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The Newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics
Volume 25 Number 8 www.ntskeptics.org August 2011


In this month's issue:



Victory for evolution in Texas

By John Blanton

From the National Center for Science Education

http://ncse.com/news/2011/07/victory-evolution-texas-006802

Pop the champagne corks. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution. In 14-0* vote, the board today approved scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers--and did not approve the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

"This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers," said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements--recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators--without amendments, and to reject International Database's creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes.

One hot button: the supplement from Holt McDougal. A creationist member of the review panel released a list of Holt's supposed errors involving evolution and common descent. But in today's hearing, the Texas Education Agency pointed out that the full membership of the review panel had not signed off on the list.

Ultimately, the board approved the Holt supplement, and directed Commissioner of Education Robert Scott to review the list of supposed errors, and to develop amended language for Holt to incorporate. NCSE and Texas education groups are confident Scott's revisions will reflect the current state of evolutionary biology, and not any creationist alternatives.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, NCSE's Executive Director is celebrating the decision. "These supplements reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is the core of modern biology, and is a central and vital concept in any biology class. That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board. I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education."

* Correction: This story initially reported the vote as 8-0. The board has 15 members, with one (Mary Helen Berlanga) away on vacation.

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NTS Year End Party

Saturday, 10 December at 2 p.m.


2 p.m.
Center For Nonprofit Management
2900 Live Oak Street in Dallas

Stories, songs, festivities. Bring snacks and drinks (no alcohol). Possible Darwin awards presentation.


Future Meeting Dates

14 January 2012
11 February 2012
10 March 2012
21 April 2012
19 May 2012
14 June 2012
21 July 2012
18 August 2012
15 September 2012
20 October 2012
17 November 2012
15 December 2012

NTS Social Dinner/Board Meeting

None scheduled for December

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Glenn Beck finally makes sense

John Blanton

Not really. I just said that to get you to read this. Alice Beck Kehoe (no relation) tells the story in Reports of the NCSE.

Glenn Beck, the Fox Network talk-show personality, recently featured the DVD The Lost Civilizations of North America on his show and exclaimed, "I was blown away"-not, apparently, by the Midwest's impressive earthen architecture of Hopewell, Cahokia, and Mississippians documented in the video, but by their apparent affirmation of a Mormon claim that the Lost Tribes of Israel inhabited North America. Beck, brought up Roman Catholic, converted to Mormonism (http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/1885/), which teaches that Jesus Christ as well as the biblical "lost tribes of Israel" came to America, and "that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent" as written in the Book of Mormon revealed to Joseph Smith in New York state during the 1820s. The artifacts discovered in the Midwest during the 19th century and the surviving earthworks were all the evidence Beck needed to fulfill this prophecy.

Beck hasn't made sense for several years, and here he seems to have slipped into the same league with Ben Stein, shilling for pseudo science and revisionist history. The producers of this flick have found wealth in the lessons from Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. In a repeat of history, the producers of Lost Civilizations lured real scholars into interviews with the bait that the theme was to be "appreciating First nations' achievements." The Mormon connection did not become apparent until the interviewees saw first cuts of the video. When the deception was revealed, two of the scholars sought legal counsel about judicial relief.

The book of Mormon Evidence Web site lays bare the original intent of the producers.

Take a moment to watch the video trailer and clips from this fundamentally important film to all those interested in learning about all the exciting new evidences for the Book of Mormon as a literal historical record of real people and places. Watch Wednesday's broadcast of Glenn Beck on FOX NEWS referencing this documentary film by clicking HERE.

Archaeologist Bradley Lepper had some unkind words for Beck and the video. The Columbus Dispatch had the story:

But this month, six of the experts interviewed for the film, including an Ohio archaeologist, released a letter that says the documentary advances unsubstantiated claims, uses their words out of context and highlights artifacts that have proved to be fraudulent to advance a "fringe" archaeological belief.

"We want to make it clear that we do not support the theories presented in The Lost Civilizations of North America DVD," the letter reads.

Those interested in a factual approach will enjoy Roger Kennedy's Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization and Kehoe's Controversies in Archaeology. These books are available from Amazon, and the NTS has the links. See the references.

For another odd-ball trashing of archeological science, you are invited to review the video titled "NBC's The Mysterious Origins of Man." It came out about sixteen years ago and featured such luminaries as Charlton Heston and our own Carl Baugh. The Talk Origins site has a review, and also Wikipedia. I have the video, dubbed from tape to DVD, but still readable. Free copies to the first five who send me an e-mail (skeptic75287@yahoo.com) and a postal address in the U.S.

The NCSE is a national treasure for its work to promote and to protect the teaching of science. If you are a fan of science, your membership and financial support will be amply rewarded. Information is on their Web site at http://ncse.com/join.

