Recently in War on Science Category

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.

That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

Bill Nye to debate Ken Ham?!


Let us hope not, but a reader just sent me the following from Mr. Ham’s Facebook page:

Well the big news for 2014 as we begin this new year is that in February, at the Creation Museum, I will be debating the well known Bill Nye The Science Guy! In the next day or so we will post more details including how you can buy tickets to this event. It’s quite rare these days for such a well known evolutionist to publicly debate a creationist–so we do expect a lot of media interest. For now, I just wanted to let you know about this–keep watch for details!

If it is true, I sincerely hope Mr. Nye will reconsider. There is nothing to debate, and a “debate” with Mr. Nye will only give Mr. Ham credibility that he does not deserve and increase not only his visibility but also his ability to attract investors. May I suggest that Mr. Nye take his cue from the noted Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, who told the magazine Limmud,

If Limmud’s organisers invited Lipstadt to participate in a panel discussion with [Holocaust denier David] Irving, she would refuse point blank. “I don’t debate Holocaust deniers. Putting him on a panel would mean someone lost their mind. He’s a liar – why give a liar a platform?”

I sometimes bowdlerize that to “I do not debate liars,” and it is a policy I recommend to anyone who is tempted to “debate” a creationist. Whether you win or lose, you will convince no one and will only add to the prominence of your opponent, who can now say, “See, I debated a prominent scientist; I must be taken seriously now.”

Please, Mr. Nye, do not “debate” with Ken Ham or any other charlatan. No good will come of it – no good can come of it.

Update, January 2, 9:30 MST: February 4, at the Creation “Museum,” $25.00. See here.

Science on trial?


Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).

by Steven Mahone

Bruce Chapman, the Big Cheese over at the Discovery Institute, is apparently feeling a bit threatened by an interview that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) recently did for the Seattle Times. Chapman wrote an article expressing concern that Bill’s straight talk about science literacy might somehow implicate his cherished “Intelligent Design” theory by lumping it in with young earth creationism, thereby leading some to conclude that ID is nothing more than the pseudo-scientific equivalent of those get-rich-working-from-home schemes so ubiquitous on the radio and Internet.

It’s bad enough that Kentucky has the Ark Park, but also subsidizes it - now its residents are complaining about the Next Generation Science Standards. The headline of the Courier-Journal article is “Critics: Kentucky science academic standards are ‘fascist,’ ‘atheistic,’” but that does not do justice to the sheer lunacy of some of the comments quoted in the article.

Here are two excerpts:

Science reports today that Turkey’s main science-funding agency denied a grant to a workshop on the grounds that “evolution is a controversial subject.” The purpose of the workshop was “to expose Turkish biology students to population genetics, game theory, and evolutionary modeling.” The organizers of the workshop had asked for approximately $18,000 (US) to cover the cost of students’ lodging and speakers’ travel. The workshop will go on, with private donors contributing the $18,000.

Years ago, someone gave me a book on child-rearing, and I noticed afterward that it was on The New York Times bestseller list. I mentioned the fact to my father, an expert on child-rearing, and his only comment was, “That’s not why it is lousy.” My father would no doubt feel vindicated right about now: Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, will be on the Times‘s bestseller list this coming Sunday, July 7.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Alert Reader for pointing out this depressing fact.

Update, July 5: As a commenter has pointed out, Darwin’s Doubt will not appear on the July 14 list. The book is evidently a flash in the pan—unless they moved it to the fiction section. Advance orders were evidently vigorously promoted, but no one is actually reading the book, which we may consider a blessing.

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.

Duane Gish dies


Duane Gish, the notorious young-earth creationist, has died at 92. You may find an obituary that is respectful yet pulls no punches here.

Update, February 4, 2013. NCSE has just reported that the Colorado bill has failed to make it out of committee. First in the nation, for this year at least! Unhappily, the vote was 7-6, which is entirely too close for comfort.

January is barely gone, the groundhog may or may not have seen his shadow, and the National Center for Science Education reports that already 8 anti-science bills have been filed in 6 states: Colorado, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma (two bills), Arizona, and Indiana.

