NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 January 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pat Robertson: God told me of 'mass killing' in 2007


VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (AP) -- Evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday that God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would cause a "mass killing" late in 2007.

"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him about the impending tragedy during a recent prayer retreat.

God also said, he claims, that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

Robertson suggested in January 2006 that God punished then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke for ceding Israeli-controlled land to the Palestinians.

The broadcaster predicted in January 2004 that President Bush would easily win re-election.

Bush won 51 percent of the vote that fall, beating Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In 2005, Robertson predicted that Bush would have victory after victory in his second term. He said Social Security reform proposals would be approved and Bush would nominate conservative judges to federal courts.

Lawmakers confirmed Bush's 2005 nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. But the president's Social Security initiative was stalled.

"I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss."

In May, Robertson said God told him that storms and possibly a tsunami were to crash into America's coastline in 2006.

Even though the U.S. was not hit with a tsunami, Robertson on Tuesday cited last spring's heavy rains and flooding in New England as partly fulfilling the prediction.


Orders to Cater to Creationists Makes National Park Agnostic on Geology


For Immediate Release: December 28, 2006 Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is 'no comment.'"

In a letter released today, PEER urged the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Mary Bomar, to end the stalling tactics, remove the book from sale at the park and allow park interpretive rangers to honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon. PEER is also asking Director Bomar to approve a pamphlet, suppressed since 2002 by Bush appointees, providing guidance for rangers and other interpretive staff in making distinctions between science and religion when speaking to park visitors about geologic issues.

In August 2003, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a book claiming the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue.

According to a recent NPS response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PEER, no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed.

Park officials have defended the decision to approve the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, claiming that park bookstores are like libraries, where the broadest range of views are displayed. In fact, however, both law and park policies make it clear that the park bookstores are more like schoolrooms rather than libraries. As such, materials are only to reflect the highest quality science and are supposed to closely support approved interpretive themes. Moreover, unlike a library the approval process is very selective. Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item — the creationist book.

Ironically, in 2005, two years after the Grand Canyon creationist controversy erupted, NPS approved a new directive on "Interpretation and Education (Director's Order #6) which reinforces the posture that materials on the "history of the Earth must be based on the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism [and] Interpretive and educational programs must refrain from appearing to endorse religious beliefs explaining natural processes."

"As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan," Ruch added, pointing to the fact that previous NPS leadership ignored strong protests from both its own scientists and leading geological societies against the agency approval of the creationist book. "We sincerely hope that the new Director of the Park Service now has the autonomy to do her job."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pulling the Covers Off Cobb County(GA)!!


by Herman Cummings December 29, 2006 01:00 PM EST

Have you seen all the "critters come out of the woodwork"? They are all dancing in the streets, celebrating another victory for evolution, and insanity. That "so called" victory for them was handed over by the Cobb County School Board in Georgia. They chose an ineffectual, inexperienced, and perhaps overpriced law firm to defend their "evolution sticker" case, which they did not take seriously enough. Both the board, and the law firm, had no idea what they were fighting against, nor how to defeat the opposing side.

The general public thinks that the Cobb County (GA) School Board truly tried to uphold the opinion of the 2300+ signatures within the county to have evolution disclaimer stickers put on their science books, gathered by Ms. Marjorie Rogers. However, that is not true. The board agreed to exclude expert testimony that would have proven in the first trial that there is another plausible explanation for the 600+ million year fossil record, giving way to three parents, and ignoring 2,300 parents. Doesn't the majority rule?

The general public is also under the impression that the defense for the board used all available legal recourses in an attempt to win the case. However, the defense agreed to not use the line of questioning that would have proven that the exclusive teaching of evolution in public school is unconstitutional., and indeed was only one interpretation of the facts.

Why did the board pay the Brock Clay law firm $74,000? Did they want to win the case, or just put on a good show? Why did the board choose to "close their ears" to expert testimony and evidence, not knowing if it would help them or not? The truth is, that the Board didn't want to win the case, and has impeded the progress of other school boards that want to teach a more balanced approach to the history of ancient life forms.

Can the evolution monopoly in public schools be defeated in a court of law? Yes!! The Court of Appeals looked for evidence that warranted the verdict of the first trial. It didn't find any, and ordered additional supporting evidence, or a new trial. What did the Cobb County School board do? First, they retained the same incompetent council. Second, they chose to pay out over $161,000 to the other side, rather than go through another trial, which they would win with the proper preparation. Third, they chose to back stab every other school board, by getting down on their knees, and capitulating to the ACLU, when the Board had superior forces on their side at the ready. And fourthly, they promised to never question evolution again. Is Cobb County going to let the minority and ACLU dictate the education curriculum? Since they are going to make things worst (by non-action) for America, they should resign from office, and let Cobb County elect wiser officials with more vision. Cobb County residents should be suing them for gross incompetence, and have a "recall election", kicking those hypocrites out of office.

So who are the cowards? The school board, or the Cobb County residents that refuse to take action? If there is/was a retrial, it would be the ACLU running away with it's tail between it's legs.

Herman Cummings
PO Box 1745
Fortson GA, 31808-1745
(706) 662-2893

Ex-atheist and Ex-evolutionist Design Board Game


BELLFLOWER, CA (ANS) — "Intelligent Design versus Evolution" is a new board game that was designed by actor Kirk Cameron and best-selling author Ray Comfort, to help fight against the what they maintain is the brainwashing of an entire generation.

Cameron said, "We are very excited about this game because it presents both sides of the creation evolution argument, and in doing so, shows that the contemporary theory of evolution is perhaps the greatest hoax of modern times."

Comfort explains, "Intelligent Design Versus Evolution is unique in that the playing pieces are small rubber brains. We used the brains because want players to use their brains. The incentive is to play for 'brain' cards, and the team or individual with the most brains wins. There are brains all over the game, because we want to make people think deeply about what they believe.

"This is because the average person doesn't know that the evolutionist lives by a blind faith in an unscientific theory (a theory that one scientist called a 'fairy-tale for grown-ups'). Through the game we show the irrational nature of evolution, using their own beliefs and quotes. This explains why evolutionists have a special language, something we call 'the language of speculation,' where they use words like 'We believe, perhaps, probably, maybe, could have . . . ' They can't speak of their theory without it."

Cameron adds, "To believe in evolutionary 'transitional forms' is to hold to the belief that one species evolved into another. However, there is no scientific evidence of any species evolving into another—not in creation, nor in the 'fossil record.' Most people don't know that."

The board game is commended by well-known creationist Ken Ham, of "Answers in Genesis," who says that it clearly reveals the "bankruptcy of molecules-to-man evolution."

"Intelligent Design versus Evolution" also comes with a free award-winning DVD called "The Science of Evolution," in which Comfort and Cameron take an orangutan to lunch and discuss the theory of evolution.

Comfort said, "This game didn't happen by accident. It was intelligently designed with a specific purpose in mind, and we hope it creates a big bang in the Christian and secular world." Intelligent Design versus Evolution is available through Christian bookstores, or through www.WayOfTheMaster.com.

Copyright © ASSIST News Service

Adam, Eve and T-Rex: Museums feature science and God


Published: December 29, 2006 09:06 am


NOBLE, Okla. — Thomas Sharp holds science degrees from Purdue University and the University of Oklahoma but believes dinosaurs and humans once walked the Earth together and the world is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old.

The office of the Creation Truth Foundation, founded by Sharp in 1989 and based in a Main Street storefront in Noble, is decorated with fossils and framed Bible verses. Sharp sees no contradiction between the two. A prehistoric petrified shell is showcased next to a plaque in the front room that reads "Trust in the Lord with all your heart…"

"If we reject the book of Genesis, then where do we pick up after that?" Sharp said. "If you want to believe in the legitimacy of God, then you have to start from the beginning."

His latest endeavor is opening a museum devoted to debunking the theory of evolution in Dallas. The 20,000-square-foot museum just off of Interstate 35 in Dallas will feature 15-18 first-generation replicas of dinosaur skeletons and exhibits on the Great Flood and the Garden of Eden.

The building that will house the Museum of Earth History in Dallas is already near completion, Sharp said, and he expects the facility to open its doors to the public sometime in 2007. Christ For the Nations Institute, a Christian educational organization based in Dallas, is helping fund the museum's completion.