References:

See the full story here: http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/article/view/23/14

The excerpt from the Book of Mormons Evidence Web site contains the following links of interest:
http://bookofmormonevidence.org/video_gallery.php
http://bookofmormonevidence.org/video_gallery.php
http://video.foxnews.com/v/4314656/beck-divine-providence-vs-manifest-destiny

The story in the Columbus Dispatch is here:
http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/12/29/dvd-stirs-up-archaeological-spat.html

Books from Amazon are here:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140255273/thenorthtexasske
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1598740628/thenorthtexasske

Wikipedia has the Mysterious Origins of Man here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mysterious_Origins_of_Man

Talk Origins has it here:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mom.html

You can get the Expelled video from Amazon, as well:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001BYLFFS/thenorthtexasske

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Psychic detective hoax

by John Blanton

But then, I repeat myself.

It starts out this way:

Texas police probe psychic's mass grave hoax

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110608/ts_alt_afp/uscrimechildren

– Tue Jun 7, 10:36 pm ET

HARDIN, Texas (AFP) – Texas police were investigating whether a tip-off from a psychic about a mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies was in fact a hoax after an intense search found no bodies.

From all that can be gleaned from news reports a woman, claiming to be a psychic, phoned in a tip, forcing authorities to respond. The anonymous caller described the house in sufficient detail that police felt compelled to obtain a warrant to search the property.

Nothing.

Small surprise. Liberty County sheriff’s department captain Rex Evans commented, "We searched the premises there is no indication there are any bodies at this residence, property or shed."

"Whoever this person was who gave this tip we'll be in touch with her and we could hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating this havoc," he said.

The people who live there are long-haul truck drivers who are currently on the road and are baffled by the report, Evans said.

"Finding out that the police are in my yard for dead bodies? That's kinda panicking me," Joe Bankson, 44, told the Houston Chronicle.

"I haven't killed anybody," he said. "And I have a lot of friends, but I haven't helped anybody bury any bodies."

Bankson told the KHOU-TV that his daughter's exboyfriend got drunk and cut his wrists a couple weeks ago and is now in a psychiatric hospital.

"It took me all day to clean the inside of the house. I'm not sure I got it (the blood) all." Not as much excitement as having a real psychic alert police to a real crime and real body parts, but it is much closer to real life.

John Blanton

And what does this have to do with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC)?

Lynn Margulis was a rebellious and at the same time respected evolutionary biologist. She was also the former wife of Carl Sagan. Her death at the age of 73 was announced in November by her son Dorion Sagan.

Here is what the CSC had to say:

Margulis was no proponent of intelligent design and as far as I'm aware, she was a materialist. But she was a materialist who was critical of the orthodox neo-Darwinian viewpoint, and she took a lot of heat for that. At the very least, for this Dr. Margulis should be admired as a scientist who was courageous enough to say what few others have been willing to say.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/lynn_margulis_a053421.html

Margulis was famous for her proposal that much evolutionary progress has been made by the marriage of divergent organism. Specifically, bacteria have invaded eukaryotic cells and become part of their life process, lending their own DNA to the eukaryotic cell's tree of life.

She is one of the people who, if you believe the CSC's story line, should have been Expelled. The theme of the video by that name is that those who speak out against Darwinian evolution, including respected scientists, need to fear expulsion from the scientific community and even loss of employment.

The video depicts Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer who was unable to obtain tenure at the University of Iowa, where he was then an assistant professor. Gonzalez was a strong advocate of Intelligent Design and had co-produced a video The Privileged Planet that argues for the careful design of a universe suited for human life. He is currently a senior fellow of the CSC.

Expelled also cites Richard Sternberg. Sternberg was previously editor of a respected scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Without the knowledge or the involvement of others on the journal staff he published a paper advocating Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer, one of the CSC founders. Reaction and condemnation of the paper and Sternberg's actions followed, and the CSC asserted this resulted in Sternberg's leaving the journal and losing his office space at the Smithsonian Institution.

Expelled cites other cases, and the full story has been laid out by the National Center for Science Education. See the following link:

http://www.expelledexposed.com/

In any event, Margulis should have featured prominently in Expelled. But she was not, and there is a reason. Even though Margulis put forward some outlandish ideas and various radical proposals, she taught biology at Boston University for 22 years and was on the University of Massachusetts at Amherst faculty since 1988. At no time was she Expelled.

Apparently her trick to avoid expulsion was to stick to the facts as she knew them. She did not come into the class room to promote an agenda derived from political or religious ideology. Where the CSC fellows seem short on sincerity, Margulis put forward ideas based on earnest scientific research. Besides, much of her work produced results that led to useful knowledge and a better understanding of her science. Nothing of the sort has ever come from Intelligent Design.

I have to wonder, then, why the CSC chose to bring up the Margulis case. I am guessing they are forgetting their erstwhile support of Expelled and the make-believe stories of persecuted creationist heroes. Else they think we have forgotten.

My thinking is they will support anybody or anything that shows opposition to Darwinian evolution in the belief that the fall of Darwinism will leave an opening for the supernatural in the study of science. In this opposition to Darwinism sincerity and consistency are the first casualties. Intellectual integrity is another. These supposed pillars of religious morality are at the base liars. They can proceed in no other way.

