NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 August 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Peer-Review, Intelligent Design, and John Derbyshire's New Bumper Sticker (Part II)


In Part I, I responded to John Derbyshire's points about ID and peer-review. Part II will rebut some of the false claims on the TalkOrigins webpage cited by Mr. Derbyshire. I will finish this post with Part III later this week.

Firstly, the TalkOrigins webpage claims there should be more pro-ID peer-reviewed papers "especially considering the long history and generous funding of the movement." This statement is highly ironic! The money available for ID research is dwarfed by evolution-funding. Tens of millions of dollars in grants are given to evolution research each year. Because Darwinists hold the purse-strings, design theorists have little-to-no chance of obtaining an NSF grant to explicitly investigate ID. Indeed, the NCSE got over $450,000 from the NSF just to design a pro-evolution-science/theology website! The comparison cited by Mr. Derbyshire is completely backwards.

Moreover, the comparison falsely portrays ID proponents as if they do not do research. The Research Fellowship Program has been by far the single largest program expense of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. From 1996-2005, total expenditures of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture were approximately $9.8 million. Direct expenditures on research fellowships accounted for approximately $3.7 million (or 38%) of this figure. Important note: The $3.7 million amount does not include money for staff support or overhead costs (such as accounting) relating to the administration of the fellowship program.

Derbyshire's Double-Standard

The TalkOrigins webpage asserts that some of the publications cited as pro-ID and peer-reviewed don't count because they don't mention ID or do not talk about design. While some of the publications do not say "intelligent design," they're all by proponents of ID who are supporting key arguments under the theory of intelligent design in the statements, citations, and research. This represents a standard high enough to qualify as a "peer-reviewed" pro-evolution paper in the eyes of Judge Jones. After all, Judge Jones cited papers as proof for evolutionary biology claims, even if they didn't contain the phrase for which he cited them.

For example, Judge Jones wrote that "Dr. Miller refuted Pandas' claim that evolution cannot account for new genetic information and pointed to more than three dozen peer-reviewed scientific publications showing the origin of new genetic information by evolutionary processes." (Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F.Supp. 2d 707, 744 (2005)). Miller's discussion relied entirely upon the review article "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses From the Young and Old " (by Manyuan Long, et al., Nature Reviews Genetics (4):865-875 (Nov., 2003)) and its citations to provide the "more than three dozen" articles. Yet the body text of the article does not even contain the word "information", much less the phrase "new genetic information." The word "information" appears once in the entire Long et al. article--in the title of reference #103.

I'm not saying that Long, et al.'s article cannot be cited to argue that evolution can produce new information. But because it does not say "information," it should fail the TalkOrigins standard of a peer-reviewed article cited to explain "the origin of new genetic information?" By citing both the TalkOrigins page and Judge Jones's decision as valid sources, John Derbyshire promotes a double standard, because TalkOrigins holds "peer-reviewed" pro-ID papers to a higher standard than Judge Jones held "peer-reviewed" pro-evolution papers.

John Derbyshire should not cite to TalkOrigins pages as if they are unadulterated truth. It would be better if he carefully constructed his own arguments and put them on his blog, rather than simply blindly citing to TalkOrigins as if it preaches truth . That way we can know that he has taken the time to research his claims carefully and has done some background checking to verify that they are true.

Posted by Casey Luskin on July 31, 2006 07:00 PM Permalink

Election Could Flip Kan. Evolution Stance


By Peter Slevin Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, August 1, 2006; Page A03

CHICAGO, July 31 -- Evolution's defenders, working to defeat Kansas Board of Education members who oppose modern Darwinian theory, are challenging three incumbent Republican conservatives and the political heir to a fourth in Tuesday's primary.

A shift of two seats to moderate Republicans -- or to Democrats -- in November almost certainly would lead to a reversal of state science standards celebrated by many religious conservatives and reviled by the scientific establishment.

With turnout expected to be low, neither side is making confident predictions about the state's latest skirmish at the intersection of science, religion and politics. The board's majority shifted to the moderate side in 2000 only to swing back in 2004.

Impassioned players far removed from what is expected to be a sweltering midsummer primary day are watching the issue. The board's critical stance toward evolution prompted favorable comments from President Bush last year and scorn from the scientific community.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank best known for backing "intelligent design," the idea that a creator plays a central role in natural development, is running radio advertisements in support of the standards.

An Institute-sponsored Web site said partisans are "using their voices to try to undermine Kansas' science standards and stifle discussion of the scientific evidence they don't like."

It is a charge that infuriates mainstream scientists who consider the question of evolution settled. The Kansas standards have been denounced by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The editor of Scientific American, John Rennie -- who has described the board's conservatives as "six dimwits" -- posted on a blog to urge Kansas voters to defeat board members "who have inflicted embarrassing creationist nonsense on your home's science curriculum standards."

Three members of the conservative majority are seeking reelection, as is the son-in-law of a fourth. Janet Waugh, a Democrat who opposed the new standards and lamented that Kansas has become an international laughingstock, drew a conservative Democratic challenger who supports the standards that allow for criticism of evolution.

Connie Morris, a member of the majority, defends the standards as "truly scientific." She said Monday, "There's plenty of scientific evidence that refutes the theory, and students deserve to know that."

The document approved by a 6 to 4 vote in November asserts a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code." It also dropped a phrase from the previous standards that had defined science as "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena."

Critics said that opened the door to supernatural explanations.

The board's approach was in line with the thinking of Bush. He rejected the stance of his White House science adviser when he told reporters last summer that "both sides" should be taught.

Another issue in this year's race is the board vote, by the same 6 to 4 majority, to require students to get their parents' permission before taking sex education. Some board members said sex education should say only that people should abstain from having sex until marriage.

"It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry," the Wichita Eagle wrote in a July editorial, calling on voters to clean house.

"The whole debate about evolution in Kansas hurts the state's image," said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University. "You get cartoons in newspapers across the world, and I've seen them, where they have someone looking like a caveman and it says 'Kansas' on them."

Staff writer Kari Lydersen contributed to this report.

"The 'Vise Strategy' Undone"


Barbara Forrest, who was among the expert witnesses to testify for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, recounts her involvement in the case, in a detailed article posted at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's Creationism and Intelligent Design Watch website. "Not only did I show up for my deposition," Forrest writes, contrasting her appearance with the disappearance of three of the "intelligent design" proponents who were supposed to have testified for the defense, "but I also testified at the trial despite being delayed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Moreover, I had the distinction of being the only witness whom the defense tried to exclude from the case. When they failed, the Discovery Institute tried to discredit me with ridicule."

But in the end, Forrest's thorough knowledge and articulate description of the "intelligent design" movement and its unsavory tactics convinced Judge Jones, who wrote in his ruling: "Dr. Barbara Forrest ... has thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID in her book and other writings for her testimony in this case. Her testimony, and the exhibits ... admitted with it, provide a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID's religious, philosophical, and cultural content." In the wake of the Kitzmiller decision, Forrest notes, "ID creationists continue their efforts to discredit both Judge Jones and me. They employ their usual m.o.: lacking scientific evidence for ID, they make things up and/or slander their opposition," and cites a number of such misrepresentations.

Forrest is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors. With Paul R. Gross, she wrote Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004), the definitive expos of the "intelligent design" movement's so-called Wedge strategy. A paperback edition, with a new foreword by the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a new chapter on the Kitzmiller trial, is to appear in early 2007.

August 1, 2006

A Stakeout for Civil War Spirits


Ghost Hunters Scout Va. Battlefields for Signs Of Soldiers Gone By

By William Wan Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, March 13, 2006

As dusk fell, the group of amateur historians were in position, spread out across the grassy field with digital voice recorders at the ready and infrared cameras rolling. If someone -- or something -- out there so much as sneezed, they were fully prepared to catch it in action.

Experts have scrutinized these Spotsylvania County battlefields for years, looking for clues to the past. Now this eclectic group of history buffs had come from Maryland to conduct their own homemade brand of Civil War scholarship: battlefield ghost hunting. Why limit yourself to letters and artifacts, they reasoned, when you can go straight to the source: firsthand, albeit dead, witnesses. The group of mostly middle-aged men had picked their spot carefully. Bloody Angle, part of one of three battlefields they visited on a recent night, was the site of the longest, most savage hand-to-hand combat of the Civil War. For 20 hours on May 12, 1864, soldiers shot, bayoneted and clubbed one another. "Rain poured down and the dead piled up in the mud," the welcome sign on the grounds says.

If spirits were likely to appear anywhere, the ghost hunters said, this was the spot.

More was at stake that night than a simple chase of the fantastical, members of the self-styled American Battlefield Ghost Hunters Society said. On a weekend break from their jobs -- mortgage broker, home remodeler, engineer, construction worker -- they had come looking for keys to historical mysteries -- such as the battle decisions of field leaders and the mentality of soldiers -- as well as answers about the very nature of life and death.

But so far, nothing. Two hours into what would turn out to be a seven-hour stakeout in freezing wind, the hunters had captured little besides locals walking their dogs and casting bewildered looks at the ragtag team.

So the group fanned out farther along the field of overgrown grass, preparing for nightfall. Team leader Patrick Burke, 47, a mortgage broker from St. Mary's County, tore off little pieces of beef jerky and chewing tobacco and sprinkled them on the ground, trying to entice undead soldiers with what would have been luxuries in their days.

"It usually works better with the Confederate soldiers," he explained, "because they were less well-fed than the Union."

Nearby, other members scouted for better camera angles while Patrick's brother John, a 50-year-old from Waldorf, and Laine Crosby, a self-described psychic the team had brought along, walked the grounds trying to suss out spirits.

Standing off to one side, looking doubtfully at all of them, was Darryl "Smitty" Smith, the team's designated science officer.

Smith, 53, a bespectacled mechanical engineer for a construction company in Prince George's County, has been with the group since it started a half-decade ago and counts its members among his closest friends. But on the battlefield, as he took careful notes in his composition book, he casually remarked, "I don't believe in ghosts."

His role on the team was to keep a log of the time and place of everything that happened in the field so that a flashing camera or a passing car wouldn't later be identified as an apparition or the roar of the undead -- mistakes not uncommon among ghost hunters, he noted.

Over the past five years, the members have captured sounds they claim are cannonballs and musket fire from ages past and misty, half-formed figures they believe are dead soldiers.

"But I put my faith in physics, not psychics," Smith said. "I guess you could say I'm the official naysayer in the group."

His explanation, then, for why he joined the team: "It could be other things out there. There may be things in the world that we don't know about yet, like quantum physics, other dimensions and parallel universes."

