In this issue:

Texas Loses, Again

Editorial comment by John Blanton

Texans, the subject line does not do justice. To put it bluntly, we got our butts kicked. It’s my duty to haul out the sordid history and attempt to assess some blame.

If by now you are still unaware, the matter is this: Among some otherwise sensible state governments there is a high-profile competition to show the most ridiculous face to the rest of the world. And Texas just got aced out of number one. It happened this way:

Historically The Great State of Texas has had a nice lock on the title, challenged most notably when Tennessee passed the Butler Act in 1924 and then prosecuted John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in a public school in Dayton. Texas quickly got back in the game. Edward J. Larson has an excellent book on the history of this dubious competition, and you can follow the sordid details there. See the references.

Shortly after the Scopes trial Texas Governor Miriam Ferguson directed the Texas Textbook Commission to delete “evolution from all public school texts.” Since then Texas has never been completely out of the game.

There was a close call in 1995 when parents in the Plano Independent School District rose up against attempts to introduce the creationist Of Pandas and People into the curriculum. Apparently these parents were unaware that we are engaged in a desperate competition over the low road to education. As a result, parents in Plano blew the point and set Texas back some distance by rising up and defeating the creationist strategy.

More recently Texas recovered all lost ground and established itself in first (and lowest) place by appointing a number of blatant creationists on its State Board of Education. The antics of Board president Don McLeroy, a former dentist turned educational reformer, helped to gain for Texas a new low and also the competitive front tier. Allow me to illustrate the beauty of the Texas game plan.

Typical of creationists world-wide, McLeroy loved to use out of context quotes to make his case, and a Web site features some of his notable ventures into this never world. Here is one.

McLeroy: “New Zealand’s ‘living dinousaur’ – the Tuatara – is surprisingly the fastest evolving animal. It is unchanged in 200 million years.” This is quoted from Science Daily, March 23, 2008.

What Science Daily said was this:

New Zealand's 'Living Dinosaur' – The Tuatara – Is Surprisingly The Fastest Evolving Animal

…In a study of New Zealand's "living dinosaur" the tuatara, evolutionary biologist, and ancient DNA expert, Professor David Lambert and his team from the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution recovered DNA sequences from the bones of ancient tuatara, which are up to 8000 years old. They found that, although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving – at a DNA level – faster than any other animal yet examined.

…"Of course we would have expected that the tuatara, which does everything slowly – they grow slowly, reproduce slowly and have a very slow metabolism – would have evolved slowly. In fact, at the DNA level, they evolve extremely quickly, which supports a hypothesis proposed by the evolutionary biologist Allan Wilson, who suggested that the rate of molecular evolution was uncoupled from the rate of morphological evolution."

…The tuatara, Sphendon punctatus, is found only in New Zealand and is the only surviving member of a distinct reptilian order Sphehodontia that lived alongside early dinosaurs and separated from other reptiles 200 million years ago in the Upper Triassic period.

One would have thought that maintaining our lead to the bottom would involve keeping Dr. McLeroy in his place on the Board. You would have been right in the first respect, but you would be wrong if you thought the Texas Senate was suited up for the game. Possibly state politicians got tired of answering embarrassing questions and of seeing national and world publications mention our state with the hint of a sneer. In any event, Governor Rick Perry reappointed McLeroy as chairman of the Board (way to go, Guv), but the Senate, dominated by Perry’s own party, rejected the nomination. Sic transit Gloria.

Worse yet, the Senate rejected Perry’s nomination of notorious creationist Gail Lowe to replace McLeroy as chairman. What can you do with a government like this?

That was not the final blow, however. Texas had one final hope for maintaining its grip on the short end of the stick. A few years back the Louisiana Legislature enacted, and Governor Jindal signed into law the “Louisiana Science Education Act.” The title was a little play on words, because the real purpose was “to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The law was transparently aimed at protecting teachers who stepped outside the law and the science curriculum. The law givers, I am sure, had in mind giving cover to those who promoted politically favorable alternatives to mainstream science.

If you were the quarterback for Texas public education, you would have been watching with a dry mouth as the clock ran out the game slipped away. But there was still hope in Mudville.

