Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
By Bill McClellan
Of the Post-Dispatch
GOOD MORNING. I'M from Outside the Box Consulting and I'm here to present our new economic development plan for the state of Missouri.
Before I present the plan, let me tell you a little bit about how we work here at OBC. First of all, we're grounded in reality. We take a hard look at who you are before we decide what kind of a plan you need. I sometimes use a sports analogy. A smart coach fits his philosophy to his talent. If you're a basketball coach and you have a 7-foot center, you devise an offense aimed at getting the ball inside to your big man. If you don't have a big man but you have a bunch of speedy players, you go with a fast-break offense. In other words, you take advantage of what you have and who you are.
Does your present plan do that?
Truth is, you hardly have a plan. You have a vague outline of a plan and it involves biotech or life sciences. In your grander moments, you see yourself as the new Silicon Valley for biotech. You think there is going to be some kind of harmonic convergence between Monsanto, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University, St. Louis University and maybe the Universities of Missouri and Illinois. You're going to have all these high-tech, high-paying research jobs along with some new powerhouse startup companies.
That's not a plan. It's a daydream.
There was an interesting editorial in a recent issue of the St. Louis Business Journal, which is Republican in the Jack Danforth mode. You know, pro-business, pro-science. "Stem cell research is considered key to the biotech industry St. Louis is courting for economic development," the editorial stated. "This research depends on SCNT - Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer." The editorial mentioned that a bill was introduced in last year's Missouri Legislature that would have banned SCNT, and while the bill didn't quite make it into law last year, it will surely be introduced again this year.
That should tell you something about your "plan" for economic development. What biotech company is going to come into a hostile state? For that matter, this is an industry that is going overseas, anyway. Britain is a leader in the field. So are South Korea, Sweden and Japan. There is more work being done in Eastern Europe than in this country. The Bush administration forbids federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 2001. Our scientists have their hands tied and are falling further behind by the day. This is not an industry on which to base your "plan" for economic development.
We suggest you go the opposite way. That's right. Do the anti-science thing. Take evolution out of the textbooks and teach creationism. If you want to be politically correct, you can call it "intelligent design," but we're talking about Adam coming from a piece of clay and Eve coming from a rib and the good Lord creating the whole ball of wax in six days.
Lots of people believe that's all true. Good people. Law-abiding people. Taxpaying people. If you become the only state where creationism is taught in the public schools, you'll have these people pouring into the state. Somebody is going to have to feed them and build houses for them. It will be an economic boom for Missouri. You'll be a growth state.
What we're trying to do is give you a niche. Mostly, though, we're trying to deal with reality.
We've watched your Legislature. Very entertaining. We loved it when Rude Rod Jetton shouted down the governor during the State of the State message. We howled when Jason Crowell made flatulence sounds during House debates when other legislators tried to talk. But while the "Animal House" stuff is fun, it's not the sort of conduct that makes businesses want to locate here. And life sciences? You've got an archbishop who just came out with a pastoral letter in which he says that no Roman Catholic can justify voting for a politician who supports embryonic stem cell research.
Forget the Danforth stuff. He couldn't win a Republican primary in Missouri today. Play to your strengths. Think outside the box. Go with creationism.
Giving Out Bibles Among Suggestions
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page SM03
Some of the items on a list of goals and suggestions recently compiled by the Charles County Board of Education -- such as improving SAT scores or having adequate school supplies -- were so routine as to hardly warrant a second glance.
But other suggestions -- handing out Bibles to students, removing science books "biased towards evolution," censoring school reading lists of "immorality or foul language" -- have outraged some parents, teachers and school officials, who say some board members are trying to push their religious agendas into the schools.
"It's like a throwback to the '50s. I didn't realize we're in the Bible Belt, but I guess we are," said Bill Fisher, president of the Education Association of Charles County, which represents the teachers.
Board Chairman Kathy Levanduski said the members wanted to create a list of goals to "get a focus and get a direction to where we're going." The list of more than 100 items, which does not include the names of who proposed each idea, was only the product of a preliminary brainstorming session and would require further discussion before any ideas were acted upon, members said.
But some said the public document, distributed Sept. 23, provides a window into the priorities of some board members.
One entry calls for inviting Gideons International to distribute Bibles to students. Another reads: "Science: Do not use books biased towards evolution (10th grade biology)." It recommends that texts and videos espousing the theory of creationism be provided to students. The list includes recommendations that sex education classes teach abstinence only and "a pro-life approach throughout the school system." Another suggests deleting from reading lists any books that offer a "neutral or positive view of immorality or foul language."
Leslie Schroeck, a guidance counselor at La Plata High School, said she and some teachers are "absolutely flabbergasted." Schroeck, who has two young daughters, one at Berry Elementary School, added, "If this is what they're going to do, I'll pull my kids out of school and teach them myself."
On the Bible proposal, no board member actively supported the idea in interviews. Collins Bailey, who is a member of Gideons International, according to the school system's Web site, wrote in response to questions that discussion on the topic was "way premature."
Board member Mark Crawford said he wanted to hear more public comment before making a decision but added that "anything that will help build character and instill morals . . . is a benefit."
"Noah Webster was considered the schoolmaster of the nation, and he said that education without the Bible is useless. And Teddy Roosevelt said a good understanding of the Scriptures is worth more than a college education," Crawford said.
Levanduski said court decisions suggest that if Bibles were to be distributed, the school system would have to allow other religious texts to be handed out.
"Voodoo is a recognized religion. Wicca is a recognized religion," she said. "My biggest concern with opening to all is just that, we open to all."
Several board members said that including information about creationism in the science curriculum would benefit students because they would be exposed to more information.
"Certainly only one [theory] has been taught in the public school system, yet the kids go to Sunday school and are taught an opposing point of view," said school board Vice Chairman Margaret Young. "[They need] both theories, so they're informed students."
Others disagreed. Biology teacher John Krehbiel wrote in an e-mail that he has seen vast improvement in student performance during his eight years at Westlake High School. "It would be a shame to see our credibility sullied by a silly literal interpretation of a borrowed Bronze Age Babylonian creation myth," he wrote.
The school board's next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Oct. 12, with a public forum at 5:30 p.m.
"We have to be very aware that anything can happen at any time," Levanduski said. "It is up to the public to decide what they want to be involved in and voice their opinion."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Added : (Mon Oct 04 2004)
The International Freezone Association (IFA) of independent scientologists yesterday issued the following statement:
The word 'squirrel' in scientology means, 'going off into weird practices or altering Scientology', as per the founder Ron Hubbard. However over the past few years the Mother Church appears to have attempted to reposition the definition of the word to mean, 'anyone using Scientology without the authority of the Church of scientology ™'.
"If this is the case", said Michael the IFA Founder, "it would mean that this is a deliberate attempt to change the definition for political reasons. To divorce and discredit those who use the technology outside of the church because they are using the technology outside of the church.". Such an activity is not in the spirit of fair play and religious freedom but a squirrel actively in itself in the view of the IFA.
He continued, "The Church may possibly hold copyrights on some works of the founder of the movement, but they certainly do not hold the copyright on man's freedom to practice their own religion or philosophy. In fact per the Creed they profess to follow:
'… all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance …', and that
'No agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights overtly or covertly' makes that quite clear.
"Actually there is evidence to show that the Cof$ itself is altering the technology from that originally developed by the founder including some basic tenets and omitted information in later edition books and tapes.", Michael continued, "In view of this one wonders who the real squirrel is here?"
The IFA is dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of the original workable philosophy of Lafayette Ron Hubbard and is not interested in promoting altered versions of the philosophy. It leaves that to the squirrels
International Freezone Association
Submitted by: michael
In the beginning there was Darwin. And then there was intelligent design. How the next generation of "creation science" is invading America's classrooms. By Evan RatliffPage 1 of 5 next »
On a spring day two years ago, in a downtown Columbus auditorium, the Ohio State Board of Education took up the question of how to teach the theory of evolution in public schools. A panel of four experts - two who believe in evolution, two who question it - debated whether an antievolution theory known as intelligent design should be allowed into the classroom.
This is an issue, of course, that was supposed to have been settled long ago. But 140 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, 75 years after John Scopes taught natural selection to a biology class in Tennessee, and 15 years after the US Supreme Court ruled against a Louisiana law mandating equal time for creationism, the question of how to teach the theory of evolution was being reopened here in Ohio. The two-hour forum drew chanting protesters and a police escort for the school board members. Two scientists, biologist Ken Miller from Brown University and physicist Lawrence Krauss from Case Western Reserve University two hours north in Cleveland, defended evolution. On the other side of the dais were two representatives from the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and promoter of intelligent design: Stephen Meyer, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University's School of Ministry and director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and Jonathan Wells, a biologist, Discovery fellow, and author of Icons of Evolution, a 2000 book castigating textbook treatments of evolution. Krauss and Miller methodically presented their case against ID. "By no definition of any modern scientist is intelligent design science," Krauss concluded, "and it's a waste of our students' time to subject them to it."
Meyer and Wells took the typical intelligent design line: Biological life contains elements so complex - the mammalian blood-clotting mechanism, the bacterial flagellum - that they cannot be explained by natural selection. And so, the theory goes, we must be products of an intelligent designer. Creationists call that creator God, but proponents of intelligent design studiously avoid the G-word - and never point to the Bible for answers. Instead, ID believers speak the language of science to argue that Darwinian evolution is crumbling.