Also on the team of nine that night were two trainees, as well as Mark Nesbitt, an author of books on Civil War ghosts, and a park ranger assigned to the group by the National Park Service. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which closes at sunset, allows after-hour visitors only with a permit and under supervision.

The park, Ranger Charles Lochart said, has no official position on ghosts. When pressed by the group's psychic on whether he himself believed in ghosts, Lochart was diplomatic: "I personally don't see things, but I don't know that they don't happen."

During the team's previous visit, Lochart even agreed to be its guinea pig. "They wanted to see if the ghosts would respond to an armed person," he said, pointing to his service weapon. "So they had me walk around a bit. They're nice people," he said of the ghost hunters. "They don't bother anything here."

Stopping at a spot they believed had been the Confederates' second line of defense, the hunters took out their digital recorders.

Crosby put her hand on a mossy stone and said she felt a cold spot. Out of earshot, Smith, the skeptic, jokingly pointed out that the words "psychic" and "psycho" have the same Greek root. Nonetheless, he swerved his infrared camera toward her.

With the cameras and voice recorders running, the team started asking questions and pausing for answers. Then with eager anticipation, they played back the audio recordings to listen for odd noises that might qualify as responses.

"Tell us what your name is." No answer.

"Are you Union or Confederate?" There was some noise, like a burst of static or a gust of wind. Everyone leaned in closer.

"Who is your commanding officer?" Suddenly, a cell phone rang, and the group groaned in frustration.

"My bad, guys," Burke said, laughing and flipping open his phone.

After two more hours of searching, recording and feeling for ghosts in the dark, the group retreated to a nearby steakhouse. On the way there, Mike Hartness, usually the most taciturn of the team's four core members, began to talk. With the gravelly voice of a longtime smoker, he tried to explain the goal of the hunt.

For most of his life, he has harbored a suspicion that there is something more to this world than what we see and hear. "Everyone's looking for something to believe in," said Hartness, 54, a lanky home remodeler from Silver Spring. "But there's always doubt, and until you see it with your own two eyes, you never know. That's what I'm trying to do: see it with my own eyes so I can believe."

Many in the group hope to give up their day jobs and hunt full time, Burke said later at the steakhouse. There are other dreams, too: a TV show with the History Channel, a correspondence course for ghost hunting, a funded expedition to the beaches of Normandy -- a mecca for battlefield ghost hunters.

"Even if all those things don't happen, we'll keep searching," Burke said. "The thing I'm really looking for is that perfect night, when you're out there and it's like a window opens onto the world.

"And you get a whole brigade marching down in one glorious moment. The battle unfolds in front of you, and you get it all on camera -- history in motion."

He lifted a piece of rib-eye to his mouth and let out a sigh of satisfaction. With dinner almost over, the group started gearing up to head back into the cold.

Outside, the sky was dark, the wind was blowing and on the abandoned battlefields, not a living soul was stirring.

Drivers try another gas to save gasoline


By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press Writer Mon Jul 31, 2:22 PM ET

Many motorists seeking to improve their mileage as gas prices soar this summer are examining everything right down to the air in their tires. And for a growing number, plain old air isn't good enough.

George Bourque of Fairfield is one of those who's driving around on tires filled with pure nitrogen, the same stuff that NASCAR racers use.

Bourque, an engineer, said he has seen a 1 to 1.5 mile-per-gallon increase since he began filling his tires with nitrogen, which is touted as maintaining tire pressure longer and resisting heat buildup on hot summer days.

"I analyze everything," he said.

Nitrogen has been used for years in the tires of race cars, large commercial trucks, aircraft and even the space shuttle.

But it is finding its way into the mainstream at a growing number of tire dealers including Costco Wholesale Corp.

Nationwide, fewer than 10 percent of tire dealers offer nitrogen, but the number is growing, said Bob Ulrich, editor of Modern Tire Dealer magazine in Akron, Ohio. Most dealers charge $2 to $5 per tire for the nitrogen fill-up, he said. The dealers generally offer free lifetime refills.

Bourque got his tires filled with nitrogen in Waterville, Maine at Tire Warehouse, which has 50 tire dealerships across New England. The nitrogen was part of an installation package when Bourque bought a set of tires.

Skeptics will question how much can be gained by filling tires with pure nitrogen when the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.

The differences are subtle, but important, said Steve McGrath, Tire Warehouse's vice president of marketing in Keene, N.H.

Nitrogen molecules are bigger than oxygen molecules, so nitrogen seeps out more slowly from tires than air; nitrogen resists heat buildup better than air, which contains moisture; and nitrogen reduces oxidation, which can damage the tire from the inside out, proponents say. Nitrogen is an inert gas, so there are no safety or environmental issues.

Those advantages are important in vehicles equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems, which are sensitive to changes in tire pressure, McGrath said.

With or without nitrogen, proper inflation is the key to improving gas mileage. Motorists can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent simply by keeping their tires properly inflated, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the real world, though, only 1 in 5 motorists check tire pressure regularly, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Nitrogen, therefore, could have an advantage for those who don't check their tire pressure regularly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no opinion on nitrogen, but it does encourage motorists to keep their tires properly inflated, both for safety and to boost gas mileage, said spokesman Rae Tyson. Severely underinflated tires are dangerous, especially for sport utility vehicles and light trucks, Tyson noted.

Tire experts at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, neither endorse nor object to the use of nitrogen in tires.

"Nitrogen is certainly safe to use in tires, and theoretically it does offer some benefits," spokesman Douglas Love said from Yonkers, N.Y.

For Bourque, his tire pressure remains constant 40 pounds for his fully loaded truck even on hot days when tire pressure normally fluctuates.

His gas mileage was about 19 mpg when he purchased his five-cylinder 2005 Chevrolet Colorado. Now, with the engine broken in and new tires filled with nitrogen, he gets 20.5 to 22 mpg depending on whether he runs the air conditioner, he said.

For tire dealers, the nitrogen generator and associated equipment typically runs between $3,000 and $12,000, Ulrich said.

Marty Mailhot, manager of the Tire Warehouse in Topsham, said the idea is catching on with consumers, who are purchasing nitrogen for tires for cars, trucks, motor homes and lawn tractors. He has even tried it on footballs and inflatable tubes pulled behind boats.

He has a retort for those who pooh-pooh the notion of paying for nitrogen when there's plenty of free air for the taking.

"I say, 'Why are you drinking that bottled water when there's a pond out back?'" he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

Monday, July 31, 2006



Coultergeist by Jerry Coyne

H. L. Mencken once responded to a question asked by many of his readers: "If you find so much that is unworthy of reverence in the United States, then why do you live here?" His answer was, "Why do men go to zoos?" Sadly, Mencken is not here to ogle the newest creature in the American Zoo: the Bleached Flamingo, otherwise known as Ann Coulter. This beast draws crowds by its frequent, raucous calls, eerily resembling a human voice, and its unearthly appearance, scrawny and pallid. (Wikipedia notes that "a white or pale flamingo ... is usually unhealthy or suffering from a lack of food.") The etiolated Coulter issued a piercing squawk this spring with her now-notorious book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Its thesis, harebrained even by her standards, is that liberals are an atheistic lot who have devised a substitute religion, replete with the sacraments of abortion, feminism, coddling of criminals, and--you guessed it--bestiality. Liberals also have their god, who, like Coulter's, is bearded and imposing. He is none other than Charles Darwin. But the left-wing god is malevolent, for Coulter sees Darwin as the root cause of every ill afflicting our society, not to mention being responsible for the historical atrocities of Hitler and Stalin....

UA to test java-bred insomnia remedies


By Carla McClain Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.31.2006

Coffee jitters keeping you awake at night?

Then you might consider joining a University of Arizona study testing alternative treatments based on the principles of homeopathy to deal with coffee-caused sleeplessness.

Volunteers will take a single dose of one of two well-known homeopathic remedies nux vomica or coffea cruda during the monthlong study.

After analyzing the dreams, sleep patterns and brain waves of those in the study, UA researchers will determine if either of these remedies can induce natural sleep in people who have had trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep due to recent coffee consumption.

"Of course, people will ask, why not just stop drinking coffee? But we may find that this allows people to keep drinking coffee without losing sleep," said study coordinator Nick Jackson.

"Or this could evolve toward a treatment for general insomnia, whether coffee is involved or not. We don't know this is an early-stage study."

Funded with a $750,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, within the National Institutes of Health, the study is headed by UA psychiatry professor Dr. Iris Bell, working with researchers in the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine. Recruitment of study participants began this spring.

Both homeopathic remedies chosen for the study are closely related to coffee, the cause of the sleeping problems. That follows the principle of homeopathy, a treatment system based on the theory that "like cures like." Homeopathic remedies use tiny, extremely diluted amounts of a substance known to cause the problematic symptoms as a way to stimulate the body to balance and heal itself.

It is similar to the medical principle behind vaccines, which inject a tiny amount of an infecting agent such as the influenza virus to stimulate the production of antibodies to fight the virus.

Nux vomica comes from the strychnos nux vomica plant, sometimes called "poison nut," which contains caffeotannic acid. It is widely used to treat upset stomach, acid reflux and anxiety disorders, though it has not yet been tested for insomnia.

Coffea cruda is a form of raw organic coffee and is also used as a calming agent. Both remedies are available without prescription at drugstores and health food stores.

Because they use such small amounts, homeopathic remedies are considered safe and largely free of side effects. However, the theory behind homeopathy and whether it actually works remains controversial, especially in medical circles.

A 1990 analysis of 40 clinical trials that compared homeopathic treatment with standard treatment, a placebo or no treatment concluded there is no evidence that homeopathic treatment has any more value than a placebo, according to the journal Review of Epidemiology.

Volunteers in the UA study will be attached to portable brain-wave monitors while sleeping in their homes two nights a week for a month. They will also keep daily journals on their dreams and sleep experiences during this time. No one will know who is getting what remedy, or when, until the study is completed.

Contact reporter Carla McClain at 806-7754 or cmcclain@azstarnet.com.

Museum uses Bible to tell Earth's history


By DYLAN T. LOVAN, Associated Press Writer

Mon Jul 31, 2:02 PM ET

PETERSBURG, Ky. - Like most natural history museums, this one has exhibits showing dinosaurs roaming the Earth. Except here, the giant reptiles share the forest with Adam and Eve.

That, of course, is contradicted by science, but that's the point of the $25 million Creation Museum rising fast in rural Kentucky.

Its inspiration is the Bible ? the literal interpretation that contends God created the heavens and the Earth and everything in them just a few thousand years ago.

"If the Bible is the word of God, and its history really is true, that's our presupposition or axiom, and we are starting there," museum founder Ken Ham said during recent tour of the sleek and modern facility, which is due to open next year.

