NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 October 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Polish minister says schools will keep teaching evolution despite deputy's comment


The Associated Press

Published: October 26, 2006

WARSAW, Poland Poland's schools will continue to teach the theory of evolution, the education minister said Thursday, distancing himself from a deputy who recently called Darwinism a "lie."

Roman Giertych, leader of ultra-Roman Catholic League of Polish Families, said he saw no conflict between the theory of evolution and the Biblical teaching that God created the world.

"As long as most scientists in our country say that evolution is the right theory, it will be taught in Poland's schools," Giertych told a news conference.

Nearly two weeks ago, his deputy, Miroslaw Orzechowski, raised eyebrows across Poland by dubbing evolution a "lie" and a "fable of a literary nature" in a newspaper interview and by saying he wanted a debate on whether biologist Charles Darwin's theory should be purged from the school curriculum.

Giertych, who took office in May, said Orzechowski was merely expressing his "private opinion."

Giertych joined the socially conservative government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski when the ruling Law and Justice party forged a coalition with the League and farm-based Self-Defense party.

Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution of Morphology in the Social Amoebas


Science 27 October 2006:
Vol. 314. no. 5799, pp. 661 - 663
DOI: 10.1126/science.1130670


Pauline Schaap,1 Thomas Winckler,2 Michaela Nelson,3 Elisa Alvarez-Curto,1 Barrie Elgie,3 Hiromitsu Hagiwara,4 James Cavender,5 Alicia Milano-Curto,1 Daniel E. Rozen,1* Theodor Dingermann,6,7 Rupert Mutzel,8 Sandra L. Baldauf3

The social amoebas (Dictyostelia) display conditional multicellularity in a wide variety of forms. Despite widespread interest in Dictyostelium discoideum as a model system, almost no molecular data exist from the rest of the group. We constructed the first molecular phylogeny of the Dictyostelia with parallel small subunit ribosomal RNA and a-tubulin data sets, and we found that dictyostelid taxonomy requires complete revision. A mapping of characters onto the phylogeny shows that the dominant trend in dictyostelid evolution is increased size and cell type specialization of fruiting structures, with some complex morphologies evolving several times independently. Thus, the latter may be controlled by only a few genes, making their underlying mechanisms relatively easy to unravel.

1 School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, DD15EH Dundee, UK.
2 Lehrstuhl für Pharmazeutische Biologie, Universität Jena, Semmelweisstrasse 10, 07743 Jena, Germany.
3 Department of Biology, University of York, Box 373, York YO10 5YW, UK.
4 Department of Botany, Tokyo National Science Museum, Tsukuba Botanical Garden, 4-1-1, Amakubo, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki 305-0005, Japan.
5 Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, Ohio University, 307 Porter Hall, Athens, OH 45701, USA.
6 Institut für Pharmazeutische Biologie, Universität Frankfurt, Marie-Curie-Strasse 9, 60439 Frankfurt, Germany.
7 Zentrum für Arzneimittelforschung, Entwicklung und Sicherheit (ZAFES), Frankfurt, Germany.
8 Institut für Biologie, Fachbereich Biologie, Chemie, Pharmazie, Freie Universität Berlin, Königin-Luise Strasse 12-16, 14195 Berlin, Germany.

* Present address: Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.

To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: slb14@york.ac.uk

Michigan State researcher traces the evolution of honey bee gender


News Release Saturday, October 28, 2006

Contact: Zachary Huang, entomology: (517) 353-8136, bees@msu.edu; or Sue Nichols, University Relations: (517) 353-8942, nichols@msu.edu

Oct. 26, 2006

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A first-of-its-kind evolutionary strategy discovered among invertebrate organisms – or honey bees – shows how a complex genetic mechanism determines gender and maximizes gene transmission to the next generation of several bee species, according to Michigan State University researchers.

The research of Zachary Huang, MSU associate professor in the Department of Entomology, and his colleagues will be featured in the Oct. 26 edition of the journal Genome Research.

"This research gives us a better understanding of the sex-determining system of honey bees, as well as the age and evolutionary history of the csd (complementary sex determination) gene," Huang said. "The various versions of the csd genes are shared among honey bees. They evolved before they became different species."

In addition, the findings also will allow breeders to design better and more efficient mating systems. Breeders more easily will be able to raise new queens to lead hives.

This research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Office of Vice President for Research of the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas General Research Fund and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.

The csd gene determines the difference between a male and female honey bee, according to Huang. His research shows this method of sex determination first appeared in a shared ancestor of the European and three Asian honey bee species.

In humans, sex is determined by the combination of sex-determining chromosomes one has. In females, both sex-determining chromosomes are the same – XX; for males the two chromosomes are different – XY.

Honey bees do things a bit differently. Specific combinations of the csd gene regulate the gender and social roles of each honey bee.

In the past, scientists thought the sex determination of offspring was left purely up to the queen, Huang said. Scientists believed that after a queen bee returned to her hive from a mating flight she had a choice of laying fertilized or unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized eggs would develop into male drones. The fertilized eggs develop into female honey bees. But there's more to the story.

Alleles are different versions of the same gene. In humans, they dictate characteristics like eye and hair color.

If the bee has two different alleles, the csd gene will be female. If it has only a single version of the gene, it will become a normal, fertile male. Finally, if the bee has two identical csd types it will become a diploid male, which is infertile, Huang explained. The unlucky infertile males will never successfully reproduce so they are eaten by other members of the hive to save resources.

Aside from determining life and death, csd mechanism is important to the overall function of the hive.

There's a big difference between the duties of a fertile male honey bee and those of a female. The males lead a life of luxury – their duties include eating, resting and mating.

After hatching a female's life can take one of two directions. Fed a diet of royal jelly, the female hatchling will develop into a queen bee. If not, she will become one of the 20,000 to 60,000 worker bees tending to the needs of the hive, the drones, her queen and the next generation.

Ultimately the csd system shared by all honey bee species means increased genetic diversity and a better chance for their genes to carry over to the next generation.

"This is a matter of gene transmission," Huang said. "It is an evolutionary strategy to maximize gene transmission to the next generation."

For more information, visit http://www.cyberbee.net/.

Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 14 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

Proof that the Media is Biased Against ID


We recently reported how New Scientist has exhibited an incredible bias against intelligent design and is encouraging scientists to attack ID using "the weapons of sound bytes and emotional arguments... deploy[ing] all the tools that are used to sell cars, [and] diet drugs..." But the best possible proof that the media is biased against intelligent design would be a cover article in one of the nation's leading media journals instructing editors and reporters to limit and stifle the pro-ID viewpoint when reporting on the ID-evolution debate. Precisely such an article entitled "Undoing Darwin" was co-authored by Chris Mooney as the cover article of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review just a few weeks before the beginning of the Dover trial in September, 2005.

When Darwinists complain about media coverage of ID, what they really are upset about is the rare article which simply gives the pro-ID viewpoint the time of day and offers more than unyielding praise of Darwin. For example, Jason Rosenhouse and NCSE staff member Glenn Branch wrote in BioScience that "A misconceived concern for balance frequently results in equal time being accorded to biologists and creationists, creating the illusion of scientific equivalence." (from "Media Coverage of 'Intelligent Design,'" BioScience, Vol. 56(3):247-252 (March, 2006).) What Darwinists unambiguously desire in the media is imbalance, with an anti-ID bias and the limiting of pro-ID arguments and evidence in homage to the pro-Darwin position.

All ID-proponents desire is nothing more than what Chris Mooney, Jason Rosenhouse, and Glenn Branch oppose: balance and unbiased media coverage. For more documentation of the media's bias, read this excerpt from my response to Chris Mooney, "Whose "War" Is It, Anyway?: Exposing Chris Mooney's Attack on Intelligent Design," discussing his Columbia Journalism Review cover article:

In early September, 2005, just as Kitzmiller v. Dover case was approaching, Columbia Journalism Review published "Undoing Darwin," which recommended nothing short of imbalanced and overall hostile coverage of the pro-ID viewpoint during the forthcoming media coverage of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. This incredible article presented a call for journalists to become partisans in the debate over evolution and exclude a balanced or fair presentation of pro-ID arguments. It was co-authored by none other than Chris Mooney.

The article began by complaining that the media "tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing 'controversy' exists over evolutionary science." The fundamental premise of the entire article is that "it is false" to claim there are scientific disputes against evolution. Again making misplaced reliance upon authoritarian political statements by scientific authorities, Mr. Mooney begins with the assumption that his position is correct, and that this fact should therefore define and govern journalistic coverage of this issue. He assumes that all critiques of evolution are "theological attacks that masquerade as being 'scientific' in nature" and encourages journalists to frame articles as such, to avoid lending "undue credibility" to non-evolutionary viewpoints. This is the same mindset we saw coming from those who attack ID-proponents in the academy: not only is intelligent design wrong, but ID-proponents do not deserve the opportunity to discuss their scientific views in a positive light.

Mr. Mooney complains that simply giving "balance" to the viewpoints in articles over intelligent design does a disservice:

Worse, they [journalists] often provide a springboard for anti-evolutionist criticism of that science, allotting ample quotes and sound bites to Darwin's critics in a quest to achieve "balance." The science is only further distorted on the opinion pages of local newspapers.

In other words, the fact that reporting is sometimes "balanced" is a problem: Mr. Mooney's message is that media coverage is not "balance[d]" when one allows dissenters from evolution have their say by allowing the "pairing of competing claims":

Even worse, such "balance" is far from truly objective. The pairing of competing claims plays directly into the hands of intelligent-design proponents who have cleverly argued that they're mounting a scientific attack on evolution rather than a religiously driven one, and who paint themselves as maverick outsiders warring against a dogmatic scientific establishment.

Mr. Mooney thus suggests that it is inappropriate to "pai[r] claims" of ID proponents and evolutionists because it will make ID arguments appear scientific. To his credit, Mr. Mooney says that pro-ID voices should not be completely censored. But his article implies that the way to avoid the "pairing" problem is to diminish or weaken pro-ID arguments in articles, leaving pro-evolution arguments to have the louder microphone. Clearly he is not interested in a truly balanced presentation of the views.

Mr. Mooney again warns TV talk show hosts about the dangers of allowing pro-ID guests on their shows because "the adversarial format of most cable news talk shows inherently favors ID's attacks on evolution by making false journalistic 'balance' nearly inescapable." Can evolution not withstand this "adversarial format"? Or does Mr. Mooney not desire a truly fair presentation? What other solution could Mr. Mooney suggest other than limiting the pro-ID viewpoint from such venues? Mr. Mooney does suggest one clear solution: journalists should become partisans in the debate:

In short, to better cover evolution, journalists don't merely have to think more like scientists (or science writers). As the evolution issue inevitably shifts into a legal context, they must think more like skeptical jurists.

In recommending that journalists behave as "jurists" who are "skeptical" of intelligent design, Mr. Mooney implies they should let their own prejudices influence their reporting. Under this journalistic philosophy, the court of public opinion is to be determined by the media. Since when is it the media's role to determine the answers to complex social issues? This is not an issue where the public agrees with the position Chris Mooney thinks the media should advocate: – over 75% of Americans agree that "[w]hen Darwin's theory of evolution is taught in school, students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life." But according to Mr. Mooney and other powerful players within the journalism establishment, journalists need to discard any notion of true objectivity and neutrality in order to protect the American public from pro-ID arguments. Do these pro-ID arguments pose the sort of threat to evolution that justifies Mr. Mooney's conceded abandonment of the traditional journalistic principle of balance? Mr. Mooney seems to imply that journalists should become partisans in their coverage of intelligent design because the American people cannot be trusted to think for themselves.