The debate's two-on-two format, with its appearance of equal sides, played right into the ID strategy - create the impression that this very complicated issue could be seen from two entirely rational yet opposing views. "This is a controversial subject," Meyer told the audience. "When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects with the public-school science curriculum, the students should be permitted to learn about both perspectives. We call this the 'teach the controversy' approach."
Since the debate, "teach the controversy" has become the rallying cry of the national intelligent-design movement, and Ohio has become the leading battleground. Several months after the debate, the Ohio school board voted to change state science standards, mandating that biology teachers "critically analyze" evolutionary theory. This fall, teachers will adjust their lesson plans and begin doing just that. In some cases, that means introducing the basic tenets of intelligent design. One of the state's sample lessons looks as though it were lifted from an ID textbook. It's the biggest victory so far for the Discovery Institute. "Our opponents would say that these are a bunch of know-nothing people on a state board," says Meyer. "We think it shows that our Darwinist colleagues have a real problem now."
But scientists aren't buying it. What Meyer calls "biology for the information age," they call creationism in a lab coat. ID's core scientific principles - laid out in the mid-1990s by a biochemist and a mathematician - have been thoroughly dismissed on the grounds that Darwin's theories can account for complexity, that ID relies on misunderstandings of evolution and flimsy probability calculations, and that it proposes no testable explanations.
As the Ohio debate revealed, however, the Discovery Institute doesn't need the favor of the scientific establishment to prevail in the public arena. Over the past decade, Discovery has gained ground in schools, op-ed pages, talk radio, and congressional resolutions as a "legitimate" alternative to evolution. ID is playing a central role in biology curricula and textbook controversies around the country. The institute and its supporters have taken the "teach the controversy" message to Alabama, Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Texas.
The ID movement's rhetorical strategy - better to appear scientific than holy - has turned the evolution debate upside down. ID proponents quote Darwin, cite the Scopes monkey trial, talk of "scientific objectivity," then in the same breath declare that extraterrestrials might have designed life on Earth. It may seem counterintuitive, but the strategy is meticulously premeditated, and it's working as planned. The debate over Darwin is back, and coming to a 10th-grade biology class near you.
At its heart, intelligent design is a revival of an argument made by British philosopher William Paley in 1802. In Natural Theology, the Anglican archdeacon suggested that the complexity of biological structures defied any explanation but a designer: God. Paley imagined finding a stone and a watch in a field. The watch, unlike the stone, appears to have been purposely assembled and wouldn't function without its precise combination of parts. "The inference," he wrote, "is inevitable, that the watch must have a maker." The same logic, he concluded, applied to biological structures like the vertebrate eye. Its complexity implied design.
Fifty years later, Darwin directly answered Paley's "argument to complexity." Evolution by natural selection, he argued in Origin of Species, could create the appearance of design. Darwin - and 100-plus years of evolutionary science after him - seemed to knock Paley into the dustbin of history.
In the American public arena, Paley's design argument has long been supplanted by biblical creationism. In the 1970s and 1980s, that movement recast the Bible version in the language of scientific inquiry - as "creation science" - and won legislative victories requiring "equal time" in some states. That is, until 1987, when the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana's law. Because creation science relies on biblical texts, the court reasoned, it "lacked a clear secular purpose" and violated the First Amendment clause prohibiting the establishment of religion. Since then, evolution has been the law of the land in US schools - if not always the local choice.
Paley re-emerged in the mid-1990s, however, when a pair of scientists reconstituted his ideas in an area beyond Darwin's ken: molecular biology. In his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe contended that natural selection can't explain the "irreducible complexity" of molecular mechanisms like the bacterial flagellum, because its integrated parts offer no selective advantages on their own. Two years later, in The Design Inference, William Dembski, a philosopher and mathematician at Baylor University, proposed that any biological system exhibiting "information" that is both "complex" (highly improbable) and "specified" (serving a particular function) cannot be a product of chance or natural law. The only remaining option is an intelligent designer - whether God or an alien life force. These ideas became the cornerstones of ID, and Behe proclaimed the evidence for design to be "one of the greatest achievements in the history of science."
The scientific rationale behind intelligent design was being developed just as antievolution sentiment seemed to be bubbling up. In 1991, UC Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson published Darwin On Trial, an influential antievolution book that dispensed with biblical creation accounts while uniting antievolutionists under a single, secular-sounding banner: intelligent design. In subsequent books, Johnson presents not just antievolution arguments but a broader opposition to the "philosophy of scientific materialism" - the assumption (known to scientists as "methodological materialism") that all events have material, rather than supernatural, explanations. To defeat it, he offers a strategy that would be familiar in the divisive world of politics, called "the wedge." Like a wedge inserted into a tree trunk, cracks in Darwinian theory can be used to "split the trunk," eventually overturning scientific materialism itself.
That's where Discovery comes in. The institute was founded as a conservative think tank in 1990 by longtime friends and former Harvard roommates Bruce Chapman - director of the census bureau during the Reagan administration - and technofuturist author George Gilder. "The institute is futurist and rebellious, and it's prophetic," says Gilder. "It has a science and technology orientation in a contrarian spirit" (see "Biocosm," facing page). In 1994, Discovery added ID to its list of contrarian causes, which included everything from transportation to bioethics. Chapman hired Meyer, who studied origin-of-life issues at Cambridge University, and the institute signed Johnson - whom Chapman calls "the real godfather of the intelligent design movement" - as an adviser and adopted the wedge.
For Discovery, the "thin end" of the wedge - according to a fundraising document leaked on the Web in 1999 - is the scientific work of Johnson, Behe, Dembski, and others. The next step involves "publicity and opinion-making." The final goals: "a direct confrontation with the advocates of material science" and "possible legal assistance in response to integration of design theory into public school science curricula."
Step one has made almost no headway with evolutionists - the near-universal majority of scientists with an opinion on the matter. But that, say Discovery's critics, is not the goal. "Ultimately, they have an evangelical Christian message that they want to push," says Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State. "Intelligent design is the hook."
It's a lot easier to skip straight to steps two and three, and sound scientific in a public forum, than to deal with the rigor of the scientific community. "It starts with education," Johnson told me, referring to high school curricula. "That's where the public can have a voice. The universities and the scientific world do not recognize freedom of expression on this issue." Meanwhile, like any champion of a heretical scientific idea, ID's supporters see themselves as renegades, storming the gates of orthodoxy. "We all have a deep sense of indignation," says Meyer, "that the wool is being pulled over the public's eyes."
The buzz phrase most often heard in the institute's offices is academic freedom. "My hackles go up on the academic freedom issue," Chapman says. "You should be allowed in the sciences to ask questions and posit alternative theories."
None of this impresses the majority of the science world. "They have not been able to convince even a tiny amount of the scientific community," says Ken Miller. "They have not been able to win the marketplace of ideas."
And yet, the Discovery Institute's appeals to academic freedom create a kind of catch-22. If scientists ignore the ID movement, their silence is offered as further evidence of a conspiracy. If they join in, they risk reinforcing the perception of a battle between equal sides. Most scientists choose to remain silent. "Where the scientific community has been at fault," says Krauss, "is in assuming that these people are harmless, like flat-earthers. They don't realize that they are well organized, and that they have a political agenda."
Taped to the wall of Eugenie Scott's windowless office at the National Center for Science Education on the outskirts of Oakland, California, is a chart titled "Current Flare-Ups." It's a list of places where the teaching of evolution is under attack, from California to Georgia to Rio de Janeiro. As director of the center, which defends evolution in teaching controversies around the country, Scott has watched creationism up close for 30 years. ID, in her view, is the most highly evolved form of creationism to date. "They've been enormously effective compared to the more traditional creationists, who have greater numbers and much larger budgets," she says.
Scott credits the blueprint laid out by Johnson, who realized that to win in the court of public opinion, ID needed only to cast reasonable doubt on evolution. "He said, 'Don't get involved in details, don't get involved in fact claims,'" says Scott. "'Forget about the age of Earth, forget about the flood, don't mention the Bible.'" The goal, she says, is "to focus on the big idea that evolution is inadequate. Intelligent design doesn't really explain anything. It says that evolution can't explain things. Everything else is hand-waving."
The movement's first test of Johnson's strategies began in 1999, when the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove evolution from the state's science standards. The decision, backed by traditional creationists, touched off a fiery debate, and the board eventually reversed itself after several antievolution members lost reelection bids. ID proponents used the melee as cover to launch their own initiative. A Kansas group called IDNet nearly pushed through its own textbook in a local school district.
Two years later, the Discovery Institute earned its first major political victory when US senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) inserted language written by Johnson into the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The clause, eventually cut from the bill and placed in a nonbinding report, called for school curricula to "help students understand the full range of scientific views" on topics "that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution)."
As the institute was demonstrating its Beltway clout, a pro-ID group called Science Excellence for All Ohioans fueled a brewing local controversy. SEAO - consisting of a few part-time activists, a Web site, and a mailing list - began agitating to have ID inserted into Ohio's 10th-grade-biology standards. In the process, they attracted the attention of a few receptive school board members.
When the board proposed the two-on-two debate and invited Discovery, Meyer and company jumped at the opportunity. Meyer, whom Gilder calls the institute's resident "polymath," came armed with the Santorum amendment, which he read aloud for the school board. He was bringing a message from Washington: Teach the controversy. "We framed the issue quite differently than our supporters," says Meyer. The approach put pro-ID Ohioans on firmer rhetorical ground: Evolution should of course be taught, but "objectively." Hearing Meyer's suggestion, says Doug Rudy, a software engineer and SEAO's director, "we all sat back and said, Yeah, that's the way to go."