Sharp said his agenda isn't to get creationism taught in public schools, or convert people to his belief system, but he wants to give Christians a way to teach their children about science.

"I don't believe we can change our multi-cultural environment," Sharp said. "But I'd like to help Bible believers to hold their heads up and raise their children to fear the Lord."

CFT, with its staff of nine, produces Biblical creationist school curricula for Christian schools and home-schoolers with titles like "Putting the Pieces Together," a two-semester guide for grades 7-12 on science, history, philosophy and political science from a Biblical perspective. The CFT Web site sells children's books with titles like "Dinosaurs of Eden," which teaches children that Noah brought Dinosaurs aboard the Ark.

Sharp, a former pastor who holds a doctorate with an emphasis in the philosophy of religion and science from South Florida Bible College and Seminary, has toured the country with a trailer of dinosaur bones and fossils, speaking to churches and other religious groups.

"Creation isn't a scientific debate, its a religious one," Sharp said.

Sharp said he struggled to justify his Christian beliefs while studying evolution in college and believes young people reject Christianity as they grow up because of the public school system's secular curriculum, he said.

"I struggled with (evolution), feared it, and was challenged by it in school," Sharp said. "I was 33 years old before I got up the courage to read Darwin's 'The Origin of the Species,' and when I finally did, I said, 'Is that all there is to it?'"

Sharp is already the president and co-founder of the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs, Ark., which has attracted more than 60,000 visitors from all 50 states and more than 10 foreign countries since it opened in 2005, Sharp said.

The Dallas museum will be twice the size of the Eureka Springs branch, he said.

Sharp said he hope to open five or six more museums across the country in his lifetime.

While reactions to his efforts have been positive for the most part, Sharp said, he does get hate mail every once and a while.

"It's a reaction to clashing world views," Sharp said. "I choose not to insult my opponents; I choose to win."

Brianna Bailey writes for The Norman (Okla.) Transcript.

International Scientific Discoveries Since Kitzmiller Which Support ID (Part III)


Part I of this series discussed two exciting papers which support the claims of intelligent design (ID), and in Part II, I discussed how the molecular data is failing to support Neo-Darwinian common descent with modification. This final post of a 3-part series recounting some interesting scientific discoveries reported since the Kitzmiller ruling will discuss how Darwinists have tried to oversell evolution to the public while ID-proponents have continued to do some exciting research.

  • In 2006, Darwinists were so eager to promote evolution to the public that they called a fish with fins a "missing link." Strikingly, it was only after promoting this fossil that they admitted that there exists "a large morphological gap between" the fins of fish and the true feet of early tetrapods like Acanthostega. A similar instance happened when the newsmedia tried to promote a few teeth and bone scraps from some ancient hominids as showing a "mini home movie of evolution" and providing "the most complete chain of human evolution so far." It's also very telling that National Geographic touted the find a "missing link" while admitting that it entailed mainly "jawbone fragments, upper and lower teeth, and a thigh bone."

  • Another telling instance of overselling evolution came when Darwinists issued a press release about research published in Science claiming that irreducible complexity was refuted simply because they were able to change two amino acids in an enzyme and find that the enzyme was not rendered totally functionless. Michael Behe called this "The Lamest Attempt Yet to Answer the Challenge Irreducible Complexity Poses for Darwinian Evolution." Paul Nelson observed that one of the study's co-authors, Joe Thornton, stated on his website that his research aimed "to illustrate how a complex, tightly integrated molecular system -- one which appears to be 'irreducibly complex' -- evolved by Darwinian processes hundreds of millions of years ago." Nelson added that "of course we must remember that the concept of irreducible complexity has stimulated no research, which is why Professor Thornton is working hard to solve the problem" and therefore these scientists are "Debating the Controversy That Doesn't Exist." Thornton apparently saw Nelson's post, as Nelson later discovered that Thornton soon thereafter removed the words "irreducibly complex" from his research page.

  • While Darwinists deny that ID-concepts have any value, pro-ID scientists continue to explore intelligent design. The New Scientist article mentioned in the first post recounted that ID-proponents are "Building a case":

    While researching protein structure at various institutes in the UK, Douglas Axe, now at the Biologic Institute in Redmond, Washington, published two peer-reviewed papers that are cited by anti-evolutionists as evidence that intelligent design is backed by serious science.

    "Extreme functional sensitivity to conservative amino acid changes on enzyme exteriors" Journal of Molecular Biology, vol 301, p 585.

    What it reports Inducing multiple mutations in a bacterial enzyme causes it to lose its ability to perform its role as an antibiotic disabler.

    How ID proponents use it Because such mutations destroy "the possibility of any functioning" in the enzyme, it could not have arisen via "Darwinian pathways" (William Dembski, from Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, Cambridge University Press, p 327).

    What scientists say Major modifications can be made to proteins without destroying function. Also, making many mutations at once is different to gradual evolution, where dud mutations get weeded out.

    "Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds" Journal of Molecular Biology, vol 341, p 1295.

    What it reports Calculates the probability that a random sequence of amino acids will result in the folded shape that a protein needs to function as an enzyme.

    How ID proponents use it The probability of creating a functioning protein fold "at random" is very low, making "appeals to chance absurd, even granting the duration of the entire universe" (Stephen Meyer, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, vol 117, p 213).

    What scientists say the vast majority of protein folds probably evolved via alteration of other smaller functional amino acid chains.

  • Unfortunately, Celeste Biever's article pits "scientist" against ID-proponents, as if many leading ID-proponents were not also scientists. Some Darwinists did better, as students at Cornell University were allowed to debate over ID in a Cornell biology course, taught by an evolutionist biology professor. Elsewhere, students were not so lucky. Students at UCSD were required to attend an anti-ID lecture by Robert Pennock where no dissenting viewpoints were given stage-time.

    But what is striking is how many key discoveries—some of which are said explicitly to support ID—are being made by scientists outside the United States. It will be exciting to see what scientific discoveries await the world in 2007!

    Posted by Casey Luskin on December 29, 2006 7:46 AM | Permalink

    Thursday, December 28, 2006

    Attorney Regrets Georgia School Boards Decision to Settle With Darwinists


    2006-12-27 -- USA Religious News

    (AgapePress) - A constitutional attorney is expressing disappointment over a Georgia school district's decision to drop its efforts to expose students to the debate surrounding Darwinian evolution. The Cobb County School Board has abandoned its fight for a warning sticker in its biology textbooks that called evolution "a theory, not a fact."

    In addition, the Cobb County School District's warning stickers stated that the material on evolution contained in the science textbooks "should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." But despite what many supporters considered the accuracy and reasonableness of the stickers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of some local parents, arguing that the evolution disclaimer violated the so-called "separation of church and state," because the warning -- according to the plaintiffs' pretrial brief -- "singles out one scientific theory for disfavored treatment and supports religious theories."

    Recently the Cobb County School Board settled the lawsuit and agreed not to edit materials on evolution in school textbooks. But Brian Fahling, senior litigation counsel at the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (AFA Law Center), says he wishes the board had chosen to stay the course and fight to keep the stickers.

    Fahling acknowledges that a number of factors can influence a school district's decision to cave in to pro-Darwinist pressure in a situation like this, including fiscal considerations and even "just a weariness that sets in," along with concerns over the fact that taxpayer dollars are having to be spent to defend the district's position.

    Many times, he contends, school officials begin to ask themselves why they don't "just fold up the tent and go home," and that, unfortunately, is what happened in the case of the Cobb County School Board's decision to settle.

    "Of course, I think that it's a disservice to the community overall," the AFA Law Center spokesman observes. "Evolution stands out alone as the only area of science that is absolutely cordoned off from any criticism," he says; "there is a great wall around it and they simply do not admit any dissenting voices."

    However, Fahling points out, "that [wall] is beginning to crumble a little bit, because inside the camp of Darwin, there is tremendous dissent." So, even though he feels the Cobb County case is further evidence of the "oppressive" attitude the academic community has toward opponents of Darwinian evolution, the pro-family attorney says evolutionary theory is "in tatters" right now.