Mr. Mooney even thinks that opinion pages should limit the space given to pro-ID viewpoints:

[On opinion pages], competing arguments about evolution and intelligent design tend to be paired against one another in letters to the editor and sometimes in rival guest op-eds, providing a challenge to editors who want to give voice to alternative ideas yet provide an accurate sense of the state of scientific consensus. The mission of the opinion pages and a faithfulness to scientific accuracy can easily come into conflict.

Mr. Mooney then complains that a local paper covering the Kitzmiller trial "recently print[ed] at least one" letter submitted by "a Christian conservative group." The problem according to Mr. Mooney is that "many opinion-page editors see their role not as gatekeepers of scientific content, but rather as enablers of debate within pluralistic communities." Since when are journalists the arbitrators of scientific dogma and not those whom the public entrusts to neutrally communicate and report the diverse viewpoints which exist into the public discourse? According to Mr. Mooney, it was a travesty that some papers covering the Kitzmiller case printed approximately equal numbers of letters-to-the editor in favor or against intelligent design. Mr. Mooney complained that this equal representation resulted in "an entirely lopsided debate within the scientific community [that] was transformed into an evenly divided one in the popular arena." For Mr. Mooney, because the majority viewpoint in the scientific community is generally against ID, pro-ID voices should not be allowed to make their arguments fairly heard even in the public sphere—even if the public is overwhelmingly friendly to ID. Even those who agree with Mr. Mooney's scientific position need not agree with his rhetorical strategy: ideas thrive by letting critics have their say and permitting intellectual freedom within the marketplace of viewpoints. If evolution is right, it can win the debates which Mr. Mooney does not want to see occur in the public discussion.

But Chris Mooney didn't always complain. He praised an editorial board of a paper covering the Selman v. Cobb County case because it stated that "our science infrastructure is under attack from religious extremists" and "warned repeatedly of the severe negative economic consequences and national ridicule that anti-evolutionism might bring on the community," thus adopting Mr. Mooney's party line. He observed that most of the letters printed were against ID, and pondered if this "may suggest a community with different views than those in Dover, Pennsylvania, or it may suggest a stronger editorial role." So in Chris Mooney's eyes, a "stronger editorial role" is the limiting of viewpoints that conflict with the prevailing dogma of the scientific establishment, even when that viewpoint has high support from many letter-writers.

Mr. Mooney also praised the New York Times and The Washington Post because "the opinion pages sided heavily with evolution," but he then scolded the New York Times because "a false sense of scientific controversy was arguably abetted when The New York Times allowed Michael Behe, the prominent ID proponent, to write a full-length op-ed explaining why his is a 'scientific' critique of evolution." Does this imply that Mr. Mooney thinks that Behe's singular voice explaining the scientific case for ID should have been wiped clean from the New York Times editorial page?

Mr. Mooney fears that "the unintended consequence may be that increased media attention only helps proponents present intelligent design as a contest between scientific theories rather than what it actually is — a sophisticated religious challenge to an overwhelming scientific consensus." But if he is concerned about not helping a cause, then clearly he is interested in using the media as a tool to hurt it. This non-neutral behavioral recommendation raises a question: What right does Mr. Mooney or anyone in the media have to make judgments about this controversy which lead them to diminish and weaken the presentation of certain viewpoints? (As was previously documented, Mr. Mooney's arguments that ID is not science are based upon fundamental misconstruals of the theory.) He concludes that "[in] such a situation, journalistic coverage that helps fan the flames of a nonexistent scientific controversy (and misrepresents what's actually known) simply isn't appropriate." This assumes that there is no controversy. Mr. Mooney concludes with proscriptions for keeping the pro-ID viewpoint out of media coverage:

So what is a good editor to do about the very real collision between a scientific consensus and a pseudo-scientific movement that opposes the basis of that consensus? At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing "both sides" of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims.

Here Mr. Mooney's recommendation for journalistic bias is stated explicitly: In short, Mr. Mooney thinks it is not appropriate to cover "both sides" of a dispute in a truly balanced or objective fashion even if this is "the typical" methodology of journalism. Indeed, he directly suggests that reporters who would employ such balance should not be assigned to report on evolution. According to his view, one side should not be given the same amount of air-time, size of print-space, or numbers of opportunity for rebuttal simply because it goes against the "consensus." According to Mr. Mooney, such "balancing" isn't appropriate. Mr. Mooney ends by stating that "the media have a profound responsibility — to the public, and to knowledge itself." This sounds reasonable, but one would think this responsibility carries with it the duty to inform the public about the arguments promoted by both sides in a balanced fashion, and then let the reader decide. If arguments for evolution are so powerful, then doesn't Mr. Mooney think they can win the debate?

(From Whose "War" Is It, Anyway?: Exposing Chris Mooney's Attack on Intelligent Design)

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 26, 2006 12:57 PM | Permalink

Alternative, Traditional Medicine Join Forces By Anita Brikman


October 27, 2006 - The Philadelphia area hosts the Mind Body Spirit Expo this weekend. It is the largest of its kind in the country aimed at bringing alternative and traditional medicine together.

The 9th annual exposition is expected to draw four to five thousand visitors to the Valley Forge Convention Center.

You can find everything from crystals to nutrition-packed potions to medical doctors.

That's right. More MDs are embracing a holistic way of healing, including doctors at Thomas Jefferson's Center for Integrative Medicine.

"When we use products like herbs or supplements or techniques like acupuncture or massage, it is in the context of an overall treatment plan," explained Dr. Daniel Monti of Jefferson.

That can mean teaching cancer patients how to control stress and anxiety while they undergo traditional treatment, or finding new ways to help a person deal with chronic pain.

Another member of Jefferson's team, Dr. Birgit Rakel, said the aim is answering a single question: "How can we maybe help them heal, even though we might not be able to cure them?"

The holistic approach is also appealing to people who are healthy and want to stay that way as they age.

"It has definitely grown in popularity and understanding by the general public," said Dr. Frank Bucolo of the Health Connections Center.

Organizers hope a visit to the expo will open more people to the possibilities of alternative medicine and how mind body and spirit are intertwined.

"And from there we use this as guidance to see what kind of treatment would be best for you," said Cheryl Broad, a registered nurse and acupuncturist.

The Mind Body Spirit Expo runs at Valley Forge Convention Center Hall C on Friday 4-9pm, Saturday 10am-8pm, and Sunday 10am-6pm. You can visit the expo's website by clicking here.

Here are some additional resources for information:

Jefferson Center of Integrative Medicine.
PHONE: (215) 955-2221, 1-800-JEFF-NOW
ON THE NET: www.jefferson.hospital.org

Dr. Frank Bucolo, MD of the Health Connection Center at 530 South 2nd Street, Philadelphia.
PHONE: (215) 627-6000

Cheryl Broad, RN/ Accupuncturist
PHONE: (215) 300-4289

TriUne Wellness
PHONE: 215-627-6279
ON THE NET: www.tri-une.com

Copyright 2006 by Action News and 6abc

No alternative: medicines must be labelled


Dee Atkinson October 27 2006

Homeopathic remedies are to be properly labelled. On the bottles, the public will be able to read the name of the remedy and the ailment it treats. This new legislation is a victory for common sense and has patient safety at its heart.

The Royal College of Pathologists, the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society have, however, all spoken out against these plans to allow manufacturers not just to name their product but to make therapeutic claims for it. They object because, they claim, there is insufficient evidence that homeopathic medicines are safe and effective.

The Royal College of Pathologists' president, Professor Adrian Newland, even went as far as to venture that endorsing therapies in this way might encourage cancer patients to see homeopathic medicines as an alternative to conventional treatments, putting their health at risk. Nobody is suggesting homeopathy should be used to treat life-threatening conditions. Under the legislation, the products that are to be labelled are those that can be used for minor ailments such as headaches, skin conditions and nausea – we are not talking about homeopathy to cure cancer, but the coughs and colds that bung up GPs' surgeries.

The huge and increasing demand for alternative medicine has to be recognised by sceptical scientists and doctors. From 1995 to 2000, there was a 57% increase in the use of complementary medicine and that has been increasing exponentially from 2000 to 2006.

Clearly, the public is already making use of homeopathic remedies. Furnishing people with basic information about the product they are buying simply allows them to make informed choices.

In the past, we have had a ludicrous situation where homeopathic treatments are available but information about them is not. Labels simply told the public: this is arnica, you put two tablets on your tongue. The end.

The consumer wasn't told that arnica is used to treat bruising. Instead, they relied on shop assistants for any further information or their own research, which may have been unreliable. This defies common sense.

Homeopathic medicine's ever increasing popularity has come about because it works. Homeopathic treatments may not have been through conventional clinical trials but they have stood the test of time. For centuries, thousands of patients have tried them and thousands of patients keep coming back for more. That in itself is a rigorous examination of their efficacy – if they didn't work they would have been rejected long ago.

Objections to alternative medicines from medics and scientists smack, to me, of people desperately trying to protect their niche. I would argue these people hold old-fashioned beliefs and are out of tune with the current movement of medicine in the UK. At a time when we should be working more closely, they are rejecting viable, complementary treatments for their patients and ignoring the fact that people want a more holistic approach to health care.

Today, in Scotland, we have a situation where there is no single answer to a health problem. A case of arthritis can be treated with anti-inflammatories from the doctor. Meanwhile a herbalist might recommend herbs with an anti-inflammatory action but also suggest that the patient works with their diet. Many doctors have already recognised that alternative therapies and particularly homeopathy have a part to play. Homeopathic medicine is not just limited to the private sector. In Glasgow, we have a homeopathic hospital that succeeds in relieving the suffering of two thirds of its patients – patients that orthodox medicine can do nothing further for GPs tired of shoving pills down people's throats have also embraced alternative medicines. Recent research from Aberdeen University showed six out of 10 Scottish GP practices are prescribing homeopathic or herbal remedies to patients – even back in 1998, 150,000 homeopathic treatments were prescribed on the NHS – and one in four Scottish GPs has seen fit to seek training in homeopathy over the past 20 years. Furthermore, the cost of homeopathic medicines is minimal in the context of the multi-billion-pound health budget.

Imagine for a moment if you had an aspirin on the shelves of a chemist and on the box there was no indication of how you could use it or what it could be used for. If the tables were turned, practitioners of alternative medicine would welcome legislation that allowed orthodox medicines to be properly labelled. This legislation is about public safety and that's something that complementary and conventional practitioners should both agree is paramount.

Dee Atkinson is a medical herbalist and owner of Napiers Herbal Health Care.

Scientists push pro-evolution candidates for state board


BY: MARILYN H. KARFELD, Senior Staff Reporter

Last February, the State Board of Education (BOE) voted to delete a controversial lesson plan that required Ohio biology students to critically analyze the theory of evolution. Detractors said the lesson was a Trojan horse for intelligent design, just another version of creationism, which had no place in science class.

The BOE acted only after a federal judge in Dover, Penn., ruled that intelligent design was a religious teaching, not a scientific principle, and could not be taught in a public school science class. Intelligent design posits that life is too complex to be explained by the random, natural selection of Darwinian evolution and thus must be the work of a supernatural being.

