NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 April 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The police, the PM and the psychic


By Leo Shanahan, Eamonn Duff, Jason Koutsoukis

April 9, 2006

A SENIOR Australian Federal Police officer has been suspended for consulting a clairvoyant over a threat to assassinate Prime Minister John Howard.

Although bound by the AFP's strict code of conduct regarding confidentiality and national security, the officer turned to a small-town psychic he knew socially and disclosed classified information about Mr Howard and the death threats.

In a statement to The Sunday Age yesterday, an AFP spokesman said: "I can confirm we are currently investigating the matter. A member of the AFP has been suspended … The AFP takes seriously all allegations of misconduct by officers, and does not condone the use of psychics in security matters."

The Sunday Age can reveal that the mystic at the centre of the controversy is Elizabeth Walker, a Scottish-born medium based in the NSW Snowy Mountains town of Cooma.

When confronted yesterday, she said: "It's an extremely sensitive situation … how did you find out about this? If this gets out, the lad will lose his job.

"I can't comment because in my profession client confidentiality is paramount. I don't divulge any of the stuff I do. I've done lots of people. I've done political people, famous people, but I don't talk about who's been in. I don't even discuss it with my husband."

The AFP hierarchy was alerted in December to the security breach. The officer was not part of the Prime Minister's personal AFP security entourage, but he knew all about the death threat, and also knew it was being treated seriously.

Knowing some investigations had hit a dead end, the officer took matters into his own hands and turned to Mrs Walker.

It is unclear how he was exposed, but his actions sparked an internal inquiry that resulted in Mrs Walker — who reads "auras" and "past-life energies" — being questioned.

Inquiries by The Sunday Age reveal that Mrs Walker is not registered on a database of clairvoyants held by the Australian Psychics Association.

The ALP's spokesman for homeland security, Arch Bevis, said he would be greatly concerned if the AFP was using clairvoyants.

"I think, perhaps, this fellow has watched a few too many of the US detective shows," he said.

The AFP had doubled security staff between 2002 and 2005, Mr Bevis said, but that, apart from the comical aspect, the incident raised the serious issue of adequate training. "This does make you wonder … if the vetting of recruits is as thorough as it should be, and whether officers are receiving adequate training," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Howard said: "We don't run the AFP and if there is a matter regarding discipline or an individual officer it really is something for them to deal with."

A national security and terrorism expert, Clive Williams, who is a former Defence Intelligence Organisation attache to Washington and now adjunct professor at the Australian National University, said the use of a clairvoyant for such a task was "highly unusual".

"I am aware that the United States engaged psychics during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union but abandoned the program," he said. "This sort of thing is really at the fringes of credibility."

Known as "close protection officers", Mr Howard's team of specially assigned AFP agents have a platypus as their mascot.

Barry Williams, of Australian Skeptics, said he "would be very worried" if he were John Howard. "I know security and intelligence gathering can be a very hard job at times," he said.

"But if your critical faculties are intact and you are going to a psychic to ask for help on something like this, then I think you should be looking for another job."

Creationist to tour UK universities


Jamie Doward, home affairs editor Sunday April 9, 2006

The Observer

A leading member of the controversial creationist movement who claims to use science to dismiss evolution is to visit Britain on a lecture tour that will include several schools and universities.

The tour comes after teaching unions warned that creationism - which rejects Darwin's theory of natural selection and insists that God created the world in six days - is creeping into Britain's classrooms and lecture halls.

John Mackay, an Australian geologist whose claims that the Earth's crust provides evidence for the biblical flood have earned him a global following, will tour the UK this month. He has already been signed up to speak at St Andrews, Bangor and Northamptonshire universities and plans to give speeches at a number of secondary schools, including one on the Fylde coast in Lancashire, as well as visiting British churches.

Randall Hardy, Mackay's spokesman, expressed dismay that leading creationist sceptics, such as the zoologist, Richard Dawkins, had declined invitations to debate the issue. 'Most of the people who make a hue and cry about creationism are out-and-out atheists,' Hardy said. 'They don't want the issue to be debated.'

As its supporters have become more vocal, creationism has become an increasingly contentious subject in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently warned that creationism should not be taught in schools, and the National Union of Teachers last week demanded new laws to prevent the teaching of creationism in science lessons.

Mackay's views have also been attacked by teaching unions and secular groups. 'The authorities must put a stop to these groups sneaking into schools,' said Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society. 'The secrecy surrounding this visit means parents and pupils have no say in whether they want to be part of this barmy creationist agenda.'

Teachers' union to demand scrapping of faith schools


By Richard Garner

07 April 2006

Teachers' leaders are to demand the abolition of the country's 7,000 state-funded faith schools.

The National Union of Teachers will warn at its annual conference next week that the growth in their numbers is leading to "segregated schooling" in many parts of the country. Delegates will be told that this is fostering religious divisions and creating a fertile ground for ethnic conflict and even terrorism.

Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said there was "enormous concern around the country" over the growth of faith schools. The debate was prompted by concerns over Tony Blair's exhortation to faith groups to sponsor his inner-city academies and support the new breed of independently-run "trust" schools he wants to establish.

The NUT, Britain's biggest teachers' union, is worried that extreme religious groups and fundamentalist sects will be able to run schools. They cite the example of the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, where creationism is said to be taught in science lessons.

They are also worried that the stringent admissions policies of some faith schools - which give weight to the children of parents who practise their religion - will increase segregation.

The debate, on Easter Sunday, will be the first attempt by the union to dismantle the compromise reached in 1944, when universal state education was established, which allows faith schools to run side-by-side with secular state schools. There are around 7,000 state-aided faith schools in England and Wales - 600 secondary and 6,400 primary. Of these, 6,955 are Church of England, Roman Catholic or Methodist. The rest consist of 36 Jewish schools, six Muslim, two Sikh, one Greek Orthodox and one Seventh Day Adventist.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We have a long tradition of faith schools in this country. They are popular with parents and make an important contribution to community cohesion.

"Leaders from the Church of England, Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist faiths only recently underlined their commitment to ensure that faith schools teach pupils about other religions as well as their own."

Evolution: If It Walks Like a Fish ...


April 17, 2006 issue - Darwin predicted that the "missing links" of evolution—gaps in the fossil record between related species—would come to haunt his theory. He was right: even today, they're a major theme in the effort to discredit evolution with the public. Which is why there was such a stir about a paper in the journal Nature last week describing a 375 million-year-old creature dug from rocks in the Canadian Arctic. It's a four-foot-long, crocodile-headed fish with scales, gills—and primitive wrist- and fingerlike bones in its fins. Given the Inuit name Tiktaalik, the specimen neatly splits the gap between fossil fish that lived about 385 million years ago and the four-legged amphibians that came 20 million years later.

Until recently, scientists believed that legs evolved when a warming climate dried up ponds and swamps. But Tiktaalik supports the view that legs evolved in water, among fish living in what was then a tropical river delta—perhaps to help them crawl to shallows where larger predators couldn't follow. "It really blurs the distinction between land and water animals," says Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, who led the team that found the fossil.

Shubin didn't set out to score points for Darwinism, but the implications of his find are obvious: Tiktaalik could turn out to be as iconic as Archaeopteryx, the fossil link between dinosaurs and birds. The Discovery Institute, which promotes "intelligent design" as an alternative to Darwin, was quick to assert that Tiktaalik "poses no threat to [ID] ... Few leading [ID] researchers have argued against the existence of transitional forms." Those "leading researchers" may know better, but the fossil gaps are cited many times in the controversial ID textbook "Of Pandas and People." The book takes particular note of the large difference between "the oldest amphibian" and "its presumed [fish] ancestor." It's a gap wide enough for a fish to walk through—and now we know that one did.

—Jerry Adler

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

Creationism FAQ

Skepical humor division

The following has been circulating on the internet for a few months. It's time we shared it.

There has been a considerable call for a Creationist FAQ, which doesn't seem to be forthcoming in any great hurry. In the interests of facilitating matters I have decided to jump the gun and provide a provisional Creationist FAQ. Regard this as a provisional effort; I am not an expert in these matters and may have erred in a few small details. Criticisms and suggestions for improvement are welcome. Speculations on my private life will be met with dignified silence.

Q: What is the principle evidence for Creationism?

A: The Holy Bible, of course. After all, is it likely that the author of the Universe would be mistaken about its age?

Q: But isn't the Bible religion and not science?

A: Truth is truth. It's a poor sort of science that ignores truth.

Q: But isn't there a lot of evidence for evolution?

A: Not really, most of it is from university professors writing papers for each other. If they didn't write papers they wouldn't have jobs.

Q: How big was Noah's ark?

A: Big enough.

Q: But what about radioactive dating?

A: Hey, everybody knows that stuff is bad for you. Stick with good Christian girls.

Q: What about the fossil evidence?

A: The real fossils are university professors writing papers for each other.

Q: Is there any other evidence for Creationism besides the Bible?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you give us some?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you give us a specific example?

A: Yes.

Q: What be a specific example of evidence for Creationism?

A: I've already answered that question.

Q: What about the Antarctic ice core data?

A: Now I put it to you. Coop up a bunch of men in a Quonset hut in the worst weather in the world, with nothing to do but gather data and drink, and what do you expect?

Q: Did the dinosaurs coexist with man?

A: Look, the liberals were preaching coexistence with the Communists, and you saw what happened to them.

Q: Should Creationism be taught along with Evolution in the schools?