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Skeptical sources

John Blanton

A benefit of working up items for the Web site is researching the many skeptical resources available on the Internet. Here is a short list, in no particular order. Have fun.

Pharyngula: I have previously mentioned PZ Myers' blog. PZ is a notorious skeptic, taking on creationists and other purveyors of pseudo science with a relish. His intense atheistic bent is overt in many of his postings.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/

Evolution News: This is the blog of the creationist Center for Science and Culture sponsored by the Discovery Institute. You will see posts by famous creationists here and all manner of defenses of Intelligent Design.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/

The Panda's Thumb: This has been around in one form or another since nearly the dawn of the Internet. This is the go-to site for debunkers of creationism.

http://www.pandasthumb.org/

Respectful Insolence: "Orac is the nom de blog of a (not so) humble pseudonymous surgeon/scientist with an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his miscellaneous verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few will."

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/

Thoughts from Kansas: "Joshua Rosenau spends his days defending the teaching of evolution at the National Center for Science Education. He is formerly a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas, in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. When not battling creationists or modeling species ranges, he writes about developments in progressive politics and the sciences."

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/

National Center for Science Education: This group has been around for at least 25 years, supporting the teaching of sound science and especially opposing the teaching of creationism in the public schools. Subscribe to their free, weekly e-mail newsletter.

http://ncse.com/

Robert Park: Bob Park is an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is "former Director of Public Information at the Washington office of the American Physical Society." He is a profound skeptic, and he has been blogging since before the concept had a name. We periodically reprint choice selections from his What's New blog in the newsletter. His too thin book Voodoo Science is a must read.

http://www.bobpark.org/

The North Texas Skeptic: Yes, we try to make this newsletter a useful source of skeptical information. Our Web site contains practically all past issues. There is also a Web News page containing skeptical news extracts from Internet sources going back over 10 years.

http://www.ntskeptics.org

and

http://www.ntskeptics.org/news/news.htm

Skeptical Analysis: I have started posting skeptical extracts from pieces I have previously contributed to the newsletter in addition to items that will never see print anywhere else. The site is not pure rational skepticism, but also deals with current politics, religion and daily life.

http://specularphoto.com/blog/

Skeptical readers should forward to me suggestions for additions to this list:

skeptic75287@yahoo.com

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What's new

By Robert Park

[Robert Park publishes the What's New column at http://www.bobpark.org/ . Following are some clippings of interest.

The alternatives: symposium examines quack cures.

Sadly, the death of Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer came just a month before the Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium, Alternative Medicine, Under the Microscope was held 7&8 Nov 2011 at McGill University in Montral, Canada. Although its unlikely that alternative medicine contributed directly to Jobs death, his delay in seeking effective treatment probably did (WN 23 Oct11). Not a scientist, Jobs initially turned to alternative medicine rather than face surgery. The four symposium speakers, Harriet Hall, Paul Offit, Bob Park, and Edzard Ernst, are well-known debunkers of alternative medicine. Free to the public, the symposium was funded by McGill alumnus and benefactor Lorne Trottier. He co-founded Matrox, a computer graphics corporation.

Cancer and causality: Einstein didn't have a cell-phone.

Of the worlds 7 billion people, an incredible 5 billion have cell phones (mobiles in most countries). The safe use of mobiles is therefore a global health concern. The response of the World Health Organization was to conduct a huge epidemiologic study aimed at demonstrating a link between cell-phone radiation and brain cancer. The effort was seriously misguided no such link exists. The study served only to raise widespread public alarm over a nonexistent hazard. Epidemiology, which is the study of health patterns in populations; is important, but it's not a substitute for science. Science is the organization of knowledge into testable laws and theories. It has been known for more than 100 years that electromagnetic radiation at frequencies below the ultraviolet is non-ionizing, and thus cannot create the mutant strands of DNA that constitute incipient cancers. In 1905, Einstein's miracle year, he theorized that electromagnetic radiation consists of discrete units of energy, now called photons, which are equal in energy to the frequency multiplied by Planck's constant. It marked the origin of wave-particle duality and earned Einstein his 1921 Physics Nobel Prize. His theory is verified every time a cell phone works.

Bob Park can be reached via email at whatsnew@bobpark.org

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Another voice stilled

He initially opposed the US entry into WW2, particularly getting involved in another European war. Then he went there in uniform as a writer for Stars and Stripes, and he saw the unmitigated evil we were fighting. He was with the troops when they liberated the first of the Nazi death camps and saw the height of inhumanity.

The historical revisionists who want to deny the Holocaust ever happened or that it was justified or that it was greatly exaggerated rejoice every time another eye witness dies and another voice is stilled. Soon there will be no more eye witnesses, and it will be up to those of us remaining to call these deniers what they are-liars and apologizers for atrocity. We should never back down.

Andy Rooney died on 4 November at the age of 92. [Back to top]


Skeptical Ink

By Prasad Golla and John Blanton

Copyright 2011
Free, non-commercial reuse permitted.

Now for a little fun:

Intelligent Design is the dingleberry of science.

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