Ham, an Australian native who started the Christian publishing company Answers in Genesis in the late 1970s, said the goal of his privately funded museum is to change minds and rebut the scientific point of view.

"We're going to show you that we can make sense of the different people groups, we can make sense of fossils, we can make sense of what you see in the world," he said.

Visitors to the museum, a few miles from Cincinnati, will be able to watch the story of creation unfold in a 180-seat special-effects theater, see a 40-foot-tall recreation of a section of Noah's Ark and stare into the jaws of robotic dinosaurs.

"It's education, but it's also doing it in an entertaining way," Ham said.

Scientists say fossils and sophisticated nuclear dating technology show that the Earth is more than 4 billion years old, the first dinosaurs appeared around 200 million years ago, and they died out well before the first human ancestors arose a few million years ago.

"Genesis is not science," said Mary Dawson, curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. "Genesis is a tale that was handed down for generations by people who really knew nothing about science, who knew nothing about natural history, and certainly knew nothing about what fossils were."

Ham said he believes most fossils are the result of the Great Flood described in Genesis.

Mark Looy, a vice president at Answers in Genesis, said the museum has received at least $21 million in private donations. He said two anonymous donors have given $1 million, and he expects the museum to be debt-free when it opens next May.

John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, an organization that promotes creationism, said the museum will affirm the doubts many people have about science, namely the notion that man evolved from lower forms of life.

"Americans just aren't gullible enough to believe that they came from a fish," he said.

On the Net:

Answers in Genesis: http://www.answersingenesis.org

Carnegie Museum of Natural History: http://www.carnegiemnh.org

Primate brains primed to speak


By Reuters | July 31, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Language centers in the brains of rhesus macaques light up when the monkeys hear calls and screams from fellow monkeys, researchers said in a study that suggests language skills evolved early in primates.

Writing in last week's issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, the international team of researchers said this finding suggests that early ancestors of humans possessed the brain structures needed for language before they developed language itself.

``This intriguing finding brings us closer to understanding the point at which the building blocks of language appeared on the evolutionary timeline," said Dr. James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which helped conduct the study.

``While the fossil record cannot answer this question for us, we can turn to the here and now -- through brain imaging of living nonhuman primates -- for a glimpse into how language, or at least the neural circuitry required for language, came to be."

The institute's Allen Braun and colleagues trained rhesus monkeys to sit quietly in PET scanners. Positron emission tomography detects active cells and can be used to see which parts of the brain are working.

They played coos and screams made by rhesus monkeys that the test animals did not know, as well as ``nonbiological sounds" such as music and computer-generated noises.

The monkey sounds activated areas of the brain corresponding to those used by humans in processing language -- known as Broca's area, and Wernicke's area, the researchers said.

In contrast, music and computer sounds mostly activated the brain's primary auditory areas.

``This finding suggests the possibility that the last common ancestor of macaques and humans, which lived 25 to 30 million years ago, possessed key neural mechanisms" that may have been used ``during the evolution of language," the researchers wrote.

``Although monkeys do not have language, they do possess a repertoire of species-specific vocalizations that -- like human speech -- seem to encode meaning in arbitrary sound patterns."

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time for the creationism theory to fly the coop


Michael Bertacchi Western Courier (Western Illinois U.)

The dispute between the theory of evolution and creationism has been long dragged out ever since Charles Darwin first developed the concept of evolution after a visit to the Galapagos Islands back in 1831.

Even within the past year, debates over the inclusion of creationism in science textbooks have helped keep the ongoing battle in the public's eye. But with the scientific discoveries made this past week, it appears as though more evidence has been uncovered to strengthen Darwin's theory of evolution and, hopefully, put an end to the demand for creationism to be included in science textbooks.

In an interesting twist of irony, a medium-sized bird named after the famous scientist is currently giving researchers the rare chance of document evolution as it occurs.

Darwin's finches, a species of bird native to the very same islands that Darwin visited which inspired him to come up with his theory of evolution, is currently going through what scientists have dubbed "microevolution," or the occurrence of small-scale changes in a population over a few generations.

Since a breeding population of large ground finches arrived on the islands in 1982, scientists have been able to watch and document how the finches beaks evolved in order to help accommodate for the new food competition.

This news should, assuming basic logic and rational are not simply ignored lik e in the past, put creationists' ridiculous parade for the right for creationism to be taught as science to rest.

There is a time and place for everything. Unfortunately for creationism and its followers, that time and place doesn't have anything to do with modern school systems, and as such, belong nowhere near any classroom or educational textbook.

Since the events of 9/11, religious movements, Christianity specifically, have become increasingly more vocal.

Our culture on a whole has fallen back to religion to try and find some stability in a time where stability seems to be scarce supply - and rightfully so.

However, the line between stability and abuse of power is being crossed with nonsense like religious beliefs being taught as scientific fact. Just because people believe in something doesn't mean it belongs in the classroom - and, hopefully Darwin's finches are proving just that.

It's understandable that religion plays such a powerful and important role in so many people's lives.

However, our nation was built with the idea of separation of church and state for a reason.

Trying to push moral and/or religious beliefs, even when done with the best of intentions, goes against every thing our country was founded on.

While the freedom of religion is important to uphold and preserve, that preservation should not come at the expense of the degradation of scientific research which have taken years in order to be documented.

Casey Luskin Proves My Point for Me


(Sorry, Casey, I misspelled your name repeatedly when I first posted this. Corrections made. My apologies!)

Scarcely three hours after I encouraged Kansas voters to boot out the villains who ruined that state's science education standards, there was already a reply posted by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (where Intelligent Design goes to rest after a long day of snookering the gullible). Casey seems to think that I'm trafficking in misinformation when I say that the standards introduced in November 2005 undermine the teaching of evolution and empirical science.

Clearly I have been misled by the denunciations of those standards by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science.

Still, I'm appreciative of Casey's efforts to show the error of my ways because in the process, he's managed to confirm yet again how I.D. proponents, particularly those at the Discovery Institute, like to twist the truth, and how they would do so at a statewide level in Kansas.


Here's Casey:

Firstly, the KSS [Kansas Science Standards] clearly do not include the supernatural. As I explained here, there is no way one can argue that the Kansas Science Standards include the supernatural:

The new 2005 Kansas science standards simply reset Kansas' definition of science back to how approximately every other state in the country defines science, essentially the way Kansas had defined it until 2001. This definition is given below:

Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. [...] (2005 Kansas Science Standards, pg. 10, emphasis added)

Where are the references to the supernatural? The truth is that when Darwinists took over the Board of Education in 2001 and defined science as "seeking natural explanations," Kansas became the only state in the United States to explicitly advocate for hard-code methodological naturalism into its state science standards. Thus, the new 2005 Kansas standards, by removing such language, moves closer to the norm for U.S. science standards.

What bothers the scientific critics of these standards is that the board specifically changed "seeking natural explanations" to seeking "more adequate explanations" because, as Casey acknowledges, they wanted to undermine methodological naturalism in science. He tries to paint methodological naturalism as some kind of fringy, radical movement but it is in essence the cornerstone of the scientific method: if you don't stick to methodological naturalism in scientific investigations, there is nothing to stop you from invoking supernatural or otherwise materially unsupported explanations for phenomena.

Don't take my word for it. Let's ask the AAAS:

AAAS is deeply concerned about the changes that have been made in the Kansas Science Education Standards in order to discredit the theory of evolution. The most troubling aspect of these changes is the redefinition of science. The "Nature of Science" section in the most recently proposed version of the standards says that science is a process that produces "explanations of natural phenomena." This implies that science is just one of many explanations of natural phenomena, including supernatural causes, and removes a defining principle of science which was present in the previous version of the standards-that science is restricted to natural explanations of the natural world. This restriction, which has been one of the cornerstones of scientific practice for more than three centuries, is one of the primary reasons that science has been fruitful in producing useful knowledge.

The change in wording very explicitly creates a loophole that the I.D. crowd wants kept open.

Casey again:

Here's a question I submit to Mr. Rennie and all proponents of the false conspiracy theory that Kansas now teaches the supernatural in science classes: if Kansas incorporated the supernatural into its definition of science, then how do you explain the fact that its science standards emphatically require that all science be “testable as a scientific hypothesis”?

All kinds of misdirection here, because I didn't say Kansas teaches the supernatural as science. But I'll answer his question anyway: The I.D. neo-creationists don't mind including references to testable hypotheses in the standards because they know it would be too obvious an omission to leave out. Including it doesn't hurt their cause, however, because the I.D. movement is much less interested in advancing an actual theory of I.D. (since that could be disproved) than it is maintaining a whispering campaign of criticizing evolution and hinting that the only alternative must be I.D. (that is, gussied-up creationism).

Secondly, Rennie claims that the KSS change the definition of evolution "to imply that evolution conflicts with belief in God."

Where did that quote come from? I don't see it in either of my posts on the Kansas standards. (Update: Objection withdrawn. The quote turns out to come from the material that I quoted by the Kansas Citizens for Science. So it would have been more accurate for Casey to have said, "Rennie approvingly quotes claims that...." But I don't dispute that the sentiment is indeed in the post.)

Finally, as I explained here, the material in the KSS are not simply from "creationist" literature.

Another claim I didn't make. (Update: Objection also withdrawn. Again, Casey seems to be referring to statements in what I quoted rather than what I wrote. But, to be fair, he is at least commenting on views that are in my post someplace. In rebutting my piece, Casey seems to have mostly just reposted an old rebuttal to those criticisms, and thus didn't make much distinction between what I wrote now and what others did then.)

The Standards state that criticisms of chemical origin of life hypotheses include “a lack of empirical evidence for a ‘primordial soup’ or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere" and a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code" (pg. 77). These points are also validated by mainstream scientific literature. So drastic is the evidence against the primordial soup hypothesis that the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in 1990 recommended to scientists a "reexamination of biological monomer synthesis under primitive Earthlike environments, as revealed in current models of the early Earth.” Regarding the pre-biotic atmosphere, a paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters explained that “reduced [atmospheric] components are not supported by results of this and many other studies, which imply a scenario of Archean mantle redox not unlike that of today.” The paper concluded that “[l]ife may have found its origins in other environments or by other mechanisms” (Canile, 2002). Regarding the origin of the genetic code, prominent biologists John Maynard Smith and Eros Szathmary explain that “[t]he origin of the code is perhaps the most perplexing problem in evolutionary biology” (Smith & Szathmary, 1995).