As Barbara Forrest notes, “Creationists never give up.” The bills have been carefully sanitized, but all will allow teachers to teach the purported strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, most commonly “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” According to NCSE, the bills are also generally “protective” in that they forbid state and local authorities to prohibit such teaching. The bills pretend to foster debate, but the language is clearly code words for creationism.

The Revisionaries on PBS


A somewhat shortened version of the movie, The Revisionaries, will be shown on PBS Monday night at 10 Eastern Time. The Revisionaries is a documentary about attempts by the Texas State Board of Education to inject creationism into the school standards.

Here is what PBS says about the program:

That is the title of a YouTube video by Bill Nye, the Science Guy. The punchline is essentially this,

And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can–we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.

An appalling fraction of the comments are negative.

See also here for an article to the effect that reports of Mr. Nye’s death are exaggerated.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Yan Linhart for notifying me about the Slate article.

Florida Citizens for Science points to the existence of a new group, Citizens for Objective Public Education, and says,

I have an assignment for you folks. The national science standards that many states, including Florida, are considering adopting are predictably under fire due to the prominence of evolution in the draft document. Kansas has hit the news first, firing the initial shot: Kan. official wants evolution concerns considered,

referring to an AP release which is posted in somewhat longer form here. According to an AP release datelined Topeka,

There is still mostly an eerie silence from the creationists/IDists on the Springer/Cornell issue (previous PT posts: 1, 2, 3). Basically all we have in terms of official response are the comments given to Inside Higher Ed. But much of the evidence of the details of the conference that originally existed has been taken down. Here are the examples of which I am aware:

Four years ago in a post titled “Dissent Out of Bounds on Uncommon Dissent (Oops, make that “Descent”)” I wrote of the banning of Elizabeth Liddle, a British neuroscientist whose nom de net is Febble, from Uncommon Descent (UD), the ID blog founded by William Dembski. That occurred during the reign of DaveScot as UD moderator, and resulted from DaveScot’s hissy fit about Liddle’s quite reasonable argument that Dembski’s definition of “intelligence” operationally made natural selection an intelligent process. Later DaveScot fell out of favor and was himself banned from UD.

Now under the reign of Barry Arrington, a lawyer, UD is engaged in a wholesale purge of commenters who are ID critics. At last rough count 20 commenters have been banned in the last couple of days, most of them ID critics. Once again, Lizzie (I’ve known her online for long enough to call her “Lizzie”!) is banned from UD. She wasn’t notified of it but (like other bannees) found she could no longer log in to UD. However, she has a new home, the The Skeptical Zone, to which I commend readers’ attention.

More below the fold

This is a report by Gaythia Weis, a member of the board of Colorado Citizens for Science, about the enlightened position taken by Aims Community College, Greeley, Colorado, when confronted with a talk by a creationist and, more specifically, concern about the publicity for that talk. The talk, which was sponsored by a recognized student organization, was originally and incorrectly advertised as if it were a college-sponsored event. Briefly, Aims (and Ms. Weis) recognized that the speaker had a legal right to speak, but the college wisely dissociated itself from the speech. In short, according to Ms. Weis, the college administration “got it.” Herewith, Ms. Weis’s essay:

I’d like to encourage other Panda’s Thumb readers to tune up their eyes and ears and be watchful for the following sort of situation, in which creationists are apparently trying to insert their views into our public community college education system. Besides protecting the teaching of science, we need to be mindful of our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion. Still, a firm line can be drawn between the rights of a student group to meet on campus, and the presentation of that group’s views as if the viewpoint is supported by the public institution itself. The following example shows how a small bit of constructive intervention can have positive effects.

Looks like the cartoonist Wiley Miller has started a series of strips on teaching the “controversy.” He’s got the age of the dinosaurs wrong, and carbon dating does not work that far back anyway, but, hell, the strip is called Non Sequitur. The money quote so far is, “Um, just as an F.Y.I., saying ‘facts’ would be a lot less offensive if you used air-quotes.”

Scientific American has posted what you might call a compendium of articles on evolution – some from the archives, some brand new.

The featured articles include a new article by Lauri Lebo, who details the manner in which creationists hide their true intentions by using code words such as “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” Indeed, in a display that gives chutzpah a bad name, they invoke the name of John Scopes, because he stood up for academic freedom.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the War on Science category.

Theological Issues with Intelligent Design is the previous category.

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