A: Creationism should be taught instead of Evolution in the schools.

Q: Doesn't the Geologic Column prove that the Earth is very old?

A: The geologic column proves that some things are on top of other things and some things are underneath other things. But we already knew that, didn't we.

Q: Hasn't Evolution been demonstrated in the laboratory?

A: Students are demonstrating everywhere these days. To their shame, many professors are demonstrating also.

Q: Aren't Hawiian wallabies an example of Evolution in action?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because they aren't.

Q: What is a kind?

A: A kind is cards of the same rank. Thus 4 aces and a king are four of a kind, but four spades and a heart are not.

Q: Doesn't genetic variation indicate that life has been going on a long time?

A: Let's be up front about this. That's deviation, not variation, and yes, there is a lot of deviancy out there. That just shows that there has been a lot of Sin since the garden of Eden.

Q: What about Neanderthal Man?

A: Hey, you take one of those geezers and put him in tweeds and give him a pipe and he could be a professor anywhere.

Q: Some scientists state that the earth's continents are drifting around on top of a molten interior which has shaped life as we see it now. Are they right?

A: As you well know the Bible says that beneath the surface of the earth is Hell where there is eternal fires and brimstone. If the continents appear to be moving around that is Satan's doing.

Q: Why do almost all of the scientists believe in Evolution?

A: The real scientists don't. As for the rest of them, that's a very good question, isn't it?

Q: Are you talking about a Satanic conspiracy?

A: Did I say anything about a conspiracy? You might want to think about the shape the world is in since the Evolutionists and the Liberal Humanists captured academia and Evolution is hand in hand with Godless Communism and crime in the streets but I certainly wouldn't want to say anything about a Satanic conspiracy. I just want you to think about it with an open mind.

Testing Faith


April 9, 2006
Science and Religion, Still Worlds Apart

One October day in 1947, the director of the local bank in Marksville, La., woke to find that hundreds of fish had fallen from the sky, landing in his backyard. People walking to work that day were struck by falling fish, and an account of the incident by a researcher for the state's wildlife and fisheries department later found its way into the annals of scientific anomalies — phenomena waiting to be understood.

Fish falls have also been reported in Ethiopia and other parts of the world. Whether they are hoaxes, hallucinations or genuine meteorological events — maybe fish can be swept up by a waterspout and transported — scientists are disposed to assume a physical explanation.

The same kind of scrutiny is accorded to miracles — fishes and loaves multiplying to feed the masses and the like. But as two research papers published this month suggest, looking to science to prove a miracle is a losing proposition, for believers and skeptics.

Either you devise some mechanism to explain it away, as one of the studies attempts to do, or you show, as in the other, that no scientific basis exists. The skeptics continue to trust in science, and the believers in miracles. Science and religion become neither closer nor more distant, raising the question of just what the research was supposed to accomplish.

This month in The Journal of Paleolimnology (the science of prehistoric bodies of water), oceanographers from Florida State University and Hebrew University proposed a complex mathematical theory showing how "Ekman fluxes," "geostrophic flow" and other factors might have allowed a patch of ice to form amid the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee, allowing Jesus to walk across.

A decade ago, in The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, two of these scientists, Doron Nof and Nathan Paldor, offered an explanation for another biblical event, the parting of the Red Sea. Under the right conditions, their model showed, winds blowing along the Gulf of Suez could have swept away the waters just in time for the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptians, who would have drowned in the ensuing flood.

Other relics and events get the same kind of treatment, with reports regularly emerging on what X-ray fluorescence spectrometry or carbon-14 dating says about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Last year, a National Geographic television series, "Science of the Bible," featured researchers working to establish the plausibility of the New Testament's account of the crucifixion and the disappearance from the tomb.

These investigations often have the appeal of a good detective story, but it is never quite clear what to make of the results. Should believers be encouraged when a miracle is corroborated, lending credence to a holy text, or disappointed that what seemed to be a case of divine intervention might have been the outcome of natural forces? A miracle, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume put it, is "a violation of the laws of nature." Finding that something is scientifically impossible would only make it more miraculous that it occurred.

This month's second study, appearing in The American Heart Journal, presented a negative result: cardiac patients who were prayed for had no better chance of recovery than those who were not. There wasn't even a placebo effect. Even worse, patients who knew they were being prayed for actually did worse, possibly because of performance anxiety.

However disappointing the outcome of the $2.4 million project was to the researchers and their sponsor, the John Templeton Foundation, most believers are likely to remain unfazed. One of the coauthors of the study, Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noted that the study involved people praying for patients they did not know. Personal prayers and those from loved ones, he ventured, may prove more powerful. As he told a New York Times reporter, "You hear tons of stories about the power of prayer, and I don't doubt them." That is all the evidence most believers would require.

This has always been the quandary. Science and religion are not playing by the same rules. No laboratory finding can compel a person to give up what is taken on faith. Even if the study had involved friends and family members, a negative outcome would not have led many people to stop saying their prayers. Scrutinizing so delicate a process might disrupt it, some no doubt would reason, as when you draw too near a dandelion and explode its seeds with your breath.

In the 1902 book "The Varieties of Religious Experience," William James gave what he considered the broadest and most general definition of religion: "The belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto." For all the advances science has made in the century since — relativity, quantum mechanics, computational theory — it has not found a way to measure the immeasurable, or prove that it cannot exist.

Creationism view a worry


Some educators alarmed by support of non-science


FRANKFORT - Miriam Kannan is worried about the future of science education in Kentucky.

At least three students, she said, have quit the biology program at Northern Kentucky University because their religious beliefs made them uncomfortable learning about evolution.

In his State of the Commonwealth address this year, Gov. Ernie Fletcher encouraged schools to teach about "intelligent design" - the notion that some intelligent force was involved in the creation of complex life.

And last month, the governor appointed five new members to the state Board of Education, at least three of whom say they are open to public-school students learning alternatives to evolution.

The trend alarms Kannan, an NKU biology professor and president of the Kentucky Academy of Science.

It's fine to teach about intelligent design in non-science classes, she said. But if public figures are putting it on equal footing with evolution, science instruction is bound to get muddled, Kannan said. The two cannot be taught side-by-side, because evolution is a testable theory - the basis of scientific inquiry - and intelligent design is not, she said.

"The moment that you train a person in creationism, that person cannot be a scientist. And the world is going forward on science," she said.

Members of the Kentucky Academy of Science voted to oppose efforts by Kentucky governments to mandate content in science courses.

Brett Hall, the governor's spokesman, said the concern is overblown.

In a Feb. 13 letter to the academy, Fletcher said the existence of a creator is a "self-evident truth" akin to two plus two equals four. The United States was founded on this understanding, he wrote.

"Schools should be able to approach this subject from a historical perspective, not a religious one, without offending anybody," Fletcher wrote.

Scientists shouldn't worry, because Fletcher never suggested intelligent design be taught in science classes per se, Hall said.

Besides, Kentucky law already gives teachers the right to do so. Under KRS 158.177, they can instruct students in the Bible's creation theory whenever evolution is mentioned. Students who believe in the Bible's version are even allowed to write it on exams without losing points.

Chairman Keith Travis, a Marshall County Republican and the only current member reappointed by Fletcher, said he would oppose any mandate to teach intelligent design. It's a divisive subject that would only distract the board from its mission to improve education, he said.

The governor did not ask any of his recent appointees for their views on intelligent design, said Hall. And in public interviews with legislators, none of them said they would force it on teachers.

Some did, however, support the idea of exposing students to the subject.

In a March 15 meeting of the House Education Committee, the three appointees present were asked whether intelligent design should be taught in science classes.

Jeanie Ferguson and Joe Brothers said they weren't sure.

Kaye Baird, a former teacher from Pikeville, said such decisions are up to the site-based councils at each school. But she also said:

"Intelligent design and evolution - why don't we give students the choice, or let them have facts about both of them? ... Don't we want our young people to be open-minded and be thinkers?"

State Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, spoke against the three on the House floor, but they were confirmed anyway. State Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, was among the few who joined Stein in voting no. He said he was concerned about the possibility of more demands on teachers.

"If you want your religious beliefs taught, you need to send your children to a school and pay for that. Public schools have to appeal to everybody," Keene said.

E-mail kgutierrez@nky.com

Skeptic Shermer's Disbelief Is Science-Based


April 6, 2006

By Robert K. Elder Tribune staff reporter

Dr. Michael Shermer isn't just a skeptic, he's the skeptic.

The founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and director of the Skeptic Society, Shermer has spent the better part of 25 years examining everything from UFOs and psychics to the more controversial topics of creationism and the existence of God.

Shermer will present a lecture Friday based on his book "Why People Believe Weird Things" on the Fermilab campus in Batavia.

Tempo talked to Shermer about aliens, faith and what he would like to believe - despite his skepticism.

Q. How did you get started on the skeptic's path?

A. In the '70s, I actually believed a lot of this stuff. I was a born-again Christian for about seven years. And then in graduate school, I lost my religiosity.

There wasn't a single moment but a slow deterioration of my faith. I just really got into science. I love science; the scientific way of trying to understand the world appealed to me.

As a personality, I like the ambiguity of science and the open- endedness. I have a high tolerance of ambiguity; not everybody does. That's one of the appealing notions of religion ... it offers a balm to ambiguity - certain absolutes to certain questions.