Now we get into what's most seriously wrong with the Kansas standards--and the slyest parts of Casey's response. Only in the heads of the neo-creationists (and the Kansas Board of Education) do the cited findings count as "criticisms of chemical origin of life hypotheses." They may show that specific hypotheses are incomplete or flawed, but they in no sense represent the scientific community turning away from chemical origin of life hypotheses in some form. Not to mention that a the phrase "lack of empirical evidence" for those ideas glosses over all the evidence that does exist for them. Casey is basically engaging in the time-worn creationist strategy of pointing to "holes" in the fossil record as a way of dismissing the whole fabric of evolution.

The Standards also state “in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution" (pg. 75). Again, Nick Matzke misrepresents this claim to say that the Standards assert there are "no transitional fossils." Yet many paleontologists have corroborated what the standards actually say. Paleontologist Robert Carroll writes, "Paleontologists in particular have found it difficult to accept that the slow, continuous, and progressive changes postulated by Darwin can adequately explain the major reorganizations that have occurred between dominant groups of plants and animals.” (Carroll, 1997.) Similarly, evolutionist paleontologist Niles Eldredge writes, “...we have proffered a collective tacit acceptance of the story of gradual adaptive change, a story that strengthened and became even more entrenched as the synthesis took hold. We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports that interpretation, all the while really knowing that it does not" (Eldredge, 1985). The KSS's statement quoted here can be completely derived from mainstream scientific writings.

This involves a selective misreading of the fossil record and a deliberate misinterpretation of the arguments that biologists have about various possible mechanisms for biological evolution, not a challenge to biological evolution itself.

The Standards state that common ancestry has been challenged by "[d]iscrepancies in the molecular evidence" (pg. 76). Nick objects that this is "wrong," but this claim has been supported in peer-reviewed literature. W. F. Doolittle writes, "[m]olecular phylogenists will have failed to find the 'true tree,' not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree" (Doolittle, 1999). Similarly, Carl Woese wrote, "[p]hylogenetic incongruities can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves" (Woese, 1998). While these authors are evolutionists who retain their belief in common descent, the Kansas Science Standards find support in mainstream scientific literature that "[d]iscrepancies in the molecular evidence" do exist.

(The audacity of that last line slays me!)

Wrong again. The principle of common ancestry is not challenged by any of the discrepancies cited--that's why those scientists "retain their belief in common descent." The only question is whether specific phylogenetic reconstructions are reliable. Casey and the Kansas Board are misrepresenting the actual scientific disagreements as doubts about evolution, and they are not.

Finally, the Kansas Science Standards explain that “[w]hether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial” (pg. 76). Excepting the segment on irreducible complexity, this indicator resembles a statement by Robert Carroll, who asked, "[c]an changes in individual characters, such as the relative frequency of genes for light and dark wing color in moths adapting to industrial pollution, simply be multiplied over time to account for the origin of moths and butterflies within insects, the origin of insects from primitive arthropods, or the origin of arthropods from among primitive multicellular organisms?" (Carroll, 1997). Questions about the sufficiency of microevolution to explain macroevolution have been raised in mainstream scientific literature (e.g. see Simons, 2002; Carroll, 1997), as has support for the notion of irreducible complexity (e.g. see Lönnig & Saedler, 2002). In fact, over 600 doctoral scientists from around the world have signed a statement explaining they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” They state that “[c]areful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” This may not constitute a majority position, but it certainly validates consideration by students in Kansas.

The only ones who find the linkage of microevolutionary changes to macroevolution controversial are the I.D. neo-creationists. Mechanisms beyond those usually discussed as microevolution might be involved, too (such as alterations of developmental pathways), but those sit comfortably within the evolutionary framework, thank you. And the fact that 600 Ph.D.s (of whom, how many are biologists?) signed an antievolution petition may impress the Kansas Board and Casey, but it doesn't cut the mustard with the mainstream scientific establishment.

Again, no need to trust me on this. Here's the NAS and the NSTA:

While there is much in the Kansas Science Education Standards that is outstanding and could serve as a model for other states, our primary concern is that the draft KSES inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists. The use of the word controversial to suggest that there are flaws in evolution is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading. While there may be disagreements among scientists about the exact processes, the theory of evolution has withstood the test of time and new evidence from many scientific disciplines only further support this robust scientific theory.

In addition, the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution -- when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified -- and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas.

And here's the AAAS:

The latest version of the proposed standards also contains examples of facts that supposedly provide evidence against evolutionary theory, and statements that encourage students to distrust science. Some of these are inaccurate, and others are simply irrelevant or misleading. For example, the fact that the fossil record shows new species appearing at a highly variable rate does not discredit the theory of evolution, because evolution does not require a constant rate of change. Although scientists continue to make new discoveries about the processes of evolution, there is no doubt that evolution does occur.

The cumulative effect of proposed standards is to confuse students about the nature of science. In order to prepare our children to make informed decisions as adults on topics ranging from their own health to national security, we must equip them with a sound understanding of the science that will underlie these decisions. The latest version of the Kansas Science Education Standards does not serve our children well.

Casey returns to his point that the standards don't mention I.D., and he tries to make the point that references to "irreducible complexity" are really criticisms of evolution, not positive arguments for I.D.

Thus the KSS make it clear that irreducible complexity is framed only as a challenge to evolution and not as an argument for intelligent design.

Yes, but as I noted above, this doesn't prove much because the I.D. movement doesn't have the intellectual honesty or sincerity to posit an actual theory of intelligent design. The I.D. movement counts itself as winning any time it can simply cast doubt on evolutionary arguments, because as I.D. writers have often suggested, the only alternative to evolution must be some kind of design.

I was content simply to ask Kansas voters to turn out for the primaries before. Still, thank you, Casey, for giving me the opportunity to go into more depth about what is wrong with the standards, why they have been denounced by so many scientific authorities, and how devious the I.D. crowd can be in their ongoing retreat from the truth.

Posted by John Rennie 64 comments

1996-2006 Scientific American, Inc.

Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables

July 25, 2006 Books on Science By CORNELIA DEAN

Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition, the forces of creationism press school districts to teach doctrine on a par with evolution and even the Big Bang is denounced as out-of-compliance with Bible-based calculations for the age of the earth, scientists have to be brave to talk about religion.

Not to denounce it, but to embrace it.

That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.

With no apology and hardly any arm-waving, they describe their beliefs, how they came to them and how they reconcile them with their work in science.

In "The Language of God," Dr. Collins, the geneticist who led the American government's effort to decipher the human genome, describes his own journey from atheism to committed Christianity, a faith he embraced as a young physician.

In "God's Universe," Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is "personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos."

And in "Evolution and Christian Faith," Dr. Roughgarden, the child of Episcopal missionaries and now an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, tells of her struggles to fit the individual into the evolutionary picture an effort complicated in her case by the fact that she is transgender, and therefore has views at odds with some conventional Darwinian thinking about sexual identity.

If his eminence in science were not so unassailable, a fourth author, the biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard, might also be taking a chance by arguing that religion and science ought to take up arms together to encourage respect for and protection of nature or, as he calls it in his new book, "The Creation."

Although he writes that he no longer embraces the faith of his childhood he describes himself as "a secular humanist" Dr. Wilson shapes his book as a "Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor," in hopes that if "religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved."

Coming as they do from a milieu in which religious belief of any kind is often dismissed as little more than magical thinking, this is bravery indeed.

But other new books, taking a different approach, also claim the mantle of bravery.

In "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts, refers again and again to the "brave" researchers (including himself) who challenge religion. In "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, once again likens religious faith to a disease and sets as his goal convincing his readers that atheism is "a brave" aspiration.

Of course, just as the professors of faith cannot prove (except to themselves) that God exists, the advocates for atheism acknowledge that they cannot prove (not yet, anyway ) that God does not exist. Instead, Drs. Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens.

But these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.

Of course there is no credible scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. So what? The theory of evolution says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement, but that is not the same as denying that she exists in the first place.

In any event, as Dr. Gingerich argues, in simultaneously defending evolution and insisting upon atheism, Dr. Dawkins probably "single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists."

And evolutionary psychology as a prism through which to view contemporary human behavior is open to many challenges. Some have come from critics who dismiss much of it as little more than "Just-So Stories" designed to explain or justify the status quo. So it seems strange to see its logic cited as a weapon against the story-telling aspects of religion.

All of which leads one to ask, who are these books for? The question is easy to answer when it comes to Drs. Collins, Roughgarden or Gingerich. First would be young people raised in religious families, who as they progress through school suddenly confront scientific reality that challenges Sunday morning dogma.

"I have been struck," Dr. Roughgarden writes, "by how the 'debate' over teaching evolution is not about plants and animals but about God and whether science somehow threatens one's belief in God."

Or as Dr. Collins put it, when religions require belief in "fundamentally flawed claims" about the world, they force curious and intelligent congregants to reject science, "effectively committing intellectual suicide," a choice he calls "terrible and unnecessary."

But does science require the abandonment of faith? Not necessarily, and certainly not entirely, these authors argue.

Also, people who read these books will realize that it is impossible to tar all scientists with the brush of amorality. The books challenge those who fear that science and ethics may end up at war, a possibility raised by President Bush last week, when he vetoed legislation supporting stem cell research.

On the other hand, as the (atheist) physicist Steven Weinberg has famously put it, and as Drs. Dawkins and Dennett remind their readers, good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil "that takes religion."

But it is hard to believe that people who reject science on religious grounds will stick with the Dennett and Dawkins books, filled as they are with denunciation not just of their ideas but of themselves.

This is unfortunate because, as Dr. Roughgarden points out, it is crucial in our society for people of faith, the vast majority of our population, to understand the issues of contemporary science. "I'd love to discuss the moral issues of biotechnology within a community of faith," she writes. "But most church congregations and their leaders are not prepared for those discussions."

Perhaps another book, "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast," can help bridge that gap. It is by Lewis Wolpert, a biologist at University College London. It has been published in England, and it is to appear in the United States in January.

Dr. Wolpert writes about the way people think about cause and effect, citing among other work experiments on how we reason, how we assess risk, and the rules of thumb and biases that guide us when we make decisions. He is looking into what he calls "causal belief" the idea that events or conditions we experience have a cause, possibly a supernatural cause.

Human reasoning is "beset with logical problems that include overdependence on authority, overemphasis on coincidence, distortion of the evidence, circular reasoning, use of anecdotes, ignorance of science and failures of logic," he writes. And whatever these traits may say about acceptance of religion, they have a lot to do with public misunderstanding of science.

So, he concludes, "We have to both respect, if we can, the beliefs of others, and accept the responsibility to try and change them if the evidence for them is weak or scientifically improbable."