Earlier this month, the BOE voted to end what has been a four-year debate on how to properly teach students about the origins of life. But some board members say they won't give up advocating for a biology lesson to challenge evolution.

Thus, a group of scientists, concerned that Ohio's biology education must properly prepare students for 21st century life, are working hard to elect pro-evolution candidates for the BOE. They have targeted Deborah Owens Fink, a University of Akron marketing professor and an eight-year member of the board. She is a strong proponent of intelligent design.

Last summer, the scientists formed HOPE, Help Ohio Public Education, and recruited former Rep. Tom Sawyer, who also served previously as Akron mayor, to run against Owens Fink.

The two are running in District 7, which comprises Ashtabula, Portage, Summit and Trumbull Counties. Other candidates are John T. Jones of Akron, a mechanic; and David Kovacs of Akron, a college student.

The board of election consists of 11 elected representatives and eight "at-large" members appointed by the governor. State board members serve four-year terms, with staggered elections held every two years.

The only other race in Northeast Ohio is District 2, which covers Lorain, Erie, Huron, Lucas, Wood, and parts of Ottawa and Seneca counties. Martha Wise, a strong advocate of evolution, has given up her seat to run for the Ohio Senate.

The four candidates running in District 2 are John Bender of Avon, Kenneth Ault of Wayne, Roland Hansen of Toledo, and Kathleen McGervey of Avon.

HOPE is backing Bender, a retired college administrator and former state representative, who opposes teaching a critical analysis of evolution. McGervey, an engineer who has never held elective office, supports requiring students to analyze evolution. Ault and Hansen are equivocal on the subject, HOPE says.

The state board usually attracts little attention. In fact, this is the first time Fink has had any opposition; she has raised nearly $60,000 through September, election records show, almost four times what Sawyer has raised.


One Fish Remains Untouched By Evolution


October 27, 2006 3:01 p.m. EST

Linda Young - All Headline News Staff Writer

Chicago, Illinois (AHN) - Evolution may have affected most living things on Earth but after 360 million years it still hasn't changed the humble lamrey fish.

Scientists from the University of Chicago and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, found an exceptionally well-preserved fossil lamprey from what is called the Devonian period.

Researchers said that fossil revealed that today's lampreys are "living fossils" since they have remained mostly the same for the past 360 million years, Newswise reported.

Chicago's Michael Coates, PhD and Witwatersrand's Bruce Rubidge, PhD, along with graduate student and lead author Rob Gess described the new find in an article in the Oct. 26, 2006, issue of Nature.

"Apart from being the oldest fossil lamprey yet discovered, this fossil shows that lampreys have been parasitic for at least 360 million years," Rubidge said. He is the director of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research.

Lampreys are long, jawless, eel-like parasites that attach themselves to other fish and feed on them. There are 46,000 known vertebrate species and lampreys and hagfish are the only surviving jawless vertebrates.

Researchers classify lampreys as among the most "primitive" vertebrates, because they are the least changed. Lampreys also lack paired pectoral and pelvic fins, and scales.

"This fossil changes how we look at lampreys today," Coates said. He is associate professor of organismal biology and anatomy. "They're very ancient, very primitive animals, yet with highly specialized feeding habits."

Lampreys are all soft, so finding such an intact fossil is rare. "Lampreys provide a glimpse of conditions early in vertebrate evolutionary history," Coates said.

There are almost 50 species of lampreys today in temperate rivers and coastal seas. Some species stay in fresh water and others migrate to the ocean and back. Lampreys are abundant in the Northeast United States. When they attach themselves to a fish the fish might be injured or killed.

There She Goes Again: New York Times Reporter Blind to Evolution's Pitfalls


New York Times science writer Cornelia Dean continues to misinform the public about the debate over evolution, and I think she does so deliberately.

First, Dean mistakenly refers to intelligent design as the "ideological cousin of creationism." It is not. Second, she makes this incredible assertion without anything to back it up:

Although researchers may argue about its details, the theory of evolution is the foundation for modern biology, and there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth.

I reported about Dean making this same bogus claim at the beginning of the year. Then she wrote that

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that evolution explains the diversity of life on earth.

It's as if she cut and pasted that from her last article into her latest report.

So, I'll cut and paste my original response, as well.

This claim turns on a profound ambiguity. What does "evolution" mean when asserted to be a "fact"? If it simply means changes in species over long periods of time, there seems to be little doubt the claim is true. If it means universal common ancestry (UCA), the claim is more controversial; reasonable scientific evidence exists both in favor of and against it. But, if "evolution" means UCA plus the Darwinian mechanism of unguided natural selection acting on ran-dom mutation—together giving rise to all the complexity and diversity of the living world—then "evolution" is certainly not a "fact." There is very limited scientific evidence supporting this view, and powerful evidence against it. (Six Myths About Evolution)

There are numerous scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. Scientific literature is full of them. Those familiar with the debate in Ohio will remember that Discovery Institute submitted the "Bibliography of Supplementary Resources" to the Ohio State Board of Education:

"These 44 scientific publications represent important lines of evidence and puzzles that any theory of evolution must confront, and that science teachers and students should be allowed to discuss when studying evolution. … The publications represent dissenting viewpoints that challenge one or another aspect of neo-Darwinism (the prevailing theory of evolution taught in biology textbooks), discuss problems that evolutionary theory faces, or suggest important new lines of evidence that biology must consider when explaining origins."

As for whether or not evolution is the foundation for modern biology, like Dean I will turn to the National Academy of Science--specifically to Dr. Phillip Skell of the NAS, who has written on this subject extensively. Here's what he wrote in the New Scientist last year in an essay titled "Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology":

I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.

I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.

Skell concludes by saying:

Darwinian evolution--whatever its other virtues--does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology. This becomes especially clear when we compare it with a heuristic framework such as the atomic model, which opens up structural chemistry and leads to advances in the synthesis of a multitude of new molecules of practical benefit. None of this demonstrates that Darwinism is false. It does, however, mean that the claim that it is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs.

In spite of the New York Times's glowing record as a news outlet above reproach, I think I'll side with the scientist over the science writer on this one.

What else does Dean have to report? Seemingly quite a bit, since apparently she is able to get inside the mind of one of her sources, Dr. Deborah Owens Fink.

Dean writes: "But Dr. Owens Fink, a professor of marketing at the University of Akron, said the curriculum standards she supported did not advocate teaching intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism." Hmmm. I suspect that Owens Fink did not say that ID is the ideological cousin of creationism, but Dean wrote this in a way that you might think she did.

Referring to the National Academy's official stand against ID, Dean writes, "But the academy's opinion does not matter to Dr. Owens Fink, who said the letter was probably right to say she had dismissed it as 'a group of so-called scientists.'" Did Owens Fink actually say the academy's opinion doesn't matter? Probably not. At best that is unclear, since Dean writes in such a way as to try to make us all privy to many things that Owens Fink thinks. But these are just assertions on the part of the reporter.

Am I nitpicking here? Yes, but for a reason. This is a perfect example of media bias in action. Dean has made her own views on evolution and intelligent design quite clear in the past. She is completely biased against intelligent design, and so her reporting on the subject has to be suspect.

Posted by Robert Crowther on October 27, 2006 7:12 AM | Permalink

'Creation science' enters the race


GOVERNOR: Palin is only candidate to suggest it should be discussed in schools.

By TOM KIZZIA Anchorage Daily News

Published: October 27, 2006 Last Modified: October 27, 2006 at 03:05 PM

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms.

Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

Her main opponents, Democrat Tony Knowles and Independent Andrew Halcro, said such alternatives to evolution should be kept out of science classrooms. Halcro called such lessons "religious-based" and said the place for them might be a philosophy or sociology class.

The question has divided local school boards in several places around the country and has come up in Alaska before, including once before the state Board of Education in 1993.

The teaching of creationism, which relies on the biblical account of the creation of life, has been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court as an unconstitutional injection of religion into public education.

Last December, in a widely publicized local case, a federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a city school board's requirement that "intelligent design" be mentioned briefly in science classes. Intelligent design proposes that biological life is so complex that some kind of intelligence must have shaped it.

In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum.

Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

"I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said.

Palin has occasionally discussed her lifelong Christian faith during the governor's race but said teaching creationism is nothing she has campaigned about or even given much thought to.

"We're talking about the gas line and PERS/TERS," she said Thursday, referring to the proposed natural gas pipeline and public employee and teacher retirement systems.

The Republican Party of Alaska platform says, in its section on education: "We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory."

The issue of teaching an alternative to evolution has turned into an issue in the current race for governor in Michigan, where Republican Dick DeVos said he wanted to see students exposed to the idea of intelligent design.

In 1993 in Alaska, several Board of Education appointees of Gov. Wally Hickel considered adding creation science to the board's list of recommended scientific concepts. The idea was proposed by a member of the school board who taught at a private Christian school in Fairbanks. It failed on a 3-3 tie, with one school board member absent.

In 2003 a curriculum reform panel recommended leaving evolution out of the state requirements to avoid controversy. Their recommendation was accepted by the state Department of Education, but the state board -- which had the final say -- reinserted the term.

Current state regulations allow local districts to add their own curriculum beyond the minimum state requirements, said Department of Education spokesman Eric Fry. That would arguably include some form of creation science, he said.

"They couldn't promote religion, but it's OK to teach about religion," Fry said.

But efforts to bring such lessons to the science classroom would likely be subject to the same kind of constitutional challenge that blew up into a national controversy in Dover, Pa., last year. After a six-week trial, a Republican judge appointed by President George W. Bush concluded that intelligent design "advanced a particular version of Christianity" and did not belong in class.

Judge John E. Jones III said Darwin's theory of evolution was imperfect. "However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom."

Palin said she thought there was value in discussing alternatives.

"It's OK to let kids know that there are theories out there," she said in the interview. "They gain information just by being in a discussion."

That was how she was brought up, she said. Her father was a public school science teacher.

"My dad did talk a lot about his theories of evolution," she said. "He would show us fossils and say, 'How old do you think these are?' "

Asked for her personal views on evolution, Palin said, "I believe we have a creator."

She would not say whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact.

"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she said.

Knowles was asked Thursday if he believed in a creator and, if so, how he reconciled that with evolution. Campaign spokeswoman Patty Ginsburg responded by e-mail: "Tony wants to stick by what he said last night -- creationism has no place in public school classrooms as an 'alternative' to evolution."

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Billy Toien, the last candidate to answer the question about evolution at Wednesday's televised debate, posed a question of his own to moderator Michael Carey.

"My question is, who intelligently designed the intelligent designer?"

"I'm only the moderator, not a theologian," said Carey, moving on to the next topic.

Daily News reporter George Bryson contributed to this story. Contact reporter Tom Kizzia at tkizzia@adn.com.

• HALCRO: "I think anything that is religious-based in, in concept, you know, really should, needs to be taught in the proper channel -- philosophy, sociology. I don't think it should be taught as a science."

• KNOWLES: "... The answer is no. The reason why is we don't want politics in our science. We actually want more science in our politics. We don't want to just teach all things because it may be politically correct. We want to teach the best science there is, and there is overwhelming evidence, there's almost incontrovertible evidence that evolution is the science that, that we know. And that's what we should always teach, to never compromise on the principles just because it's politically popular."

• PALIN: "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. "Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides."