Q. You've said skepticism isn't a worldview but an approach. But one critic pointed to a kinship between fanatical skeptics and religious fundamentalists. Does this "kinship" help you understand them?

A. Yes, it does.

Militant atheists, for example, who really go after religions and they're angry, remind me of ex-smokers who run around putting out people's cigarettes. . . . I'm not one of those, but that's what people talk about when they talk about the dogma of skepticism. You do have to watch for that.

You have to be open to the possibility that you're wrong, and that does make you more tolerant, which is one of the things I didn't like in myself when I was religious: the level of intolerance I was willing to put up with and even foster in myself, in terms of judging other people.

Q. In print, you've been very thoughtful in exploring everything from religion to UFOs, but is there anything you'd like to believe?

A. I'd really like to believe that there is extraterrestrial intelligence and that we could learn an incredible amount from them. I think that'd be about the closest thing to a belief in a god.

[Carl] Sagan's "Contact" and "Cosmos," these are very spiritual books and films... He steps way beyond the bounds of science and I find that personally very fulfilling, in terms of where I get my spirituality.

Q. I think some of the folks reading this might be surprised that you have spirituality. Can you articulate it for me?

A. I define spirituality as a sense of transcendence, of something bigger and grander than us as individuals. I think there's lots of ways to get that. Religion has had a monopoly on it for a while, but I think science does this in spades.

You can't help but look at a Hubble Space Telescope photograph of the cosmos - all those thousands of galaxies in one tiny sliver of the photograph - and not be completely awed by the whole thing.

That gets you out of yourself and thinking about other people, the species, the planet, the cosmos.

Q. You've said America, unlike other cultures, is obsessed with proving the existence of God. Why do you think that is?

A. Two things.

1. We are the most scientific, technological country in the history of the world and that forces us to justify our beliefs, based on rational, scientific reason.

2. And we're exceptionally religious. We have separation of church and state, so there's a free market of competition between churches. American religions are very flexible and dynamic and ready to change, and that's what fuels it.

Q. If someone tells you that even though the existence of God is not provable it brings them comfort - what's wrong with that?

A. I don't have brooks with any religious claims. It's only when it interferes with science, education, government, politics. And most people do keep it to themselves. It's the minority that makes a big stink. The creationists, for example.

And they want to get [creationism taught] in public schools and get the government to force teachers to teach what they believe. That's just wrong. It's also very un-American, in terms of our belief of liberty and freedom.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense


June 18, 2002

Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up

By John Rennie

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.

Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage.

To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom.

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty--above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

"Survival of the fittest" is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction. That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In a pioneering study of finches on the Galápagos Islands, Peter R. Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild [see his article "Natural Selection and Darwin's Finches"; Scientific American, October 1991].

The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time--changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant's studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms--such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization--can drive profound changes in populations over time.

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries. For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not--and does not--find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too. If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.

It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents. Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.

Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent. In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist of the University of Washington surveyed thousands of journals in the primary literature, seeking articles on intelligent design or creation science. Among those hundreds of thousands of scientific reports, he found none. In the past two years, surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University have been similarly fruitless.

Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. Those papers, however, rarely attack evolution directly or advance creationist arguments; at best, they identify certain evolutionary problems as unsolved and difficult (which no one disputes). In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.

Evolutionary biologists passionately debate diverse topics: how speciation happens, the rates of evolutionary change, the ancestral relationships of birds and dinosaurs, whether Neandertals were a species apart from modern humans, and much more. These disputes are like those found in all other branches of science. Acceptance of evolution as a factual occurrence and a guiding principle is nonetheless universal in biology.

Unfortunately, dishonest creationists have shown a willingness to take scientists' comments out of context to exaggerate and distort the disagreements. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals--which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould's voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.

When confronted with a quotation from a scientific authority that seems to question evolution, insist on seeing the statement in context. Almost invariably, the attack on evolution will prove illusory.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.

The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, "If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?" New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct. The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth.

The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.

Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science's current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.

The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.

More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.

On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.

Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses.

Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism's DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features. Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species.

Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well. Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.

Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. The most widely used definition, Mayr's Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations--sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed). Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership.

Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection--for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits--and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.

Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs. A flock's worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found. A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition [see "The Mammals That Conquered the Seas," by Kate Wong; Scientific American, May]. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies. They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds--it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group. Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.

Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships. Geneticists speak of the "molecular clock" that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution.

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features--at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels--that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.

Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye's ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye's evolution--what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)

Today's intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different. They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution.

"Irreducible complexity" is the battle cry of Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. As a household example of irreducible complexity, Behe chooses the mousetrap--a machine that could not function if any of its pieces were missing and whose pieces have no value except as parts of the whole. What is true of the mousetrap, he says, is even truer of the bacterial flagellum, a whiplike cellular organelle used for propulsion that operates like an outboard motor. The proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. The possibility that this intricate array could have arisen through evolutionary modification is virtually nil, Behe argues, and that bespeaks intelligent design. He makes similar points about the blood's clotting mechanism and other molecular systems.

Yet evolutionary biologists have answers to these objections. First, there exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, so it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work. The sophisticated components of this flagellum all have precedents elsewhere in nature, as described by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and others. In fact, the entire flagellum assembly is extremely similar to an organelle that Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, uses to inject toxins into cells.

The key is that the flagellum's component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution. The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego. So some of the complexity that Behe calls proof of intelligent design is not irreducible at all.

Complexity of a different kind--"specified complexity"--is the cornerstone of the intelligent-design arguments of William A. Dembski of Baylor University in his books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch. Essentially his argument is that living things are complex in a way that undirected, random processes could never produce. The only logical conclusion, Dembski asserts, in an echo of Paley 200 years ago, is that some superhuman intelligence created and shaped life.

Dembski's argument contains several holes. It is wrong to insinuate that the field of explanations consists only of random processes or designing intelligences. Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. Some of the complexity seen in organisms may therefore emerge through natural phenomena that we as yet barely understand. But that is far different from saying that the complexity could not have arisen naturally.

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)

Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.

© 1996-2006 Scientific American, Inc.

Victory for intelligent design


Posted: April 8, 2006 1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2006 WorldNetDaily.com

History, we are sometimes told, repeats itself. This is arguably true in that whenever we human beings are confronted with a set of circumstances we tend to respond to them in the same way, whatever era we live in. Canada last week provided a classic example.

Close to 600 years ago the established authorities of the Western world – people who everywhere commanded unquestioned respect-- knew as an incontrovertible fact that the sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth.

Not only was it self-evident – you could see them doing it – but the great Aristotle himself had said so, and when the great Aquinas adapted the great Aristotle's philosophy to Christian theology, he embraced Aristotle's science as well. So that was that. The bishops said so. The Bible seemed to say so. Case closed.

But it wasn't closed. When a devout Christian named Copernicus propounded as fact that the Earth and all the planets actually revolved around the sun, and offered mathematical evidence, he was quietly dismissed as deluded.

However, by the next generation other non-conformists – certain Jesuits and an Italian named Galileo – were spouting the same sort of nonsense, so something absolutely had to be done. This kind of talk was eroding respect for established authority, officialdom declared. And when Galileo defiantly offered telescopic evidence for his theory, those in control decided to shut him up.

The revolution of the sun and planets around the Earth was not an assumption, declared the pope of the day, but a well-established fact, and these dangerous meddlers were popularizing their nonsensical views among students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers. Galileo was compelled to recant his dangerous claims, and a little later died in comfortable retirement. (He was never persecuted, tortured and otherwise physically coerced, however, as later mythology would claim.)

Fast forward now to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For more than 100 years the priests of our day, meaning the scientists, have cherished as incontrovertible fact the thesis that all the species of nature, man included, came about by accident. By an astonishing coincidence, the single cell appeared; by millions of further accidents, the cell evolved over countless generations into ourselves and what we see around us.

Nothing directed this process – it just happened. And to demonstrate how man himself happened, various "transitional species" leading up to the appearance of humans were portrayed in realistic line drawings in the best high-school science textbooks. There was no evidence for any of these transitional species, of course; they were invented in order to show how it all worked.

By the 1990s, however, certain non-conforming individuals began to question this so-called thesis. They did not dispute the antiquity of the Earth. They did not claim the book of Genesis to be a scientific document. They were not priests or pastors, or biblical "creationists." They were philosophers and scientists who challenged the infallibility of what's called "natural selection," the notion that everything came about by chance.

When Darwin invented this theory, wrote one biochemist, the single cell, the founding building block of nature, was seen as a blob, a "black box" that could not be opened. But now it has been opened, and found to be of staggering complexity and efficiency. To suggest it happened by chance was frankly preposterous. It had to have been "designed."

The proponents of what came to be called "intelligent design" are naturally being denounced by "respectable scientific authority," and since advocacy of "ID" is obviously a career terminator, only about 10 percent of scientists (many safely retired) have done so. But their number is growing, and the movement is regarded by the scientific establishment as a serious danger.

Since it began in the United States, one McGill University group decided that something must be done to prevent its spread into Canada. They requested a $40,000 federal grant to find ways to prevent ID from "eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada." To McGill's horror, the request has now been turned down on the grounds that it offered no evidence to support the truth of the natural-selection process. No proof is necessary, thundered a McGill spokesman; natural selection is "an established scientific fact."

A government spokeswoman begged, very tentatively, to differ. There are phenomena, she said, "that may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution." After all, the scientific understanding of life "is not static. There's an evolution in the theory of evolution."