This is where the scientific method comes in. If scientists are prepared to state their hypotheses, describe how they tested them, lay out their data, explain how they analyze their data and the conclusions they draw from their analyses then it should not matter if they pray to Zeus, Jehovah, the Tooth Fairy, or nobody.

Their work will speak for itself.


Cold, Hard Facts

July 27, 2006 Op-Ed Contributor By PETER DORAN


IN the debate on global warming, the data on the climate of Antarctica has been distorted, at different times, by both sides. As a polar researcher caught in the middle, I'd like to set the record straight.

In January 2002, a research paper about Antarctic temperatures, of which I was the lead author, appeared in the journal Nature. At the time, the Antarctic Peninsula was warming, and many people assumed that meant the climate on the entire continent was heating up, as the Arctic was. But the Antarctic Peninsula represents only about 15 percent of the continent's land mass, so it could not tell the whole story of Antarctic climate. Our paper made the continental picture more clear.

My research colleagues and I found that from 1996 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled. Our report also analyzed temperatures for the mainland in such a way as to remove the influence of the peninsula warming and found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent had cooled than had warmed. Our summary statement pointed out how the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change.

Newspaper and television reports focused on this part of the paper. And many news and opinion writers linked our study with another bit of polar research published that month, in Science, showing that part of Antarctica's ice sheet had been thickening and erroneously concluded that the earth was not warming at all. "Scientific findings run counter to theory of global warming," said a headline on an editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune. One conservative commentator wrote, "It's ironic that two studies suggesting that a new Ice Age may be under way may end the global warming debate."

In a rebuttal in The Providence Journal, in Rhode Island, the lead author of the Science paper and I explained that our studies offered no evidence that the earth was cooling. But the misinterpretation had already become legend, and in the four and half years since, it has only grown.

Our results have been misused as "evidence" against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel "State of Fear" and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism." Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming. One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that "the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle." I have never thought such a thing either.

Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?

Also missing from the skeptics' arguments is the debate over our conclusions. Another group of researchers who took a different approach found no clear cooling trend in Antarctica. We still stand by our results for the period we analyzed, but unbiased reporting would acknowledge differences of scientific opinion.

The disappointing thing is that we are even debating the direction of climate change on this globally important continent. And it may not end until we have more weather stations on Antarctica and longer-term data that demonstrate a clear trend.

In the meantime, I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming. I know my coauthors would as well.

Peter Doran is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Science and shams


THE NATIONAL preoccupation with university researchers who collaborate with drug companies has now blossomed into a full-fledged witch hunt. Before we burn these heathen scientists at the stake, however, we might want to step back and examine our underlying assumptions.

By David A. Shaywitz | July 27, 2006

The worry about academics working with industry stems from the fear that drug company money will bias the conclusions of otherwise trustworthy university scientists. Yet this argument is ultimately a dangerous sham -- a sham, because it derives from a naive preconception about the purity of academic scientists, and dangerous, because by discouraging collaborations between researchers from university and industry, we will slow the pace of medical progress.

The quaint notion that university researchers operate on a higher moral plane than business people might be charming if the implications weren't so profound; attention-getting results can lead directly to employment, promotion, and prizes, all leading to personal gain. Not surprisingly, some of the most notorious perpetrators of research misconduct have been academic investigators with no company relationships.

While fraud itself is fortunately quite rare in science, you still shouldn't believe everything you read. It turns out that the scientific literature is characterized by a shockingly high rate of irreproducibility, often estimated to exceed 50 percent. A review of this subject last year in the journal PLOS-Medicine by Dr. John Ioannidis became an instant cult classic.

Among the factors associated with irreproducibility includes a category Ioannidis terms ``financial and other interests and prejudices," since ``prejudice may not necessarily have financial roots." Such nonfinancial prejudice may include a bias toward a particular scientific theory, a bias against competing researchers or perspectives, and a desire to generate publications for career advancement. Unfortunately, the newfound obsession with financial conflicts of interest obscures these other, often more compelling pressures on university researchers.

Ultimately, the myopic focus on financial conflicts is likely to discourage relationships between university researchers and drug companies -- a bad idea, since these associations offer enormous potential for medical advancement.

While almost all of the basic research in the nation occurs at universities, translating these discoveries into clinical application generally requires the contribution of industry. In fact, the initial scientific insight, though essential, is typically only the first step of an exceptionally long, difficult, and characteristically unsuccessful process, since only a vanishingly small number of leads ultimately evolve into clinically significant products.

The commercial development of a new drug or device is frequently catalyzed by the contributions of academic experts at many steps along the way.

Basic scientists contribute detailed knowledge of the biological pathway the new agent will target, for example, while clinical researchers provide important information about the medical condition the new product will treat. Not surprisingly, the same university researchers sought out by industry can also provide valuable insight to scientific colleagues, in the form of review articles, and to government regulators, through participation on FDA advisory committees. But both of these activities have alarmed critics, who maintain that researchers with industry involvement are indelibly tainted and no longer worthy of our trust.

To be sure, drug companies have brought some of this skepticism upon themselves. Consider Nexium, a product created not to address an unmet medical need, but purely to offset the fact that the company's previous (and fundamentally identical) heartburn drug, Prilosec, was about to go off-patent.

At the same time, I've also seen patients on death's door recover because they were given a powerful new antibiotic, or because their condition was accurately diagnosed by a technologically advanced machine. I've also had the remarkable experience of restoring the vision of a patient who had nearly gone blind because a fast-growing pituitary tumor had compressed his optic nerves; treated with the appropriate drug, the tumor receded within days. In each of these cases, patients benefited from the extensive efforts of a drug or a medical device company, and from the pivotal role played by the academic physicians who worked with the company to accelerate the development of these important products.

Coming up with novel treatments for dreadful diseases is a difficult enough task under the best of circumstances; let's not complicate this mission further by misjudging either the intrinsic virtue of academic scientists or the alleged venality of drug companies; instead, let us learn how to foster productive, transparent collaborations so that the promise of modern science can be realized in the treatment of our patients.

David A. Shaywitz is an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Standish: Hollow Earth)


Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface

David Standish
2006, Da Capo Press; 303p., illustrated crankery:history, geographical, geographical:history, UFO, UFO:history

At last it can be told: The Earth is hollow and, depending upon which vision appeals to you, it has limitless amounts of valuable goods, monsters ready to attack us surface dwellers, goddesses reaching to bring us peace, or flying saucers doing who knows what. Standish presents a book which he says "traces the cultural history of an idea that was wrong and changed nothing." It is a story of curiosity manifested by science, but then changed in literature and philosophy in fantastic ways, a story that "weaves in and out of literature and what passes for real life, and veers into the charmingly delusional more than once." Surprisingly, one era after another has taken this wrong idea and transformed it, continuing its appeal. Hollow Earth notions prove to be a dreadfully wrong-headed idea whose time has never come but still comes repeatedly in various forms. It is a little disheartening to know that such a bad concept has continued to take hold of people's imaginations and pocketbooks; type "Hollow Earth" into a Google search, and you will get millions of hits, and few of them reflect the sort of high-minded but amusing view which Standish has taken in his valuable book. The flying saucer tinfoil-hat types have signed on, as have the New Agers, and, if Standish's examples here mean anything, so will all the subsequent fringe groups.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.net ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/

Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Fighting to Say No to Chemo


By Adam Baer, ADAM BAER is a writer in Los Angeles. He blogs at glassshallot.com. July 29, 2006

A TRIAL NEXT month in Virginia will determine what kind of medical treatment Abraham Cherrix, a 16-year-old with Hodgkin's disease, will receive. At the same time, the case will call into question the definition of "alternative" medicine and just how much of a role government should have in our private lives and medical decisions.

Cherrix has already had one debilitating course of chemotherapy. Nevertheless, a juvenile court ruled recently that he must undergo a second course instead of following the organic, herbal treatment he has chosen with his parents' consent. A circuit court judge this week suspended the ruling and ordered the trial.

According to a recent story on Cherrix in USA Today, chemotherapy rendered the 6-foot-1 teenager so weak that he couldn't walk from his car to his home. He felt deathly ill after treatment and feared at times that he wouldn't make it through the night. So Cherrix did research and found an alternative the "Hoxsey herbal treatment" administered by a clinic in Mexico. It calls for a diet of organic food and herbs, eliminating, among other things, sugar, tomatoes and white flour.

His parents supported his choice despite the American Cancer Society's opinion that "there is no scientific evidence" that the Hoxsey method treats cancer effectively.

Together, a family believed that they might have found a less harmful answer to their problem and that they had the right to pursue it. It turns out they were wrong at least in Virginia, where even your medicine and family structure may be regulated by the county.

Of course, Western methods of treating Hodgkin's disease offer patients an 85% survival rate after five years. This fact alone calls into question Cherrix's decision. Still, although chemo and radiation protocols may be more cut-and-dried now, varying formulas and blends remain. And it's still a crapshoot how a person will respond to any treatment and what the long-term side effects will be.

Unfortunately, the concept that a mature teenager might choose a so-called alternative path for himself with parental support was so offensive to the Accomack County social services agency that Cherrix's parents were ordered by the juvenile court to share custody of their son with the county and face punishment for medical neglect. The circuit court ruling ended the joint custody.

All I can say is how dare they?

As an 18-year-old, I had the most dangerous form of Hodgkin's lymphoma, and I wasn't given treatment options either. My parents and doctors told me I was sick, and I followed instructions: six months of chemo, then radiation.

I was then told that I was cured, even though I now see in my records that my white blood cell count was elevated after the "cure."

Only two years later, when a lymph node the size of a golf ball appeared on my neck, was I re-diagnosed. I followed orders once more after my parents chose a new doctor, who prescribed more chemo (ineffective) and a stem cell bone marrow transplant.

I'm 29 now and thankful that I'm here to tell the story. But I face many long-term effects from the "sublethal" treatments I endured. I must see neurologists, neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists, dermatologists, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists and other specialists. The consensus: 10 years later, I have mysterious health issues that are most likely the results of my so-called cure. And no one knows what to do.

Do I wish I had tried something else in the past? Maybe, but probably not. I was in a near-emergency state. I needed serious help, and quickly.

I do, however, recall feeling trapped with few choices not even able to choose one hospital over another. My family and I were aware of alternative treatments that we had found in books. But they weren't considered options. We felt too scared to abandon Western medicine perhaps more scared than necessary because of the sway it holds over America's cancer culture.

Now I see that these paths might have helped me. I now employ many "alternatives" to help treat my current condition while I wait for Western medicine to say something anything.

So what constitutes "alternative treatment"?

