Does op-doc unintentionally tout Ark Park?

aerial view of Ark
Aerial view of the “Ark,” from the op-doc. Credit: Super Deluxe Films. Fair use.

The Times the other day posted an “op-doc,” or an op-ed in documentary-film format, concerning the “Ark” Park in Kentucky. I have received a handful of communications about this op-doc, and I have decided to plagiarize all of them. I will not identify the authors, but if they feel like identifying themselves, they can do so in the comments. The op-doc is available here. It is behind a pay wall, but you may be entitled to access a few pages each month without a subscription. At any rate, I found a range of opinions.

The first person to contact me noted that the piece had been posted in the Times and called it

[a]n uncritical free ad for the Ark Park disguised as an op-ed “documentary.” The NYT let this in as an “opinion” piece. It is directed by Jeremy Seifert. Seifert’s other work doesn’t appear to be aligned with fundamentalism; he does seem to have directed or produced a film attacking GMO foods.

The remainder of the comments come from a listserv I subscribe to. A second person wrote,

Vulpes vulpes

Red foxes
Pair of red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, um, enjoying the outdoors. The Boulder Daily Camera on December 21 called it a Festive Frolic. I had to take the picture through a dirty glass window to avoid disturbing them, and I confess to a little image processing.

Science bridges divides

Venn diagram

Science bridges divides. That is the lesson enunciated by our colleagues Nathan Lents and Joshua Swamidass in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday and earlier in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on December 18.

The occasion? The fifteenth anniversary of the Dover decision by District Court Judge John E. Jones III “that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.” December 20 has come to be known as Kitzmas, and the Panda’s Thumb article by PZ Myers may be the first use of that term.

Mark Meadows and his skeletons

Allosaurus skeleton
Allosaurus skeleton. ''Allosaurus fragilis'' skeleton mounted in the lobby of the San Diego Natural History Museum. Wikimedia. Photograph by user Sheep81. Public domain.

I think we have not been paying enough attention to Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff. We noted recently that

Mr. Meadows may or may not be a creationist, but he is certainly a fellow traveler: At one time [2002], he purchased a piece of property on which an Allosaurus specimen had been discovered (supposedly by some home-schooled children). He then [2014] sold the property to Answers in Genesis, arguably in order to keep the fossils under the control of young-earth creationists.

That was a bit anodyne. In fact, according to an article In Salon, it was Mr. Meadows’s daughter Haley who supposedly discovered the dinosaur on the last day of the dig. In fact, according to the Salon article, the fossil had been discovered two years earlier by the person, Dana Forbes, who had sold the property to Mr. Meadows. It was identified in 2001 by paleontologist Joe Taylor. That skeleton, as we reported, was eventually donated to the Creation “Museum” by

the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation. The foundation’s leader Michael Peroutka until recently was also a board member of the League of the South, a white supremacist, neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist organization that has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center[,]

according to a press release from paleontologist Daniel Phelps.

According to the Salon article, besides involving his 9-year-old daughter in some kind of apparent fraud, Mr. Meadows

had since at least 2018 apparently failed to disclose a loan and monthly income of $11,000 related to the sale of a deed to a Colorado fossil park dedicated to promoting the creationist fiction that humans coexisted with dinosaurs.

In addition, Salon reports that Mr. Meadows was sanctioned in 2018 for misusing taxpayer money and may have done so again in 2020. Finally, Salon reporting has apparently inspired a watchdog group to file a complaint against Mr. Meadows with the Federal Election Commission.

Is natural selection a meaningless tautology?

Image of Moth on ceiling
A moth on our dining room ceiling, with unsuccessful
cryptic coloration -- most likely a geometrid moth of the tribe
Hydriomenini, perhaps the Tissue Moth, Triphosa haesitata
(thanks to John Morgan and Matt Young for the leads)

In argument with creationists one often hears the point made, triumphantly, that natural selection is a tautology. The implication is that evolutionary biologists are so generally incompetent that they don't recognize this, and that when they invoke the concept of fitness they are engaging in a meaningless circular argument. Natural selection, creationists argue, is supposed to be "survival of the fittest". Yet how do we define fittest? Why, merely as those that survive. So it reduces to "survival of the survived", and thus cannot be more than a meaningless incantation. Gotcha!

But ...