Back in Seattle, around the corner from the Discovery Institute, Meyer offers some peer-reviewed evidence that there truly is a controversy that must be taught. "The Darwinists are bluffing," he says over a plate of oysters at a downtown seafood restaurant. "They have the science of the steam engine era, and it's not keeping up with the biology of the information age."
Meyer hands me a recent issue of Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews with an article by Carl Woese, an eminent microbiologist at the University of Illinois. In it, Woese decries the failure of reductionist biology - the tendency to look at systems as merely the sum of their parts - to keep up with the developments of molecular biology. Meyer says the conclusion of Woese's argument is that the Darwinian emperor has no clothes.
It's a page out of the antievolution playbook: using evolutionary biology's own literature against it, selectively quoting from the likes of Stephen Jay Gould to illustrate natural selection's downfalls. The institute marshals journal articles discussing evolution to provide policymakers with evidence of the raging controversy surrounding the issue.
Woese scoffs at Meyer's claim when I call to ask him about the paper. "To say that my criticism of Darwinists says that evolutionists have no clothes," Woese says, "is like saying that Einstein is criticizing Newton, therefore Newtonian physics is wrong." Debates about evolution's mechanisms, he continues, don't amount to challenges to the theory. And intelligent design "is not science. It makes no predictions and doesn't offer any explanation whatsoever, except for 'God did it.'"
Of course Meyer happily acknowledges that Woese is an ardent evolutionist. The institute doesn't need to impress Woese or his peers; it can simply co-opt the vocabulary of science - "academic freedom," "scientific objectivity," "teach the controversy" - and redirect it to a public trying to reconcile what appear to be two contradictory scientific views. By appealing to a sense of fairness, ID finds a place at the political table, and by merely entering the debate it can claim victory. "We don't need to win every argument to be a success," Meyer says. "We're trying to validate a discussion that's been long suppressed."
This is precisely what happened in Ohio. "I'm not a PhD in biology," says board member Michael Cochran. "But when I have X number of PhD experts telling me this, and X number telling me the opposite, the answer is probably somewhere between the two."
An exasperated Krauss claims that a truly representative debate would have had 10,000 pro-evolution scientists against two Discovery executives. "What these people want is for there to be a debate," says Krauss. "People in the audience say, Hey, these people sound reasonable. They argue, 'People have different opinions, we should present those opinions in school.' That is nonsense. Some people have opinions that the Holocaust never happened, but we don't teach that in history."
Eventually, the Ohio board approved a standard mandating that students learn to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." Proclaiming victory, Johnson barnstormed Ohio churches soon after notifying congregations of a new, ID-friendly standard. In response, anxious board members added a clause stating that the standard "does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design." Both sides claimed victory. A press release from IDNet trumpeted the mere inclusion of the phrase intelligent design, saying that "the implication of the statement is that the 'teaching or testing of intelligent design' is permitted." Some pro-evolution scientists, meanwhile, say there's nothing wrong with teaching students how to scrutinize theory. "I don't have a problem with that," says Patricia Princehouse, a professor at Case Western Reserve and an outspoken opponent of ID. "Critical analysis is exactly what scientists do."
The good feelings didn't last long. Early this year, a board-appointed committee unveiled sample lessons that laid out the kind of evolution questions students should debate. The models appeared to lift their examples from Wells' book Icons of Evolution. "When I first saw it, I was speechless," says Princehouse.
With a PhD in molecular and cell biology from UC Berkeley, Wells has the kind of cred that intelligent design proponents love to cite. But, as ID opponents enjoy pointing out, he's also a follower of Sun Myung Moon and once declared that Moon's prayers "convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism." Icons attempts to discredit commonly used examples of evolution, like Darwin's finches and peppered moths. Writing in Nature, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne called Icons stealth creationism that "strives to debunk Darwinism using the familiar rhetoric of biblical creationists, including scientific quotations out of context, incomplete summaries of research, and muddled arguments."
After months of uproar, the most obvious Icons-inspired lessons were removed. But scientists remain furious. "The ones they left in are still arguments for special creation - but you'd have to know the literature to understand what they are saying. They've used so much technical jargon that anybody who doesn't know a whole lot of evolutionary biology looks at it and says 'It sounds scientific to me, what's the matter with it?'" says Princehouse. "As a friend of mine said, it takes a half a second for a baby to throw up all over your sweater. It takes hours to get it clean."
As Ohio teachers prepare their lessons for the coming year, the question must be asked: Why the fuss over an optional lesson plan or two? After all, both sides agree that the new biology standards - in which 10 evolution lessons replace standards that failed to mention evolution at all - are a vast improvement. The answer: In an era when the government is pouring billions into biology, and when stem cells and genetically modified food are front-page news, spending even a small part of the curriculum on bogus criticisms of evolution is arguably more detrimental now than any time in history. Ironically, says Ohio State University biology professor Steve Rissing, the education debate coincides with Ohio's efforts to lure biotech companies. "How can we do that when our high school biology is failing us?" he says. "Our cornfields are gleaming with GMO corn. There's a fundamental disconnect there."
Intelligent design advocates say that teaching students to "critically analyze" evolution will help give them the skills to "see both sides" of all scientific issues. And if the Discovery Institute execs have their way, those skills will be used to reconsider the philosophy of modern science itself - which they blame for everything from divorce to abortion to the insanity defense. "Our culture has been deeply influenced by materialist thought," says Meyer. "We think it's deeply destructive, and we think it's false. And we mean to overturn it."
It's mid-July, and the Ohio school board is about to hold its final meeting before classes start this year. There's nothing about intelligent design on the agenda. The debate was settled months ago. And yet, Princehouse, Rissing, and two other scientists rise to speak during the "non-agenda" public testimony portion.
One by one, the scientists recite their litany of objections: The model lesson plan is still based on concepts from ID literature; the ACLU is considering to sue to stop it; the National Academy of Sciences opposes it as unscientific. "This is my last time," says Rissing, "as someone who has studied science and the process of evolution for 25 years, to say I perceive that my children and I are suffering injuries based on a flawed lesson plan that this board has passed."
During a heated question-and-answer session, one board member accuses the scientists of posturing for me, the only reporter in the audience. Michael Cochran challenges the scientists to cite any testimony that the board hadn't already heard "ad infinitum." Another board member, Deborah Owens-Fink, declares the issue already closed. "We've listened to experts on both sides of this for three years," she says. "Ultimately, the question of what students should learn "is decided in a democracy, not by any one group of experts."
The notion is noble enough: In a democracy, every idea gets heard. But in science, not all theories are equal. Those that survive decades - centuries - of scientific scrutiny end up in classrooms, and those that don't are discarded. The intelligent design movement is using scientific rhetoric to bypass scientific scrutiny. And when science education is decided by charm and stage presence, the Discovery Institute wins.
Our high schools are among the worst performers per dollar in the world - especially in math and science. Our biology classes, in particular, espouse anti-industrial propaganda about global warming and the impact of DDT on the eggshells of eagles while telling just-so stories about the random progression from primordial soup to Britney Spears. In a self-refuting materialist superstition, teachers deny the role of ideas and purposes in evolution and hence implicitly in their own thought.
The Darwinist materialist paradigm, however, is about to face the same revolution that Newtonian physics faced 100 years ago. Just as physicists discovered that the atom was not a massy particle, as Newton believed, but a baffling quantum arena accessible only through mathematics, so too are biologists coming to understand that the cell is not a simple lump of protoplasm, as Charles Darwin believed. It's a complex information-processing machine comprising tens of thousands of proteins arranged in fabulously intricate algorithms of communication and synthesis. The human body contains some 60 trillion cells. Each one stores information in DNA codes, processes and replicates it in three forms of RNA and thousands of supporting enzymes, exquisitely supplies the system with energy, and seals it in semipermeable phospholipid membranes. It is a process subject to the mathematical theory of information, which shows that even mutations occurring in cells at the gigahertz pace of a Pentium 4 and selected at the rate of a Google search couldn't beget the intricate interwoven fabric of structure and function of a human being in such a short amount of time. Natural selection should be taught for its important role in the adaption of species, but Darwinian materialism is an embarrassing cartoon of modern science.
What is the alternative? Intelligent design at least asks the right questions. In a world of science that still falls short of a rigorous theory of human consciousness or of the big bang, intelligent design theory begins by recognizing that everywhere in nature, information is hierarchical and precedes its embodiment. The concept precedes the concrete. The contrary notion that the world of mind, including science itself, bubbled up randomly from a prebiotic brew has inspired all the reductionist futilities of the 20th century, from Marx's obtuse materialism to environmental weather panic to zero-sum Malthusian fears over population. In biology classes, our students are not learning the largely mathematical facts of 21st-century science; they're imbibing the consolations of a faith-driven 19th-century materialist myth.
George Gilder publishes the Gilder Technology Report and is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Contributing editor Evan Ratliff (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote about sugar substitutes in Wired 11.11. He is the coauthor of Safe, a book on the science and technology of antiterrorism, to be published next year.
© Copyright© 1993-2004 The Condé Nast Publications Inc.
© Copyright 2004, Lycos, Inc.