You wonder if this notably intrepid woman will go down in history. Like Galileo.

Ted Byfield published a weekly news magazine in western Canada for 30 years and is now general editor of "The Christians," a 12-volume history of Christianity.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Intelligent Design Concept of Irreducible Complexity Stands Up Under Biologist's Research Efforts


Press Release Source: Discovery Institute

Thursday April 6, 2:00 pm ET

Note: This release and all information within it is embargoed by Discovery Institute for use by print and electronic media until 2 p.m. (EDT), Thursday, April 6.

SEATTLE, April 6 /PRNewswire/ -- After several years of claiming that there is no debate about the theory of intelligent design (ID) researchers have published an article bringing the debate to the pages of the latest issue of Science. Three researchers, Jamie Bridgham, Sean Carroll and Joe Thornton claim to have shown how an irreducibly complex system might have arisen as the result of gene duplication and a few point mutational changes.

"This continues the venerable Darwinian tradition of making grandiose claims based on piddling results," said biochemist Michael Behe, who developed the theory of irreducible complexity in his 1996 best-selling book Darwin's Black Box. "There is nothing in the paper that an ID proponent would think was beyond random mutation and natural selection. In other words, it is a straw man."

In a response posted on the Discovery Institute website, ID The Future (www.idthefuture.com ) Behe explains: "The authors (including Christoph Adami in his Science commentary) are conveniently defining 'irreducible complexity' way, way down. I certainly would not classify their system as anywhere near irreducibly complex (IC). The IC systems I discussed in Darwin's Black Box contain multiple, active protein factors. Their 'system,' on the other hand, consists of just a single protein and its ligand. Although in nature the receptor and ligand are part of a larger system that does have a biological function, the piece of that larger system they pick out does not do anything by itself. In other words, the isolated components they work on are not irreducibly complex."

In addition to Behe's response, Discovery's Center for Science & Culture has published an analysis of the research written by molecular biologist Dr. Douglas Axe, philosopher of biology Dr. Paul Nelson, and philosopher of science Dr. Stephen Meyer.

"In the experiment just two amino acid residues were changed, no new components were added, no old components were taken away," added Behe. "The fact that such very modest results are ballyhooed owes more, I strongly suspect, to the antipathy that many scientists feel toward ID than to the intrinsic value of the experiment itself."

"If this is the best that the Darwinian establishment can do after ten years of trying to refute Behe's theory of intelligent design, then neo- Darwinian theory is in a world of hurt," said Dr. Stephen Meyer director of the Center for Science & Culture. "Indeed, Behe's case grows stronger with each successive attempt to test it by experimental refutation."

To arrange interviews with a Center for Science and Culture scientist please contact Robert Crowther at (206) 292-0401 x.107, or rob@discovery.org . For more information visit www.discovery.org/csc/.

Source: Discovery Institute

Evolution education update: April 7, 2006

In Canada, a sudden controversy over funding for research on the influence of antievolutionism; in South Carolina, a "critical analysis" proposal surfaces in a legislative subcommittee; and in Missouri, a "critical analysis" bill is deemed to be effectively dead.


While delivering a talk to the Royal Society of Canada on "Intelligent Design, God & Evolution" on March 29, McGill University's Brian Alters dropped a bombshell. Throughout his talk he had contrasted the contentious state of evolution education in the United States with its relatively sedate counterpart in Canada. But toward the end of his talk, Alters mentioned a research project to study the effects of the popularization of "intelligent design" on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers, for which he had requested funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He revealed that his proposal was rejected, in part because (the SSHRC wrote) of inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent-design theory, was correct."

A story in Nature (April 4, 2006) quoted Alters as saying, "It illustrates how the misunderstanding of evolution and intelligent design can go to all levels of Canadian society," with David Green, director of McGill University's Redpath Natural History Museum, adding, "I was quite surprised that such an opinion could be tendered by a highpowered granting agency." Philip Sadler, a board member of McGill's Evolution Education Research Centre (which Alters directs) and director of science education at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, quipped, "If he was trying to answer the question as to whether all this popularization had had an impact, he just saved the government $40,000 ... He found the evidence without doing the study."

McGill University subsequently asked the SSHRC to review its decision. A spokesperson told the CanWest News Service (April 5, 2006), "There are all kinds of reasons to deny a grant proposal ... We don't want to assume anything," but added, "The theory of evolution is well-established science, while intelligent design is a form of religious belief." Janet Halliwell, the SSHRC's executive vice-president, told CanWest that the "framing" of the committee's comments to Alters left the letter "open to misinterpretation," but suggested that Alters misunderstood the rejection letter and stated that the rejection of the proposal was not due to SSHRC's having "doubts about the theory of evolution." In a subsequent CanWest story (April 6, 2006), however, a few members of the review committee are quoted as expressing a degree of vague skepticism about evolution.

In addition to directing the Evolution Education Research Centre, Alters is the Tomlinson Chair in Science Education, director of the Tomlinson University Science Education Project, and Sir William Dawson Scholar at McGill University. In 2003, he won both the Principal's Prize for Excellence in Teaching and the Faculty of Education Award for Distinguished Teaching. He is the author of several books, including Defending Evolution and the textbook Biology: Understanding Life, both coauthored with Sandra M. Alters, and Teaching Biological Evolution in Higher Education. He testified as an expert witness on science education for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alters was awarded NCSE's "Friend of Darwin" award in 2005, in which year he also became a member of NCSE's board of directors.

For the story in Nature (subscription required), visit:

For the CanWest News Service stories, visit:


A subcommittee of the South Carolina House Committee on Education and Public Works voted 3-2 on April 3, 2006, to approve Senate Bill 114, amended to direct the state board of education to approve only textbooks that "emphasize critical thinking and analysis in each academic content," The State reported (April 4, 2006). Pierce McNair, the chief lobbyist for the state department of education, was quoted as describing the proposal as potentially "confusing to some teachers and districts," adding, "Is he saying there should be critical analysis of all subjects? How can you critically analyze German, or algebra, or keyboarding, for that matter? The language of the bill may not fit the reality of the subject being taught."

Evolution is not explicitly mentioned in the revised bill, and the proponent of the revision, Representative Bob Walker (R-District 38), told The State, "This has nothing to do with intelligent design or creationism." Yet the Associated Press (April 5, 2006) noted that Walker "is a member of the EOC [Education Oversight Committee] and led efforts, along with Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, to incorporate 'critical analysis' into the biology curriculum" -- efforts that were rebuffed by the state board of education in March 2006. Interestingly, S 114 previously served as a vehicle for antievolutionism, when it contained a Fair-authored provision that would have established a South Carolina Science Standards Committee to "determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools"; that provision was removed in early 2005.

Representative Ken Clark (R-District 96), who voted against the revised bill, told The State, "What are the motivations behind it? ... I think it's pretty obvious, given all the talk about intelligent design." And Jim Foster, a spokesperson for the state department of education, told the Associated Press that it was "a way to get around the state board and mandate the rejection of any textbook that doesn't portray evolution as a theory in crisis," adding, "The problem is that there are no mainstream biology textbooks that portray evolution that way, because there is no scientific controversy over evolution." The revised version of the bill will still have to be approved by the full House Committee on Education -- "where scrutiny is likely," commented The State -- and then by a joint conference committee.

For the story in The State, visit:

For the AP story (via the Charleston Post and Courier), visit:

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in South Carolina, visit:


"A new tack for trying to introduce supernatural explanations for the origin of life into Missouri's public school science classes appears dead this year," according to the Kansas City Star (April 2, 2006). The newspaper was referring to House Bill 1266, the so-called Missouri Science Education Act, which if enacted would have provided, "If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount." The chief sponsor of HB 1266 was Representative Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), who in 2003 introduced two bills (HB 911; HB 1722) calling for "intelligent design" to be taught in the Missouri public schools.

Although HB 2006 was passed by a 7-6 vote by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on March 16, 2006, the Star reported the committee's chairwoman (who voted for the bill) as saying that she simply lacked room for HB 1266: committees are permitted to submit only a limited number of bills to the floor. The Star also reported, "The bill was opposed by a wide range of teacher groups and school organizations, and several faith-based groups" and quoted the chief lobbyist for the Missouri affiliate of the National Education Association as expressing concern about the possible economic consequences of HB 1266: "We need to be doing our utmost to increase science literacy so our kids can compete."

For the story in the Kansas City Star, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in Missouri, visit:

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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.


Glenn Branch
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Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

Miller: Intelligent design is not science


Published: April 6, 2006

Kenneth Miller's presentation is the first of two on the topic of evolution vs. intelligent design. Phillip Johnson, a retired professor from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of several books on intelligent design, will offer the opposing view at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Dogwood Forum. Doors open at 6 p.m.


Evolution and intelligent design can be compatible, but the former is science and the latter is not, Kenneth Miller told a packed house at Columbia College last night.

The noted Brown University professor was guest speaker at the first of two college presentations on the national debate about whether both should be addressed in science classrooms.

His presentation filled the college's 182-seat Dogwood Forum. Two other classrooms with video feeds were also crowded with about 100 people.

After his speech, Miller responded to a barrage of questions from the enthusiastic crowd.

The event was part of the college's Civic Engagement Project, an effort to address issues of public concern to the campus and community through speeches or films.

Intelligent design proposes that the origin of life and certain features of the natural world can be attributed to a divine source. In recent months, the topic has been passionately debated both nationally and locally.