As we reported last month, hope for Texas came from the good citizens of Louisiana. What were they thinking?

Continuing support for Louisiana repeal effort

Adding their support for the effort to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law are the New Orleans City Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Senate Bill 70, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. The American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Society for the Study of Evolution together with the Society of Systematic Biologists and the American Society of Naturalists, as well as forty-three Nobel laureates, have already endorsed SB 70.

Texas appeared to have the low rung firmly within its grip. Then, disaster. The National Center for Science Education has the bad news:

Repeal bill officially dead

June 24th, 2011…

When the Louisiana state legislature adjourned on June 23, 2011, Senate Bill 70 (PDF) — which would have repealed the antievolution law in effect in the state since 2008 — died in committee. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort was Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The bill swiftly won the support of scientists and educators throughout the state and across the nation, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and no fewer than forty-three Nobel laureates. On May 26, 2011, however, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to shelve the bill. "With the law intact," as the Christian Science Monitor (June 2, 2011) commented, "Louisiana is the state that has gone the furthest in approving legislation that opens the door to allowing alternatives to science taught in its schools." But Kopplin, in a statement quoted by the Louisiana Coalition for Science, vowed, "we'll come back with an even stronger repeal next session." (emphasis added)


The game is gone. Texas, now you know how it feels to be number two.

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Challenge Activity

by John Blanton

It’s June already, so it must be time for another contact about the NTS Paranormal Challenge.

This e-mail was from Poland. The subject line said only “$12000.” I like someone who gets right to the point.

Wieslaw Miernik wrote:

Ive discovered a pendant with Buddha, which wearing heals. I live in Poland. Someone has to verify its curing abilities to convince people to its power. You are saying that you examine extrasensory, paranormal phenomena, thus I have an offer to you. To verify whether it works it is necessary to choose people who do not dream dreams or do very rarely. They should wear it for at least one year to make sure that the pendant gives them the ability to dream. The statement from the participants of the test, that because of wearing of the pendant with Buddha they gained the ability to dream will be the proof confirming its extrasensory, paranormal power.

I was not as sure of this as Wieslaw was. I wrote back:

The method you describe would not constitute proof the pendant provides the ability to dream. Here is why:

We will only have the word of the subject that they were unable to dream prior to wearing the pendant and that they gained the ability to dream after wearing the pendant. The unsubstantiated statements of people do not constitute good scientific evidence.

If you have another idea for investigating the powers of this pendant, we will be interested in hearing about it. We will be very eager to work with you on this project.

Thanks for contacting The North Texas Skeptics, and please keep in touch with us. All correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge will be published in our newsletter and posted on our Web site.

We enjoy these adventures into the paranormal, and we will gladly pay off the $12,000 prize. However, all along we were thinking of paying for a real demonstration of the paranormal. Especially we wanted something concrete before we forked over the cash.

We also like to alert correspondents that their comments are in no way considered private and will be posted for public viewing. Our intent is to state this up front, so there can be no hard feelings later on.

There are a number of ways Wieslaw’s proposed experiment could go wrong:

  1. We could get somebody who had no trouble dreaming but claimed otherwise. Or else, they claimed the pendant caused them to dream, when it did not.
  2. We could get somebody who immediately started dreaming about the Buddha pendant hanging around his neck. That’s not exactly paranormal.

And, there were possibly more. Wieslaw wrote back:

What is important to translate is that the paranormal (extrasensory) force is placing polish words in songs, most often English-language songs. If you listen to recordings on website here you can confirm the authenticity of this statement, which was placed there by paranormal force. Evrybody can make a pendant - based on the picture - and wear it. Its shape has a therapeutic effects. It prevent diseases and cure chronic ones. If you wear it 6 months, you start to dream more often (you have more frequent dreams). The healing power will be greater than diseases. You will notice it after a year of wearing it, and only if the patient wearing the pendant is not bedridden. The examination will not be problematic, if the persons chosen for the examination have not been dreaming the dreams . It is likely that every person will confirm that pendant has contributed to the fact that they were dreaming Dreas. Miernik

My response reminded Wieslaw that his approach to the matter needed to be more substantial, and we let it go at that. I have had no further correspondence from Wieslaw Miernik.