Peter & Helen Evans
October 4, 2004
The old controversy between the "creationists" and the "evolutionists" has re-emerged, but with a new twist... this time, the evolutionists are on the defensive. In the cover story of the October, 2004 issue of Wired magazine, Evan Ratliff outlines the basic positions of the two sides of this issue. His own position is indicated by the title; "The Crusade Against Evolution," but his bias is not so distorting as to prevent the reader from gaining a valuable insight into the largely unacknowledged battle for the minds of America's rising generation. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/evolution.html
A little background: following Charles Darwin's 1859 publication of "On the Origin of Species," revolutionary scientists of the period seized upon its ideas to attack the monopoly of the religious establishment over the question of "the origin of everything." Their belief became known as the "theory of evolution" and, over the next seven decades, swept all before it. The famous "Scopes monkey trial" of 1925 seemed to nail down the coffin lid of Creationism and relegate the idea of Divine Creation to the realm of "un-scientific superstition."
The 'revolutionary' scientists of the late 19th century have since evolved into an established priesthood, with their own monopoly over today's scientific discourse. This may sound like an innocuous, even progressive, development except that the central tenet of their dominant world view is what's known as "radical materialism." Essentially, this is the belief that, by chance mutation and "natural selection," minerals evolved into plants; plants into animals; animals into humans and that human self-consciousness is merely the latest evolutionary spin off. Simple; no God required. If this concept rings a bell, it should. It is the same deterministic materialism which inspired Karl Marx and the whole, thoroughly-discredited Socialist movement and its horrific mutant offspring, Communism.
Today, we are ridding the world of the last vestiges of the political application of radical materialism. It was just recently blasted out of Iraq and still lingers in North Korea, Communist China, Cuba and, in a watered-down form, in Euro-socialism. But we can't relax yet. Radical materialism is firmly established right here at home in our universities and school system. As recently as 1987, the Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana statute that had, briefly, given "creation science" equal time in that state's schools. And it did so not because radical materialism has a better answer for how "life, the universe and everything" began. No, the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creation science violated the so-called "separation of church and state" as interpreted from the First Amendment, because it is based on the Bible instead of, presumably, "On the Origin of Species" and, thus, "lacked a clear secular purpose."
Enter "Intelligent Design" or ID. Its proponents say that ID opens new ways of thinking about life, its origins and its development. It claims that the enormous complexity of the structures of life (think; eye, wing) couldn't have evolved by the blind incremental 'push' of simpler forms from below, but rather, that evolution must be 'pulled' from above (or beyond) by an intelligence that precedes its physical manifestations.
Now, it seems to us that 'real' scientists would be willing to debate the opposing theories on their merits. That's what scientists are supposed to do, aren't they? But that hasn't been what the establishment materialists have done. Complacent in the continuing superiority of their numbers in the scientific community, they seem content to confront the new revolutionaries with sneering and name-calling. The established priesthood of self-styled 'real' scientists attempt to dismiss it by calling it names like "Creationism in a lab coat" and claiming that it doesn't further our understanding of anything and that "it isn't real science."
Scientific rigor demands proof of its testable hypotheses, but politics just demands numbers, expressed as votes, and by attracting the votes of school board members, Intelligent Design is making significant inroads into the schools, notably in Ohio. More notably, perhaps, its promoters have done so without resorting to God or the Bible, but by drawing attention to the un-supportable over-reach of the evolutionary materialists. While the ID folks admit that natural selection, for example, should still be taught for its importance to understanding how species adapt to changing conditions, but say that 'scientific' claims that the "big questions" are all answered by the theory of materialist evolution are simply bogus. They say that ID offers a legitimate alternative theory and the mantra of their push for ID's recognition in schools is, "Teach the Controversy."
Let's be intellectually honest here. Materialist science emphatically does not have the final answers. It has some theories, like that of "the big bang" that describe with some plausibility "how" the universe developed, but offers nothing to the persistent question "why?" that is the root of human morality, and which can only be answered by an intelligence greater than our own. We have already witnessed the totalitarian horror that results from the belief that materialist science is "all we need to know." For far too long this narrow version of truth has been exercising a dangerous stranglehold on our rising generations and our whole society. We should applaud Intelligent Design in our schools as a step toward breaking free.
Peter and Helen Evans, this husband and wife team — freelance writers and speakers — teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. They are also real estate agents in the Washington, D.C., area.
© Copyright 2004 by Peter & Helen Evans
A panel of public-health officials in California has determined that the Church of Scientology's anti-drug program, used in schools throughout the country, is outdated and inaccurate, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Oct. 2.
In evaluating the Narconon Drug Prevention & Education program, panel leader Steve Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society, said that the program "often exemplifies the outdated, non-evidence-based, and sometimes factually inaccurate approach, which has not served students well for decades."
According to the panel, the Narconon lectures disseminate information to students that is widely dismissed by mainstream medical experts. For example, the Narconon program teaches students that drugs can be sweated out of the body through saunas, and that drugs accumulate indefinitely in body fat and cause recurring drug cravings.
"One of our reviewers opined that 'this curriculum reads like a high-school science paper pieced together from the Internet, and not very well at that,'" said Heilig. "Another wrote that 'my comments will be brief, as this proposal hardly merits detailed analysis.' Another stated, 'As a parent, I would not want my child to participate in this kind of 'education.'"
The panel compared Narconon's program to a recent study conducted by Rodney Skager, a professor emeritus at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, that identified what effective anti-drug programs should offer students.
"We concurred that the Narconon materials focus on some topics of lesser importance to the exclusion of best knowledge and practices," said Heilig. He added that the curriculum contained "factual errors in basic concepts such as physical and mental effects, addiction, and even spelling."
Clark Carr, president of Narconon International, questioned the panel's findings and accused the reviewers of preferring programs that rely on a "drug-based medical solution."
"We have the results. The 'review' from biased sources shows that people who endorse so-called controlled drug use cannot be trusted to review a program advocating totally drug-free living," said Carr. "We will continue to work to help the children of San Francisco to learn factual and important truths about drugs."
The Narconon program has been used in at least 34 schools in California and in 39 school districts throughout the country.
California school administrators will decide whether to continue with Narconon in schools once they complete their review of the panel's analysis and other materials provided by Heilig.
Article Last Updated: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 12:50:07 PM EST
Text compromise in Dover
By HEIDI BERNHARD-BUBB For The York Dispatch
The Dover Area School District will offer high school biology classes a textbook that presents a theory other than evolution, but it will not be a required part of the curriculum.
The "Of Pandas and People" text will be available to students or teachers who want to use it as a reference in biology class, particularly during the discussion of evolution, said Superintendent Richard Nilsen.
The book, originally published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in 1989, presents the theory of intelligent design, which states that some higher being caused life to begin somehow, and disputes the science behind Darwin's theory of evolution.
Because it is not a required part of the curriculum it did not require a board vote for use in the classroom, only the superintendent's approval.
Nilsen compared the use of the book to the use of maps in a classroom.
Fifty copies of the book are being donated to the district by an anonymous group of Dover residents for use in two high school biology classes, said board president Alan Bonsell. The cost of the books is approximately $1,000.
"Of Pandas and People" has been part of an ongoing debate in Dover, in which some board members and residents have fought to include intelligent design as part of the biology curriculum as an alternative theory to evolution.
Board divided on textbook: It took two votes after a heated discussion in August for a divided school board to approve a new biology textbook, the 2004 edition of "Prentice Hall Biology." That book had offended some board members because it teaches evolution without reference to creationism.
Board member William Buckingham, who first objected the biology text, proposed the purchase "Of Pandas and People," saying it would balance the theory of evolution.
May dodge issue: The decision to include the textbook in the classroom without making it a required part of the curriculum may sidestep the broader issue of separation of church and state that is also at the center of the debate.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the teaching of creationism in public school as a violation of the separation of church and state. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Education high school science standards require the teaching of evolution.
The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the district would be inviting a lawsuit if it chose a textbook that teaches creationism.
Robert Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United, said he sees no distinction between creationism and intelligent design.
"Intelligent design is just the latest name for creationism and an attempt to secularize creationism," he said this morning. "It's been called a lot of different names -- the theory of abrupt appearance, the theory of creation science. ... Intelligent design is just the latest attempt to put a scientific dress on a pseudo-scientific theory. The best analogue I can think of is putting an astrology book in an astronomy classroom."
The issue of church and state is less obvious with a book like "Of Pandas and People" because the issue of creationism has been secularized, Boston said. "It's bad science, but I am not sure if bad science is unconstitutional."
Still, he doesn't rule out that a legal challenge could be made over including the book in the classroom, even as a reference or supplemental text. The courts may look at motivation: Is it the board's intention to convince students that there is a religious explanation for existence? A challenge could be made based on that issue, Boston said.
In response to Americans United, the Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., offered to represent the district without charge if a suit was filed. The center describes itself as "a national public interest law firm with a three-part mission to: defend the religious freedom of Christians; restore time-honored family values; and protect the sanctity of human life."
Residents' opinions differ: Residents present at last night's board meeting had opposing views on the district's decision on the text.
Ron Short and Eric Riddle said they supported the district's decision. Short said that he would like to see the district teach intelligent design side by side in the curriculum with evolution, but he said that it was a good place to start. He added that the district should not be intimidated by "interlopers outside of the district" who would seek to keep the book or intelligent design theory out of the school district.
Riddle, who homeschools his children, said he believed that this was a step in the right direction. "Hopefully, some students will pick up this book and see what a lie evolution really is," he added.