The chemo-and-transplant combination that I received was developed by an expert renowned for his medical protocols. But there are others I was never told about. And who's to say that his method wasn't "alternative"? When he came up with it, it certainly was. Would the social services agency step in if Cherrix had found a pioneering doctor who had concocted new mixes of pharmaceutical-grade chemicals to fight Hodgkin's disease?

To be sure, patients with serious or potentially fatal illnesses who circumvent Western medicine run a serious risk of missing out on a cure. But spontaneous remissions occur every day, baffling doctors. And many of the doctors I see regularly, post-Hodgkin's, have no official explanation for what's going on in my body after all the chemical and cellular experimentation.

I say that if doctors are allowed to send you home without diagnoses after all their expensive, painful tests and troubling test results everyone, even a mature, educated teenager, especially with parental consent, should be able, without governmental intervention (or more obscene, punishment), to take his health into his own hands.

State school board's actions fire up its foes


Posted on Fri, Jul. 28, 2006

By DAVID KLEPPER The Star's Topeka correspondent

You can forgive Ken Willard and Connie Morris if they feel as if there are political bull's-eyes on their backs.

They've been targets ever since Morris, Willard and the four other members of the Kansas Board of Education's conservative majority voted to adopt science curriculum standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution. Now, nearly a year later, Morris and Willard are fighting to keep their seats on the board against motivated primary opponents.

Evolution is not the only issue. Last year, the board's conservatives pushed through the hiring of Bob Corkins, an anti-tax activist and attorney with no experience in the education field, as education commissioner.

This year, the board's conservatives took up sex education, encouraging local schools to require permission slips for the class and stressing the teaching of abstinence. They also voiced support for charter schools, which critics say would divert tax dollars from public schools.

Yet despite the criticism and the candidates who have lined up against them, Morris said most of the voters she talks to in her western Kansas district support what the board's majority has done.

"There are a lot of good people out there who are very frustrated with what's going on in the public schools," Morris said.

Five of the 10 Board of Education seats are up for grabs this year two of those are in the Kansas City area. The other three races, however, may be where the battle over the Board of Education will be decided.

Every conservative incumbent running for re-election faces a moderate primary challenge. Should they survive the primary, each will face a Democratic challenger in the general election. If moderate candidates can take two of the three races, they'll take control of the board.

All of the board's wrangling led many to predict a big voter turnout. Yet candidates say that even with all the controversy that the board has generated, they're surprised to meet residents who aren't even aware of the election.

"I wish I could say that the state school board is the first thing on people's minds, but it's not," said Sally Cauble, Morris' primary opposition in the board's 5th District race. "It's: 'You mean we vote on Aug. 1?' "

The winner will face Democrat Tim Cruz in November.

In District 7, which includes south-central Kansas, Willard faces GOP primary opponents M.T. Liggett and Donna Viola, who has the endorsement of moderate groups. The winner will face former state lawmaker Jack Wempe, a Democrat, in November.

In District 9, incumbent Iris Van Meter is not seeking another term; Brad Patzer, her son-in-law, will square off against Jana Shaver, supported by the moderates, in the GOP primary. The winner faces Democrat Charles Kent Runyan in the general election.

Incumbents Morris and Willard said that all the attention given to evolution, Corkins and sex education has obscured the board's accomplishments: new statistical ways to track student performance, a host of updated curriculum standards and efforts to better prepare high school graduates for the job market.

"The sensational news just discourages the process," Morris said. "They (the public) aren't aware of the positive things that are happening."

Willard said he wants the board to move past the contentious debates, but he worries that they'll only continue if conservatives lose control of the board. He said he wants to see the board work on challenges such as teacher retention and training, and new curricula designed to compete in a global economy.

"Once we get past this election, if we can keep some continuity, I think we can really accomplish a lot," he said.

His opponent, Viola, said Kansas shouldn't forget or forgive the board's controversies.

"People are not moving on. We've been laughed at on the late-night talk shows," she said. "People are just fed up with it."

Although Patzer said he's met a lot of residents who don't know the issues, the ones who do all talk about the race's 800-pound gorilla evolution.

"If people have formed an opinion on the Board of Education, it's about the science standards," Patzer said. "It's not Bob Corkins. It's not sex ed. It's evolution."

Special interest groups are taking an active role in the campaigns. Teachers organizations, the Mainstream Coalition and Kansas Citizens for Science are going head to head with groups including the Intelligent Design Network and the Discovery Institute, both critical of evolution, as well as advocates of charter schools and vouchers.

The ID Network is hosting a series of forums across the state this week to drum up support for the science standards.

"It's clear that the science standards are an issue in this election, so we're just trying to make sure voters get the complete information," said John Calvert, the group's director.

Morris said she expects that if the conservatives are defeated at the polls, "the science standards will be removed within an hour" of the new board's first meeting.

To reach David Klepper, call (785) 354-1388 or send e-mail to dklepper@kcstar.com.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Evolution education update: July 28, 2006

Evolution continues to be a burning issue in Kansas, to nobody's surprise. And a public radio show provides a look at the life, work, and religious significance of Charles Darwin.


Evolution continues to be a burning issue as the August 1, 2006, primary election in Kansas approaches. In November 2005, the state board of education voted 6-4 to adopt a set of state science standards in which the scientific standing of evolution is systematically impugned. The standards were denounced by a host of critics, including the National Science Teachers Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the committee that wrote the original standards, and the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science.

Now three of the six antievolution members of the board are facing challengers in the primary election, while a fourth is not seeking re-election. Thus the primary election (as well as the general election in November) affords a chance for supporters of evolution education to change the balance of power on the board, just as they did in 2000. Turnout in such primary elections is typically low -- in 2002, only 8% of registered Kansas voters went to the polls; in 2004, only 9% -- so even a small number of votes could turn the tide. Understandably, there is a lot of hubbub. A sampling:

* Writing in the Kansas City Star (July 27, 2006), Keith B. Miller debunked claims that Kansas Citizens for Science -- the grassroots organization that defends the teaching of evolution in Kansas's public schools -- is attempting "to promote a materialist world view that seeks to demean the idea of creation." On the contrary, Miller wrote, "It is ... the intelligent-design proponents, not our group or the Kansas scientific or educational communities, who are responsible for promoting an atheistic view of science," adding, "it was the intelligent-design supporters that inserted the 'unguided' language into the standards against the recommendation of the standards committee."

* Jeremy Mohn, a biology teacher in Overland Park, Kansas, contributed a piece to the Garden City Telegram (July 27, 2006), observing, "As a Kansas biology teacher, I frequently encounter religiously-motivated objections to evolution. With the current state science standards featuring intelligently-designed 'criticisms' of evolution, I think it is reasonable to expect the volume of these objections to increase." He concludes, "please join me in voting for a KSBE candidate who will reject these flawed science standards in favor of standards that are objectively neutral on the question of God's existence."

* Three church leaders -- Kansas Bishop Scott Jones of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Bishop Dean Wolfe of the Epsocopal Diocese of Kansas -- are encouraging their 225,000 members in Kansas to vote in the primary election. While no party or candidate is endorsed in the letter, Bishop Jones told the Topeka Capital-Journal (July 27, 2006) that he opposed the present version of the state's science standards: "I think the science standards are using nonscientific ways of questioning evolution."

* John Rennie, the editor-in-chief of Scientific American (and author of "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense"), implored Kansas voters to support science at the ballot box, writing (on the magazine's blog), "You need to vote in the primary election and help to defeat the members of the State Board of Education who have inflicted embarrassing creationist nonsense on your home's science curriculum standards." He added, "Kansas voters, if you can remove those antievolution voices from the board, then it should be possible to restore the curriculum standards to their proper standing. It's that simple."

* Meanwhile, Jack Krebs, the president of Kansas Citizens for Science and a member of the committee that wrote the original set of standards, continues to deliver the message across the state that Kansans need to stand up for science by opposing the deeply flawed set of state science standards. Krebs spoke on July 24 in Overland Park, and audio recordings and visual material from his talk are available on-line. Krebs is also scheduled to speak on July 27 in Hutchinson, July 28 in Garden City, July 29 in Hays, and July 31 in Kansas City.

For Keith B. Miller's op-ed, visit:

For Jeremy Mohn's op-ed, visit:

For the bishops' letter (PDF) and the Topeka Capital-Journal's article about it, visit:

For John Rennie's blog entry, visit:

For Jack Krebs's talk and his speaking schedule, visit:


The public radio show Speaking of Faith recently broadcast a special program on Charles Darwin, his gradual development of the theory of evolution, and the various reactions, positive and negative, to the theory. Entitled "Evolution and Wonder -- Understanding Charles Darwin," the program featured a lengthy interview with Darwin scholar James Moore, author of The Post-Darwinian Controversies, and coauthor, with Adrian Desmond, of Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist.

In addition to streaming audio and podcast mp3 files, the website for the program contains a number of extras, including a guide to the program with images from the Cambridge University Library collection of Darwin material, a guided graphical tour of Darwin's notebooks with audio commentary from the editor of the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, and a panel discussion with Kenneth R. Miller, Robert Pollack, V. V. Raman, and Nancey Murphy, held in conjunction with the opening of the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

For the "Evolution and Wonder" website, visit:

To buy a copy of Desmond and Moore's Darwin (and benefit NCSE), visit:


NCSE is seeking candidates for three positions: Education Project Director, Faith Project Director, and Archives Project Director. All three are full-time, permanent, salaried positions in NCSE's office in Oakland, California. Please feel free to disseminate the descriptions of these positions to any qualified candidates who might be interested. Applications will not be accepted after August 1, 2006.

For the descriptions, see:

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subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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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
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
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fax: 510-601-7204

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Intelligent-design proponent distorts foes' views AS I SEE IT


Posted on Thu, Jul. 27, 2006


John Calvert, contributor to the science standards adopted by the Kansas Board of Education and director of the Intelligent Design Network, has recently been making false public charges against Kansas Citizens for Science, and the science and educational organizations that have opposed the current standards.

Calvert, the organizer of the hearings set up by the board on the issue, has charged that our group has been used "to promote a materialist world view that seeks to demean the idea of creation."

As a board member for Kansas Citizens for Science and an evangelical Christian, I believe that God is always creatively active in the natural world, and upholds the very existence of physical reality.

There are also several other Christians on the state board, as well as members with other religious views.

It is Calvert and the intelligent-design proponents, not our group or the Kansas scientific or educational communities, who are responsible for promoting an atheistic view of science. They falsely equate the "methodological naturalism" of science with philosophical materialism and portray it as supporting atheism.

The term "methodological naturalism" was actually coined in 1986 by Paul deVries, an evangelical Christian philosopher at Wheaton College. The term was intended to specifically argue against materialism and to emphasize that science cannot make assertions about the existence or nonexistence of God.