Pope Benedict's New Statements on Evolution and Design — Compare with Book by Two Discovery Fellows


Almost lost by the MSM are two new statements by Pope Benedict XVI that speak of intelligent design, in contrast to (Darwinian) evolution. First was a homily in Regensburg that was eclipsed in the news by the other, more famous address there that mentioned Islam. The second statement was made only a few days ago in Verona, as covered by the Vatican Information Service (VIS). As someone familiar with A Meaningful World (IVP Academic, 2006) by Discovery senior fellows Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, I am amazed at how closely Pope Benedict's statements about science and rationality resemble the arguments by Wiker and Witt. The pope's recent address to the Italian Ecclesial Congress sounds like it came right out of chapter 4, "The Geometry of Genius." Here's an excerpt from Benedict (translated from the Italian by VIS):

Verona, Pope Addresses Italian Ecclesial Congress: "At the roots of being a Christian, there is no ethical decision or lofty idea, ... but a meeting with the person of Jesus Christ," said Benedict XVI. "The fruitfulness of this meeting is apparent ... also in today's human and cultural context," he added, using the example of mathematics, a human creation in which the "correlation between its structures and the structures of the universe ... excites our admiration and poses a great question. It implies that the universe itself is structured in an intelligent fashion, in such a way that there exists a profound correspondence between our subjective reason and the objective reason of nature. It is, then, inevitable that we should ask ourselves if there is not a single original intelligence that is the common source of both the one and the other….This overturns the tendency to grant primacy to the irrational, chance and necessity."

And here's W & W, A Meaningful World, p. 103.

For scientists, the greatest and most peculiar intellectual exhilaration occurs when they find that the order of mathematics illuminates the order of reality. This is not a passionless, accountant-like correspondence of lines and legers, but a participation in an ethereal union of beauty and truth, the beauty and truth of the mathematical order matching some aspect of the natural order. It is interesting that, as biologists (following Darwin) have become more reductionist in regard to beauty, physicists had come to a new appreciation of the centrality of beauty in regard to the relationship of mathematical equations to reality.

From W & W, AMW, p. 99-100

We have spent some time focusing on beauty because our appreciation of mathematical beauty extends to the most abstract intellectual realms, including those inhabited by theoretical physicists. We may now ask a crucial but frequently overlooked question: What right have we to expect that our human capacity for mathematical abstraction and our human appreciation of elegance would yield any knowledge of nature? If, after all, the universe itself were randomly produced and did not have us in mind, and if our own reasoning capacities and love of beauty were likewise randomly produced, could we reasonably expect mathematics to be an effective tool for us in 'working out the meaning of the data'?

And finally, p. 109

As we have argued, if the order of nature preexists our attempts to grasp it, and consequently, if the strange effectiveness of mathematics depends upon the preexistent order of nature to be effective, then nature is intelligibly and ingeniously ordered. Exemplifying both surprising depth and a stunning harmony and elegance, such ingenious design necessarily implies a designing genius.

What makes it even more interesting is that both Benedict (in his now famous Regensburg address) and W & W warn against making an "idol" of mathematics—i.e., we must not confuse the wonderful effectiveness of mathematics in helping us discern the order of nature, with reality itself. Neither reason nor reality is reducible to mere mathematics; they are both supra-mathematical. Hence, Benedict argues that we need to have a "broadening [of] our concept of reason." And W & W in A Meaningful World, p. 106-107: Idolizing mathematics ends up in assuming that

the only meaningful language is mathematics; and since our everyday language and experience are not governed by mathematics, then our everyday language and experience are not meaningfully related to reality. As a consequence, deep reflections based on our everyday language and experience are taken to be groundless.

The world of mathematics is a world of abstraction, a step away from reality, not reality itself. It is through mathematics, not in mathematics, that scientists find meaning in the data. The data is about reality, about the order of beings in nature. That is why reality always determines whether any particular mathematical formulation is applicable and effective.

Finally, both the pope and A Meaningful World argue for the unity of reason and insist that both nature and human culture point beyond mere matter to a creative reason as the source of nature's order. The entire book, A Meaningful World, is given over to making that argument. The pope makes the point more briefly and draws theological implications

:... On these premises, it again becomes possible to broaden the horizon of our rationality, open it to the great questions of truth and goodness, and unite theology, philosophy and science, ... respecting their reciprocal autonomy but also aware of the intrinsic unity that holds them together.

And here:

We believe in God. This is a fundamental decision on our part. But is such a thing still possible today? Is it reasonable? From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary. And if this were so, he would also become unnecessary in our lives. But whenever the attempt seemed to be nearing success - inevitably it would become clear: something is missing from the equation! When God is subtracted, something doesn't add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe. So we end up with two alternatives. What came first? Creative Reason, the Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason. The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless. As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth - I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason. With this faith we have no reason to hide, no fear of ending up in a dead end. We rejoice that we can know God! And we try to let others see the reasonableness of our faith, as Saint Peter bids us do in his First Letter (cf. 3:15)!

Why are the media so slow to pick up on Pope Benedict's exciting new statements? I don't know and won't speculate. However, I do know that A Meaningful World is beginning to get new appreciation in the philosophy of science. Unlike Darwinists like Richard Dawkins, who makes an impassioned case against God, most of the media want to pretend that Darwinism is theology-neutral. It's not. It has implications. Wiker and Witt don't make a religious case, but they do show that design is intricately linked with the truly intricate, irreducibly complex fine-tuning of the cosmos, life on earth and the very elements that make life possible. And they find a compelling link between the nature of genius in human beings and genius in the universe. The pope seems to be thinking along the same lines.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on October 26, 2006 1:24 PM | Permalink

Friday, October 27, 2006

Evolution education update: October 27, 2006

A race for state board of education in Ohio -- in which evolution education is a major issue -- is now attracting national attention. And the biochemist-turned-theologian Arthur Peacocke is dead.


The race for the District 7 seat on the Ohio state board of education is in the national spotlight, thanks to a story in The New York Times (October 26, 2006), focusing on the endorsement that Tom Sawyer received from seventy-five professors at Case Western Reserve University. Sawyer is challenging the incumbent, Deborah Owens-Fink, whom the endorsement criticized for having "attempted to cast controversy on biological evolution in favor of an ill-defined notion called Intelligent Design that courts have ruled is religion, not science." The Times reported that almost 90% of the science faculty on campus signed the endorsement.

Defending her support of the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" model lesson plan and the corresponding indicator in the state standards -- both of which were rescinded by the board in February 2006 -- Owens-Fink told the Times that the idea that there is a scientific consensus on evolution was "laughable." The Times's reporter, Cornelia Dean, correctly observed that "the theory of evolution is the foundation for modern biology, and there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth," citing the authority of groups such as the National Academy of Sciences -- which Owens-Fink dismissed in the past as "a group of so-called scientists."

Owens-Fink is facing three challengers for the District 7 seat (which encompasses Ashtabula, Portage, Summit, and Trumbull counties, including Ohio's fifth largest city, Akron): John Jones, who works for the utility company Ohio Edison; Dave Kovacs, a philosophy student at the University of Akron; and Sawyer, a former teacher, mayor of Akron, and member of Congress, who enjoys the support of the pro-science-education coalition Help Ohio Public Education, organized by Lawrence M. Krauss and Patricia Princehouse at Case Western Reserve and Steve Rissing at Ohio State University.

Prompted by the Akron Beacon-Journal (October 23, 2006), the candidates discussed the proposed, modified, and abandoned "Framework for Teaching Controversial Issues" template, which was widely viewed as continuing the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" effort. Jones and Owens-Fink defended the template, Kovacs called instead for "elective classes in philosophy," and Sawyer replied, "I support teaching evolution. It is grounded in numerous basic sciences and is itself a foundational life science. By contrast, creationism in its many forms is not science but theology. And while faith is important to most Americans, its interpretation is best left to our many diverse faith communities."

The Newhouse News Service reports (October 26, 2006) that Owens-Fink "had raised nearly $60,000 for the battle through September, according to state records," while Sawyer "had raised less than a fifth of what Owens Fink had." Still, Sawyer expressed optimism, commenting, "If I don't get completely avalanched by money, I ought to be able to win this ... I don't think anyone in Ohio brings a greater depth or breadth of experience than I bring to this." And Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University, who testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, will be stumping for Sawyer and other pro-evolution-education state board of education candidates in Ohio over the weekend.

For the story in The New York Times, visit:

For information about Help Ohio Public Education, visit:

For the story in the Akron Beacon-Journal, visit:

For the Newhouse News Service story, visit:

For Miller's speaking schedule in Ohio, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit:


The biochemist-turned-theologian Arthur Peacocke died on October 21, 2006, at the age of 81, according to the Telegraph's obituary (October 25, 2006). Born in 1924 in Watford, Peacocke trained at Oxford University as a biochemist, and researched the physical chemistry of DNA at the University of Birmingham and Oxford. A sermon from William Temple, then the Archbishop of Canterbury, prompted him to re-evaluate his undergraduate agnosticism, itself a reaction to his adolescent embrace of evangelical Christianity. He began a systematic study of theology at Birmingham, leading to his ordination in the Church of England in 1971. In 1973, he became Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, but then returned to Oxford in 1985 as a fellow of St. Cross College, then Catechist at Exeter College and honorary chaplain and honorary canon at Christ Church Cathedral.

Among Peacocke's influential books are Theology for a Scientific Age, Creation and the World of Science, and the collection Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith?. His influence was also manifest in his fostering of community among scholars of science and religion: he was the founder and first director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford University, a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and the founder and first warden of the Society of Ordained Scientists. In 1993, Peacocke was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire; in 2001, he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, donating a substantial portion of the approximately one million dollar award to the Ian Ramsey Centre.

Although Peacocke believed in God as Creator, he was no friend of creationism, and sought to accomodate evolution in his theology. In his lecture "Welcoming the 'Disguised Friend' -- Darwinism and Divinity," Peacocke deplored "the way in which the 'disguised friend' of Darwinism, more generally of evolutionary ideas, has been admitted (if at all) only grudgingly, with many askance and sidelong looks, into the parlours of Christian theology," adding, "I believe that it is vital for this churlishness to be rectified in the last decade of the twentieth century if the Christian religion (indeed any religion) is to be believable and have intellectual integrity enough to command even the attention, let alone the assent, of thoughtful people in the beginning of the next millennium."

For the obituary in the Telegraph, visit:

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://www.ncseweb.org/evc

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FDA hearing will review rules for `functional' foods


By Michael Doyle McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - It's time to taste-test some new rules for "functional" foods, federal officials declared Wednesday.

These are foods that pack a special punch, or at least so their labels suggest. Grocery store shelves abound with them.

Snapple "Moon" tea offers kava kava to "enlighten your senses." Odwalla's "Serious Energy" drink contains "energy sustaining herbs" such as gotu kola. Ben & Jerry's "Raspberry Renewal" smoothie includes "energizing" ginseng.

While enhanced foods proliferate, critics grow more alarmed, enough so that federal regulators will give everyone a chance to weigh in with a public hearing. This could be the bureaucratic equivalent of empty calories. Alternatively, it could fuel a move toward stricter labeling standards.

"We believe that it would be in the best interest of public health to begin a dialogue with industry, consumers and other stakeholders regarding the regulation of these products," the Food and Drug Administration said.