However, other residents were concerned.
Former school board member Barrie Callahan said the book could get the district into a costly lawsuit.
And Lonnie Langione, also a former school board member, wanted to be sure that the school district would not require teachers to use "Of Pandas and People."
He also asked if the district would provide any additional training needed to aid the teachers in using the book, stating that most teachers had extensive schooling in teaching biology, but not intelligent design theory.
Nilsen said that any additional training would be provided if the teachers requested it.
-- Reach Heidi Bernhard-Bubb at 854-1575 or email@example.com.
The Stanford University team used a drug to turn off a gene called Myc, which is known to trigger cancer.
Mice remained cancer free for as long as Myc was switched off.
Cancer experts said the Nature study held promise for human cancer drugs working on the same switch.
The findings might also apply to cancers of the breast, bowel and prostate, the researchers hope.
This is because all of these cancers, as well as liver cancer, begin in cells that line the body called epithelial cells.
According to Cancer Research UK, the gene may contribute to as many as one in seven cancer deaths.
The Stanford scientists studied mice whose liver cells had been altered to carry a modified Myc gene known to cause cancer.
Myc controls cell division. Unlike the normal version of the gene, the modified version stayed permanently switched on, meaning cells were constantly dividing and some became cancerous.
The researchers engineered mice so that the Myc gene could be switched off by a common antibiotic called doxycycline.
Feeding the mice doxycyline turned the faulty Myc gene off so cancer growth was blocked.
When the researchers stopped the doxycycline the mice developed aggressive liver cancer.
Reintroducing doxycycline into their feed not only turned Myc back off, blocking further cancer growth, but it also turned the cancer cells back to normal.
Lead researcher Dr Dean Felsher said: "The exciting thing is you can turn cancer cells into something that appears to be normal."
But he said even though the cells looked normal, they still had the ability to become cancerous.
This could explain why some cancers come back after people have had chemotherapy, he said.
"This is a terrible cancer. Anything that is encouraging in liver cancer may be important," he said.
Dr Elaine Vickers, science information officer for Cancer Research UK, said: "The Myc gene is known to be overactive in many types of cancer.
"Estimates suggest that the gene may contribute to as many as one in seven cancer deaths.
"This research is very interesting.
"It adds to the weight of evidence suggesting that drugs blocking Myc might be effective cancer treatments in the future."
A prime piece of evidence linking human activity to climate change turns out to be an artifact of poor mathematics.
By Richard Muller
Technology for Presidents
October 15, 2004
Progress in science is sometimes made by great discoveries. But science also advances when we learn that something we believed to be true isn't. When solving a jigsaw puzzle, the solution can sometimes be stymied by the fact that a wrong piece has been wedged in a key place.
In the scientific and political debate over global warming, the latest wrong piece may be the "hockey stick," the famous plot (shown below), published by University of Massachusetts geoscientist Michael Mann and colleagues. This plot purports to show that we are now experiencing the warmest climate in a millennium, and that the earth, after remaining cool for centuries during the medieval era, suddenly began to heat up about 100 years ago--just at the time that the burning of coal and oil led to an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.
I talked about this at length in my December 2003 column. Unfortunately, discussion of this plot has been so polluted by political and activist frenzy that it is hard to dig into it to reach the science. My earlier column was largely a plea to let science proceed unmolested. Unfortunately, the very importance of the issue has made careful science difficult to pursue.
But now a shock: Canadian scientists Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick have uncovered a fundamental mathematical flaw in the computer program that was used to produce the hockey stick. In his original publications of the stick, Mann purported to use a standard method known as principal component analysis, or PCA, to find the dominant features in a set of more than 70 different climate records.
But it wasn't so. McIntyre and McKitrick obtained part of the program that Mann used, and they found serious problems. Not only does the program not do conventional PCA, but it handles data normalization in a way that can only be described as mistaken.
Now comes the real shocker. This improper normalization procedure tends to emphasize any data that do have the hockey stick shape, and to suppress all data that do not. To demonstrate this effect, McIntyre and McKitrick created some meaningless test data that had, on average, no trends. This method of generating random data is called "Monte Carlo" analysis, after the famous casino, and it is widely used in statistical analysis to test procedures. When McIntyre and McKitrick fed these random data into the Mann procedure, out popped a hockey stick shape!
That discovery hit me like a bombshell, and I suspect it is having the same effect on many others. Suddenly the hockey stick, the poster-child of the global warming community, turns out to be an artifact of poor mathematics. How could it happen? What is going on? Let me digress into a short technical discussion of how this incredible error took place.
In PCA and similar techniques, each of the (in this case, typically 70) different data sets have their averages subtracted (so they have a mean of zero), and then are multiplied by a number to make their average variation around that mean to be equal to one; in technical jargon, we say that each data set is normalized to zero mean and unit variance. In standard PCA, each data set is normalized over its complete data period; for key climate data sets that Mann used to create his hockey stick graph, this was the interval 1400-1980. But the computer program Mann used did not do that. Instead, it forced each data set to have zero mean for the time period 1902-1980, and to match the historical records for this interval. This is the time when the historical temperature is well known, so this procedure does guarantee the most accurate temperature scale. But it completely screws up PCA. PCA is mostly concerned with the data sets that have high variance, and the Mann normalization procedure tends to give very high variance to any data set with a hockey stick shape. (Such data sets have zero mean only over the 1902-1980 period, not over the longer 1400-1980 period.)
The net result: the "principal component" will have a hockey stick shape even if most of the data do not.
McIntyre and McKitrick sent their detailed analysis to Nature magazine for publication, and it was extensively refereed. But their paper was finally rejected. In frustration, McIntyre and McKitrick put the entire record of their submission and the referee reports on a Web page for all to see. If you look, you'll see that McIntyre and McKitrick have found numerous other problems with the Mann analysis. I emphasize the bug in their PCA program simply because it is so blatant and so easy to understand. Apparently, Mann and his colleagues never tested their program with the standard Monte Carlo approach, or they would have discovered the error themselves. Other and different criticisms of the hockey stick are emerging (see, for example, the paper by Hans von Storch and colleagues in the September 30 issue of Science).
Some people may complain that McIntyre and McKitrick did not publish their results in a refereed journal. That is true--but not for lack of trying. Moreover, the paper was refereed--and even better, the referee reports are there for us to read. McIntyre and McKitrick's only failure was in not convincing Nature that the paper was important enough to publish.
How does this bombshell affect what we think about global warming?
It certainly does not negate the threat of a long-term global temperature increase. In fact, McIntyre and McKitrick are careful to point out that it is hard to draw conclusions from these data, even with their corrections. Did medieval global warming take place? Last month the consensus was that it did not; now the correct answer is that nobody really knows. Uncovering errors in the Mann analysis doesn't settle the debate; it just reopens it. We now know less about the history of climate, and its natural fluctuations over century-scale time frames, than we thought we knew.
If you are concerned about global warming (as I am) and think that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute (as I do), then you still should agree that we are much better off having broken the hockey stick. Misinformation can do real harm, because it distorts predictions. Suppose, for example, that future measurements in the years 2005-2015 show a clear and distinct global cooling trend. (It could happen.) If we mistakenly took the hockey stick seriously--that is, if we believed that natural fluctuations in climate are small--then we might conclude (mistakenly) that the cooling could not be just a random fluctuation on top of a long-term warming trend, since according to the hockey stick, such fluctuations are negligible. And that might lead in turn to the mistaken conclusion that global warming predictions are a lot of hooey. If, on the other hand, we reject the hockey stick, and recognize that natural fluctuations can be large, then we will not be misled by a few years of random cooling.
A phony hockey stick is more dangerous than a broken one--if we know it is broken. It is our responsibility as scientists to look at the data in an unbiased way, and draw whatever conclusions follow. When we discover a mistake, we admit it, learn from it, and perhaps discover once again the value of caution.
Richard A. Muller, a 1982 MacArthur Fellow, is a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches a course called "Physics for Future Presidents." Since 1972, he has been a Jason consultant on U.S. national security.
Copyright 2004 Technology Review, Inc
By Ian Herbert, North of England
15 October 2004
A millionaire businessman accused of setting up a network of "creationist" schools has been barred from establishing a city academy because of concerns about his philosophy.
Local anxieties about Sir Peter Vardy, who wanted to build a £22m academy in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, prompted a wave of demonstrations and marches.
Parents were worried by claims that another school run by Sir Peter was indoctrinating its pupils in creationism, which rejects the Darwinist theory of evolution. The town's elected mayor has subsequently decided the establishment will not be built.
The city academy, a business-driven model championed by the Prime Minister, seemed a near certainty earlier this year when Mayor Martin Winter welcomed plans by Sir Peter's Emmanuel Schools Foundation to open its fourth college in northern England on the site of Northcliffe School at Conisbrough, near Doncaster. The school is currently operating in Ofsted "special measures", meaning it is classified as a failing school.
But the strength of local resistance was unexpectedly strong. An initial protest march coincided with a declaration by the Oxford geneticist Richard Dawkins that the teaching of creationism, which rejects Darwin's theory of evolution, was "educational debauchery".
Opponents of the school were gathering to formulate the next stage of their campaign when they were told the academy was to be dropped. Tracy Morton, a youth worker who organised a local parents' action group said yesterday: "It has been a long, hard fight. It seemed as if anybody who comes along and fits the criteria can take over a school with this government. If parents want to send their children to a faith school then that's fine but this is the only comprehensive in the area so we will have no choice but to send them to a place with a strong Christian ethos whether we want it or not."