    And that is one reason why Fahling feels the Cobb County School Board's settlement is by no means a death knell for intelligent design theory in schools. Nor should the Georgia district's decision discourage others, he insists, from standing up for the idea that evolution ought to be subjected to critical examination in the classroom.

    Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.

    © 2006 AgapePress

    Wednesday, December 27, 2006

    Mistletoe Injection Linked to Tumor-Like Growth


    12.22.06, 12:00 AM ET

    FRIDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Adding a new twist to the debate over the value of mistletoe as an alternative cancer treatment, British doctors are reporting the case of a patient whose consumption of an extract from the Christmas decoration led to a tumor-like growth.

    An accompanying commentary suggests the case provides yet another reason to avoid using mistletoe as anything other than a holiday decoration. But an alternative medicine specialist points out that risks are inherent in conventional medicine, too.

    While the plant itself is poisonous, mistletoe extracts have long been touted as an alternative cancer cure, especially in Europe and Germany. Extracts are typically given by injection and said to boost the immune system to fight tumors.

    According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some mistletoe studies have suggested that it has value as a cancer treatment. However, the NIH -- which has launched its own study -- said the previous research has been flawed.

    In the Dec. 23-30 issue of the British Medical Journal, doctors report about the case of a 61-year-old woman who reported a tumor-like mass in her abdomen after undergoing breast cancer treatment. She had previously suffered from lymphoma.

    Doctors were mystified by the mass, until the patient revealed that she had been taking under-the-skin injections of a mistletoe extract as a treatment for lymphoma.

    The doctors wrote that the mass appeared to be an inflammation caused by the mistletoe treatment. The report didn't say if the woman had any further problems.

    In the commentary, Dr. Edzard Ernst, of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth and a professor of complementary medicine, wrote that mistletoe produces many other side effects, including joint pain and kidney failure.

    The claim that mistletoe injections have no serious risks "is therefore misleading," wrote Ernst, who added that "the costs of regular mistletoe injections are high."

    Still, it's important to put the risks into context, said Dr. Adam Perlman, executive director of the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

    "I don't think the significance of this case report should be exaggerated," he said. "There is much that we do in conventional medicine that has limited evidence and potential for harm. The main issue here is less the risk of mistletoe and more the idea that the public needs to understand that 'alternative' medicine, in general, can have both potentially positive and negative consequences."

    He added that the case points out that it's important for patients to be up front with doctors about alternative medications that they're taking.

    More information

    Learn more about mistletoe from the National Institutes of Health.

    International Scientific Discoveries Since Kitzmiller Which Support ID (Part I)


    It's been just over a year since the Kitzmiller ruling, and over a series of 3 posts, I'd like to briefly highlight some scientific discoveries reported since that time:

    In November, 2006, a Nature article entitled, "It's the junk that makes us human" reported that much non-coding ("junk")-DNA may control gene expression, and be responsible for many phenotypic differences between species. A subsequent Nature article highlighted the work of Simon Shepherd at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, explaining that there are layers of meaning in the genetic code which go beyond the three-nucleotide codon language:

    [R]esearchers now know that there are numerous other layers of biological information in DNA, interspersed between, or superimposed on, the passages written in the triplet code. Human DNA contains tissue-specific information that instructs brain or muscle cells to produce the suite of proteins that make them brain or muscle cells. Other signals in the sequence help decide at what points DNA should coil around its scaffolds of structural proteins. These are the codes that computer buffs such as Shepherd want to crack with raw processing power … [M]any stretches of DNA in humans and other organisms manage to multi task: a sequence can code for a protein and still manage to guide the position of a nucleosome.

    (Helen Pearson, "Genetic information Codes and enigmas," Nature, 444:259 (Nov. 16, 2006).)

    The article reported that statistical patterns within DNA indicate that there is hidden function: "It also found that this correlation existed predominantly in DNA that did not code for protein, leading Stanley to propose that DNA previously written off as junk actually carries biological information." There is much evidence that the "junk-DNA" assumption is collapsing.

    Random mutation and blind selection may have trouble on the horizon. This will become especially clear in the second post of this series which will discuss the difficulty Neo-Darwinism is having constructing robust phylogenetic trees.

    Posted by Casey Luskin on December 23, 2006 2:47 PM | Permalink

    Absorption spectra of electronic-homoeopathic copies of homoeopathic nosodes and placebo have essential differences.


    Korenbaum VI, Chernysheva TN, Apukhtina TP, Sovetnikova LN.

    V.I. Il'ichev Pacific Oceanological Institute, Vladivostok, Russia. v-kor@poi.dvo.ru

    BACKGROUND: Electronic-homoeopathic copies (EHC), i.e. preparations made by 'imprinting' the parent substance onto water (or other carriers) with the help of M. Rae devices, have gained certain acceptance in some fields of alternative medicine as homoeopathic nosodes. OBJECTIVE: To verify the electronic-homoeopathic copying effect with the use of absorption spectroscopy. MATERIALS AND METHODS: In a double-blind randomized procedure 7 homoeopathic nosodes and a blank placebo were 'imprinted' onto ampoules with saline solution by means of a 'simulator' apparatus by Metabolics Ltd (Wiltshire, UK). There were 63 ampoules of the EHC (9 of each nosode) and 27 ampoules of the placebo (3 groups). The absorption spectra of the preparations were determined by a UV-2101 PC (Shimadzu, Kyoto, Japan) double-beam spectrometer in the wave band 800-600 nm at an interval of 0.5 nm. The values of optical density - log (1/transmission coefficient) - were written. RESULTS: The absorption spectra of 3 EHC of the 7 homoeopathic nosodes investigated showed regions marked by statistically significant differences (p < 0.05 for 2 adjacent wavelengths) in the band of 800-700 nm in 2 (as a minimum) out of 3 independent placebo groups. When compared in independent groups of placebo, the spectral regions - for which the significant differences between the EHC and the placebo were evident - are close to each other (in the range of 0.5-7.0 nm). CONCLUSION: The result obtained supports the existence of an electronic-homoeopathic copying effect.

    PMID: 17057390 [PubMed - in process]

    Intelligent design tries to rally its base


    December 27, 2006 @ 9:37AM - posted by John Timmer

    You may not realize it from reading Nobel Intent, but not everything that happens in Kansas has to do with what their school board is up to. The University of Kansas has hosted a series of talks called "Difficult Dialogues," with this year's topic being Knowledge: Faith and Reason. They've placed videos of the presentations on the web. Many of the presentations are old news if you've seen the people speak before (I'm quite familiar with Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott), but one of the speakers was Michael Behe, ID's only advocate that has done any research in biology. His talk was a revelation on a number of levels.

    For one, it seems to reveal the approach that the Discovery Institute (where Behe is a fellow) will be taking in the wake of their recent political and legal defeats. As you'll see below, if I were to summarize their approach, it would be "discredit Dover and embrace creationism." The other thing that was notable to me was how, simply by covering a year's worth of scientific results in biology, Nobel Intent has actually prepared our readers to recognize why Behe's scientific arguments are simply wrong.

    Read on for the details.

    Behe spent nearly 45 minutes of his talk addressing other people's arguments, with over 35 minutes of that devoted to attacking the Dover decision. This level of attention is neither surprising nor new. Dover declared ID a form of creationism, which is inherently non-scientific, and suggested that the scientific arguments that it does use have already been revealed to be flawed. Any argument for ID obviously has to address this, and Discovery has already published a book that challenges the legal and scientific underpinnings of Dover. This book, and many press releases, focused on claiming that the testimony of pro-ID witnesses (including Behe himself) was either misunderstood, ignored, or misconstrued.

    This approach seemed to gain very little traction, and Behe reveals the latest twist on it: the Dover ruling is simply not to be trusted. Discovery has latched onto something that has been obvious for over a year (so obvious, I noted it in my initial description of the decision). In the US legal system, judges typically ask both sides to submit proposed findings, models of how they wish the court to rule. The court then has the option of using whatever it wishes from the side it feels has best made its case. As Judge Jones rejected the defense's case in its entirety, his decision followed closely along the lines of the pro-science side's proposed findings, and included many sections taken directly from it.