Functional foods have extraneous but supposedly beneficial ingredients added. It could be as simple as orange juice fortified with calcium. It could be as esoteric as Trader Joe's "Green Tea with St. John's wort," with hints of elevated moods to come.

Americans are gobbling them up. Functional food sales increased from an estimated $11.3 billion in 1995 to $16.2 billion in 1999, a 2000 study by the then-General Accounting Office noted. Propelled by savvy marketing and health-conscious baby boomers, functional food sales were projected to reach $49 billion by 2010.

"Increased consumer demand is causing the food industry to add more and larger amounts of substances to food," the FDA noted, citing the work of other experts.

Jim Belcher, the owner of Katrina's Natural Ranch Market in downtown Fresno, Calif., agrees.

"They're adding calcium to everything these days, it seems," he said.

But estimates and regulations alike can be squishy, because there's no official definition of "functional food." The FDA's reach also is limited.

Claiming that soy protein may reduce the risk of heart disease requires formal FDA review. However, describing Odwalla's "Think Drink" with gingko biloba as a beverage "with two brain-boosting botanicals used . . . to stimulate thinking centers of the mind" does not.

Critics worry that this ambiguity cracks open a regulatory loophole.

Federal agencies "provide limited assistance to consumers in making informed choices and do little to protect them against inaccurate and misleading claims," the GAO warned in its 2000 study of functional foods.

A petition previously filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition and health advocacy group, cited the Odwalla and Snapple drinks, among others, as the kinds of functional foods that need more oversight. Neither Odwalla, based in Dinuba, Calif., nor Snapple, based in New York, could be reached to comment Wednesday on the proposals for tighter regulation. As a general rule, though, industry officials are leery of new regulations.

"Functional foods are just that: foods," Stacey Zawel of the Grocery Manufacturers Association declared after the 2000 GAO study. "They already have to meet stringent food-safety regulations."

Food and Drug Administration officials said Wednesday that "we are confident" the existing rules are adequate. Nonetheless, citing the center's petition and the GAO study, officials set a public hearing for Dec. 5 in the FDA's offices in Washington's Maryland suburbs.

"There are a lot of people out there being duped," Belcher said. "What I'm really concerned about are the big companies that say something like, `If you drink this, you'll walk on water.'"

Several questions are ripe for debate.

Currently, companies don't need FDA approval before marketing new functional foods if the ingredients themselves generally are considered safe. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is urging regulators to require such prior approval.

The public hearing also will consider other questions, including whether functional foods require a formal definition and unique regulations, and whether food industry experts should evaluate the claims made for functional foods.

No, really, vampires aren't real


Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Last update: October 26, 2006 – 1:52 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It might be the season for vampires, ghosts and zombies. Just remember, they're not real, warns physicist Costas Efthimiou.

Obviously, you might say.

But Efthimiou, a professor at the University of Central Florida, points to surveys that show American gullibility for the supernatural.

Using science and math, Efthimiou explains why it is ghosts can't walk among us while also gliding through walls, like Patrick Swayze in the movie "Ghost." That violates Newton's law of action and reaction. If ghosts walk, their feet apply force to the floor, but if they go through walls they are without substance, the professor says.

"So which is it? Are ghosts material or material-less?" he asks.

Zombies and vampires fare even worse under Efthimiou's skeptical microscope.

Efthimiou looked at the most prominent child-turned-zombie case that zombie aficionados cite: the 1989 case of a Haitian 17-year-old who was declared dead and then rose from the grave a day after the funeral and was considered a zombie. The boy, who never died but was paralyzed and could not communicate, had been poisoned with toxins from a relative of the deadly Japanese pufferfish, later research showed.

Efthimiou takes out the calculator to prove that if a vampire sucked one person's blood each month — turning each victim into an equally hungry vampire — after a couple of years there would be no people left, just vampires. He started his calculations with just one vampire and 537 million humans on Jan. 1, 1600 and shows that the human population would be down to zero by July 1602.

Take that Casper, Dracula and creepy friends.

All this may seem obvious, but to Efthimiou and other scientists, the public often isn't as skeptical as you might think. Efthimiou points to National Science Foundation reports showing widespread belief in pseudosciences — such as vampires, astrology and ESP.

More than 1 in 3 Americans believe houses can be haunted, a 2005 Gallup poll showed. More than 20 percent of Americans believe in witches and that people can communicate with the dead. TV shows such as "Medium" and "Ghost Whisperer" are popular.

"We're talking about a large fraction of the public that believes in subjects that scientists believe are out of the question," said Efthimiou. His paper is in an archive awaiting publication either in the journal Physics Education or the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, he said.

University of Maryland physics professor Bob Park, author of the book "Voodoo Science," said scientists have to keep telling the public what seems all-too-obvious.

"There are things that we need to point out that are crap," Park said.

It's gotten so bad, Park has a hard time watching movies these days. Not Efthimiou, who liked the horror movie "The Ring."

"I have nothing against movies," he said. "I have nothing against people who like them, as long as they don't mix reality with fiction."

And Halloween? Both physicists will suspend disbelief when vampires, ghosts and zombies come to their doors.

"I give them candy and I feign fright," Park said. "They enjoy it, what the hell. The problem is the ones that never get over it."

On the Net:

Efthimiou's paper: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/physics/pdf/0608/0608059.pdf

University of Maryland physics professor Bob Park's Web site: http://www.bobpark.com/

Transcending The Constitution?: Calif. School Drops Plans To Promote Hindu Meditation Program


October 19, 2006

A public school in Marin County, Calif., has dropped plans to institute a program of Transcendental Meditation (TM). It was the right move, as the scheme was almost certainly unconstitutional.

The ruckus at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael started when parents got wind of a $175,000 grant that a foundation run by filmmaker David Lynch offered the school to underwrite bringing TM in as a stress reducer. Lynch, the creative force behind such avant-garde films as "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Drive," said he practices TM and finds it useful.

That may be so, but the fact remains that TM is an offshoot of Hinduism. Some of its practitioners try to claim TM is a science, but its religious underpinnings are undeniable. No public school can legally sponsor it.

Under increasing fire from outraged parents, school officials tried to argue that all they wanted to do was establish a voluntary, after-school TM club. The explanation does not wash. Such clubs are legal under the federal Equal Access Act, but they must be student-formed and student-run. The original Lynch proposal was far more sweeping and called for training staff in the principles of TM as well as students. Besides, an after-school club would hardly need a $175,000 grant to get started.

Unfortunately, instead of just admitting she was wrong, Principal Carole Ramsey blamed the flap on "a few individuals" who created "an environment that has led to the withdrawal of this grant."

Perhaps those "few individuals" were really interested in making certain that their children were not exposed to a religion that conflicted with their own in a public school. Their motives might have been to defend the Constitution, not hurt the school.

In fact, the parents' actions have spared the school a time-consuming and costly lawsuit. In 1979, a federal appeals court ruled that a New Jersey public school could not legally sponsor Transcendental Meditation in its classrooms. That case was brought in part by Americans United. In court, a lawyer for TM argued that TM is a "true science." The appellate panel had no trouble seeing through that assertion. One judge noted that the names of Hindu deities are chanted in TM ceremonies. TM practitioners, the court ruled, were attempting to "take a cow and put a sign on it that says 'horse.'"

Helping students relax and focus on their school work is a laudable goal. But education officials must find ways to achieve it that do not depend on the promotion of religion. Pushing faith – whether it be Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or any other religion – is simply not the job of our public schools. The staff at Terra Linda High School should read the Constitution and meditate on it for a while.

--Rob Boston

Posted at 01:01 PM in Religion in the Public Schools | Permalink

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bee fossil, DNA generate a buzz


Scientists have identified the oldest known bee, a 100 million-year-old specimen preserved in amber.

The discovery coincides with the publication of the genetic blueprint of the honeybee, which reveals surprising links with mammals and humans.

The ancient insect, trapped in tree sap, is at least 35-45 million years older than any other known bee fossil.

It appears to share features with both bees and wasps, and supports theories of bee evolution.

Experts believe pollen-dependent bees arose from carnivorous wasp ancestors. With the arrival of pollinating bees, flowering plants blossomed on Earth. Prior to 100 million years ago, the plant world was dominated by conifers which spread their seeds on the wind.

George Poinar, professor of zoology at Oregon State University, US, whose team reported their discovery in the journal Science, said: "This is the oldest known bee we've ever been able to identify, and it shares some of the features of wasps.

"But overall it's more bee than wasp, and gives us a pretty good idea of when these two types of insects were separating on their evolutionary paths."

Remarkable preservation

The amber specimen, from a mine in the Hukawng Valley of northern Burma, has been named Melittosphex burmensis. It has waspish features, such as narrow hind legs, but also branched body hair and other characteristics of bees.

The fossil bee is in remarkable condition, with individual hairs preserved on undamaged portions of thorax, legs, abdomen and head. Legs and wings are also clearly visible.

In terms of size it is tiny, measuring barely 3mm across. This is consistent with evidence that some of the earliest flowers were also small.

Professor Poinar added: "This fossil may help us understand when wasps, which were mostly just meat-eating carnivores, turned into bees that could pollinate plants and serve a completely different biological function."

There are now around 20,000 species of bees, which use pollen to feed their young.

Biological clock

Scientists have also published the genetic blueprint of the western honeybee Apis mellifera.

The honeybee is the fourth insect to have its genome sequenced, after the fruit fly, mosquito and silk moth. Locked within bee DNA there are striking links with mammals and humans, scientists discovered.

Like humans, honeybees spread into Europe from Africa, making at least two ancient migrations. They split into two genetically different European populations which, according to DNA evidence, are more closely related to African honeybees than to each other.

Honey bees have an internal "biological clock" which is more like those of mammals than of flies, the research has revealed.

The clock governs many activities, including time sensing, navigation, labour division, and the famous bee "dance language" which the insects use to communicate information about food sources.

Another group of scientists from the University of Illinois found 36 genes in the honey bee brain, 33 of which were previously unreported.

They coded for 100 neuropeptides - organic molecules that control brain activity in both bees and humans, the researchers report in Science. In the bee brain, which is not much larger than a full stop, they help to regulate around one million neurons.

The honey bee was estimated to have around 10,000 genes in total, less than the fruit fly and mosquito. Honey bees have many more genes relating to smell than fruit flies or mosquitoes, but far fewer involved with taste.

Scientists Endorse Candidate Over Teaching of Evolution


By CORNELIA DEAN Published: October 26, 2006

In an unusual foray into electoral politics, 75 science professors at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have signed a letter endorsing a candidate for the Ohio Board of Education.

The professors' favored candidate is Tom Sawyer, a former congressman and onetime mayor of Akron. They hope Mr. Sawyer, a Democrat, will oust Deborah Owens Fink, a leading advocate of curriculum standards that encourage students to challenge the theory of evolution.

Elsewhere in Ohio, scientists have also been campaigning for candidates who support the teaching of evolution and have recruited at least one biologist from out of state to help.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve who organized the circulation of the letter, said almost 90 percent of the science faculty on campus this semester had signed it. The signers are anthropologists, biologists, chemists, geologists, physicists and psychologists.

The letter says Dr. Owens Fink has "attempted to cast controversy on biological evolution in favor of an ill-defined notion called Intelligent Design that courts have ruled is religion, not science."

In an interview, Dr. Krauss said, "This is not some group of fringe scientists or however they are being portrayed by the creationist community," adding, "This is the entire scientific community, and I don't know of any other precedent for almost the entire faculty at an institution" making such a statement.