The National Union of Teachers welcomed the decision.
Eleven years ago, Sir Peter, whose Sunderland-based company has 80 car dealerships, gave £2m to set up Emmanuel city technology college in Gateshead.The college achieves some of the country's best GCSE results, and similar establishments have been hailed by the Government as the future for secondary education. City academies are structured to allow sponsors to bring in finance and leadership. They also give principals and staff greater opportunities to develop their own educational strategies.
But some are suspicious about the Emmanuel environment, despite the Vardy foundation's insistence that its academies' Christian ethos is only a backdrop to the way they operate. "Our pupils are taught the national curriculum, we have Ofsted inspections like any other school and our academies are not indoctrination centres," it said yesterday.
Mr Winter said: "As Mayor, I sometimes have to make difficult decisions and this is one of them. I know that currently we are not doing our best by the learners of Northcliffe. We all want attainment levels to be much higher. We produced what seemed to be a solution with the Emmanuel Schools' Foundation sponsoring an academy. But a significant number of the local community, the teachers and pupils have spoken loud and clear. They do not want it."
The Vardy Foundation would have contributed £2m towards what was to have been the Northcliffe academy for 11-18 year-olds, with the Government picking up the rest of the cost.
Sir Peter said: "It is a missed opportunity [not] a victory for the campaigners. Far from celebrating they should be reflecting on the opportunity they have denied their children for an education of the very highest standard in the state-of-the-art facilities."
The Foundation, which also runs colleges at Gateshead and Middlesbrough, said it would still be opening its £24m academy at Thorne, near Doncaster next year.
Conference explores common ground
Friday, October 15, 2004
Plain Dealer Reporter
Viewed by many as philosophical oil and vinegar, science and religion have actually co-existed rather peacefully for 150 years.
So why has the mixture left such a bitter taste in Ohio?
That will be one of the questions a cadre of national experts will tackle during a conference this weekend at Case Western Reserve University.
"Evolution & God: 150 Years of Love and War Between Science and Religion" opens at 11 a.m. today with a lecture by James Moore in Clark Hall and concludes Sunday afternoon.
Other than a boxed-lunch session Saturday with the speakers, the events are free and open to the public. Except for the opening lecture, all events take place in Strosacker Auditorium.
Some of the biggest names in the field will appear: Brown University professor Kenneth Miller, Case's Lawrence Krauss and Barbara Forrest, who chronicled Ohio's battle over how to teach life's origins in her book "Creationism's Trojan Horse."
Organizers of the conference said they hope to explore the common ground between science and religion rather than extreme politicized views on either side.
"We're exploring the intersection of scientific and religious views," said Alan Rocke, who directs the history and philosophy of science program at Case. "It needn't be an irreconcilable conflict. We're aiming for that broad middle ground."
The State Board of Education drew international attention in 2002 when it debated how best to teach the origin and development of life. The board eventually adopted science standards that suggested a discussion of controversies within evolution but stopped short of including intelligent design, a concept that says life is so complex that a higher being must have created it.
In March, a sharply divided state board adopted a 10th-grade biology lesson that some scientists fear will allow creationism into high school science classrooms.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is monitoring how individual districts, schools and teachers use the lesson plan, said litigation coordinator Gary Daniels.
"We're engaged in this and we're following up on this," he said.
The controversy has not been limited to Ohio. In August, a split Dover Board of Education in eastern Pennsylvania adopted an evolution-only textbook for the district's biology curriculum that failed to mention creationism. This month, the same board compromised and agreed to allow "Of Pandas and People" on science class bookshelves but not in the curriculum. The text presents the concept of intelligent design and disputes Darwin's theory of evolution.
In Cobb County, Ga., the debate surfaced in 2002 after some students complained that only evolution was studied in biology classes.
The local school board decided to require that all biology books carry a disclaimer: a sticker stating that evolution is only a theory. The ACLU sued in federal court, and a judge in April said the case can go to trial.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
Copyright 2004 cleveland.com
October 15, 2004
By Lucas Grundmeier
Daily Staff Writer
Design can't be separated from the designer.
Arguments that the universe was intelligently designed fail to identify anything substantive about that designer, two ISU professors said in a presentation Thursday -- a failure they said destroys the scientific validity of those arguments.
Hector Avalos, associate professor of religious studies, and John Patterson, professor emeritus of materials science and engineering, both said advocates of intelligent design -- which purports that design of the universe by an external agent can be detected in nature -- don't represent anything new in science.
Instead, the two professors, who are atheists, said those advocates recycle and repackage old, defeated arguments, often those proposed by Christians to support creationism.
"Intelligent design often does not fulfill its own criteria for what is science and what is religion," Avalos said.
Not identifying the designer, Avalos said, didn't remove a thorny problem for intelligent design.
"It doesn't get you away from the problem that you have to match the result with intention," he said.
The lecture, sponsored by the Atheist and Agnostic Society, attracted about 150 people who heard Avalos, who teaches in the humanities, and Patterson, a scientist, offer their critiques of "The Privileged Planet," a book published this spring and co-written by Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.
"When you're talking about a designer that has created the entire universe, where do you go for independent evidence? There's nowhere to go," Patterson said.
Avalos cited several examples of historical arguments for a designer and said intelligent design was merely the latest in that progression.
"It's not new; it's pretty old," he said. "This has been a concerted action that has been going on for 2,000 years."
Patterson said he thinks intelligent design theorists have an ulterior motive in their work.
"It is the latest failure to make creationism seem to be scientific so that it can be a viable alternative in the classroom," he said.
Intelligent design, Patterson said, is a new attempt at making creationism as science seem palatable to courts and to school classrooms.
Supernatural explanations, Patterson said, have repeatedly in history fallen to superior naturalistic explanations.
"Science thrives on unanswered questions," he said. "Religion, by contrast, thrives on unquestioned answers."
Tom Ingebritsen, associate professor of genetics, development and cell biology, asked Patterson whether he was opposed to intelligent design -- such as a civilization produced by aliens -- or only to supernatural design by a god.
Ingebritsen, a Christian, said he thought Patterson's response reflected a confounding bias against the supernatural.
"I think that his worldview is coloring his [view] of whether intelligent design could be legitimate in science," he said.
You may recall that back in January, WN related that bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park carried "Grand Canyon: A Different View," a creationist account that contends the canyon can at most be a few thousand years old, since that's how old the Earth is. A federal review of whether the book should be sold in the Park has been delayed "over issues of church and state." What issues? Geology is a science. Meanwhile the book has been moved from Natural Science to Inspirational. That inspired me to complain. As Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education put it, "Nobody is saying this book should be burned, but it should not be sold at this bookstore."
The $10 million X-Prize for the first civilian sort-of space ship capable of offering affordable space sickness to the public got front-page coverage around the world. The WN editorial board was inspired to offer a prize of our own. We put our head together and came up with the Excalibur Prize for the weapon based on the most speculative physics. "Excalibur" was the code name of the fearsome X-ray laser that Edward Teller promised could wipe out the entire Soviet missile fleet simultaneously. They chose the name of another mythical weapon. Candidates abound, such as the hafnium bomb http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn041604.cfm, but lest you think the prize is wired for Carl Collins, there's the awesome anti-matter bomb, which comes up so often it's now called the "doesn't-matter bomb." The Air Farce slapped a secrecy lid on the "positron bomb" after the San Francisco Chronicle carried a story on it. No word on how many positrons the Air Farce has. The Excalibur Prize consists of a free subscription to WN.
Jacques Benveniste, 69, died last week after a heart operation.
The French biologist claimed in 1988 that biological effects of a
dissolved substance persist, even after the dilution limit is
exceeded. A decade later he discovered that infinitely dilute
solutions emit an electronic signature that can be captured by a
coil, digitized, and transmitted over the internet to transfer
homeopathic properties to flasks of water anywhere in the world.
I challenged him to a simple international double-blind test in
which he would be asked to identify which of several flasks had
been activated. The challenge was carried in a Time magazine
article by Leon Jaroff (Time, 17 May '99). I met with Benveniste
that June. A pleasant man, he agreed to everything, but said he
needed time to get ready http://www.aps.org/WN/WN99/wn051499.cfm.
Weeks became months. Years passed, trees fell, but to the end
Jacques Benveniste needed more time. We all do.
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 - A federal panel of medical experts studying illnesses among veterans of the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf has broken with several earlier studies and concluded that many suffer from neurological damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, rejecting past findings that the ailments resulted mostly from wartime stress.
Citing new scientific research on the effects of exposure to low levels of neurotoxins, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses concludes in its draft report that "a substantial proportion of Gulf War veterans are ill with multisymptom conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness."
It says a growing body of research suggests that many veterans' symptoms have a neurological cause and that there is a "probable link" to exposure to neurotoxins.
The report says possible sources include sarin, a nerve gas, from an Iraqi weapons depot blown up by American forces in 1991; a drug, pyridostigmine bromide, given to troops to protect against nerve gas; and pesticides used to protect soldiers in the region.
Dr. Joyce C. Lashof , the chairwoman of a presidential advisory group that reported in 1996 that there was no causal link between toxic exposure and the veterans' symptoms, said Thursday that she had not seen the new report. But Dr. Lashof said she was open to changing her views if the findings were based on solid new research and not advocacy by veterans' groups.