Backers of intelligent design argue that it should be included as an alternative to evolution in science instruction.

But religion is behind the national movement to bring intelligent design into science classrooms, said Miller — among recognized scientists who oppose teaching intelligent design on grounds that it is not science.

"This is really a cultural war, more so than a scientific controversy," he said.

Intelligent design, which assumes the existence of a supernatural force, doesn't fit science's definition of "seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world," he said.

"If you use scripture as science, you're not elevating scripture, you're profaning it," said Miller, himself a Catholic.

A cell biologist, he studies the structure and function of biological membranes. He is the author of several high school biology text book used at schools throughout the country.

He has also delved into the evolution and intelligent design controversy, writing "Finding Darwin's God," a book that defends evolution and challenges intelligent design arguments.

Among ID supporters' claims is that there is no fossil evidence for evolution, including that of aquatic creatures evolving into land mammals.

But in 1992, Miller pointed out, anthropologist Johannes Thewissen discovered in Pakistan fossils of an Ambulocetus Natans, which literally means "walking whale that swims."

A diagram Miller showed on a screen pictured the skeleton of an animal with a smaller, fatter head than a crocodile, short front legs and longer back legs.

Scientists have dug further and found other examples of creatures in between a whale and a land mammal, he said.

Miller was also a key witness in a landmark Pennsylvania lawsuit involving parents who sued the the Dover Area School District board for mandating that intelligent design be taught.

The judge sided with evolution proponents, saying that intelligent design is too close to religion and its predecessor — creationism — and violates the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

This case represents a serious challenge to intelligent design proponents, who argue that teachers should broach the idea in order to be fair to both sides.

Miller said to allow this, society would have to change the definition of science and open the science classroom to other nonscientific topics, such as astrology.

Instead, Miller suggested that people keep science and ideas of the supernatural separate.

After all, evolution is not inherently atheistic, he said.

"Even what we define as evolution can fit in the envelope of God's plan," he said.

Updated: Latest Fossil Find "No Threat" To Theory of Intelligent Design


"This latest fossil find poses no threat to intelligent design." So says Discovery Institute senior fellow and leading intelligent design theorist Dr. William Dembski, adding:

"Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred. In particular, it questions whether purposeless material processes--as opposed to intelligence--can create biological complexity and diversity."

The journal Nature is making news by publishing a report today that a group of researchers claim to have uncovered the skeleton of a 375-million-year-old fish in the Canadian Arctic that they believe is a missing link in the evolution of some fishes to becoming land walking vertebrates. The fish has been named Tiktaalik roseae, meaning "large shallow water fish."

Even though this find does not challenge intelligent design, there may be good reasons to be skeptical about it.

These fish are not neccesarily intermediates, explain Discovery Institute scientists I queried about the find. Tiktaalik roseae is one of a set of lobe-finned fishes that include very curious mosaics--these fishes have advanced fully formed characteristics of several different groups. They are not intermediates in the sense that have half-fish/half-tetrapod characteristics. Rather, they have a combination of tetrapod-like features and fish-like features. Paleontologists refer to such organisms as mosaics rather than intermediates.

The anatomical characters of Tiktaalik and similar taxa were "coded" and analyzed by a computer program. Because of the presence of some advanced characters, the analysis placed Tiktaalik next to a group of tetrapod-like fishes. What is clear is that forms like Tiktaalik are a melange of primitive and more developed features. It is not clear whether they are true transitional forms.

According to DI Fellows a number of these fishes—Ichthyostega, Elpistostege, Panderichthys—have been hailed in the past as the "missing link." Maybe one is a missing link; maybe none are. What remains unexplained is how natural selection and random mutation could produce the many novel physiological characteristics that arise in true tetrapods.

Posted by Robert Crowther on April 6, 2006 02:41 PM | Permalink


Robert L. Park Friday, 7 Apr 06 Washington, DC

Every attempt to require public schools to teach alternatives to evolution has emphasized the "gaps" in Darwin's theory. In 1859, when Darwin published "The Origin of Species," it was all gaps. It was Darwin's theory that gave organization to the collecting of fossils, creating the science of paleontology. The only surprise is how complete the fossil record has gotten in only 150 years. Two reports in yesterday's issue of Nature, beautifully bridged a remaining gap. Fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish were found in the Canadian arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole. It was a fish with a swivel head, a wrist and an elbow, clearly a transition between fish and land-dwelling animals. It seems to be a perfect candidate for the hypothesized intermediate species.

It was a lousy day for intelligent design, which has had a lot of bad days lately. Even as a missing link showed up on the pages of Nature, a report in Science from the University of Oregon showed how a new hormone-receptor pair evolved. An existing molecule, created for a different role, was recruited to do the new job. The lead author, Joseph Thornton, believes this may be common in the evolution of complex systems. Hormone-receptor pairs would seem to be an example of what intelligent-design guru Michael Behe calls "irreducible complexity" (ID). One without the other would be useless. However, Behe scoffed to the NY Times that Hormone-receptor pairs aren't really ID. Either he's still a little cranky from the Dover trial, or he just prefers miracles http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn102105.html.

According to yesterday's Wash Post, Israeli and U.S. scientists suggest that when Jesus walked on water he may have just been on floating ice from a cold snap. I don't know who these scientists are, but is this what scientists do? Let's see, he might also have been walking on a submerged UFO. Or maybe it didn't happen.

Florida is considering exempting them from taxes. Could you leave your nativity scene up all year round and deduct it?

Two months ago, NASA climate scientist James Hansen was pressured to cool it http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn021006.html. The White House appointee in NASA public relations who pressured him has since been fired for inflating his resume. Michael Griffin has now issued a new policy allowing NASA scientists to speak their minds as long as they give their bosses notice. Yesterday, however, a Wash Post story reported that other scientists doing climate research for the government complain that they're also being muzzled by the Bush administration.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org

Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House


By Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 6, 2006; A27

Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.

"There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."

Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water supply.

Once in 2002, Milly said, Interior officials declined to issue a news release on grounds that it would cause "great problems with the department." In November 2005, they agreed to issue a release on a different climate-related paper, Milly said, but "purged key words from the releases, including 'global warming,' 'warming climate' and 'climate change.' "

Administration officials said they are following long-standing policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.

"We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or broadcast."

Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts. Tans and others disregarded that advice.

None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from $241 million in 2004.

The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the crowd.

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."

"I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."

NOAA scientists, however, cite repeated instances in which the administration played down the threat of climate change in their documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy.

In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report had several references to global warming, including "Mass bleaching . . . affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated with global change."

A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several others mentioning climate change.

NOAA has yet to release the report on coral bleaching. James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report because "its scientific basis was so inadequate." Now that it is revised, he said, he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to approve it. "I just did not think it was ready for prime time," Mahoney said. "It was not just about climate change -- there were a lot of things."

On other occasions, Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. Konrad Steffen directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA-university institute with a $40 million annual budget. Steffen studies the Greenland ice sheet, and when his work was cited last spring in a major international report on climate change in the Arctic, he and another NOAA lab director from Alaska received a call from Mahoney in which he told them not to give reporters their opinions on global warming.

Steffen said that he told him that although Mahoney has considerable leverage as "the person in command for all research money in NOAA . . . I was not backing down."

Mahoney said he had "no recollection" of the conversation, which took place in a conference call. "It's virtually inconceivable that I would have called him about this," Mahoney said, though he added: "For those who are government employees, our position is they should not typically render a policy view."

Tans, whose interviews with the BBC crew were monitored by Laborde, said Laborde has not tried to interfere with the interviews. But Tans said he did not understand why he now needs an official "minder" from Washington to observe his discussions with the media. "It used to be we could say, 'Okay, you're welcome to come in, let's talk,' " he said. "There was never anything of having to ask permission of anybody."

The need for clearance from Washington, several NOAA scientists said, amounts to a "pocket veto" allowing administration officials to block interviews by not giving permission in time for journalists' deadlines.

Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer's colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only "a partial sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate change.

"American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we're doing," he said.

Researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

Study, in a First, Explains Evolution's Molecular Advance



By reconstructing ancient genes from long-extinct animals, scientists have for the first time demonstrated the step-by-step progression of how evolution created a new piece of molecular machinery by reusing and modifying existing parts.

The researchers say the findings, published today in the journal Science, offer a counterargument to doubters of evolution who question how a progression of small changes could produce the intricate mechanisms found in living cells.

"The evolution of complexity is a longstanding issue in evolutionary biology," said Joseph W. Thornton, professor of biology at the University of Oregon and lead author of the paper. "We wanted to understand how this system evolved at the molecular level. There's no scientific controversy over whether this system evolved. The question for scientists is how it evolved, and that's what our study showed."

Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, "If it would be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Discoveries like that announced this week of a fish with limblike fins have filled in the transitions between species. New molecular biology techniques let scientists begin to reconstruct how the processes inside a cell evolved over millions of years.

Dr. Thornton's experiments focused on two hormone receptors. One is a component of stress response systems. The other, while similar in shape, takes part in different biological processes, including kidney function in higher animals.

Hormones and hormone receptors are protein molecules that act like pairs of keys and locks. Hormones fit into specific receptors, and that attachment sends a signal to turn on — or turn off — cell functions. The matching of hormones and receptors led to the question of how new hormone-and-receptor pairs evolved, as one without the other would appear to be useless.