But Dr. Owens Fink, a professor of marketing at the University of Akron, said the curriculum standards she supported did not advocate teaching intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. Rather, she said, they urge students to subject evolution to critical analysis, something she said scientists should endorse. She said the idea that there was a scientific consensus on evolution was "laughable."

Although researchers may argue about its details, the theory of evolution is the foundation for modern biology, and there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. In recent years, with creationist challenges to the teaching of evolution erupting in school districts around the country, groups like the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation's pre-eminent scientific organization, have repeatedly made this point.

But the academy's opinion does not matter to Dr. Owens Fink, who said the letter was probably right to say she had dismissed it as "a group of so-called scientists."

"I may have said that, yeah," she said.

She would not describe her views of Darwin and his theory, saying, "This isn't about my beliefs."

School board elections in Ohio are nonpartisan, but Dr. Owens Fink said she was a registered Republican. Her opponent, Mr. Sawyer, was urged to run for the Seventh District Board of Education seat by a new organization, Help Ohio Public Education, founded by Dr. Krauss and his colleague Patricia Princehouse, a biologist and historian of science, and Steve Rissing, a biologist at Ohio State University.

At the group's invitation, Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, will be in Ohio today through the weekend campaigning for other school board candidates who support the teaching of evolution. Dr. Miller, an author of a widely used biology textbook, was a crucial witness in the recent lawsuit in Dover, Pa., over intelligent design. The judge in that case ruled that it was a religious doctrine that had no place in a public school curriculum.

After that decision, Dr. Owens Fink said, the Ohio board abandoned curriculum standards that mandated a critical look at evolution, a decision she said she regretted. "Some people would rather just fold," she said.

But Dr. Miller said it was a good call, adding, "We have to make sure these good choices get ratified at the ballot box."

Argentine fossil points to largest bird ever found


Fearsome creature that roamed prehistoric Patagonia was 10 feet tall with a skull larger than a horse's.

By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer

October 26, 2006

A curious teenager in Argentina has discovered the fossil skull of the biggest bird ever found — a swift, flightless predator 10 feet tall that pursued its prey across the steppes of Patagonia 15 million years ago, researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County announced Wednesday.

The skull, tapering to a cruel beak curved like a brush hook, belongs to a previously unknown offshoot of extinct birds known as phorusrhacids — "terror birds."

ADVERTISEMENTWeighing perhaps 400 pounds, the bird most likely preyed on rodents the size of sheep that once grazed on the South American savanna.

"It is an unbelievable creature," said paleontologist Luis Chiappe, director of the museum's Dinosaur Institute, who documented the find in the journal Nature. "This is the largest known bird, with a skull bigger than a horse's head."

Measuring more than 28 inches long, the fossil skull is at least 10% bigger than the largest previously known species, Chiappe and his colleagues reported.

An Argentine high school student, Guillermo Aguirre-Zabiala, found the fossil two years ago among the rock outcrops between two houses by the railroad station in his village east of Bariloche.

The young man was so galvanized by his discovery that he changed his course of study from psychology to paleontology and Earth science, Chiappe said. "This discovery has shaped his life."

The fossil also is altering how scientists understand the evolution of South America's largest prehistoric terror birds.

Until now, scientists thought that these unusual flightless birds had become more portly and less agile as they evolved into bigger and bigger carnivores.

The slender leg and foot bones found with the immense skull, however, closely resemble those of a typical running bird, the scientists reported.

"It was a speedy bird," Chiappe said. "I am not saying this animal ran as fast as an ostrich, but it was clearly a good runner."

Ethiopia Fossils to Be Displayed in U.S.


By LES NEUHAUS, Associated Press Writer 5:30 PM PDT, October 24, 2006

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- One of the world's most famous fossils -- the 3.2 million-year-old Lucy skeleton unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974 -- will go on display abroad for the first time in the United States, officials said Tuesday.

Even the Ethiopian public has only seen Lucy twice. The Lucy exhibition at the Ethiopian Natural History Museum in the capital, Addis Ababa, is a replica while the real remains are usually locked in a vault. A team from the Museum of Natural Science in Houston, Texas, spent four years negotiating the U.S. tour, which will start in Houston next September.

"Ethiopia's rich cultural heritage, and the vibrant country that it is today, is one of the best kept secrets in the world," said Joel Bartsch, director of the Houston museum.

The six-year tour will also go to Washington, New York, Denver and Chicago. Officials said six other U.S. cities may be on the tour. But they would not release the names, saying all the details had not yet been ironed out.

Traveling with Lucy will be 190 other fossils, artifacts and relics.

Security will be extremely tight amid concerns of possible theft or damage. Officials refused to say how much they had insured Lucy for or how much the Ethiopian government was being paid. Tourism and Culture Minister Muhammed Dirir did say money from the deal will go toward upgrading and building new museums in Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries.

Lucy, her name taken from a Beatles song that played in an archaeological camp the night of her discovery, is the partial skeleton of what was once a 3 1/2-foot-tall adult of an ape-man species.

The fossilized remains were discovered in the remote, desert-like Afar region in northeastern Ethiopia by U.S. paleontologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray.

The creature was a member of Australopithecus afarensis, which lived in Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago, and is the earliest known hominid.

Most scientists believe afarensis stood upright and walked on two feet, but they argue about whether it had ape-like agility in trees. The loss of that ability would suggest crossing a threshold toward a more human existence.

Debate still rages over how close an ancestor to man Lucy would be, as many experts suspect she was anatomically far closer to apes than humans.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

British Media Continue Misinformation Campaign on Evolution and Intelligent Design


It looks as if the reporting on evolution and intelligent design is even worse in the UK than it is here in the US. I was just forwarded this article from last week's Independent titled "Does Creationism Have a Place in the Classroom." Right off the bat the lead of the article makes unsupported assertions, editorializing in a manner that even some of the most agenda-driven reporting in the US has yet to do.

"A creationist group, Truth in Science, has targeted thousands of secondary schools in the UK with an information pack that is being used by believers and unwary teachers to bring religious dogma into science classrooms."

In reality, Truth in Science is not a creationist group at all, and the information they have been distributing is either focused on criticisms of evolution or on advancing the positive case for intelligent design.

Throughout the story, the reporter's choice of words is so loaded that it is hard to understand how any objective editor would have allowed it to run in this fashion. When covering controversial issues balance and objectivity is necessary for fair reporting. For instances, in political reporting —presumably in the UK as well as in the US— if one were reporting on Democrats and Republicans, they would both be considered political parties. You wouldn't refer to one as a social club, and the other as a professional political organization. Yet, that is exactly the sort of imbalance that is taking place in this piece in regards to proponents of intelligent design.

Anyone who is even nominally critical of evolution is immediately classified as religious. They are painted as either ignorant or simply motivated by politics, whereas those who support evolution are referred to as scientists.

The Independent doesn't simply rely on insinuating that intelligent design isn't science and that its proponents are not scientists, it makes that assertion with nothing to back it up other than vacuous doctrinal statements from governing bodies that are not likely to have ever explored the theory beyond the pages of the Independent or the New York Times.

Even worse are the outright lies put forth about Dr. Michael Behe, who testified in the Dover vs. Kitzmiller ID trial last year.

"Last year Dr Behe had to admit in a US courtroom not only that such organisms could be the result of evolution, but that intelligent design had the same scientific legitimacy as astrology."

This is simply false. It is based on faulty reporting from that bastion of journalistic integrity, the New Scientist, which falsely reported this last year during the trial. (see here for the straight scoop)

Another false assertion by the Independent is that irreducible complexity has been discredited. Far from it. Behe has written about the hand waving, speculations, and just so stories that greeted his argument for irreducible complexity in the new afterword to his groundbreaking book Darwin's Black Box.


This is a surprisingly blatant attempt to misinform the public and manipulate the terms of the debate in order to denigrate the theory of intelligent design and prop up the ailing theory of Darwinian evolution.

What is it that the Independent, and Darwinian hardliners, are afraid of? A head of science interviewed for the story sums it up nicely. Concerning the distribution of "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" – a documentary presenting and explaining the positive evidence for intelligent design theory – it is clear that following the evidence where it leads is what Darwinists desperately want to keep students from doing.

Graham Wright, head of science at North Bridge House, an independent school in north London, says the pack sent to him went straight into the bin. But he is concerned that some well-meaning teachers, convinced by talk of changes in the national curriculum, will include the pack in lessons. "If I showed this to children, of course they would be convinced," he says. "There's no doubt about that at all."
Between agenda-driven language which is clearly biased against the intelligent design position, and reality-challenged "facts," the Independent is providing a poor service to readers in Great Britain and elsewhere. Let's hope that the British public sees through the smoke and mirrors and weighs the evidence for themselves.

Posted by Robert Crowther on October 25, 2006 12:25 PM | Permalink

The challenge to Darwin's theory of evolution – 6


By Sekai Nippo

A mathematician's method to detect design

TOKYO -- Dr. William Dembski is a mathematician and philosopher who established a basic systematic theory of Intelligent Design based on information. "Characteristic 'traces' remain in something designed by an intelligent being," says Dr. Dembski. He named the 'trace' as "specified complexity" and established a mechanism to generally 'detect' a "design" for the first time.

Dr. Dembski earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1988. He subsequently continued his research at MIT and Princeton. He then received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois in 1996, and studied theology at Princeton Divinity School. He is currently a professor in science and theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1988 Dr. Dembski attended an academic conference on mathematics at Ohio State University, which became instrumental to his tackling the task of constructing a theory to detect design. The theme of the conference was "randomness." A statistician who was one of the sponsors of the conference concluded by saying, "We know what randomness isn't. We don't know what it is."

Listening to this remark, Dr. Dembski intuitively perceived that "What you found with people who are trying to understand randomness is that something would be random only until a pattern was found in it, and then, suddenly, it would no longer be random."

As a Christian, he had always doubted Darwin's theory that the evolution of all life is the result of "accidents devoid of purpose" (randomness). He felt he might be able to successfully challenge Darwin's evolutionary theory by developing this inspiration and formulating the perception of 'patterns' underlying things designed.

Design, as theorized by Dr. Dembski, is prevalent all around us. The perception of design is already used empirically in various fields, including forensic science, artificial intelligence, cryptographic theory, and archaeology.

For example, if a pattern etched into stone is discovered in ancient Egyptian ruins, people unconsciously perceive the involvement of a "designer." Looking at the gigantic Moai statues on Easter Island, no one would think they came about by chance through many years of wind and rain.

By the same token, it is quite natural to assume the existence of a designer from many complex and sophisticated molecular machines in existence. In fact, prominent biologists perceive a latent "design" in the natural world and in organisms. They just do not want to admit it because of their naturalistic position or belief in scientific materialism.

Piltdown's lessons for modern science


By Professor Chris Stringer Natural History Museum

A new book reveals how recent research has uncovered a goldmine of information about the history of human habitation in Britain.

Here, Homo britannicus author Chris Stringer describes how efforts to search for evidence of early Britons were hampered by wrong turns and false leads, including the granddaddy of all scientific forgeries.

1912 - Discoveries publicised
1914 - 'Cricket bat' surfaces
1915 - Charles Dawson dies
1949 - Piltdown ages queried
1953 - Fossil fakes unmasked

In the early years of the 20th Century, British archaeologists were becoming increasingly desperate for a human fossil to show that our island had deep prehistoric roots.