This understanding of science is widely recognized by the scientific community and was the basis for the description of science in the standards as proposed by the appointed standards revision committee. But it was rejected by the board majority.

Calvert also charges that Kansas Citizens for Science has a strategy to promote "unguided evolutionary change." But it was the intelligent-design supporters that inserted the "unguided" language into the standards against the recommendation of the standards committee.

The changes to the description of evolution reinforce the false popular view that evolution rejects meaning and purpose in the universe. However, science cannot state that evolutionary processes are not directed by God or are without divine purpose.

As a parent, I do not want my child told in science class that evolution is a meaningless and purposeless process that God has nothing to do with.

Ironically, the current standards, and those who rewrote and supported them, would ask that teachers do just that. In their misguided attempt to make God a part of science, they have instead instructed teachers to teach evolution as a Godless process. How very sad.

Keith B. Miller is a current and founding member of Kansas Citizens for Science. He lives in Manhattan, Kan.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Revolutionary thinking on evolution forces rethink on species


July 29, 2006

SIMON HO grew up near the surf beach at Maroubra. Now the 25-year-old Australian is making big waves in the scientific world.

Dr Ho, a biologist and computer scientist, has uncovered flaws in the method other researchers have been using for decades to estimate when different species evolved, forcing many to reconsider their dates.

His research suggests modern humans arose much more recently than had been thought.

"Basically, any studies that look at evolution in the past million years need to be re-evaluated, so a lot of people are quite defensive about that," said Dr Ho, who has just been awarded a doctoral degree at Oxford University in Britain for his findings.

Lars Jermiin, of the school of biological sciences at the University of Sydney, said his former student's new research was causing controversy because it had such a wide potential impact.

"But Simon's work, in my view, is groundbreaking," Dr Jermiin said. "He is one of Australia's big assets."

Since the 1960s, scientists have worked out when species last shared a common ancestor by comparing their genetic codes. The more differences between their DNA, the longer ago the creatures diverged.

This method, known as the molecular clock, assumes that mutations in DNA accumulate at a steady rate, something Dr Ho has shown is not always the case by rigorously examining the genetic code of creatures ranging from birds to mammoths and chimpanzees.

"The molecular clock is not ticking evenly," Dr Jermiin said.

By taking the clock's variations into account - it ticks more slowly, the further back in time - Dr Ho and his colleagues have calculated that modern humans probably evolved between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago.

"Previous estimates were up to twice as old as that," he said.

His findings could also lead to a re-evaluation of when people populated the Americas, when animals were domesticated and when viruses such as HIV emerged.

For his honours thesis at the University of Sydney in 2002 Dr Ho helped settle a longstanding problem in evolution.

While archaeological evidence suggested there was a sudden increase in life forms, known as the Cambrian explosion, about 560 million years ago, DNA research suggested this occurred up to 1600 million years ago.

After re-analysing the DNA studies correctly, the young student found that they matched the archaeological dates more closely.

On The 700 Club, Coulter accused liberals of "fak[ing] a belief in God," repeated evolutionary falsehoods


Summary: On The 700 Club, Ann Coulter accused liberals of "trying to fake a belief in God" in order to court religious voters and stated that liberals have "admitted they are godless." Further, Coulter and co-host Gordon Robertson repeated many of the false and misleading claims regarding evolutionary theory that appear in Coulter's latest book and have been debunked by Media Matters for America.

In an interview on the July 21 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter accused liberals of "trying to fake a belief in God" in order to court religious voters and claimed that by purportedly not challenging the title of her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006), liberals have "admitted they are godless." Further, Coulter and co-host Gordon Robertson repeated many of the false and misleading claims regarding evolutionary theory that appear in her book and have been debunked by Media Matters for America.

In an introductory segment that aired prior to the interview, CBN senior correspondent Paul Strand reported that Coulter, in her new book, asserts that "anti-religious liberalism has actually become, in itself, a religion." Strand went on to note that she "explains how abortion is its sacrament; Roe v. Wade its holy writ; public school teachers its clergy; and Darwinism its liberal creation myth."

Robertson conducted the subsequent interview with Coulter, in which he noted that she has "been taking it on the chin" as of late and described the strategy of those criticizing her as "the old, you know, 'If you can't attack the message, go after the messenger and hope to win that way.' "

When Robertson remarked that Democrats do not like to be labeled the "godless party," Coulter claimed that liberals have "admitted" that she is correct in labeling them "godless" because liberal criticism of her book has focused on her attacks on 9-11 widows: "I think I would have noticed if somebody called me godless," she said. "But I really haven't heard people protest about that. No, they're upset about what I say about the Jersey Girls. ... So I think we are all on record now: Officially, liberals have admitted they are godless and don't even mind it." Coulter went on to say that Democrats often discuss how to attract the "believer vote," but that "[t]he way to do that ... is to be a believer and not to keep trying to fake a belief in God."

Turning to the two chapters in Coulter's book devoted to Darwinism, Robertson marveled at how "effective" her arguments are in disproving the theory of evolution. "I thought I was fairly informed," Robertson said. "But I confess, your book taught me new arguments that I hadn't had in my arsenal before." Coulter described evolutionary theory as a "myth" and part of liberals' "religious faith" and, in the ensuing discussion, repeated several of the "misleading claims, pseudo-scientific arguments, distortions of evolutionary theory, and outright falsehoods" recently debunked at length by Media Matters. These include:

Robertson joined Coulter in falsely arguing that "there's no fossil record of transitional species," and even repeated her highly misleading claim that the fossil record of bats supports this argument.

From the July 21 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club:

ROBERTSON: Well, last year, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean called Republicans a white, Christian party. Our next guest says many liberals have embraced yet another religion entirely. Paul Strand explains.

[begin video clip]

STRAND: By the time the 1992 Democratic Convention rolled around, when broken down by religion, the largest block of delegates was not religious at all, and identified themselves as --

GERAULD DE MAIO: Seculars, self-identified seculars. Defined as atheist, agnostics, and those with no religious preference.

STRAND: Social scientist Gerauld de Maio and Louis Bolce have been tracking this trend. Turns out, in every presidential election since 1992, about 70 to 80 percent of the secular liberals vote for the Democratic candidate. And what de Maio and Bolce say the media miss is how many of the Democrats, secularists, and liberals have come to actually loathe religious conservatives. For instance in 2000:

LOUIS BOLCE: Thirty-five percent of Gore's, Al Gore's total vote among whites came from people who intensely dislike evangelical Christians.

STRAND: Ann Coulter's new book Godless looks at how this contempt for people of God, and especially all they believe in, has taken secularists and liberals to an ironic place. Their anti-religious liberalism has actually become, in itself, a religion. Coulter explains how abortion is its sacrament; Roe v. Wade its holy writ; public school teachers its clergy; and Darwinism its liberal creation myth.

[end video clip]

ROBERTSON: Well, Ann Coulter joins us now live from New York to talk about her new book, Godless. Ann, you've been taking it on the chin, here. I thought we sort of had the corner on the market for being beat up by the press. But you seem to have taken your own lumps lately. How do you feel about all that?

COULTER: Happy to deflect some of the heat from you.

ROBERTSON: Well, I guess -- come on in, the water is warm.

COULTER: Well, as you know, we kind of think it's macho as Christians, since it was predicted we would be hated.

ROBERTSON: You've taken a strong stand for your faith in this book. You know, are you saying that's the reason that there seems to be -- I mean, there seems to be a lot of venom directed your way these days?

COULTER: Yes, yes. But like I say, Christians think that is macho.

ROBERTSON: All right, well, you seem to be able to take it. The Democrats these days seem to be taking a lot of steps to try to open themselves up to Christians. They don't like the label, "the godless party." You know, Howard Dean has made some missteps in his efforts. [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] seems to be doing well with it. What do you think of their efforts so far?

COULTER: Well, first of all, I do want to point out that they really haven't complained about the title of my book. I think I would have noticed if somebody called me godless. But I really haven't heard people protest about that. No, they're upset about what I say about the Jersey Girls. But, oh, yeah, OK, we're all godless. So I think we all are on record now, officially liberals have admitted they are godless and don't even mind it. Maybe they are saying who-less. And as for their attempts to win believers over, they know they need the votes of Christians and you always hear them talking about how, "Gosh, how do we get the believer vote?" The way to do that I think is to be a believer and not to keep trying to fake a belief in God. Their results have not been very impressive in the past, as when Howard Dean was running for president and proposed to reporters, you know, "Let's talk religion," and one of the reporters asked him to name his favorite part of the New Testament, and he cited the Book of Job. So they really got to start placing the Book of Job in the correct testament to appeal to actual believers, I suspect.

ROBERTSON: You spend a lot of time on Darwinism in your book, and I think that's one of the reasons you're getting so much heat here is how effective your arguments are. I thought I was fairly informed. But I confess, your book has taught me some new arguments here that I hadn't had in my arsenal before. And I congratulate you for it. I think your book is a tour de force. It's something I recommend to everyone to read.

COULTER: Thank you. And by the way, they haven't argued with me directly on that either. I mean, the left really hates me. But no one seems to want to argue about the Darwinism. I mean, it's exactly like my defense of Joe McCarthy a couple of books back in Treason. Liberals build up this 50-year myth on Joe McCarthy in one case, on Darwinism in the other. And you know, I come along and say it's all a crock, and no one wants to argue back. If you read a single paragraph from my book in the Darwin chapters in a public school, the teacher would be fired -- would be banned from ever teaching again. But I go on -- it's about a third, a quarter of the book -- and no one wants to argue directly about it because it is a myth. It is part of their religious faith. There is no evidence for it -- not the evidence Darwin expected to find. It is what scientists refer to as a pseudoscience. There is nothing they will accept to disprove Darwin's theory. It's like tarot-card reading.

ROBERTSON: But isn't that why you are getting attacked? It's the old, you know, "If you can't attack the message, go after the messenger, and hope to win that way."

COULTER: I suspect that is part of it because Darwinism is obviously very important to liberals. They bring lawsuits whenever anyone mentions in a high school biology class, for example, the Cambrian explosion, where every animal, phyla appear in the blink of an eye -- no evolutionary process -- there it is, including the eye by the way, which they've never figured out how the eye could have evolved by natural mutation -- random mutation, and natural selection. Well, there it is -- the fossil record disproves it. But we can't mention the Cambrian explosion or the Chinese fossil bed that appeared before that. I mean, what you see over and over again with species is not the gradual change from one species to another, or even to create an all-new, novel biological form. You see a species appearing fully formed, minor adaptations for whatever it is -- a hundred million years -- and then poof, totally disappearing. Almost like there was a flood or something.

