republican candidates who raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution.

Today he has an op-ed piece in the New York Times wherein he explains his stance. If you’re looking for something original, meaningful, or interesting, it’s not for you. It’s your standard “I’m a creationist but am too cagey to come out and say it so I’m going to dance around the issue and exude platitudes about faith…” There’s a fair chance it was ghost written by a member of the Discovery Institute. Consider this:

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

And what if evolution means what it really means, namely that various species (say, humans and great apes) share common ancestry? Brownback totally dodges that one.

The great thing about the internets though is that new-fangled things call blogs allow people to let it all out and say what they really think, the kinds of things they would never publish in the New York Times. You know, unhinged, stream-of-consciousness rantings. Things like this:

Senator Brownback is among a tiny handful of 2008 potential Presidential candidates who understand that ANNUIT COEPTIS is what makes America great. Senator Brownback’s belief in a Higher Power goes far beyond reasonable belief. We know beyond any and all possible doubt that gravity had to have come from somewhere and by inference that this “Intelligent Designer” has favored our undertakings.

Brownback apparently didn’t get the message that the “Intelligent Designer” is an unknown entity that might well be an evil space monster, because ID is not a religious belief no sir it’s not, but he’s hardly unique in that regard. Putting that aside, what the heck was that about gravity? Here it is again:

It would take a miracle from God himself to convince non-believers that patterns statistically beyond random chance that prove an “Intelligent Designer” to be behind the creation of gravity. Maybe this miracle, or series of miracles has already happened. Belief in a Higher Power taught to our school children will increase discipline in our public schools, thus increase our economy. Reasonable belief that gravity had to have come from an “Intelligent Designer” is just the kind of miracle that America needs.

Brownback is a proponent of Intelligent Falling! We knew there had to be one out there somewhere. And apparently gravity is coming in for quite a shellacking, because they’ve even created their own category for it on the blog:

Tags : Gravity, Higher Power, ID, ethics, morals

Sadly, this is the only post under “Gravity” for now.

(Cross-posted to Sunbeams from Cucumbers.)

Today’s New York Times has an article wherein Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney clarifies (somewhat) his position on evolution. Recall that in the last Republican debate only three candidates, none of them top-tier, raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution. Romney wasn’t one of them. And now he says why:

“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

This of course is the standard theistic evolutionist response. Boilerplate, banal, and politically safe… but also essentially pro-science. Of course there is room in the details for the devil to hide:

He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

“I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

Translation: I’m not touching ID with a ten-foot pole.

Romney goes on to say that he believes that evolution should be taught in science class, and that other “theories” belong in religion or philosophy class. Again, this is banal and politically safe, but most importantly, it’s correct.

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible for the mainstream media to print an article on evolution without something irritating me. And here it is:

Intelligent design is typically defined as the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer, as opposed to the utterly random, naturalistic processes that are taught as part of evolutionary theory.

Utterly random? When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection? I’m afraid the author got his idea about what evolution is from the IDists.

As you have no doubt heard by now, there was a brief exchange on evolution at last night's Republican debate. Senator John McCain was asked bluntly whether he “believed in” evolution. After a moment of hesitation he answered, simply, “Yes.” Moderator Chris Matthews then asked the ten candidates whether any of them did not believie in evolution. Representative Tom Tancredo, Senator Sam Brownback and Governor Mike Huckabee raised their hands.

I provide some further details over at EvolutionBlog. I've also assembled some reactions to the creationist hand-raisers from around the web. In this post and and this post I have discussed some other portions of the debate addressing cultural or scientific issues. Comments to all of this may be left at EvolutionBlog.

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.].



Thanks to Bob O’H (hat tip) I have discovered that my book review of E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth has been published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE). Wilson attempts to set aside the evolution/creation issue to encourage evangelicals to join him in saving biodiversity. The review is currently the online-before-print version, I assume it will be in the May issue. The journal requires a subscription but I will post a bit below.

I have to add that I take a little extra pleasure in getting to correct Wilson, in my opinion the world’s leading living biologist, for mistakenly talking about the “spinning bacterial cilium” when he meant “bacterial flagellum.” OK, I am still a tiny ant compared to Wilson (and Wilson literally is a god among ants, so that is saying something), but hey, I am on a crusade about the flagellum thing.

The latest issue of the journal Science includes a policy forum piece written by Sciencebloggers Chris Mooney (The Intersection) and Matt Nisbet (Framing Science). In the article, they argue that scientists do not, for the most part, use effective communications strategies when trying to defend science. Both Chris and Matt anticipate that this view is likely to be somewhat controversial, and that it is likely to spark a vigorous debate. I think that they are probably right about this, and not just because their article includes at least one paragraph that is likely to set PZ off faster than a lit match dropped into a five-gallon can of kerosene.

As Chris and Matt point out, we scientists tend to act under the assumption that the public will “get it” if we can just get them to understand the science. Larry Moran agrees with that perspective, and points out that people like Gould, Dawkins, and Sagan were pretty good at communicating science just that way. Larry does have a point there, but I think it misses the main point that Nisbet and Mooney were making: it’s also important to communicate concepts to people who don’t give a damn about the science. They also point out that the opponents of good science are very good at framing their views on stem cell research, the environment, teaching evolution, and other areas that fall at the intersection of science and politics.

I think Matt and Chris are right. We do need to spend more time (and thought) on communicating our views effectively, particularly to people who do not care about science.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

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.)

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.

The limits of tolerance.


Casey Luskin, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog doesn’t like the reaction that an Idaho crowd had to a PZ Myers quote. He believes that both Myers and the crowd were being intolerant.

Here’s the PZ quote at the center of the issue. Actually, as Paul points out in his own response to Casey, the “quote” is actually two separate quotes taken from two totally separate posts, and stuck together with a totally inappropriate ellipsis. (When two statements appear on two separate websites two months apart, you really aren’t supposed to link them with three little dots and pretend that it’s all one quote.)

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Those of you who have been watching the blogs over the last few days know that a kerfluffle has gone on about Richard Dawkins’s position on religion and religious freedom. Basically, Dawkins signed this scary-sounding petition, it was linked from the Official Richard Dawkins website, an ID blog that likes to think the worst about Dawkins freaked out, Ed Brayton freaked out because the plain reading of the petition (to American ears; see below) seemed anti-civil liberties, then PZ Myers freaked out in reaction to Ed, etc., etc. PZ did helpfully get some clarification from Dawkins, who then retracted his signature of the petition, but the disavowal didn’t cover the issues of whether or not the government should prevent parents from giving their children religious instruction, leading to yet more thinking of the worst on the ID blogs and yet more confusion in the comments on the blogs of PZ and Ed.

Well, I know that it is far more fun to spend endless threads bickering about what Richard Dawkins probably meant and whether or not it is good or evil, but as PZ noted, it really is better to email the guy. We can’t blame Ed for not doing so, because the petition had a clear meaning on its face. But it seemed to me that the problem was that the petition meant very different things in British vs. American contexts. I sent my hypothesis to Dawkins and he has confirmed it; I comment a bit more at the bottom.

The Office of Sternberg Coddling


There is another issue about L’Affaire Sternberg that I think needs to be expounded upon, one that doesn’t seem to have been addressed much at length up to this point. And that is the role of the Office of Special Council (OSC) in releasing their preliminary findings that tried to make a martyr out of Sternberg.

Below the fold I will go into a fair amount of detail about how this came to be.

Now It’s Really, Really Over


As I posted previously, the South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Race had resulted in a narrow sliver of a win by the pro-science candidate Jim Rex. But the creationist candidate, Karen Floyd, had the option of protesting the results. Today however she has finally conceded.

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