Our greatest rival, Germany, had the Heidelberg jaw and the original Neanderthal bones. France had Neanderthal fossils and early modern humans at Cro-Magnon to complement their beautiful cave art. Even the Dutch had Java Man, which they had brought back from the Dutch East Indies.

Stone handaxes had been found in Britain, so it was clear that early people had lived here. Some scientists also believed in more primitive stone tools called eoliths, though we now know these were often no more than naturally broken rocks. The absence of a single significant human fossil from Britain was conspicuous.

The time was right for the appearance of Piltdown Man: the earliest Englishman with the earliest cricket bat.

Not cricket

Charles Dawson, a British solicitor and amateur fossil hunter, claimed that some time before 1910, a workman had handed him a thick, dark-stained piece of human skull that had been found in gravels at the village of Piltdown in Sussex.

By 1912, Dawson had found more of the skull, and had contacted his friend Arthur Smith Woodward, the keeper of geology at the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, where I work).

Together, they excavated the Piltdown site, where they discovered more skull fragments, fossil animal bones, stone tools and a remarkable lower jaw.

Additional finds, including a bizarre elephant bone implement shaped like a cricket bat, helped swing the opinions of British sceptics in favour of the discovery. But Piltdown's days were numbered. Discoveries of possible human ancestors in Africa and Asia in the 1920s and 1930s pushed Piltdown into an increasingly peripheral position.

Part of the cleverness of the hoax was the way in which it suited preconceived ideas about what early humans should look like

Finally, in 1953, stringent scientific tests were applied, exposing the lower jaw as a forgery. Later analyses would show the whole assemblage of bones and fossils at Piltdown had been planted.

The human skull was that of a modern person, the jaw from an orang-utan. Both had been artificially stained to match the gravels.

Charles Dawson remains the prime suspect. He was the first person to seriously search for and report fossils at the site and was present when all the major finds were made.

He is now linked with several suspected forgeries, most of which were "missing links" between previously known stages in either evolution or technology.

Sent off course

Dawson was daring to a point, but he took things one step at a time. For example, he waited until experts predicted what size Piltdown Man's canine would be and, lo and behold, the next year a canine turned up of just the right size.

However, I don't think Dawson would have done something as grotesque and outrageous as the "cricket bat", as it would have threatened the entire story he was trying to construct. Martin Hinton, a volunteer in Smith Woodward's department at the British Museum and later the Keeper of Zoology, had the means and motive to create this object.

In the 1970s, a canvas trunk bearing the initials MH was found in loft space above the old Keeper of Zoology's office. Inside were mammal teeth and bones carved in the style of the Piltdown material.

We also know from letters that Hinton was aware the Piltdown finds were suspect. I think he made and planted this absurd object to warn the forgers that the game was up - only to find it hailed as one of the earliest known bone implements.

Piltdown was particularly damaging for us in Britain, because British scientists clung to it for far longer than they should have done. It clouded their judgment and affected their interpretations of genuine fossils.

For example, when australopithecine fossils started to turn up in South Africa during the 1920s, prominent British-based anatomists like Sir Arthur Keith and Grafton Elliot Smith wouldn't take them seriously because they believed in Piltdown Man.

Lessons learnt

Part of the cleverness of the hoax was the way in which it suited preconceived ideas about what early humans should look like.

Keith and Grafton Elliot Smith thought a large brain was such an important part of humans today that it must have a long and deep evolutionary history. Piltdown had a high, domed skull with a large brain, confirming their belief in the antiquity of these features in the human lineage.

In other countries, Piltdown was viewed with more caution if not downright suspicion. The scientist Franz Weidenreich, who fled Nazi Germany to work in the US during the 1930s, had seen what a potential human ancestor could look like after working on the Peking Man fossils from China. Of course, they looked nothing like Piltdown Man.

He said of Piltdown: "The sooner the chimaera 'Eoanthropus' is erased from the list of human fossils, the better for science."

Weidenreich didn't have an explanation for it and he couldn't say outright that it was a fake; but he knew there was something seriously wrong with it.

In other countries, Piltdown was viewed with more caution if not downright suspicion

Hopefully, the Piltdown saga has taught those of us who study the evolution of humans some important lessons that we should apply today.

Firstly, we mustn't let preconceived ideas run away with us. Secondly, specimens have to pass certain basic tests.

Science thrives on scepticism, which is why the extraordinary discovery of the "Hobbit" fossils in Indonesia has prompted a lively scientific debate over its status.

Science is also self-correcting. In Britain, during the first half of the 20th Century, people simply shut their minds to other evidence and continued to believe in Piltdown because it fitted their beliefs and was the only significant human fossil we had.

Further work

We now have genuine human fossils to speak of from Britain, including a shinbone and teeth from Boxgrove dating to about 500,000 years ago and part of the skull of an early Neanderthal that was unearthed at Swanscombe in Kent.

The first phase of our Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project has pushed back the evidence of humans in Britain by 200,000 years.

We have also shown that humans tried to settle in Britain at least eight times, but on seven of those occasions they subsequently perished as Britain was hit by successive ice advances.

In the second phase of AHOB, due to last until 2010, we plan to uncover further details about these ancient colonisations.

Piltdown Man is now on show once again, at an exhibition in Bonn, Germany, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the original Neanderthal fossil.

It still gets a lot of attention, because it is, as much as anything, a whodunit story.

Once proudly held up as the earliest known Englishman, Piltdown is now displayed as a lesson from the past, of a prehistory of Britain and a stage of human evolution that never was.

Homo britannicus is published by Penguin Books. Chris Stringer is Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London. He is also director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project.

Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part IX: The Kitzmiller Double-Standard for ID and Evolution on Peer-Review


In her Kitzmiller account, Barbara Forrest writes that leading ID proponents have "blustering cowardice ... who must capture support with brazen deceit and sarcastic punditry." Ironically, she later attacks Discovery Institute's critique of the Kitzmiller ruling, claiming it had "nastiness." In response to her inconsistent argument, Dr. Forrest would likely respond that her attacks are justified based upon the evidence she presents in her article. (I'm not conceding that her ad hominem attacks are justified, I'm just describing how she would respond.) Yet our simple claim that Judge Jones got some important facts wrong in the ruling is not just an assertion we've invented because we have something against Judge Jones. It's based upon careful analysis of the facts as they were stated in the opinion. I've already discussed one example in this series responding to Barbara Forrest. This post will discuss the misrepresentation that ID "has not generated peer-reviewed publications" (page 64 of online version) by looking at two examples of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific papers that were discussed at trial.

Stephen C. Meyer's Paper
Dr. Forrest testified that she "did a key word and subject searches for peer reviewed articles in science journals using intelligent design as a biological theory" and "found nothing." (Day 6 pm testimony, pgs. 32-33) Perhaps that's true, but it certainly doesn't seem to be the complete story because she later conceded that there were peer-reviewed papers arguing for intelligent design--namely, Stephen Meyer's article. (For a good discussion of the Darwinist response to Meyer's paper, see "The Stricture of Scientific Resolutions" by Mark Hartwig.) But she dismissed Stephen Meyer's peer-reviewed paper in Proceedings for the Biological Society of Washington because it supposedly "contains no new data" and it's a "review essay."

Judge Jones was actually presented with a number of papers which support intelligent design during the trial. Discovery Institute submitted an amicus brief which was accepted by Judge Jones listing some peer-reviewed papers, including Meyer's. But the evidence was also directly in the testimonial record, through the testimony of Scott Minnich, who testified about various pro-ID peer-reviewed papers:

I think yesterday there was, as I mentioned, there were around, between, I don't know, seven and ten. I don't have the specific ones. But Dr. Axe published one or two papers in the journal Biological Chemistry that were specifically addressing concepts within intelligent design. Mike Behe had one. Steve Meyer has had one. So, you know, I think the argument that you're not publishing in peer reviewed literature was valid. Now there are a couple out there. How many do we have to publish before it is in the literature and being evaluated? I mean, do we have to have 25? 50? I mean, give me a number.

(Minnich Testimony, Day 21, AM, pg. 34)

If Judge Jones knew about Meyer's peer-reviewed pro-ID article, why did he make absolutely no mention of the paper in the ruling, but instead made explicit findings which implied it doesn't exist? Is it because it was a "review essay" as Forrest says? Judge Jones accepted a review article offered by the plaintiffs entitled "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses From the Young and Old" (by Manyuan Long, et al., Nature Reviews Genetics (4):865-875 (Nov., 2003))," claiming that it provided peer-reviewed evidence for "the origin of new genetic information by evolutionary processes." (page 86 of online version) Either Judge Jones applied a double-standard to pro-ID vs. pro-evolution papers as regards peer-review, or he wrongly ignored Meyer's paper.

Michael Behe and David Snoke's Protein Science Paper
Michael Behe also testified about his peer-reviewed article with David Snoke in Protein Science. At least here Judge Jones did not ignore this paper completely, but he dismissed it as irrelevant in a footnote because he said it "does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID." (page 88 of online version)

Yet Behe and Snoke's paper clearly does bear on the topic of the origin of irreducible complexity in protein-protein interactions. Again, a double-standard comes into play: Judge Jones claimed that the aforementioned review paper entitled "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses From the Young and Old" accounted for "the origin of new genetic information by evolutionary processes" in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. Yet the body of Long et al.'s review article does not even contain the word "information," much less the phrase "new genetic information." The word "information" appears once in the entire article--in the title of reference #103.

The lack of the phrases "irreducible complexity" or "ID" in Behe's paper does not mean the peer-reviewed paper does not clearly support ID arguments, just like the lack of the phrase "new genetic information" or the word "information" in Long et al.'s review paper does not mean it doesn't try to address how new genetic information evolves. Once again, it seems Judge Jones applied a double-standard to pro-evolution vs. pro-ID papers as regards peer-review, and he misstated the facts on this matter.

[This post was edited immediately after posting for clarity.]

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 23, 2006 6:04 PM | Permalink

Everyone's Talkin' about Dawkins' Crusade Against Religion


The NCSE's Nicholas Matzke wrote last summer, "We don't need the anti-creationists going and mixing their views on religion into their science. In fact, this is probably the surest path to disaster politically and in the courts. Anyone who wants to do this has the right to do it, but it ain't helpful or particularly smart." Richard Dawkins apparently didn't get Nick's memo. In a recent BBC News interview, Dawkins said that "America is ready for an attack on religion. ... Britain always has been." He explained that he wrote his book The God Delusion to convince "vaguely religious people" that "[t]he religion of their upbringing is probably nonsense" and explained to viewers that "the living world … comes about by Darwinian evolution, by natural selection."

On Monday, Dawkins wrote in The Huffington Post that "the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis" but alleges that "no evidence for God's existence has yet appeared." Keep in mind that Dawkins is Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and that Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell's widely used textbook, Biology, praised Dawkins for his ability to "engag[e] and challeng[e] nonscientists" (5th ed., pg. 412). Meanwhile, many others are talkin' about Dawkins:

The NCSE must not like any of this. Perhaps they need to ask Michael Ruse to send Dawkins another e-mail like this one that William Dembski posted on UncommonDescent:

I think that you and Richard are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design – we are losing this battle, not the least of which is the two new supreme court justices who are certainly going to vote to let it into classrooms – what we need is not knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues – neither of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas – it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims – more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will.