Readers can follow this and other correspondence related to the NTS Paranormal Challenge on our Web site. We try to post everything from all contacts. About the only thing we do not post is private contact information. We insist that serious claimants must provide us with a home city. We like to be able to report, for example, that are engaged in a demonstration with Rosemary Hunter from Cleveland, Ohio. If you feel you need to contact any of these claimants, we will be glad to forward your request to them by e-mail.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Six times per year Skeptical Inquirer publishes critical scientific evaluations of all manner of controversial and extraordinary claims, including but not limited to paranormal and fringescience matters, and informed discussion of all relevant issues. Price of subscription is 1 year at $35 (6 issues), 2 years at $60 (12 issues), or 3 years at $84 (18 issues).

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Apocolyptic Village

by John Blanton

Or, End Of The World, Part 2

What is mystical about the French village of Bugarach?

It’s located in the extreme south of France, and close by is the intriguing Pic de Bugarach. This rocky outcrop is, in itself, a geological curiosity. It’s an upside-down mountain. The layers of rock near the top are older than those at the bottom. It’s the kind of thing that brings great delight to young Earth creationists, because they would like us to believe this kind of phenomenon puts the lie to the modern science of geology.

There’s more.

This rocky outcrop is, in itself, a geological curiosity. It’s an upsidedown mountain. The layers of rock near the top are older than those at the bottom.

According to Vicky Buffery, writing for Reuters, “A report by the watchdog, Miviludes, published on Wednesday said the picturesque village near Carcassonne should be monitored in the run-up to December 21, 2012, when many believe the world will end according to an ancient Mayan prophecy.”

Mikaela writing for Oddity Central notes, “Many say that Jules Verne used this mountain as inspiration for his “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth,” and that Steven Spielberg was also inspired by Bugarach for his movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” even though the actual shooting took place on Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming. Apparently these are good enough reasons to make people think that aliens will come to save them.”

Others are worried.

Talk of the end of the world has some people troubled and looking for salvation, and they see Pic de Bugarach in their futures. Aliens await in a cavity beneath the stone peak, and, as in Close Encounters, they will take a chosen few with them when the end comes and they depart. Bugarach mayor Jean-Pierre Delord expressed his concerns. From The Telegraph:

Mr Delord said people had been coming to the village for the past 10 years or so in search of alien life following a post in an UFO review by a local man, who has since died. "He claimed he had seen aliens and heard the humming of their spacecraft under the mountain," he said.

The Miviludes sect watchers see potential danger. Miviludes president Georges Fenech brought up the subject of the Branch Davidian tragedy of 1993. According to the mayor the American Ramtha School of Enlightenment is on-site with six settlements set up in the countryside,. Ramtha is the supposed Lemurian warrior channeled by Judy Zebra (JZ) Knight, who founded the Ramtha movement. Miviludes is also concerned about the Raelians, inspired by sports-car journalist Claude Vorilhon, who claimed previous encounters with aliens.

Incidentally, JZ Knight was born in 1946 in Roswell, New Mexico, but we should not attach any significance to that. The alien space ship crash did not occur until the following year.

Not mentioned in the literature I reviewed were the cult tragedies of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate. Some bad consequences can still shake out of the end of the world craze, but these things often come from unexpected directions. It is possible we will be unpleasantly surprised.

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Beauty and Brains?

by John Blanton

There is nothing that says the two don't go together. Apparently there is also nothing that says they do.

The Miss USA contest for 2011 concluded Sunday, 19 June, but the talk prior to the event included how contestants, present and past, have handled loaded questions, particularly regarding science.

The Christian Post had some interesting comments:

While many contestants expressed an openness to include evolution in public schools, one contestant – Miss Kentucky Kia Ben-et Hampton – said that evolution should not be taught, alluding to the differing opinions expressed in the scientific and religious communities.

Miss Mississippi Keeley Patterson discredited evolution in her answer. "I think evolution should be taught as what it is; it's a theory, so I don't think it should be taught as fact."