The researchers found the modern equivalent of the stress hormone receptor in lampreys and hagfish, two surviving jawless primitive species. The team also found two modern equivalents of the receptor in skate, a fish related to sharks.

After looking at the genes that produced them, and comparing the genes' similarities and differences among the genes, the scientists concluded that all descended from a single common gene 450 million years ago, before animals emerged from oceans onto land, before the evolution of bones.

The team recreated the ancestral receptor in the laboratory and found that it could bind to the kidney regulating hormone, aldosterone and the stress hormone, cortisol.

Thus, it turned out that the receptor for aldosterone existed before aldosterone. Aldosterone is found just in land animals, which appeared tens of millions of years later.

"It had a different function and was exploited to take part in a new complex system when the hormone came on the scene," Dr. Thornton said.

What happened was that a glitch produced two copies of the receptor gene in the animal's DNA, a not-uncommon occurrence in evolution. Then, for reasons not understood, two major mutations made one receptor sensitive just to cortisol, leading to the modern version of the stress hormone receptor. The other receptor became specialized for kidney regulation.

Dr. Thornton said the experiments showed how evolution could and did innovate functions over time. "I think this is likely to be a very common theme in how complex molecular systems evolved," he said.

Christoph Adami, a professor of life sciences at the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, Calif. who wrote an accompanying commentary in Science, said the research showed how evolution "takes advantage of lucky circumstances and builds upon them."

Dr. Thornton said the experiment refutes the notion of "irreducible complexity" put forward by Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University.

Dr. Behe, a main advocate of intelligent design, the theory that life is so complicated that the best explanation is that it was designed by an intelligent being, has compared an irreducibly complex system to a mousetrap. Take away any piece, and the mousetrap fails to catch mice. Such all-or-none systems could not have arisen with incremental changes, Dr. Behe has argued.

Dr. Thornton said the key-and-lock mechanism of a hormone-receptor pair was "an elegant exemplar of a system that has been called irreducibly complex."

"Of course," he added, "our findings show that it is not irreducibly complex."

Dr. Behe described the results as "piddling." He wondered whether the receptors with the intermediate mutations would be harmful to the survival of the organisms and said a two-component hormone-receptor pair was too simple to be considered irreducibly complex. He said such a system would require at least three pieces and perform some specific function to fit his notion of irreducibly complex.

What Dr. Thornton has shown, Dr. Behe said, falls within with incremental changes that he allows evolutionary processes can cause.

"Even if this works, and they haven't shown that it does," Dr. Behe said, "I wouldn't have a problem with that. It doesn't really show that much."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Iowa Attorney General Sues "See Clearly" Marketers for Fraud


Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The See Clearly Method is claimed to enable people to see more clearly; eliminate or reduce nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, poor vision due to aging and eyestrain; strengthen the eye muscles; eliminate or reduce the need for glasses and contacts; and prevent further deterioration of vision. There is no logical reason to believe that any of these claims is true [1]. Moreover, the Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc. (VIT), which markets the product, has an unsatisfactory record with the Better Business Bureau due to "a pattern of complaints" and "failing to correct the underlying reason for the complaints."[2]

The program, which costs about $300, includes manuals, charts, and tapes or CDs that demonstrate eye exercises and other techniques. The exercises and "techniques" included focusing eyes using special charts or props, facing a bright light with eyes closed at a distance of a few inches, covering eyes with hands for sustained periods, and applying hot and cold wash cloths over closed eyes. The method is based in part on the work of William H. Bates, M.D., whose ideas have been dismissed by mainstream eye-care professionals for decades [1].

Attorney General Sues

In August 2005, the Iowa Attorney General filed a lawsuit accusing VIT and four of its officers of fraud [3]. According to the suit:

The method was advertised as safe, easy, and even fun, without disclosing that some of the primary eye exercises could produce headaches, and did in fact produce headaches in some users.

Advertisements featured testimonials from people with undisclosed connections to the company.

Ads continued to use "no more glasses" testimonials, even after the people making such claims had quit using the product and were wearing glasses most of the time.

Many VIT repesentatives, including several "See Clearly Method Consultants" who supposedly advised consumers about how to use the method to best advantage, continued to need corrective lenses even after long periods of involvement with VIT.

VIT claimed that it received letters every day from satisfied consumers who had enjoyed tremendous improvement in their vision, but, in fact, positive letters were relatively scarce and were far outnumbered by letters from unhappy customers.

The company also made it too difficult for dissatisfied purchasers to get refunds [4].

Temporary Injunction Issued

In February 2006, VIT agreen to a stipulated temporary injunction that will be in force while the fraud lawsuit proceeds. The injunction requires VIT to:

Disclose to prospective buyers that some users may experience headaches as a result of the eye exercises. (The suit alleges that some consumers reported severe headaches from doing the exercises, but VIT did not inform consumers of that possibility.)

Disclose that it recommends devoting a minimum of 30 minutes per day to the exercises for best results. (The lawsuit alleges that VIT represented that exercises were easy and required only "minutes a day" when in fact it recommended at least half an hour per day.)

Change several procedures in how it handles requests by consumers trying to take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee. (The lawsuit alleges that customers trying to call the company to arrange to return See Clearly kits were met with various obstacles, including making repeated phone calls without being able to reach a company representative, leaving messages but not receiving a return call, and being left on hold for half an hour or more.)

Refrain from making one-sided references to customer satisfaction without providing a balanced picture of consumer response. (The lawsuit alleges that in one 54-day sampling of actual consumer contacts, VIT received 6 favorable contacts and 49 complaint letters.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has said:

This injunction doesn't resolve the most fundamental problems we alleged, including whether the See Clearly Method really works as claimed, and whether VIT can demonstrate a reasonable basis for its claims, as it is required to do. Those basic issues will be resolved at trial. Meanwhile, however, this injunction reins-in some of the specific consumer abuses we alleged in the suit - and it should make it much easier for people to obtain refunds under the company's 30-day refund policy if they are not satisfied with the program [5].

The trial related to claims for the product is scheduled in September.


Worrall RS and others. Eye-related quackery . Quackwatch, April 3, 2006.

BBB reliability report: Vision Improvement Technologies . Better Business Bureau of Greater Iowa, Quad Cities, & Siouxland Region, April 3, 2006.

Miller sues Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc . Iowa Attorney General news release, Aug 10, 2005.

Complaint .

Stipulated temporary injunction . State of Iowa ex rel. Thomas J. Miller v. Vision Improvement Techologis, Cliff Rose, David E. Sykes, Davis W. Muris, and Gary Korf. Iowa District Court for Polk County, Case No. CE 51687, filed Feb 22, 2006.

Temporary Injunction Issued Against"See Clearly Method" Company—Vision Improvement Technologies: While a consumer fraud case proceeds, the agreed-upon injunction restricts marketing claims by the Fairfield company—and requires timely handling of requests by consumers trying to take advantage of the company's 30-day money-back guarantee. Iowa AG press release, Feb 23, 2006.

This article was posted on April 3, 2006.

Chiropractor Claims He Can Go Back in Time


COLUMBUS, Ohio - A chiropractor who claims he can treat anyone by reaching back in time to when an injury occurred has attracted the attention of state regulators.

The Ohio State Chiropractic Board, in a notice of hearing, has accused James Burda of Athens of being "unable to practice chiropractic according to acceptable and prevailing standards of care due to mental illness, specifically, Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type."

Burda denied that he is mentally ill. He said he possesses a skill he discovered by accident while driving six years ago. "My foot hurt and, knowing anatomy, I went ahead and I told it to realign and my pain went away," Burda said Thursday.

Burda calls his treatment "Bahlaqeem." "It is a made-up word and, to my knowledge, has no known meaning except for this intended purpose. It does, however, have a soothing vibrational influence and contains the very special number of nine letters," Burda's Web site says.

The board alleges in three counts against Burda that the treatment is unacceptable and constitutes "willful and gross malpractice." Burda has until May 1 to request a hearing. The board can levy penalties ranging from a reprimand to revoking his license to practice, said Kelly Caudill, the board's executive director.

Caudill said she could not discuss the board's allegations while the investigation continues and could not comment on whether any of Burda's patients had complained. She said the board began the investigation when it learned of Burda's Web site. Burda said he likely will seek a hearing.

Burda said he charges nothing for his first "visit," usually by phone or Internet, and subsequent treatments are $60.

"All treatments are satisfaction-guaranteed. Treatment is always done before payment is made," Burda said, adding that one patient "just wasn't satisfied, and I tore up her check.

The Web site describes the treatment as "a long-distance healing service (not a product) to help increase the quality of your life that can be performed in the privacy of your home or other personal space. There is no need to come to my office."

The treatment is not telepathic because the patient does not have to believe in what he's doing, Burda said. He has treated hundreds of patients and reports nine out of 10 patients are satisfied, he said. While he knows of no other people who have his particular skill, he said lawmakers and regulators should allow alternative forms of treatment for the patients who seek them.

"People who are in need cannot go to these people because they are not allowed to practice. This is terrible," Burda said.

Two New Discoveries Answer Big Questions In Evolution Theory



April 7, 2006; Page B1

Even as the evolution wars rage, on school boards and in courtrooms, biologists continue to accumulate empirical data supporting Darwinian theory. Two extraordinary discoveries announced this week should go a long way to providing even more of the evidence that critics of evolution say is lacking.