ROBERTSON: You're right. On a scientific basis, there's no fossil record of what transitional species or even transitional -- you know, how did we get a bat wing? There is no pre-bat wings in the fossil record.


ROBERTSON: And we just seem to ignore that, conveniently.

COULTER: Well, they have little stories about how a bear fell into the ocean and became a whale. But we don't have the actual bear and the whale. And also, since they often play a sophistical game with this, they have species that could, in theory, be a transition between one animal and another. But as I say in the book, this is like saying, you know, Elton John looks like Janet Reno. Therefore Elton John gave birth to Janet Reno. They can't prove the descendent relationship. All they can do is find an odd-looking duck that looks like another duck. And in fact, the ones they have maintained were transitional species -- because other fossils will appear that disprove it -- tend to fall away. What you ought to have under the theory of random mutation and natural selection is a whole lot of transitional species or animals, far more than you have of the final product. In fact, there really never is a final product because we're always moving on to something better. You know, humans ought to be sprouting new wings and tails as we speak.

ROBERTSON: And you also, I will, I've got -- they are telling me we're out of time. I will end on this. You also point out, very cogently, that if same-sex beings tried to mate under natural selection, they should be automatically eliminated from the gene pool.

COULTER: That's right.


COULTER: Fortunately, the religion of liberalism believes in miracles, so they can hold together completely contradictory beliefs at one time.

ROBERTSON: So you can be biologically born that way, but at the same time the genetic code seems to indicate you would be automatically selected away --


ROBERTSON: -- in the survival of the fittest just for the mere fact you do not reproduce.

COULTER: That's right.

ROBERTSON: Anyway, Ann, wonderful book again, thanks for being with us. If you need friends while you're being beat on, just, you know where to call.

COULTER: Thank you, great to be here.


Utilities give warming skeptic big bucks


By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | July 27, 2006

WASHINGTON --Coal-burning utilities are passing the hat for one of the few remaining scientists skeptical of the global warming harm caused by industries that burn fossil fuels.

The Intermountain Rural Electric Association of Sedalia, Colo., gave Michaels $100,000 and started the fund-raising drive, said Stanley Lewandowski, IREA's general manager. He said one company planned to give $50,000 and a third plans to give Michaels money next year.

"We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists," Lewandowski wrote in a July 17 letter to 50 other utilities. He also called on other electric cooperatives to launch a counterattack on "alarmist" scientists and specifically Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth."

Michaels and Lewandowski are open about the money and see no problem with it. Some top scientists and environmental advocates call it a clear conflict of interest. Others view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues.

"These people are just spitting into the wind," said John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The fact is that the drumbeat of science and people's perspectives are in line that the climate is changing."

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group, said: "This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda."

Donald Kennedy, an environmental scientist who is former president of Stanford University and current editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Science, said skeptics such as Michaels are lobbyists more than researchers.

"I don't think it's unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical," he said. He said donations to skeptics amounts to "trying to get a political message across."

Michaels is best known for his newspaper opinion columns and books, including "Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media." However, he also writes research articles published in scientific journals.

In 1998, Michaels blasted NASA scientist James Hansen, accusing the godfather of global warming science of being way off on his key 1988 prediction of warming over the next 10 years. But Hansen and other scientists said Michaels misrepresented the facts by cherry-picking the worst (and least likely) of three possible outcomes Hansen presented to Congress. The temperature rise that Hansen said was most likely to happen back then was actually slightly lower than what has occurred.

Michaels has been quoted by major newspapers more than 150 times in the past two years, according to a Lexis-Nexis database search. He and Lewandowski told The Associated Press that their side of global warming isn't getting out and that the donations resulted from a speech Michaels gave to the Western Business Roundtable last fall. Michaels said the money will help pay his staff.

"Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question," said Michaels, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It is a very spirited discussion that requires technical response and expertise."

Other scientific fields, such as medicine, are more careful about potential conflicts of interests than the energy, environmental and chemical fields, where it doesn't raise much of an eyebrow, said Penn State University bioethicist Arthur Caplan.

Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Medical Association announced a crackdown on researchers who do not disclose drug company ties related to their research. Yet days later, the journal's editor said she had been misled because the authors of a new study had not revealed industry money they got that posed a conflict.

Three top climate scientists said they don't accept money from private groups. The same goes for the Web site realclimate.org, which has long criticized Michaels. "We don't get any money; we do this in our free time," said Realclimate.org contributor Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean physics scientist at Potsdam University in Germany.

Lewandowski, who said he believes global warming is real just not as big a problem as scientists claim, acknowledged this is a special interest issue. He said the bigger concern is his 130,000 customers, who want to keep rates low, so coal-dependent utilities need to prevent any taxes or programs that penalize fossil fuel use. He said his effort is more aimed at stopping carbon dioxide emission taxes and limits from Congress, something he believes won't happen during the Bush administration.

On the net:

-- Pat Michaels' Cato Institute Web site: http://www.cato.org/people/michaels.html

-- Intermountain Rural Electric Association: http://www.intermountain-rea.com/

Copyright 2006 Associated Press

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lubbock, Texas, plans to pray for rain


LUBBOCK, Texas, July 24 (UPI) -- Public officials in Lubbock, Texas, are organizing a day to pray for rain.

"Nobody is going to tell God what to do and what not to do, but we are in a serious drought in West Texas and since he is the man who controls the rain clouds, we're asking him for his mercy and his help," Mayor David Miller told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

The City Council and the Lubbock County commissioners are expected to adopt resolutions this week asking local residents to both pray and fast for rain this Sunday.

So far this year, Lubbock has received about half of its normal 10 inches. In the weeks since June 1, the growing season for cotton, rainfall has been a scant .75 inches, far less than the normal 4.43 inches.

Officials have tried prayers before and say they were answered. In January 2004, after a year of drought, the city and county set aside a Sunday to pray for rain and got the second-wettest year since records have been kept.

Copyright 2006 United Press International, Inc.


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Drs. Clifford & Barbara Wilson

Archeological Evidence For Genesis 1-11

Dr. Clifford Wilson is a renowned archeologist who served as Area Supervisor at the excavation of Gezer in Israel, sponsored by the prestigious American Schools of Oriental Research. He has been honored as Outstanding Educator of America. Drs. Clifford and Barbara Wilson are well known internationally because of their wide radio outreach, heard around the world on over 250 stations daily. They have authored a vast number of books (over 80). Among them is Crash Go The Chariots (a national best-selling response to Erich Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods).

Chapters 1-11 of Genesis are fundamental and critical. They describe the Creation and associated events that follow. The Wilsons will demonstrate that these descriptions are supported by Archeology. This is a rare opportunity to hear eminently qualified archeologists present evidence for the Flood, long-living men, the tower of Babel, and the civilization from which Abraham emerged.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, August 1st, 7:30 PM

Flying reptile mystery 'solved'

UK scientists say they have solved the mystery of why prehistoric flying reptiles grew crests on their heads.

A rare skull specimen found in Brazil shows the crest appeared at puberty, suggesting it was used to attract attention from the opposite sex.

University of Portsmouth experts say pterosaurs, which ruled the air during the time of the dinosaurs, flaunted their headgear in sexual displays.

The findings are published in the journal Palaeontology.

Palaeobiologist Dr Darren Naish said the crest was a signal of sexual maturity; used like a peacock's tail to attract a mate.

"It would have been like a gigantic cockerel's comb, a brightly-coloured striking structure used in display," he told the BBC News website.

"We don't know this but we imagine they would have bobbed it around and used it to attract other pterosaurs."

Rare specimen

The theory is based on the skull of a species of pterosaur known as Tupuxuara, which was unearthed recently in north-east Brazil.

It was a rare discovery; only a handful of fossil specimens exist in the world and all the others are the remains of adults.

Dr Naish and colleague Dr David Martill examined the skull and found that the crest was different in the juvenile.

Rather than forming one large triangular crest of bone extending from the snout to the back of the head, it was made up of two pieces.

One crest came from the back of the skull and the other from the front of the snout. The crest that sprouted from the front grew backwards, only fusing to form one large crest when the pterosaur reached puberty.

"This is a significant find as it links the growth of the crest to physical maturity and therefore presumably to sex," said Dr Naish.

"The specimen was extremely rare and it is great to be able to piece together a little bit more details about pterosaurs."

Pterosaurs lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods
They were the first actively flying vertebrates and evolved many different forms
Pterosaurs are thought to belong to a group of reptiles known as archosaurs, which includes crocodiles, dinosaurs and birds

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/07/27 16:57:41 GMT

Fossil frogs yield 'soft tissues'

By Helen Briggs Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists have extracted marrow from the bones of frogs and salamanders that died 10 million years ago in the muddy swamps of north-eastern Spain.

The first fossilised bone marrow known to science provides a rare insight into the make-up of prehistoric animals.

It is preserved in remarkable detail; usually only hard tissue such as bone survives in the fossil record.

The soft tissue may yield traces of protein and DNA, researchers report in the journal Geology.

Bone marrow is the tissue that fills the centre of large bones, acting as a factory for producing new platelets and red and white blood cells.

There are two types: haematopoietic (which can produce blood cells) and stromal (which can produce fat, cartilage and bone).

The ancient bone marrow was preserved in 3D, retaining the original texture and red and yellow colour of haematopoietic and fatty marrow.

"Finding soft tissue like this is so important because it gives an insight into the physiology of ancient organisms, and how their bodies worked," said team member Maria McNamara of University College Dublin.

"The fact that we've got red bone marrow in the salamander shows that their blood cells were produced in the bone marrow; in the modern salamander it is not, it is produced in the spleen," she told the BBC News website.

Protective shell

The frogs and salamanders were found in a fossil-rich deposit dating back to the Miocene Epoch, the period of time that extends from about 5.3 to 23 million years ago.

Ms McNamara, and colleagues in the UK, Spain and US, say the bone marrow was preserved because the bones acted as a protective shell, preventing microbes from invading and breaking the soft tissue down.

They believe many other examples of preserved bone marrow will be found, raising the possibility of investigating the proteins and DNA of prehistoric animals.

"It is very exciting because with this organic material we can look for traces of organic molecules, protein and possibly even DNA," the Dublin researcher said.

"There are potentially a lot more of these types of tissue preserved and much more chance for other palaeontologists to find protein and DNA."

Certainly, past reports of the discovery of fossilised blood cells have proved controversial. Many finds have turned out to be little more than mineral deposits.

Last year, US researchers extracted some flexible filaments that resembled blood vessels from dinosaur bone. They also found traces of what look liked red blood cells.

The bone belonged to a Tyrannosaurus rex specimen that was at least 65 million years old.


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