A few other contestants including Miss Nebraska Haley Jo Herold, Miss Alaska Jessica Chuckran and Miss New Hampshire LacyJane Folger answered affirmatively, but expressed their desire to see the other side – such as creationism – given equal time in the classroom.

Chuckran said in her answer, "I think it's necessary that evolution is taught in schools ... However, personally, I do not believe in evolution. I believe that each one of us were (sic) created for a purpose by God and that just gives my life so much more direction and meaning."

Miss North Carolina Brittany York responded, "I think it's great to get both sides of the story. I'm personally a Christian so I believe the Bible's version but you can't push opinions or beliefs on children so they need to know every side that's out there. So yes, I do believe that (evolution) should be taught but so should the other side of the story."

Questions this year also included whether the contestant would consider a nude photo shoot. This aspect of the story did not include photo coverage.

Wait, there’s more.

The contest has now concluded, and the winner is Alyssa Campanella of California. The Christian Post headline now reads “Miss USA Affirms Evolution; First Runner-Up Opposes Burning Sacred Texts.” The story further mentions:

Campanella is not against evolution in schools, however. During the preliminary online questions, she was asked whether evolution should be taught in schools. She responded, "I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I'm a huge science geek ... I like to believe in the big bang theory and, you know, the evolution of humans throughout time."

And, she’s really sharp looking. We sometimes are impressed.

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Bachmann by Design

by John Blanton

OK, by now the secret is out. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has declared she will be a candidate for President of the United States in the next election. So what’s the big deal?

Maybe I should have said “creationist Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.”

To be clear, Bachmann will not be running on a creationism platform. That would be in the same sense that Congressman Anthony Weiner never ran on the crotch photo platform. However, it is a fact of life that your idiosyncrasies may be what define you if you don’t otherwise stand out in the crowd.

More generally, Bachmann is identified as a “Tea Party” candidate, which means she will campaign to protect you from taxes, big government and Barak Obama.

That Bachmann is a Republican is also significant. I don’t know when the Republican Party fell in love with creationism, if that is in fact the case. I do recall that former Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush spoke favorably of creationism (or Intelligent Design), while Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama have distanced themselves from the idea. For example, Carter remarked in a CNN interview in 2005:

I think we ought to discover everything we can about science. It ought to be accepted as proved unless it's discounted. I believe still in a supreme being. But, I don't believe that we ought to teach religious matters in a science classroom, because I think that the two ought not to be related.

They ought to be completely separate. And I don't think anyone, Larry, interferes in full belief in the other. I believe completely in scientific proofs and values unless they're discounted. I believe in a supreme being. But, I don't believe you ought to teach creationism in the science classroom.

In the past the Texas Republican Party platform has included wording favorable to creationism.

Apart from Texas and some other backward places, creationism does not seem to be a core value of the Republican Party. Most likely Republicans, in their efforts to cozy up to the Religious Right, have overly tolerated creationism and other religious excesses.

That does not seem to be Bachmann’s problem. It would appear that creationism is where she comes from.

Bachmann announced her candidacy at the debate of Republican hopefuls in New Orleans on 17 June. Her remarks to reporters following the debate reflect a smidgeon of stupidity along with a bias toward creationism.

"I support intelligent design. What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

The constitutional requirements for the office of President are that the candidate be a natural born citizen of the United States (eat your heart out, Obama), a permanent resident of the U.S for the most recent fourteen years, and at least 35 years old. Nothing is said about having any sense. Our bad luck.

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July Program

Saturday, July 16, 2011
at 2:00 p.m.

Center for Community Cooperation
2900 Live Oak St, Dallas

The NTS will host a Skype presentation. The topic has not been decided at this time.

Board Meeting and Social Dinner

Saturday, July 23, 2011
at 7:00 p.m.

NTS social dinners tend to be enlightening with lively discussion on any number of controversial topics. Come out and meet the skeptics. You can join up at the meeting.

Check back on our Web site for the location of the July meeting:

Skeptical Ink

by Prasad Golla and John Blanton. © 2011 Free, non-commercial reuse permitted.