"We certainly weren't sure that our report was the definitive answer," Dr. Lashof, professor emerita of public health at the University of California at Berkeley, said. "It was based on the best evidence available at the time."
All the chemicals cited in the new study belong to a group called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which can cause a range of symptoms including pain, fatigue, diarrhea and cognitive impairment. Committee members said there might be minor changes in the report, a draft copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, but that the basic scientific findings would not change.
The committee says a search for medical treatments tailored to the new findings are "urgently needed" and recommends $60 million in federal funds for new research over the next four years. It says an estimated 100,000 Gulf War veterans, or about one in seven, suffer war-related health problems.
The report also says that understanding illnesses from the war will be critical in planning future military deployments and measures to improve domestic security. It calls for a reassessment of the use of pyridostigmine bromide.
Though some conclusions are hedged in careful language in the 135-page draft report, committee members said in interviews that they were consciously departing from the past scientific consensus and taking a strong stand on a politically and scientifically volatile subject.
"I would absolutely say it's a break from previous panels," said Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego, a member of the panel and its scientific director for much of its existence. "It reflects a different body of evidence, because more studies have come out. No one had gone to the scientific evidence on acetylcholinesterase inhibitors."
The new report, prepared for the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, draws conclusions that are essentially the opposite of those of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, led by Dr. Lashof. That group reported to President Bill Clinton in 1996 that "current scientific evidence does not support a causal link" between the veterans' symptoms and chemical exposures in the Persian Gulf.
Instead, the earlier group said, stress "is likely to be an important contributing factor to the broad range of physical and psychological illnesses currently being reported by gulf war veterans."
Another panel of scientists convened in 1998 by the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academies that focuses on health and medical advice, has produced a series of reports that generally point away from neurotoxin exposure as a likely cause of the veterans' illnesses.
Some 697,000 American troops were sent to the Persian Gulf at the end of 1990 to drive the Iraqi forces of President Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Though the military campaign was swift and successful, 13 years after the war ended many veterans still complain of persistent fatigue, headaches, joint pain, numbness, diarrhea and other health problems.
Among dozens of studies cited by the new report is a 1998 survey that looked at about 2,000 Kansas veterans, 1,548 of whom served in the gulf. It found that more than 30 percent of the gulf veterans report three or more such symptoms. The presence of multiple symptoms, their persistence for many years and the dominance of muscular and skeletal complaints all distinguish the ailments of gulf war veterans from the ailments of veterans of other wars, Dr. Golomb said.
The Pentagon admitted in 1997 that as many as 100,000 American service members might have been exposed to nerve gas when American combat engineers blew up the Kamisiyah ammunition depot in southern Iraq in March 1991, shortly after the war.
The new panel was appointed in 2002 by Anthony J. Principi, the veterans affairs secretary, in accordance with a law passed in 1998 but never acted on by the Clinton administration. Of the 11 members 7 are scientists and 4 are veterans, including the chairman, James Binns, a Vietnam veteran and former Pentagon official. Eight other scientists worked as advisers to the panel.
Committee members said release of the report, which was described in the Oct. 1 issue of Science magazine, had been set for earlier this month but was postponed because of scheduling problems.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Principi, who was in Michigan Thursday for the groundbreaking of a new veterans cemetery, praised the committee's work.
"I'm looking forward to studying the committee's report and working with them to ensure adequate research funding to find answers to these perplexing medical issues," he said. He said the department was already providing disability benefits for some veterans who have developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, based on studies finding that the veterans have nearly double the risk of the disease as veterans who did not go to the Persian Gulf do.
According to his spokeswoman, Cynthia Church, Mr. Principi, a combat-decorated Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, took a particular interest in the research of Dr. Robert W. Haley, whom he appointed to the panel. Dr. Haley, chief of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, has written a series of studies of the possible effects of neurotoxins on gulf war veterans, including some financed by the Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot.
Dr. Haley acknowledged that his work, which has been championed by some veterans and members of Congress, has been viewed skeptically by some scientists. He said the current committee's findings represent a "revolutionary change" from the past, when what he called "radically conservative" scientists dismissed the neurotoxin thesis.
"I think this committee has honestly weighed all the evidence," he said. "Although it's not proven, the preponderance of the evidence supports a new explanation - brain cell damage, nervous system damage caused by chemical exposures."
Jim Reichert, a 41-year-old industrial equipment mechanic who lives in Columbia, Ill., said he was heartened to hear of the committee's conclusions.
Mr. Reichert said he had served as a Blackhawk helicopter crewman in the war. After his six months in the gulf region, he developed strange symptoms which have never gone away, he said. Fatigue forced him to give up hunting and fishing, he loses control of his hand muscles and drops tools on the job, and he suffers from chronic diarrhea and a recurring, blistering skin condition.
"If it was stress alone, it wouldn't have lasted this long," Mr. Reichert said. Referring to himself and other ailing veterans, he said: "We're not crazy. If I'm a little nuts, it's because I've been sick so long."
Copyright 2004†The New York Times Company
"Instead, they should check out new research from the National Physical Laboratory in England where scientists think spooky occurrences like this aren't the work of ghosts, but rather the result of a very low frequency sound that is inaudible to humans.
"It's called infrasound. And it's an extreme bass.
:"Elephants use infrasound to communicate over long distances or as weapons to repel foes. We human beings may not be able to hear it, but we can feel it. Generated by natural phenomena, such as storms, seasonal winds, weather patterns, and some types of earthquakes, infrasound can produce a range of bizarre effects in people including anxiety, extreme sorrow, and chills."
Thursday, October 14, 2004 Posted: 5:32 PM EDT (2132 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- As he lies, the young man shrugs, flutters his eyelids and shakes his head. Another, on a witness stand, grimaces for a millisecond as he answers a question.
Most people believe they could easily detect such lying behavior, but in fact most miss a good 50 percent of lies, says deception expert Maureen O'Sullivan of the University of California San Francisco.
But O'Sullivan says she has found a special group -- just 1 percent of those she has tested -- who catch a lie nearly 90 percent of the time.
"We call them wizards," O'Sullivan told a briefing sponsored by the American Medical Association on Thursday. "Wizardry is a special skill that seems magical if you don't have it."
These wizards have a special ability to ferret out little tics that show when a person is lying.
She and her colleagues have so far screened 13,000 people for their ability to catch a liar on videotape. "We found 14 people who we called ultimate experts," she said.
They could tell when people deliberately lied about feelings, committing a crime or their own opinions.
Another 13 were good at detecting specific types of lies. For example, she said, "There was a group of cops who got very good scores -- they got 80 percent or more on crime but none of them did well on the video about feeling."
Now O'Sullivan is trying to find out how they do it. She finds they have little in common so far, except a motivation to catch liars. Some have advanced degrees, some only a high school education. About 20 percent had alcoholic parents.
"They are located all over the country. We sit down and go over the ... videotapes. I ask them to think aloud. I tape record them thinking aloud," she said.
While most people know to look for certain cues as a person lies, these wizards intuitively find an individual's peculiar cues. One may shrug when lying, and another may make fleeting expressions of disgust or even amusement.
"There are lots of clues. The problem is how do you put them together and how to you make any sense of them?"
O'Sullivan said her findings could help train better lie detectors -- for instance, federal agents or therapists who need to know when someone is telling the truth.
She is not sure about other real-world applications.
"We have made an offer to the federal government that it might be interesting to have them as sort of panel when they have high profile investigations," she said.
What about analyzing the presidential debates between President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry?
O'Sullivan just laughed.
Copyright 2004 Reuters
Plans to turn a South Yorkshire school into a city academy sponsored by a group which promotes Christianity have collapsed.
The Emmanuel Schools Foundation was offering £2m to help rebuild Northcliffe School at Conisbrough near Doncaster which is in special measures.
But after strong opposition from parents, Doncaster Council has backed away from the deal.
Parents said they were worried about a potential loss of accountability.
The Emmanuel Schools Foundation - formerly the Vardy Foundation - was set up by Sir Peter Vardy who made his fortune through a chain of car dealerships.
It already has colleges in Middlesbrough and Gateshead and is hoping to open another one in Thorne, also near Doncaster.
Sir Peter is a committed Christian and there has been criticism that the foundation's schools present both the Bible account of creation and the Darwinian theory of species evolving over time.
Doncaster's elected mayor, Martin Winter, said: "In view of the strong feelings which have divided the community, and following discussions with the Emmanuel Foundation we have decided not to move forward with this particular project."
Last month, parents put the school up for auction on eBay as a protest at the planned involvement of Sir Peter.
The web advertisement said that subjects, especially science, would present "creationism on the quiet" .
Tracey Morton is one of the parents who have been fighting the plan to involve the Emmanuel Foundation.
She told BBC Look North: "This is our community school and we should have the right to send our children to a state school that isn't underpinned by very, very strong Christian beliefs."
The headteacher at Northcliffe, David Martin, admitted there had been disagreements about whether to accept the Emmanuel Foundation money.
"What we have to do now is heal these rifts," he said, "and we must all try to make Northcliffe the best possible school."
Sir Peter said the campaigners should not be celebrating but should be "reflecting on the opportunity they have denied their children for an education of the very highest standard in state of the art facilities."
He added that the foundation would now turn all its attention to its proposed Trinity Academy at Thorne where work has already started
Mr Winter said he is still determined that education standards at Northcliffe will improve and talks will reopen with the government to find the right solution.