    This bit of standard legal practice has recently been termed plagiarism by Discovery. Behe doesn't take that inflammatory tack, but he clearly implies that Jones had no sense of the scientific arguments, and that the Dover decision mindlessly parroted the arguments of the plaintiff's attorneys. He terms Jones "the former head of the liquor control board who signed off on a tendentious brief by a product liability trial lawyer." Behe uses some self-deprecating comments made by Jones to suggest that he was in no position to judge scientific evidence. He also repeated his standard claims that his own testimony was ignored or misinterpreted.

    Some of these arguments over Dover are simply bizarre. Reading any of the ID web sites reveals that all of them regularly conflate ID and religion, and Behe regularly acted as if the designer were God during the question session that followed his talk. Yet the ID proponents testified at Dover that there was nothing inherently religious about it. Judge Jones simply didn't believe them. Now, oddly, this aspect of his ruling is being used as an indication that he was biased against ID. Of course, discrediting Jones, and claiming that the pro-ID arguments were not accurately assessed seem to be the only way for Discovery to cope with Dover. I expect that Behe's aggressive attack on the ruling is just the latest in what will be an ongoing effort to find something that will allow them to label the decision as seriously flawed and actually have someone outside of the ID community believe them.

    Although he spent a great deal of time slamming the Dover decision, Behe didn't appear to demonstrate that it was flawed in any way. Behe spoke at length on the argument for design that he presented at Dover: parts of biology look like objects designed by humans, so it's safe to assume that biology also had a designer. Jones dismissed this in part because Behe's examples of human design don't reproduce with heritable variations. He also dismissed it because evaluations of design occur based on our knowledge of the capabilities and motivations of the humans doing the designing. ID, in contrast, steadfastly refuses to say anything about the designer of biology, making its claims impossible to evaluate. If Behe felt that these counterarguments were flawed, he never said why.

    But the talk went on for well over an hour, and covered some ground beyond Dover. Three things struck me about the rest of the talk: explicit creationism, a flawed understanding of science, and a presentation of evolution that is a caricature of science's actual understanding. The creationism was apparent in several places. Despite ID's general attempt to abstract itself from any specific claims of the designer, Behe was happy to answer questions which specifically referred to God. He also happily claimed the design argument of William Paley, which dates from before Darwin and explicitly mentions God as the creator, as his own.

    He also relied a lot on the "contrived dualism" argument: design was supported by the failure of evolutionary explanations, because no other alternative was possible. This was stated with extraordinary specificity when Behe answered questions, as he more or less claimed that ID was accessible to experimental studies because finding the limits of evolution would reveal design (more on that later). Finally, he presented evolution as a purely destructive process, a variation of the classic creationist claim that all mutations are harmful, and/or cannot generate new features. In this, he's being extraordinarily selective, by presenting a subset of cases of natural selection, such as those involved in malarial resistance (which tend to damage components of hemoglobin). In contrast, a year of reading Nobel Intent should have made you familiar with cases such as the SETMAR gene, antifreeze proteins, the generation of new exons, and the expression of the lactase gene, all of which involved nondestructive evolutionary changes.

    Behe could also have benefitted with reading the Scientists on Science series, because he seems to make a number of fundamental mistakes about science. He cites the use of cautious language in descriptions of evolutionary models as a sign of their weakness, rather than a recognition of the tentativeness of science. He suggests that ID is scientific in that it is a scientific description. In the same sentence, however, he indicates that ID is a hypothesis, or testable proposal. At Dover, Behe described ID as a theory. It's shocking to me that someone who is making claims regarding whether something is scientific or not does not appear to have a grasp of the basic structure of science.

    He also, as noted, runs into trouble when asked about testability. He suggests that both good and bad designs are compatible with ID, so that discoveries regarding extinctions and inefficiencies are perfectly okay as far as ID is concerned, raising questions about what aspects of ID are testable. Behe stated that the only testable aspects of ID—the only ways it could be falsified—would come by via examinations of evolutionary processes. In his view, if evolution fails, we can accept ID. Design, in short, should be viewed as a default explanation until proven wrong, despite its lack of experimental support. This violates the scientific principle that unexplained or unexamined phenomena are considered just that: unexplained. In this regard, Behe's talk is perhaps the most blatant admission that ID is a "God of the Gaps" argument.

    It's also worth examining Behe's definition of "unexplained" as well, since that gets into the infantile view of evolutionary biology that he presents. Although most scientists consider the origin of many systems solved, Behe describes such evolutionary explanations as "undisciplined imagination," "just so stories," and an "argument from personal credulity." The generation of antibodies provides a clear example of this difference in perspective. As we've described, the system that generates antibodies seems to have evolved, in part, by the cooption of an enzyme that moves transposons around. There are plausible ways in which normal genetic changes could have come to cause this enzyme to target an adhesion molecule and created the foundations of the antibody-based immune system. So scientists accept the evidence for its origin, and assume that the natural processes that we understand did the rest.

    In Behe's view, this assumption of a plausible pathway is unfounded—it requires "undisciplined imagination" to assume that natural processes could do the remainder of the work. In his view, a designer could readily have chosen to use a transposase. In the absence of a description of every change involved in the transitions as well as the selective pressure that brings it about, Behe wants his view to be the accepted explanation.

    This view is that the similarities he sees between biological and human machinery is enough to conclude design even in the absence of any evidence for it or a designer. In contrast, even though we know the mechanisms of selective pressures and genetic variations, natural processes are an insufficient explanation compared to design. But his talk made clear that he reaches this conclusion because he relies on an incredibly simplistic characterization of the natural processes in question. As noted above, this is in part because he presents a mistaken view of evolution as an exclusively destructive process. But the odd characterization of evolution extends well beyond that. Evolutionary changes, in his view, must involve only random mutation and natural selection. This perspective ignores the well-understood biology of neutral changes, conflicting selective pressures, and genetic drift.

    He also rules out the process of exapation, in which a pre-existing structure or process is coopted into a different one. Cooption appears to go on all the time, and at all levels, from the molecular level (such as the SETMAR example noted above) to the level of entire organs. Examples of the latter include the repurposing of the gill into the parathyroid and the redeployment of a developmental program for fins from the midline to the sides of fishes, where it went through a number of transitional forms on its way to becoming the tetrapod limb. According to Behe, there are simply too many barriers to the sort of "creative theft" involved in the evolutionary explanations for these processes, although he never clearly specifies what these barriers are. It appears that he's relying on another standard creationist tactic: present the end-point of a system as incredibly improbable, and you can dismiss its evolutionary origin. As with other creationists, Behe never bothers to actually calculate probabilities, nor does he ever consider potential intermediate states.

    His complaints in terms of exapation appear to focus on the improbability of forming all the connections involved in integrating one complex into another. By doing this, he ignores a basic biological principle: anything, no matter how inefficient, is better than nothing. For example, following the production of reactive oxygen, any enzyme that deactivates it, no matter how inefficient, would be sufficient to allow survival. With survival comes the possibility of improvements through further evolutionary change. Similarly, even the awkward fin/limbs shown in the examples above opened up new ecological territories to the animals that possessed them, even if they weren't very efficient for locomotion. But, in Behe's view, any exapation has to immediately produce the fully-functional final product or it should be dismissed as a "just so story."

    Instead, Behe favors what one of the questioners called the ultimate "just so" story: an unidentified designer with the capability of creating anything we now see.

    So, what does Behe's talk tell us about the future of the ID movement? A year after they lost in court, it looks like they're still trying to re-fight the Dover decision. I'd expect they'll continue to do so until something else makes its way into the court system. With most of the cases and political battles settled for now, it's not clear when that might be. In the mean time, they seem perfectly willing to believe their own claims, and act as if the arguments that lost at Dover have never been discredited.

    But beyond those failed arguments, the case for ID that they advance is striking. Based on Behe's talk, they've given up trying to dissociate themselves from their own creationist history: they openly embrace many creationist arguments and happily identify their designer as divine. In doing so, they appear to have given up on any attempt to address a scientific audience. Behe doesn't even appear to try to keep his facts straight when it comes to the structure of science. He also doesn't seem to be bothered with scientific results: as I've tried to make clear with the links above, even a superficial reading of one year's worth of the scientific literature shows that the ID arguments just don't hold up well when compared with what we know about biology—they require us to ignore what we're learning about reality.