One study produced what biblical literalists have been demanding ever since Darwin -- the iconic "missing links." If species evolve, they ask, with one segueing into another, where are the transition fossils, those man-ape or reptile-mammal creatures that evolution posits?

In yesterday's issue of Nature, paleontologists unveiled an answer: well-preserved fossils of a previously unknown fish that was on its way to evolving into a four-limbed land-dweller. It had a jaw, fins and scales like a fish, but a skull, neck, ribs and pectoral fin like the earliest limbed animals, called tetrapods.

Discovered in 2004 on Canada's Ellesmere Island by Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the 375-million-year-old Tiktaalik roseae "blurs the boundary between fish and land animals," said Prof. Shubin. It "is both fish and tetrapod," showing how life made the transition to land, evolving four limbs from fins.

Previously known fossils of ancient "lobe-finned fish" also seem poised between fish and tetrapods, with pectoral fins containing precursors of the humerus, radius and ulna of tetrapod armbones. But Tiktaalik (an Inuit word for shallow-water fish) makes a stronger case. Its pectoral fin still has thin, fish-like bones, but also contains the three armbones-to-be as well as a wrist-like structure and a hand-like one. The shoulder and elbow could bend, and the proto-wrist could extend, allowing the fin to support the body and propel it on land. "Tiktaalik shows us the stages in the evolution of the tetrapod body plan," says Dr. Daeschler.

Fossils from 10 Tiktaaliks were embedded in rock deposited by a meandering stream system, suggesting where that momentous step occurred.

But creationists, many of whose Web sites declare "there are no transitional forms," are not easily persuaded. John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, Calif., says Tiktaalik "is just a variety of fish. There is still a huge gap [between fish and land-dwellers] that has to be filled."

Another discovery addresses something Darwin himself recognized could doom his theory: the existence of a complex organ that couldn't have "formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications," he wrote in 1859.

The intelligent-design movement, which challenges teaching evolution, makes this the centerpiece of its attack. It insists that components of complex structures, such as the eye, are useless on their own and so couldn't have evolved independently, an idea called irreducible complexity.

Because only functional structures survive, they say, useless components such as parts of an eye couldn't lie around for eons waiting for dumb luck to assemble them into a (finally) functional unit. These complex structures therefore must have been assembled by a designer.

One such complex structure is a hormone and its receptor. Just as a keyhole has no use without a key and vice versa, a hormone is useless without a receptor that lets it dock with a cell, and a receptor serves no purpose without hormones. Catch-22: Neither component could survive without the other, yet it strains credulity to suppose that both structures popped onto the evolutionary scene simultaneously.

To investigate this puzzle, biologists led by Joseph Thornton of the University of Oregon reconstructed an ancestral receptor. They first analyzed receptors for steroid hormones in 59 species, including primitive jawless fish and skates. Then, in a process called gene resurrection, they worked backward to infer what the gene for the ancestral receptor was, and actually made the receptor in the lab: a molecule that last existed on earth 450 million years ago.

Testing various hormones on the ancestral receptor, the scientists found that both aldosterone and another one fit. The ancestral receptor, therefore, was fully employed acting as the keyhole for this second hormone. When aldosterone appeared on the scene by random mutation, it co-opted the existing receptor, the researchers conclude in today's issue of Science.

The findings, says Christoph Adami of the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, Claremont, Calif., "solidly refute" ID.

But refutation is in the eye of the beholder. No scientific discovery will end the evolution wars. For one thing, adherents of ID call the fact that scientists are studying reducible-complexity at all a victory for their side. "We're delighted they're engaging in a debate that they say doesn't exist," says Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which pushes ID. Moreover, he says, the hormone-receptor system is not really irreducibly complex.

The trouble for ID is that this isn't the first study to show, step by step, how complex structures could have evolved. Recent experiments have shown how irreducibly complex structures such as bacterial flagella and the lens of an eye could have evolved by co-opting existing structures just as the hormone did. More such research is in the pipeline.

• You can email me at sciencejournal@wsj.com.

Controversial Findings Help Explain Evolution of Life


Thu Apr 6 16:23:30 2006 Pacific Time

CORVALLIS, Ore., April 6 (AScribe Newswire) -- Chemists at Oregon State University have pioneered a controversial theory about how supposedly-stable DNA bases can be pushed into a "dark state" in which they are highly vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet radiation - an idea that has challenged some of the most basic concepts of modern biochemistry.

The theory, not long ago dismissed as impossible by much of the science community, has just in recent months begun to garner increasing interest, and is being confirmed by other studies.

And though it began as scientific heresy, the findings could help explain how the presence of water was the key to the evolution of life on Earth, making it possible for life to emerge from what was once a hostile and unforgiving primordial soup of chemicals and radiation.

More and more research is being focused on this area since a study proving the existence of this "dark state" was published by OSU researchers in the Journal of Physical Chemistry - even though other journals had repeatedly rejected the findings because they were too radical.

"The findings of our studies did not fit most people's preconceived notions about how DNA molecules work, so they assumed we had to be wrong," said Wei Kong, an OSU professor of chemistry. "The critics seemed very sure of themselves, and we had a lot of sleepless nights."

"But just since last summer this has been a key point of discussion at several conferences and caused quite an excitement, as people see the data," Kong said. "Among other things, it helps to explain how water, or something else serving the same role, could have helped lead to the evolution of life."

The core of the debate, Kong said, relates to the behavior of the nucleic acid bases - adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine - that as A-T and G-C base pairs form DNA and ultimately become the blueprint for all living things. One of the most basic premises of biochemistry is that these nucleic acid bases are very stable, as they would have to be to prevent rampant mutations and make an organized genetic structure possible.

But studies at OSU, which were done with highly sophisticated electron spectroscopy, showed that the alleged stability of the nucleic acid bases in DNA is largely a myth.

"In their biological form, surrounded by other hydrogen-bonded bases, it's true that the nucleic acids which make up DNA are stable," Kong said. "But we found that living things, in their totality, provide an environment which creates that stability, through attachments within base pairs and/or with neighboring bases. These attachments allow damaging photonic energy to be released as heat. But a DNA base as an isolated molecule, just by itself, does not have that stability."

In a compelling experiment, OSU scientists probed the fate of nucleic acid bases after laser irradiation in the ultraviolet range. They found that the molecules - which react extraordinarily fast to ultraviolet light insults - could by themselves spend 20-300 nanoseconds in an unstable, vibrating "dark state" in which they could easily mutate and not fully recover from photonic damage.

The lifetime of the dark state is not long - a nanosecond is one billionth of a second. But it's more than enough time for DNA mutations to happen, Kong said. And the existence of this dark state raised questions about how life ever could have begun, given that the genetic carriers were so easily mutated or destroyed during this very brief but very vulnerable time.

"When the bases of DNA were first being formed billions of years ago, the atmosphere was actually quite hostile," Kong said. "It was a period prior to any protective ozone layer on Earth and the ultraviolet radiation was very strong. So if primordial DNA bases were forced into this vulnerable dark state, they should have incurred large amounts of photochemical damage that would have made the very survival of these bases difficult, let alone further evolution of life."

Except for one other finding, that is.

According to OSU research, the "dark state" essentially disappears in the presence of water. So if water were present, the earliest DNA bases would have been able to survive and eventually help form the basis for ever-more-complex life forms.

"In modern biological forms, it's not essential that water be present for DNA to have stability," Kong said. "There are other mechanisms that now exist in biology to accomplish that, and complex biological processes are possible that don't always require water. But in its most basic form, we now know that DNA bases are not stable and they are highly vulnerable to UV-induced damage."

The findings suggest, Kong said, how water could have been an absolutely essential compound to allow early DNA bases to remain stable, resist mutation, and ultimately allow for the evolution of life.

OSU researchers were the first to propose the "dark state" model and prove its existence.

"What this is really telling us is that life is a unified process," Kong said. "It's not just a group of DNA bases, but it's also the physical environment in which they exist. Later on, as life became more evolved, there were other ways to achieve genetic stability. But at first, it simply may not have been possible without water."


Wei Kong, 541-737-6714

David Stauth, OSU Communications, 541-737-0787

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fossil Fish Sheds Light on Transition


By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer Wed Apr 5, 7:10 PM ET

NEW YORK - Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals.

Scientists have long known that fish evolved into the first creatures on land with four legs and backbones more than 365 million years ago, but they've had precious little fossil evidence to document how it happened.

The new find of several specimens looks more like a land-dweller than the few other fossil fish known from the transitional period, and researchers speculate that it may have taken brief excursions out of the water.

"It sort of blurs the distinction between fish and land-living animals," said one of its discoverers, paleontologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago.

Experts said the discovery, with its unusually well-preserved and complete skeletons, reveals significant new information about how the water-to-land evolution took place.

"It's an important new contribution to (understanding) a very, very important transition in the history of life," said Robert Carroll of McGill University in Montreal.

The new find includes specimens, 4 to 9 feet long, found on Ellesmere Island, which lies north of the Arctic Circle in Canada. It is reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by Shubin, Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and Farish A. Jenkins Jr. of Harvard.

Some 375 million years ago, the creature looked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It swam in shallow, gently meandering streams in what was then a subtropical climate, researchers say. A meat-eater, it lived mostly in water.

Yet, its front fins had bones that correspond to a shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and a primitive version of a wrist, Shubin said. From the shoulder to the wrist area, "it basically looks like a scale-covered arm," he said.