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2004; Page SM01
The Charles County Board of Education heard a barrage of criticism this week from parents, teachers and community members who were upset about a recent list of proposed goals for the school system.
The list of goals and suggestions, compiled by the board last month without attribution to specific members, included proposals to censor reading lists of "immorality" or "foul language," to invite an outside organization to hand out Bibles in schools and to teach the theory of creationism in science classes. Many with concerns about the document suggested that board members were trying to infuse personal and religious priorities into the public school system.
At an emotionally charged public forum Tuesday night, more than 200 people packed the La Plata High School auditorium, some waving signs that said "Do the right thing" and "Keep the public in public schools." Others shouted their testimony in rapid and impassioned bursts, trying to fit their comments within the three-minute time limit.
The resounding sentiment, punctuated by applause from the crowd, was that the board should not focus on instilling religious and moral lessons in the public schools.
"Today in Charles County I feel like I'm in the land of the ayatollahs, who also believe their religious beliefs and values should determine what is taught in schools -- who believe that their view of morality should be everyone's," said Kathy Miles, a math teacher at La Plata High School. "It's no surprise there are TV cameras here today. I guess they want to see if it really is possible to go back in time 100 years."
Evan West, a ninth-grade English teacher at McDonough High School who was accompanied by his 9-year-old son, said he was troubled that several of the proposals seemed "motivated mostly by a radical right-wing agenda" but also that some of the board's suggestions would lead to unwelcome distractions from academics.
"Proposals to censor book lists will put Charles County students at a disadvantage in a very competitive collegiate world and are in direct conflict with our own goals of raising Advanced Placement scores," West said. "Diluting the science curriculum with philosophically and religiously motivated pseudo-science will not change what the State Board of Education has said our students should learn."
He added: "As good as my son's teachers are at J.C. Parks [Elementary School] . . . I don't ever want them responsible for the education of my son religiously or spiritually. That's my job."
No action was taken on the board's list of goals, which includes more than 100 suggestions. The seven board members have split into small groups to decide which items should come back before the full board for more discussion.
Board members said Tuesday that they needed more time to work through the individual items. They said the meeting was a chance for the public to weigh in on the issues before anything is decided.
On the issue of handing out Bibles in schools, several said it would violate the constitutional separation of church and state but also would divert attention from learning.
"As all Christians already have their Bibles, distributing Bibles in the schools would serve no purpose except to intimidate non-Christians," said Bruce Kirk of La Plata, who said he had children in the Charles County system.
To Monica Kahn, 16, an 11th-grader at Westlake High School who is enrolled in the Advanced Placement language and composition class, the most troubling proposal was the one that would delete from required reading lists any books that offer a "neutral or positive view of immorality or foul language."
Several of the books she has read in high school have contained passages someone might consider immoral or inappropriate, she said, naming as examples "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes.
"The only books that have no objectionable material are books that have no deeper meaning. Conflict fuels stories," Kahn said. "If the board truly removes books with this immorality or language, we would be left with nothing."
Before the public forum began, a committee that reviews the required reading lists for offensive material discussed its process with the board. Under current policy, if the committee decides that there is possibly offensive material in student reading -- such as profanity, sexual content or violence -- it can choose either to not approve a book or to place an asterisk next to the title so parents can be aware of it.
School board Vice Chairman Margaret Young and member Jennifer Abell said that simply putting an asterisk was insufficient warning for parents and asked the committee to provide more specific information about possibly objectionable material in reading lists.
"I think that's putting a little too much work on the parent," Young said. "I think that parents trust the school system to provide wholesome literature to students."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
When our children grow up, they will be competing with children all over the world who were taught geology and evolutionary theory. Do Bush administration zealots have a right to take away science and push 'creationism' on our children? Why should U.S. children be the international laughingstock and lose job opportunities?
Here is an October 13, 2004, announcement from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Promise is Broken -- No Legal Review on Creationist Book Took PlaceYou can view a letter of protest from seven scientific societies here (PDF)
The Bush Administration has decided that it will stand by its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, according to internal documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was "under review at the national level by several offices," no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, the real agency position was expressed by NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy as quoted in the Baptist Press News: "Now that the book has become quite popular, we don't want to remove it."
In August of 2003, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, a book explaining how the park's central feature developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters that there would be a high-level policy review, distributing talking points stating: "We hope to have a final decision in February ." In fact, the promised review never occurred.
- In late February, Barna crafted a draft letter to concerned members of Congress stating: "We hope to have a final decision on the book in March 2004." The letter was not sent. That draft was rewritten in June and finally sent out to Congressional representatives with no completion date for the review at all;
- NPS Headquarters did not respond to a January 25th memo from its own top geologists charging that sale of the book violated agency policies and undercut its own scientific education programs;
- The Park Service ignored a letter of protest signed by the presidents of seven scientific societies on December 16, 2003.
"Promoting creationism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, "If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it."
The creationist book is not the only religious controversy at Grand Canyon National Park. One week prior to the approved sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered that bronze Bible plaques bearing Psalm verses be returned and reinstalled at canyon overlooks. Superintendent Alston had removed the plaques on legal advice from Interior Department solicitors. Murphy also wrote a letter of apology to the plaques' sponsors, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) has collected additional instances of what it calls the Bush Administration's "Faith-Based Parks" agenda.
By ROWAN HOOPER
Former Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder once quipped: "I have a brain and a uterus and I use both." The former is what separates humans from other mammals; the latter is what separates mammals from everything else.
Although mammals number only some 4,300 species (not much in the grand scheme of things), we've done pretty well for ourselves. We might not be as numerous as other animals, but without getting too self-congratulatory, we're by most measures the most adaptable and certainly the dominant class of animal on the planet.
Arguably, we owe it all to the uterus. It's our defining characteristic. Other animals have to lay eggs, but we mammals nurture our offspring internally until they are well developed. It's perhaps the most intimate of structures produced by natural selection. But how did it evolve?
The most primitive of the mammals, such as the duck-billed platypus of Australia, actually lay eggs (they scrape into the classification because of other mammalian characteristics) and have very different reproductive systems to the more familiar animals that give birth to live young.
These mammals (marsupials such as kangaroos and placental mammals such as humans) don't grow an eggshell around their developing young, but instead grow and feed them in a uterus. They are known as therian mammals.
About 180 million years ago, something happened to trigger the evolution from egg-laying to fetus-nurturing.
Here's Vincent Lynch, of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, reflecting on that "something": "Probably eggs were kept in the reproductive tract for longer and longer periods of time. At some point the shell was lost and this provided that embryo with a great advantage because now it did not have to rely on the yolk for all of its nutrition, it could get it from mom's uterus."
As soon as that happened, the evolutionary floodgates opened. The origin of the uterus was one of the most dramatic advances in vertebrate evolution.
"Once the embryo started to demand nutrients from mom, any adaptations that aided nutrient exchange, like the placenta and the embryo implanting directly into the wall of the uterus, would be very advantageous," said Lynch.
It's fairly easy to come up with plausible reasons for the evolution of a particular trait, but since the relevant selection pressures that led to the uterus occurred so many millions of years ago, we will always be guessing. What we need is some sort of solid evidence, a record of what happened. And this is exactly what Lynch and colleagues have now got.
How could a record survive 180 million years? Easy -- in something that has been passed from generation to generation, from ancestral mammals all the way to you and me. In other words, our genes. Remarkably, evidence of the evolution of the uterus is still visible and measurable in mammalian DNA.
Lynch and colleagues looked at the genes that control the development of the female reproductive system from a variety of animals, including human, opossum, platypus and frog. Mammals that give birth to live young have very different reproductive systems to egg-layers, so the researchers reasoned that there would be a difference in the relevant genes. Sure enough, they found evidence for two bursts of rapid evolution. The first happened when the therian mammals split away from the egg-layers, and the second when the placental mammals split from the marsupials.
"Luckily, changes in genes occur in more or less clockwork fashion," said Lynch, whose work was published last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. "Much like a metronome ticking away, changes accumulate, so you can estimate how many changes there should be and then compare that to how many changes there actually are. In the ancestral therian there were far more changes than expected. This is the rapid burst of evolution."
The researchers looked at Hox genes, a family of managerial genes that orchestrate development. Hox genes tell cells in a developing embryo what their role is. Four of the Hox genes are involved in the development of the female reproductive tract, directing cells to form fallopian tubes, the uterus or the vagina.
"Hox genes are lined up tightly along the chromosome," said Lynch. "The first gene in the row is turned on earliest, and in the most anterior part of the organ, the second gene in the row is turned on a little after the first and further down the organ, and so on. In this way, each cell knows whether they are near the head or the middle or tail and how far along in development they are."
If it seems amazing that we can still read in genes the changes that occurred in our mammalian ancestors 180 million years ago, try getting your head round this: Similar bursts of evolution can be read in genes shared by plants and animals. And those two groups of organisms started evolving separately some 1.6 billion years ago. If only Darwin could have seen such evidence for natural selection, 100-odd years ago . . . and if only those who preach the nonsense of creationism and intelligent design could, today.
More on our ancestors' evolution can be found in Richard Dawkins' new book, "The Ancestor's Tale" (Houghton Mifflin). A book of Natural Selections columns translated into Japanese, "Nou to sekkusu no seibutsugaku (Evolution, Sex and the Brain)," is published by Shinchosha. Rowan Hooper is a biologist at Trinity College, Dublin. He welcomes readers' comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Japan Times: Oct. 14, 2004