    If I had to come up with a term for this strategy, I'd borrow one from politics: playing to their base. ID has lost in the courts and in the political arena, and it never went anywhere in the scientific community. As a result, its advocates have given up on any pretenses of addressing those audiences, and are trying to retain the interest of their non-scientific supporters, presumably including those who fund the Discovery Institute.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Smithsonian Scientist Was Demoted for Views Critical of Darwinian Evolution


    The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources has issued its official report on the investigation into the harassment and discrimination against biologist Dr. Richard Sternberg. (for more background see here). The congressional report bluntly states: The staff investigation has uncovered compelling evidence that Dr. Sternberg's civil and constitutional rights were violated by Smithsonian officials. Posted here is the Executive Summary of the report. The full report can be downloaded here, and the appendix can be downloaded here.


    In January 2005, an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal first raised public awareness about disturbing allegations that officials at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) had retaliated against museum Research Associate (RA) Richard Sternberg because he allowed publication of an article favoring the theory of intelligent design in a biology journal.1 A well-published evolutionary biologist with two doctorates in biology, Dr. Sternberg claimed that after publication of the article, his colleagues and supervisors at the NMNH subjected him to harassment and discrimination in an effort to force him out as a Research Associate.

    In November of 2004, Dr. Sternberg filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency charged with "protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing." The OSC eventually found evidence to corroborate Dr. Sternberg's complaint, concluding that "[i]t is... clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing" Dr. Sternberg out of the Smithsonian. Despite this finding, the OSC was unable to pursue its investigation due to a question of jurisdiction. In August of 2005, subcommittee staff initiated their own investigation into the possible mistreatment of Dr. Sternberg by the Smithsonian. During their investigation, staff met with Dr. Sternberg and senior Smithsonian officials, and reviewed internal emails provided by the Smithsonian in response to requests from the subcommittee.

    The staff investigation has uncovered compelling evidence that Dr. Sternberg's civil and constitutional rights were violated by Smithsonian officials. Moreover, the agency's top officials—Secretary Lawrence Small and Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke—have shown themselves completely unwilling to rectify the wrongs that were done or even to genuinely investigate the wrongdoing. Most recently, Burke and Small have allowed NMNH officials to demote Dr. Sternberg to the position of Research Collaborator, despite past assurances from Burke that Dr. Sternberg was a "Research Associate in good standing" and would be given "full and fair consideration" for his request to renew his Research Associateship. 2 The failure of Small and Burke to take any action against such discrimination raises serious questions about the Smithsonian's willingness to protect the free speech and civil rights of scientists who may hold dissenting views on topics such as biological evolution.

    Major findings of this staff investigation include:

    Because of the Smithsonian's continued inaction in the Sternberg case, Congress should consider statutory language that would protect the free speech rights regarding evolution of scientists in the Smithsonian and other federally-funded institutions. Since the treatment of Dr. Sternberg came to light in early 2005, evidence has accumulated of widespread discrimination against other qualified scientists who dissent from Darwinian theory, making further violations by federal agencies likely. While the majority of scientists embrace Darwinian theory, it is important that neither federal funds nor federal power be used to punish or retaliate against otherwise qualified scientists merely because they dissent from the majority view.

    1 David Klinghoffer, "The Branding of a Heretic," The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2005.

    2 Letter from Sheila Burke to Rep. Mark Souder, May 3, 2006.

    3 Jonathan Coddington, "Re: Upcoming in Helsinki," September 13, 2004, 10:51 AM, email to Rafael Lemaitre and Hans Sues.

    4 Rafael Lemaitre, "Re: Upcoming in Helsinki," September 13, 2004, 1:46 PM, email to Jonathan Coddington and Hans Sues.

    5 Jonathan Coddington, "Re: Research Associate sponsor," October 6, 2004, 1:29 PM, email to Hans Sues.

    6 Hans Sues, "Re: Reply [3]," September 9, 2004, 10:57 AM, email to Frank Ferrari.

    7 Richard Vari, "RE: NMNH Research Associateship: CV and Research," October 5, 2006, 12:42 AM, email to Richard Sternberg; Letter from Cristian Samper K. to Richard Sternberg, November 2006.

    8 Marilyn Schotte, "statements," March 22, 2005, 9:53 AM, email to Jonathan Coddington with attached memo dated February 8, 2005.

    9 Sue Richardson, "Re: misc," February 22, 2005, 9:38 AM, email to Jonathan Coddington.

    10 Hans Sues, "Re: Meyer article," August 26, 2004, 1:41 PM, email to Eugenie Scott.

    11 See note 2.

    Posted by Robert Crowther on December 15, 2006 10:53 AM | Permalink

    Evolution education update: December 15, 2006

    New Scientist visits a lab that is supposedly trying to conduct "intelligent design" research, while "intelligent design" continues to be exposed in the British media. The American Society for Cell Biology honors two of the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, Kenneth R. Miller and Barbara Forrest. And a chance to vote for NCSE -- if you're a Working Assets customer.


    "Pay a visit to the Biologic Institute and you are liable to get a chilly reception," Celeste Biever wrote in New Scientist (December 16, 2006). The Biologic Institute, as The New York Times reported (August 22, 2005), is "a new research center in Seattle that looks at the organization of biological systems, including intelligent design issues," with significant funding from the Discovery Institute, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism. Investigating, Biever found it difficult to obtain comment. "The reticence," she reported, "cloaks an unorthodox agenda."

    George Weber, a director of the Biologic Institute and the head of the Spokane chapter of the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe, told New Scientist, "We are the first ones doing what we might call lab science in intelligent design. ... The objective is to challenge the scientific community on naturalism." After he spoke to New Scientist, however, Weber left the board of the Biologic Institute, and Douglas Axe, the lab's senior researcher, told New Scientist that Weber "was found to have seriously misunderstood the purpose of Biologic and to have misrepresented it."

    Instead, Axe said, the lab only seeks "to show that the design perspective can lead to better science," although he puzzlingly contends that it will nevertheless "contribute substantially to the scientific case for intelligent design." Axe told New Scientist that the Biologic Institute was currently conducting research on "the origin of metabolic pathways in bacteria, the evolution of gene order in bacteria, and the evolution of protein folds" as well as research on computational biology, where he claimed "we are nearing completion of a system for exploring the evolution of artificial genes that are considerably more life-like than has been the case previously."

    In the past, previous scientific research of Axe's was misleadingly inflated in "intelligent design" propaganda, as detailed in a sidebar to the New Scientist article (and see also Matt Inlay's "Bill Dembski and the case of the unsupported assertion" at the Panda's Thumb blog). Barbara Forrest suggested that the Biologic Institute's research would provide additional grist for the mill. The historian of creationism Ronald L. Numbers offered a further rationale: "It will be good for the troops if leaders in the ID movement can claim: 'We're not just talking theory. We have labs, we have real scientists working on this.'"

    In the same issue, New Scientist offered its editorial opinion under the title "It's still about religion" (not available on-line), writing, "The Biologic Institute's research agenda includes topics of current interest to science, and so their studies should be welcomed. It is not the findings that worry scientists and educators who want to keep God out of science classes, but the way they are interpreted. The intelligent designer is likely to show his hand not in the scientific literature, but in outside commentary by the proponents of the anti-evolution movement, who will cite in their support any study that highlights biological features whose evolutionary origins are not well understood."

    "The ID movement has gained the public support it has because of just this kind of ambiguity over what is and isn't science," the editorial continued. "One year on from the Dover trial, the ID movement has grown cagey. Its strategy appears to be to keep a low profile while building up an arsenal of literature that may give ID scientific credibility in the courtroom or government committees. In using science to this end, the movement would be following a tactic previously employed by the tobacco and oil industries. Whether it squares with the idea of improving science is highly doubtful."