(Remarkable exchange between Michael Ruse and Daniel Dennett)

Dawkins responds by simply saying that Ruse is from "The Neville Chamberlain 'appeasement' school" of science and religion. Comparing himself to Winston Churchill, Dawkins believes that he and others like him "see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other." He argues that that Darwin's theory effectively eliminates what he calls "the god hypothesis":

We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin's principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

(Richard Dawkins, "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," The Huffington Post, October 23, 2006)

Dawkins most likely believes, like E.O. Wilson wrote in Atlantic Monthly, that "[t]he eventual result of the competition between the two world views, I believe, will be the secularization of the human epic and of religion itself." While we all wait to see the outcome, the NCSE must be worried about how the crusades against religion from the likes of Dawkins and Wilson could impact the teaching of evolution in American schools.

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 24, 2006 11:38 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

US author offers 'Vedic alternative' to evolution theory


Kolkata, Oct 24: Offering a "Vedic alternative" to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, an American author has claimed that human beings devolved from the "realm of pure consciousness", as testified by archaeological evidence discovered over the past 150 years.

"We did not evolve up from matter. Instead, we devolved, or came down, from the realm of pure consciousness, spirit," author Michael A Cremo, said, citing many archaeological, psychological and genetic examples.

Cremo was speaking on the occasion of the launch of his book "Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory" released by US carmaker and Ford family scion Albert Ford here last evening.

Author of the 1993 bestseller 'Forbidden Archaeology' that sold over 20 million copies and translated into 23 languages, Cremo claimed archaeological findings disproving Darwin's theory were being systematically excluded from the academic circles in a bid to "filter" knowledge.

"The problem is Darwinians hold a monopoly in the education system. Students should be exposed to an alternative to his views which is still a theory anyway," he said, adding that the need of the hour was also to open an alternative education system.

Pointing out that nearly 80 per cent of people in the US did not believe in Darwin's theory, Cremo said that his views on evolution were "gradually finding acceptance".

"Of course, there are the fundamentalist Darwinians, but there is a larger group who accept Darwin but want an alternative view. There is yet another group which accept what I am saying," Cremo added.

Bureau Report

Teach sex and evolution or close, Quebec evangelical schools told


We teach 'a better theory,' unlicensed school says

Published: Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Quebec ministry of education has told unlicensed Christian evangelical schools that they must teach Darwin's theory of evolution and sex education or close their doors after an Outaouais school board complained the provincial curriculum wasn't being followed.

"Quebec children are legally required to follow the provincial curriculum ... but these evangelical schools teach their own courses on creationism and sexuality that don't follow the Quebec curriculum," said Pierre Daoust, director general of the Commission Scolaire au Coeur-des-Vallees in Thurso, whose complaint sparked the provincewide investigation.

Quebec law requires school boards assure the ministry of education that every child between the ages six of and 16, with the exception of home-schooled children, receives an adequate education, he said.

But the roughly 15 elementary and high school students who attend a school operated by l'Eglise evangelique near Saint-Andre-Avellin are being educated according to a Bible-based curriculum and their diplomas will not be recognized anywhere in Canada.

Supporters of l'Eglise evan-gelique, part of l'Association des eglises evangeliques du Quebec, counter that the school teaches a "world view" that is essential for their students.

"We offer a curriculum based on a Christian world view rather than humanistic world view," said Alan Buchanan, chairman of a committee that reorganized the school's administration this past summer, as well as a former Quebec public school teacher.

Mr. Buchanan said l'Eglise evangelique teaches evolution as well as intelligent design.

"We want the children to understand what they're going to meet in the outside world, and also what's wrong with the theory," he said. "We also teach that a better theory -- that God created the universe and so on."

While the school doesn't teach sex education, it does teach biology, he said.

"You have the Christian world view that says sex should only be in marriage and a public school system that teaches kids about sexuality," Mr. Buchanan said. "We believe students should be taught abstinence."

He said the school met provincial guidelines during two reviews conducted in the 1990s, although it was asked to add a Canadian history course.

Ministry spokeswoman Marie-France Boulay said yesterday the province will negotiate for several weeks with an unspecified number of evangelical schools to determine whether they can meet provincial standards that include the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Ms. Boulay said two or three unlicensed evangelical schools in the Outaouais are affected.

In addition to the approximately 15 students at l'Eglise evangelique, another 40 students attend an unlicensed evangelical school in Gatineau, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Commission Scolaire des Draveurs. There is a third in Hull, in the area governed by the Commission scolaire des Portages-de-l'Outaouais, Mr. Daoust said. The other school boards haven't complained.

The Quebec government knows of about 30 unlicensed religious schools in the province, including Hasidic schools and several evangelical Christian schools in Montreal, said Dermod Travis, who served on Quebec's Comite sur la langue d'enseignement, a tribunal that hears special cases from the province's educational system.

Other religious denominations might operate faith-based schools as well, but no one really knows where they are.

The Quebec government has known about unaccredited religion-based schools for years, but has tolerated them, for fear of offending the denominations sponsoring them.

Members of the Pentecostal Eglise Nouvelle Alliance in Gatineau refused to discuss the ministry of education investigation because their minister, Charles Boucher, is out of the country until next month.

Mr. Buchanan said l'Eglise evangelique, as well as other members of the evangelical school association, will discuss whether to seek licences at a mid-November meeting.

In Ontario, things are different. Schools are not required to teach either evolution or sex education, said Elaine Hopkins, executive director of the 900-member Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, which has 120,000 children attending schools with a few as 10 students, and as many as 1,000.

Many parents send their children to independent schools because they object to the teaching of these subjects in the public schools, she said. "These are issues that should be decided by the parents, not the province."

At the elementary level in Ontario, there are no curriculum requirements for independent schools, although Ms. Hopkins points out that the education is market-driven.

"It's called direct accountability to the parents," she said. "If you're not going to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, the parents aren't going to pay for it."

At the high school level in Ontario, independent schools are inspected by Ministry of Education officials to ensure that they meet curriculum and hours of instruction guidelines for credits to be accepted by the Ministry of Education.

Distinguished Bioengineer to Present "Natural Products: Challenges and Opportunities" at NCCAM's Distinguished Lecture Series


On October 25, 2006 the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will host its Distinguished Lectures in the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Ram Sasisekharan, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will present "Natural Products: Challenges and Opportunities."

(PressZoom) - Distinguished Bioengineer to Present "Natural Products: Challenges and Opportunities" at NCCAM's Distinguished Lecture Series

What: On October 25, 2006 the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine ( NCCAM ), part of the National Institutes of Health ( NIH ), will host its Distinguished Lectures in the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Ram Sasisekharan, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT ) will present "Natural Products: Challenges and Opportunities."
When: Wednesday, October 25, 2006, from 11 a.m. to noon
Masur Auditorium, NIH Clinical Center ( Building 10 )
10 Center Drive, Bethesda, Maryland
The event is free and open to the public and will be videocast live at videocast.nih.gov.
Why: Dr. Sasisekharan's research group is playing a central role developing tools and technologies to understand the function of cellular components called glycans. Glycans are complex sugars found on virtually every cell surface — they coat cells and regulate cell function. Science is slowly realizing the importance of these sugars to human health. In fact, the MIT team has discovered that glycans are integral to the communication between cells that causes them to divide, migrate, and die. Glycans are also found in a vast array of natural products including ginseng and chondroitin, which have been the focus of recent research by the team. During his lecture, Dr. Sasisekharan will illustrate the challenges and opportunities that arise from exploring natural products and discuss the potential of this research to improve human health.

For more information or reasonable accommodations, call 301-594-5595, or the Federal Relay at 1-800-877-8339.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's mission is to explore complementary and alternative medical practices in the context of rigorous science, train CAM researchers, and disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health ( NIH ) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

NCCAM Press Office

Ignoring the failures of alternative medicine


The U.S. spends millions testing popular supplements. It's a futile effort.

Call it swimming against the tide of alternative medicine. It is a futile effort costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

Last week's study showing that the widely touted and sold supplement DHEA does nothing to slow the effects of aging was only the latest major piece of research with powerfully negative results from the National Institutes of Health Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Previous placebo-controlled trials proved the uselessness of St. John's Wort and saw palmetto for enlarged prostates, shark cartilage for cancer, echinacea for the common cold and glucosamine plus chondroitin sulphate for arthritis.

But it doesn't matter much — few seem to care.

The NIH launched its office of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in 1991 in response to the public's huge interest in finding ways around mainstream medicine. At first, those heading the effort brought dubious credentials. Much of the research ranged from mediocre (meaningless animal studies) to laughable (passing magnets over sore knees).

But, in 1999, with the name changed to the National Center for CAM, Dr. Stephen E. Straus took over. Straus, who spent much of his career at the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, enjoys a reputation as an accomplished scientist. In his time as director, the Center for CAM has spent much of its $122 million annual budget on clinical trials putting most popular alternative treatments to the same rigorous tests as those required of pharmaceuticals and medical devices before approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Except for acupuncture, already proven effective in China, almost all the research has come to the same conclusion: the stuff doesn't work.

The powerful industry that sells these products ignores the results and often finds allies who believe in them because of an anecdote or advertisement.

After the chondroitin results appeared, Jane Brody, the longtime health columnist for the New York Times who has always prided herself in offering advice based on scientific research, wrote that she would continue taking chondroitin for her knee pain because "it transformed my 11-year-old spaniel from an arthritic wreck into a companion with puppylike agility, giving him nearly six more active years."

CAM means many things — often just the search for care beyond the 12-minute visit to a harried physician. Some treatments under the alternative medicine heading, like massage, clearly do no harm and could make anyone feel better. CAM can offer a vehicle for a sick person simply to spend time with someone attentive to their symptoms.

As long as it doesn't kill anyone

So-called "dietary supplements," such as DHEA, saw palmetto and chondroitin, present the biggest problem.

Marketers often sell them under the guise of a mom-and-pop alternative to big pharma. Yet the $29 billion-a-year dietary supplement industry wields such power that it got Congress to pass a law in 1994 that basically frees it to peddle almost anything that doesn't kill people with claims of medical benefit that need not be proven.

No doubt some of the thousands of products sold as dietary supplements work well, but the industry that sells them has neither motivation nor desire to know which ones work and which don't.

Neither do many of those who advocate their use, such as the guru of alternative medicine Dr. Andrew Weil.

On his Web site someone recently inquired if a supplement called NT was useful for fatigue. "I'm not convinced by the scant literature on the subject that there's anything to recommend taking NT Factor for fatigue," Dr. Weil replied, in a surprisingly forthright response.

But, then he added that the fatigue sufferer might want to try "Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), coenzyme Q10, the Ayurvedic herb ashwaganda or cordyceps, a traditional Chinese medicinal mushroom that may help fight fatigue and boost energy levels."

I can find no evidence that any of these relieve fatigue any better than NT.

It gets better.

Dr. Weill concluded his answer by advising that a better-studied treatment might be something called Juvenon. At the bottom of the Web page appeared an ad from the manufacturer of Juvenon with the quote "I take Juvenon every day — Dr. Andrew Weil."

Such crass commercialism would put most big drug companies to shame.

Dr. Weill has claimed he approaches medicine with a new way of thinking. But, in the end, no matter what the hype, either something is effective or it isn't. If no one really cares, maybe we should stop spending millions to find the answer.

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

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