"Here's a creature that has a fin that can do push-ups," he said. "This is clearly an animal that is able to support itself on the ground," probably both in very shallow water and for brief excursions on dry land. On land, it apparently moved like a seal, he said.

It might have pulled itself onto stream banks, perhaps moving from one wet area to another, and even crawled across logs in swamps, said Daeschler.

The researchers have not yet dug up any remains from the hind end of the creature's body, so they don't know exactly what the hind fins and tail might have looked like.

The creature was dubbed Tiktaalik (pronounced "tic-TAH-lick") roseae, and also had the crocodile-shaped head of early amphibians, with eyes on the top rather than the side. Unlike other fish, it could move its head independently of its shoulders like a land animal. The back of its head also had features like those of land-dwellers. It probably had lungs as well as gills, and it had overlapping ribs that could be used to support the body against gravity, Shubin said.

Yet, the creature's jaws and snout were still very fishlike, showing that "evolution proceeds slowly; it proceeds in a mosaic pattern with some elements changing while others stay the same," Daeschler said.

If one considers adaptation as a process of collecting tools to live in a new environment, the new finding offers "a snapshot of the toolkit at this particular point in this evolutionary transition," Daeschler said.

In fact, much of its value comes from this insight into the order in which those tools appeared in fish, said Jennifer Clack of Cambridge University, an expert unconnected with the study.

Knowing that detail about the transition from fish to land-dweller, she said, "might help us to unravel why it happened at all. Why did creatures come out of the water and get legs and walk away?"

It's impossible to tell if Tiktaalik was a direct ancestor of land vertebrates, she said, but if a scientist set out to design a plausible candidate, "you'd probably come up with something like this."

Shubin said the researchers plan to return to the small rocky outcropping that yielded the fossils and recover more material. "We've really only begun to sort of crack that spot," he said.

The site is in Nunavut Territory, and "Tiktaalik" in the creature's name comes from the traditional language used in the area. It refers to a large freshwater fish seen in the shallows.

On the Net:


A proof of angels and demons…


Author Ker Than

In a letter to his friend and confidant Asa Gray in 1860, Charles Darwin famously wrote:

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."

The creature Darwin was referring to is a parasitic wasp that paralyzes its prey (a living caterpillar or other insect) and then lays its eggs inside their stilled bodies so hatching larvae will have fresh meat to feed on.

For Darwin, Nature's rampant cruelty and blindness to suffering were strikes against the possibility of creation by a God of infinite love. And he was right in thinking so, says Robert Newman, an intelligent design proponent and a contributing writer for the Discovery Institute, the Christian think-tank that masterminds the ID movement.

Instead, Newman thinks there is another explanation: angels, specifically "bad angels," aka demons.

In an article entitled "Rumors of Angels: Using ID to Detect Malevolent Spiritual Agents," uncovered by Nick Matzke over at The Panda's Thumb, Newman writes:

"Between the actions of an infinite, eternal, omniscient being and those of us lowly humans, could we find evidence for the actions of intermediate beings such as angels? The works of good angels might easily be mistaken for those of God, except that the quality might not be up to the divine standard. And design that appears to us to be malevolent might be the work of sinful beings above our level–bad angels, demons, or Satan."

Of course, humans might be mistaken in considering Ichneumonidae to be malevolent, Newman writes, because "After all, many of the insects that are killed by the Ichneumonidae are pests to human farmers."

Newman believes that if scientists weren't so quick to dismiss the existence of angels, then they would have explanations for otherwise puzzling (at least from a biblical viewpoint) natural phenomena. In addition to explaining the behavior of parasitic wasp, bad angels might also be responsible for diseases such as AIDS and Ebola.

If scientists were to look closely, they might also find examples of the handiwork of "good angels."

One such example, Newman says, is the famous panda's thumb. In addition to their five fingers, pandas have an opposable "thumb" that they use to grasp and manipulate bamboo. But unlike the specialized thumbs of humans, a panda's thumb is made by enlarging a few bones that form the wrist in other species and rerouting some muscles.

This, as the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, is not good design, but it would be expected of evolution by natural selection, a process that can't create from scratch but that must work with the resources that are available.

But again, Newman has an alternative explanation. Assuming that the panda's thumb is bad design (something that he isn't fully convinced of), "may it not be the work of genetic manipulation by angels, who are constrained by history to work with what is available in the ancestral panda lineage, unlike an omniscient, omnipotent God making a new design from scratch?"

Newman's article is worth a read if you're curious to see how ID proponents twist facts to justify their erroneous conclusions. In the section about AIDS, for example, Newman gives a fairly accurate description of how the HIV virus infects its host cell (by converting its RNA to DNA and then inserting into the genome of its human host cell) and spreads and points out how AIDS has killed tens of millions of people, but his only link to angels (or demons in this case) is this line: "Fiendishly clever, don't you think?" He then does a similar thing with Ebola.

The article would have made a good ID parody or April Fools joke, which is what I initially thought it was, except that Newman is serious.

The article is long (almost 5,000 words), but once I started reading, I couldn't stop. It's like watching a conman in action or reading the hallucinogenic ravings of a schizophrenic. You're disgusted and repelled, but fascinated at the same time.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 4th, 2006 at 12:21 am and is filed under Animal World , Human Biology . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response , or trackback from your own site.

Baylor denies tenure to professor


Updated Monday, April 03, 2006

From wire reports

Baylor University has denied tenure to a professor who has actively supported efforts to have "Intelligent Design" taught in public schools, Baptist Press (BP) has reported.

Francis Beckwith, associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies and associate professor of church-state studies, was notified March 24 he would not be granted tenure, BP reported March 31. The report did not cite a source and said neither Beckwith nor Baylor officials would comment.

"My case is currently in appeal, and I am cautiously optimistic about my prospects," Beckwith told BP. "Thus, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the tenure process at this time.

"My hope, of course, is that the appeal will be successful and that I will remain at Baylor, an institution at which my wife and I have forged life-long friendships with colleagues, students and their families."

BP said the denial of tenure prompted an extensive article by the editor of First Things, a journal published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, led by Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus.

Whereas Baylor had been "serious about trying to become the premier Christian research university in America," First Things editor Joseph Bottum wrote March 27, "Today, the plan is in tatters, and Baylor has apparently decided to sink back into its diminished role as a not terribly distinguished regional school."

Lori Fogleman, director of media relations at the Waco, Texas, campus, told Baptist Press that tenure decisions are confidential personnel matters and it is the university's policy not to discuss them publicly. She also responded to Bottum's assessment of Baylor as an academic institution on a downward spiral.

"As far as the First Things article goes, we're aware of it but obviously we don't agree with the writer's conclusion," Fogleman said. "Baylor 2012 is still very much on track, and while the writer has a right obviously to express his own opinion, we don't agree with his conclusions."

Beckwith, who is president-elect of the 4,000-member Evangelical Theological Society, has been the subject of controversy on the Baylor campus before.

In September 2003, 29 members of the J.M. Dawson family have called on Baylor University to remove the associate director of the institute that bears Dawson's name, according to a report in the Texas Baptist Standard.

In an open letter dated Sept. 11, Dawson family members question Beckwith's appointment as associate director of Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Dawson was the author of the 1948 book, "Separate Church and State Now" and was first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington.

Two of Beckwith's colleagues said the protest was misguided, affirmed Beckwith's qualifications and championed Baylor's right to select a diverse faculty.

The Dawson family letter accused Beckwith of holding church-state positions contrary to the strong stand for separation advocated by J.M. Dawson.

"We are troubled because Dr. Beckwith is a fellow of the Discovery Institute. The activities of this organization are widely recognized in the academic community as engaging in political activities that contravene the fundamental principle of the separation of church and state for which J.M. Dawson stood," the letter says.

At the time, Beckwith said he was "surprised and saddened that the descendants of J.M. Dawson would invoke his name as an authority in their request that Baylor University take action that is contrary to the academic and religious liberty that ... Dawson stood for."

"I am a strong proponent of the separation of church and state as well as religious liberty, though in a free society such as ours, citizens of goodwill will differ on how to understand these principles in the 21st century, an era nearly a half-century removed from the time J.M. Dawson published the bulk of his work," he said.

'South Park'-Scientology skirmish goes up a notch


Liz Smith
Originally published April 4, 2006

GEE, Paramount Studios must be shaking in its boots. Thousands of South Park fans have vowed they won't go see Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. (They think Tom and his sensitive-to-criticism Scientology buds are messing with South Park.) I love it. An incensed niche audience for a cable TV cartoon is really going to matter?

But here's what I love even more -- how interesting is it that Tom Cruise was in the midst of a very similar spate of "bad publicity" just before the release of War of the Worlds? You remember the couch-jumping and Katie Holmes-mauling and Matt Lauer-shouting antics. Not to mention dissing sweet Brooke Shields. After that, everybody said War of the Worlds would suffer. No way. The science-fiction flick was a smash. Now Tom, his religion and his private life, are all on the grill again. His name and the title of his film have been omnipresent. He needn't do a damn thing PR wise for MI. We all know it's coming. And most of us will buy tickets. Watch Tom's action thriller go through the roof. Come rain or come shine, Tom's movie audience is super-loyal.

Could it be Tom actually engineers these little scandals as a way of hyping his films and also generating sympathy among his fans? Of course not! But cynics may think so.

Also, by the time MI is released in June, Tom will be the father of a new baby. Let's see his detractors try to make unpleasant hay out of that!

[Tribune Media Services]

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