    For the story in New Scientist, visit:

    For the story in The New York Times, visit:

    For Matt Inlay's post at The Panda's Thumb blog, visit:


    Writing in the Guardian (December 13, 2006), James Randerson evaluates the recent attempts of creationists to sabotage evolution education in Britain's public schools. Giving the creationists credit for their rhetorical skills, he notes that scientists have been cast "as dogmatic, reactionary and even fundamentalist aggressors who would deny school pupils the chance to hear all sides of the debate." But in reality, he argues, "intelligent design" is just a revival of Paley, whose argument from design was undermined by Darwin: "And natural selection works just as well for molecular machines as it does for eyes, flippers and wings. ID, by comparison, explains nothing. It is an intellectual dead end marked: 'The designer did it.' Why bother trying to understand the natural world when there is the cosy God-explanation in all-too-easy reach?" Randerson concludes, "despite its scientific-sounding frills and baubles, ID is pure religion. It is a reincarnation of an old idea that Darwin dispensed with and it has no place in a science class."

    The Guardian also devoted a recent podcast to creationism on December 11, 2006, featuring Lewis Wolpert, the distinguished developmental biologist and vice president of the British Humanist Association, in the studio, as well as interviews with the paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, Richard Buggs of Truth in Science (the creationist organization that incited the present controversy by sending "intelligent design" materials to the science heads of every secondary school in the United Kingdom), and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. Noting that the First Amendment isn't applicable in the United Kingdom, Scott suggested that those in Britain concerned about the integrity of science education focus on the scientific problems with the Truth in Science packets: "This is just really bad science that you should not be miseducating your students with." She also stressed the importance of training educators to be able to recognize the scientific and pedagogical flaws of antievolution propaganda materials.

    For Randerson's column in the Guardian, visit:

    For the Guardian's podcast about creationism, visit:

    For NCSE's previous coverage of events in the United Kingdom, visit:


    "Today, scientists were told that an epic battle is raging -- and they must don their armor, head for the trenches and join the fight." Thus a report on Nature's newsblog from the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, where Barbara Forrest and Kenneth R. Miller were presented with Public Service Awards on December 10, 2006. The ACSB newsletter for July 2006 explained, "Miller was recognized for his outstanding dedication to, and defense of, science and science education against the threat of Intelligent Design. Forrest was selected for her dedication and tireless efforts to expose the motives behind the Intelligent Design movement. Both Forrest and Miller were also acknowledged for the critical roles they played in the landmark evolution case, Kitzmiller v. Dover."

    Nature's blogger described the talks that Forrest and Miller gave: Forrest "talked about the links between the intelligent design movement and the extreme Christian right" and Miller offered "some practical advice about how to talk to regular people -- i.e. non-scientists -- about evolution and intelligent design." Nature's blogger added that Miller and Forrest "coached scientists to keep a positive, friendly attitude at all times -- or risk fulfilling the arrogant egghead stereotype that only fuels public distrust of science. For help on how to do this, scientists can turn to invaluable resources like the National Center for Science Education." Miller is a Supporter of NCSE and received its Friend of Darwin award in 2003; Forrest is a member of NCSE's board of directors and received a Friend of Darwin award in 1998.

    For the ACSB newsletter (PDF), visit:

    For the story on Nature's newsblog, visit:



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    If you're already a Working Assets customer, you can vote on-line until December 31, 2006:

    If you're interested in becoming a Working Assets customer, visit:


    The governor-elect of Ohio is Ted Strickland, not Ken Strickland, as the December 8, 2006, story on Ohio incorrectly reported.

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    subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

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


    Glenn Branch
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    National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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    Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

    Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Flying Mammal Found From 125 Million Years Ago


    December 13, 2006 By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

    Scientists have discovered an extinct animal the size of a small squirrel that lived in China at least 125 million years ago and soared among the trees. It is the earliest known example of gliding flight by mammals, and the scientists say it shows that mammals experimented with aerial life about the same time birds first took to the skies, perhaps even earlier.

    From an analysis of the fossil, the researchers concluded that this gliding mammal was unrelated to the modern flying squirrel and unlike any other animal in the Mesozoic, the period best known for dinosaurs living in the company of small and unprepossessing mammals. They announced today that the species qualified as a member of an entirely new order of mammals.

    Richard L. Cifelli, a paleontologist at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman who reviewed the findings for publication, said this "wholly unexpected diversity of something adapted for gliding at this early time is absolutely astonishing."

    Until a couple of years ago, Dr. Cifelli said, most scientists held the view that such early mammals were simple shrew-like creatures that cowered in the shadows of the dominant dinosaurs, and now "this adds a new dimension to our knowledge of early mammals."

    Until now, the earliest identified gliding mammal was a 30-million-year-old extinct rodent. The first known modern bat, which is capable of powered flight, dates to 51 million years ago, but it is assumed that proto-bats were probably gliding much earlier.

    Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, lived about 145 million years ago, though scientists are not sure if it could flap its feathered wings in fully powered flight. But it lived about the time birds did take off in flight.

    The mammal discovery, described in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, was made last year in Inner Mongolia, a region of northern China. Farmers found the delicate fossil, embedded in sandstone, and brought it to the attention of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.

    On a visit there late last winter, Jin Meng, an associate curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, examined the specimen. He saw the sharp and diverse teeth of an insectivore. He then detected striations in the fossil - clear traces, he said, of hair covering a stretch membrane from fore to hind limbs that was the airfoil to support and give lift for the animal to glide.

    "This was just totally out of nowhere," Dr. Meng said in an interview at the museum this week, while pointing to the fossil's telling features.

    In the journal report, Dr. Meng and colleagues wrote, "This discovery extends the earliest record of gliding flight for mammals at least 70 million years earlier in the geological history and demonstrates that mammals were diverse in their locomotor strategies and life styles."

    The co-authors, who are researchers at the institute, are Yaoming Hu, Yuanqing Wang, Xiaolin Wang and Chuankui Li. . They have named the mammal Volaticotherium antiquius, meaning "ancient gliding beast."

    A paleontologist not involved in the research, Zhe-Xi Luo of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, said the discovery contributed more evidence that "mammals started the invasion of diverse niches long before the extinction of dinosaurs," which occurred 65 million years ago.

    Only last February, Dr. Luo reported finding fossils of a swimming, fish-eating beaverlike animal that lived in China 164 million years ago. The discovery was made at the Daohugou site, where the gliding mammal was uncovered.

    "The semi-aquatic mammal Castorocauda and the new gliding mammal," Dr. Luo said, "literally stretch the boundary of paleontologists' imagination about what would be possible for the earliest mammals."

    Dr. Meng's team said tests produced inconsistent dates for the new specimen, ranging from as recent as 125 million years ago to as ancient as 164 million. The older date may be more probable, other scientists said, and would put the aerial life of the mammal even earlier than known bird flight.

    In their study of the fossil, Dr. Meng and his associates noted that the mammal was about half the length of the squirrels frolicking in Central Park, across from the museum. The animal had a long, stiff tail that served as a stabilizing rudder for gliding flight. The impressions of fur on the gliding membrane, or patagium, and other parts of its body preserve some of the most ancient examples of mammalian skin covering.

    The paleontologists surmised that the gliding behavior enabled the small animal to travel from tree to tree in relative safety, above most of its predators, and hunt insects over a wider area.

    "We have very little fossil record of mammalian flight, and suddenly this one comes along at such an early time," Dr. Meng said. "Now the question is, what happened to this group between then and now?"

    Publication Probity

    December 10, 2006 By REBECCA SKLOOT

    There's controversy surrounding The Journal of Spurious Correlations, a new social-science journal devoted exclusively to publishing negative results. "Nobody likes our name," says David Lehrer, a graduate student in comparative political economy at the University of Helsinki, who helped found the journal. "People say it's a bit goofy, that it should be more serious."

    But no one questions the seriousness of its mission. Historically, scientific journals have published only positive results — data showing one thing connected to another (like smoking to cancer). As a rule, they didn't publish negative results (this drug didn't cure that disease). Medical journals began publishing negative results a few years ago, but social science didn't follow the trend. This is a problem. Not publishing negative results means that generations of researchers can waste time and money repeating the same studies and finding the same unpublishable results.

    Then there's publication bias. If, for example, a study found that welfare states have more terrorism than nonwelfare states, it would probably get published. If eight studies didn't find a connection between welfare and terrorism, they probably wouldn't make it into print, because technically, they didn't find anything. So a survey of published literature might suggest that welfare and terrorism are linked, even though eight studies potentially proved otherwise. This could have serious implications.

    "Social-science research results lead to huge, important decisions," Lehrer says, about free trade, for example, or government spending on weapons. "That should require total transparency." But since no one publishes negative results, Lehrer says, those important decisions are sometimes based on biased information. And there are data supporting his theory: early this year, a study found that the leading political-science journals are "misleading and inaccurate due to publication bias."

    "Everything we think we know may be wrong," Lehrer says. "The correct results could be sitting in people's file drawers because they can't get them published."

    Why? J. David Singer, emeritus professor of world politics at the University of Michigan, says: "Folks in my generation are much too rigid, which means we can't benefit from a nice piece of research that looks like it tells us nothing. These young social scientists are right to insist we start publishing negative results. Until we do, we're just throwing away useful information."


    As old board departs, new evolution stance takes shape


    Moderates set to take control of state education policy

    By Scott Rothschild (Contact)

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Topeka — Science standards that support evolution could be back on the books in Kansas in as little as two months.

    "It's likely we'll have a discussion of the proposal and act on it in February," said State Board of Education member Bill Wagnon.

    The 6-4 conservative Kansas State Board of Education that put in place standards critical of evolution met for the last time Wednesday.

    Come January, the board will shift to a 6-4 moderate majority, which has voiced support of evolution.

    Wagnon, who expects to be voted chairman of the moderate board, said he would ask for a briefing at the Jan. 9 board meeting on evolution-supportive standards that have been waiting in the wings.

    And, he said, the board will probably vote to put those guidelines in place in February.

    "I've been keeping in touch with Steve Case, and he has promised to have an edition ready," Wagnon said.

    Case is the science researcher at Kansas University who last year was chairman of a committee of scientists and teachers who developed science standards to be used as guidelines for teachers in the state public school system.

    But after hearings that drew national attention, supporters of intelligent design got the conservative board majority to reject those standards and replace them with ones that criticize evolution.

    In August, however, voters in the Republican Party primary turned out one of the conservative board members, while another decided not to run and was replaced by a moderate.

    That gives moderates a 6-4 majority starting in January.

    Case said he is eager for the work of the science committee to be ratified by the new board.

    "We believe these are the best possible science standards for the students and teachers of Kansas," he said.

    But Case said Kansas' seesaw battle over science standards is probably not good for the education system. While decisions on what to teach are left to schools districts, the standards are used to develop tests that gauge how well students are doing in science.

    Kansas science standards have been changed in 1999, 2001 and 2005 as the board has gone back and forth between conservative and moderate leadership.

    "We need to find another way to develop standards," Case said.

    Russia teen sues over evolution teaching


    Dec. 13, 2006, 8:36PM © 2006 The Associated Press

    ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — A Russian court on Wednesday held hearings in an unprecedented lawsuit brought by a 15-year-old student who says being taught the theory of evolution in school violates her rights and insults her religious beliefs.

    Maria Shreiber sued the St. Petersburg city education committee, claiming the 10th-grade biology textbook used at the Cervantes Gymnasium was offensive to believers and that teachers should offer an alternative to Darwin's famous theory.

    "The biology textbook generally refers to religion and the existence of God in a negative way. It infringes on believers' rights," she said in comments carried by Russian television stations.

    Shreiber could not be immediately located for further comment.

    Her father, Kiril Schreiber, who represented her in court Wednesday, said he wants the biology textbook revised.

    School officials, meanwhile, were dismissive of the suit. Principal Andrei Polozov said he doubted Shreiber had "serious religions beliefs."

    "It seems to everyone that this is stupid and serves no purpose," he said of the lawsuit in televised comments. "Pupils and teachers are more amused than concerned about it."

    Deputy Principal Olga Makarova told The Associated Press that the biology teacher had mentioned alternative theories to evolution.

    "When starting the course on the matter, the biology teacher said that there are other versions of humanity's origin," she said.

    The suit is the first of its kind in Russia.

    In the United States, several lawsuits challenging the theory that says humans descended from apes have been filed in courts, with many anti-evolution groups pushing an idea known as "intelligent design" which holds that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by some kind of higher force.

    Doctors more accepting of alternatives


    By IAN STEWARD | Friday, 15 December 2006

    Alternative medicine is becoming more accepted by mainstream doctors, with more than 95 per cent of GPs referring patients to therapies such as acupuncture, naturopathy and osteopathy.

    A study of general practitioners' attitudes to alternative medicine was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal yesterday.

    It said the most common alternative referrals were acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation and osteopathy. More than 70% of GPs recommended them.

    One-fifth of GPs practised a form of natural or complementary medicine along with conventional treatments.

    GPs were also asked to rate whether certain forms of medicine were alternative or conventional. Acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and osteopathy created a split, with similar numbers of doctors rating them as conventional and alternative.

    The study suggested that because these three forms were funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation they may have acquired a more mainstream reputation.

    The most distrusted alternative therapies were reflexology (78%), aromatherapy (67%), and homeopathy (62%).

    Christchurch School of Medicine Professor of General Practice, Les Toop, said the results fitted with his experience of the profession but "it depends where you draw the line between alternative and conventional".

    Toop said acupuncture was considered to be fairly mainstream as it had established an evidence base.

    But Toop said he would like more regulation and training in alternative therapies.

    New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists vice-president, Paddy McBride, said acupuncture was becoming mainstream because it was so effective.

    "I think they can't ignore it any longer. It's so obviously effective."

    Christchurch osteopath Will Davies said his profession was becoming more accepted "because of results".

    Davies said when results were established the "alternative" tag no longer applied.

    Did Judge Jones Plagiarize Scholar's Book in Dickinson College Commencement Speech?


    We have made clear that Judge Jones' wholesale and uncritical copying from ACLU attorneys in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision is not considered "plagiarism" in legal circles--even though such verbatim copying has been frowned upon by appellate courts. But what about the unattributed use of language from someone else's book in a public speech? According to the posted text of his Commencement Address at Dickinson College, Judge Jones appears to have engaged in unattributed copying outside the courtroom as well. Compare the following passages and decide for yourself whether this new finding constitutes plagiarism.

    Judge Jones' Commencement Address at Dickinson College (2006):

    "...our Founding Fathers... possessed a great confidence in an individual's ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason... The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry... this core set of beliefs led the Founders... to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state." (http://www.dickinson.edu/commencement/2006/address.html)

    Compare that to Frank Lambert's, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton University Press, 2003):

    "The Founding Fathers... had great confidence in the individual's ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason. To them, true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in the Bible but rather was to be found through free rational inquiry...the framers sought to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state."

    (Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, pg. 3 (2003). You can also find this material online at http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i7500.html)

    Posted by Robert Crowther on December 14, 2006 11:49 AM | Permalink

    Here, for your entertainment, is what some bloggers are saying:

    Monkey trial


    Judge John E. Jones III, who ruled a year ago that intelligent design is religion not science, copied his opinion almost word-for-word from an ACLU document. The Discovery Institute discovered the lifted text while investigating factual errors in the judge's decision. Tim Eckley, staff attorney for the American Judicature Society's Center of Judicial Ethics, told WORLD that while judges are free to use briefs from either side in their final rulings, failure to disclose such use could merit disciplinary action. After spending the last year parlaying his celebrity into speech engagements and talk radio appearances, the talkative Jones suddenly has no comment.

    Posted by Bergin at December 14, 2006 11:14 AM

    Comments 1 Just read this and read DI's news release. The reference is only to one section of the Judge's ruling, the proposed findings of fact, which were prepared not by "the ACLU" but by the ACLU's attorneys. As such they were properly legally phrased and if the judge found they were the correct facts, it was perfectly appropriate for him to adopt them. Judges do this all the time.

    And apparently he did make some changes, as, according to the release, he adopted 90.4% of that section.

    As for the DI, if it has taken them this long to recognize that the judge's opinion was taken almost directly from the other side's proposed findings of fact which were served on them before the decision was rendered, they obviously never bothered to read these important legal papers when they were supposed to.

    Posted by: arcadia at December 14, 2006 11:31 AM


    3 This raises legitimate concerns about the integrity of the judge as he heard the case. Rather than listening impartially to the presentations and then coming to an unbiased ruling, it seems that this judge may have been in the ACLU's pocket from the start.

    So much for a fair hearing. This reminds me of the Supreme Court judge, Abe Fortas who had his mind made up about the Arkansas v. Epperson case on evolution/creation before he ever heard the arguments. Apparently, he was also in the pocket of the ACLU. Significantly, Fortas later resigned from the Supreme Court to avoid an impending impeachment for financial abuses.

    Now it will be interesting to see how things turn out for the ACLU's Judge Jones.

    Posted by: Michael Martin at December 14, 2006 11:54 AM 4 From the 139 page decision.

    Although Defendants attempt to persuade this Court that each Board member who voted for the biology curriculum change did so for the secular purposed of improving science education and to exercise critical thinking skills, their contentions are simply irreconcilable with the record evidence. Their asserted purposes are a sham...

    The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board's ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents....

    Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt animprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources....

    The DI, having been slapped in the face, didn't even appeal, and the citizens of the school district were forced to pay over $1,000,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.

    And now the DI does its "work" by a really stupid ad hominem attack on the judge?


    Posted by: arcadia at December 14, 2006 11:55 AM 5 I read a little of transcript of the trial, and also of the decision when it came out. My impression then was that it definitely seemed that the judge had already formed an opinion before the trial began. In more than one instance, statements from the ID witnesses were ridiculously misinterpreted.

    Posted by: Rostin at December 14, 2006 11:56 AM 6 Michael Martin: You are accusing a federal judge of a crime. Do you have any evidence that he was "in the pocket" of the ACLU?

    The judge listened to weeks of testimony, and each side submitted its summary of what the evidence said. The judge agreed with the ACLU so completely that he adopted most of its finding of fact.

    How does that demonstrate that he is "in the pocket" of the ACLU?

    In a criminal trial, if the judge adopts proposed findings of fact from a defendant before finding him not guilty, does that mean he is "in the pocket" of the criminal? Or vice-versa, the prosecutors?

    When you disagree with a judge in this country, you appeal and get higher court judges to review that judge's procedures. In this case, despite having their position dismissed as "inane" and "ill-advised" by an experienced judge, the defendants a)did not appeal and b)voted to have their citizens pay the other side's legal fees.

    Now, apparently in a bid for publicity, they belatedly discover that the judge really did agree completely with the other side and attack him for it in a non-judicial forum.

    Shame on them.

    Actually it is just standard procedure for ID advocates. Make a nutso claim, wait for it to be refuted, then sulk and claim there is a "controversy" for everybody to look at.

    Posted by: arcadia at December 14, 2006 12:11 PM 7 So, the judge could either take the findings of fact from the ACLU, supported by each and every national science academy around the world, or the one from the Discovery Institute, whose own witnesses called ID religious. Which would you pick, seriously?

    Posted by: Leftfield at December 14, 2006 12:12 PM 8 I was waiting for some fool to post this drivel.

    Bergin, get your facts straight: Jones used the 'findings of fact' given by the plaintiffs, which is where the 90.4 % figure comes from. Guess what, there is a rich history of legal precedent for this and it is completely within the day to day realm of what judges do. further Jones is not allowed to comment on this.

    the findings of fact are filled with references to depositions and sworn testimony, so Tim Eckly would be right that failure to do so would be grounds for action, that is not the case. another red herring.



    note that you don't see lawyers saying that jones was dishonest or plagiarized. that is because they could get in trouble (it's not true and impugning the character and integrity of a judge is big time stuff). it's only the hacks and PR people making this kind of accusation.

    Michael Martin you are a nutcase but that is old news. This is BUSH's Judge Jones.

    I invite WorldBlog to retract this post as it is severly at odds with the facts.

    Posted by: Erasmus at December 14, 2006 12:13 PM

    2006 to be sixth-warmest year on record--WMO

    14 Dec 2006 17:15:19 GMT
    Source: Reuters

    By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - 2006 is set to be the world's sixth-warmest year since records began 150 years ago, the World Meteorological Organisation said on Thursday, offering more evidence of a trend most scientists blame on greenhouse gases.

    The ten warmest years have all occurred in the last 12 years, according to the United Nations weather agency.

    It said 2006 had been marked by extreme drought and heavy flooding in the greater Horn of Africa, record wildfires in the United States, torrential rainfall in the Philippines, shrinking sea ice in the Arctic and the warmest autumn in Europe.

    An average temperature of 0.42 degrees Celsius above the annual average from 1961-90 put 2006 on track to be the "sixth warmest year on record", the WMO said in a preliminary report based on data through November. 1998 was the warmest year.

    "There are many parts of the world where temperature records were broken," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud told a news briefing.

    "With respect to temperatures, there were quite a few very, very strong anomalies. It was the warmest autumn in many European countries," he added.

    Global warming is a contentious issue, but most scientists now agree that world average temperatures may rise by between two and six degrees Celsius this century due to emissions of so-called greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, released by burning fossil fuels for power and transport.

    The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001 cited evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years was "attributable to human activities".

    Jarraud said that the next report of an IPCC working group, due on Feb. 2, was expected to shed further light.

    Temperatures were more than 3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal in large parts of Europe this autumn, the WMO said.

    "It was the warmest (autumn) in the U.K. since records began, so we can very safely say it was the warmest since the 17th century," Jarraud said. It was also the warmest autumn in the Netherlands since 1706 and since 1768 in Denmark.

    Australia had its second hottest day ever on Jan. 1 and its warmest spring on record, while Brazil also had heat waves.

    Canada experienced its mildest winter and spring on record and the United States had its warmest January-September ever.


    Jarraud also said that 2006 had "the second smallest recorded extent of sea ice over the Arctic -- just after 2005".

    The area is declining at a rate of nearly 8.6 percent per decade, or more than 60,000 sq kilometres (23,000 sq miles) per year -- larger than the size of Switzerland, he said.

    "It is quite a fast and significant decrease," he added.

    Severe drought affected more than 10 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa, but the region also suffered some of the worst floods in 50 years, the Geneva-based organisation said.

    Drought also took 11 percent of the soybean crop in Brazil and damaged millions of hectares of crops in China, it said.

    There were a normal number of hurricanes in the Caribbean and fewer than average typhoons in south-east Asia, but in China it was the worst year in a decade for tropical cyclones, which caused more than 1,000 fatalities, the WMO said.

    The current moderate El Nino, a phenomenon in the tropical Pacific blamed for disrupting weather patterns, was to continue to at least into the first quarter of 2007, WMO said. This would cause more rainfall than usual in some areas and less in others.

    Next year might eclipse 1998 as the warmest year on record because of the El Nino, said Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia.

    "Next year we expect the year to be even warmer because of the El Nino event in the Pacific. Next year might be the warmest year -- we've been waiting for a major El Nino event to break the record from 1998," he said.


    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    New Publishing Rules Restrict Scientists


    WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

    New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

    Top officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff.

    "This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way," Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications, said Wednesday. "I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow."

    Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.

    "I feel as though we've got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that's a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship," said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

    "The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research," said Estes, a researcher at the agency for more than 30 years. "But to me it feels like they're doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they're afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration."

    The new requirements state that the USGS's communications office must be "alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature."

    The agency's director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told — prior to any submission for publication — "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed."

    Patrick Leahy, USGS's head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists' accountability and "harmonize" the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists' neutrality.

    "Our scientific staff is second to none," he said. "This notion of scientific gotcha is something we do not want to participate in. That does not mean to avoid contentious issues."

    The changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews. In that process, scientists critique each other's findings to determine whether they deserve to be published.

    From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers' as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.

    The Bush administration, as well as the Clinton administration before it, has been criticized over scientific integrity issues. In 2002, the USGS was forced to reverse course after warning that oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine caribou herd. One week later a new report followed, this time saying the caribou would not be affected.

    Earlier this year, a USGS scientist poked holes in research that the Interior Department was using in an effort to remove from the endangered species list a tiny jumping mouse that inhabits grasslands coveted by developers in Colorado and Wyoming.

    Federal criminal investigators are looking into allegations that USGS employees falsified documents between 1998 and 2000 on the the movement of water through the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The USGS had validated the Energy Department's conclusions that water seepage was relatively slow, so radiation would be less likely to escape.

    At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. "It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country's comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials," four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

    Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

    © 2006 The Associated Press

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