NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 July 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Textbook activist Norma Gabler dies

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/07/26/0726gabler.html

She and her husband, Mel, founded Christian organization.

By Jo Lee Ferguson

LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Norma Gabler dedicated much of the past 46 years of her life to making sure public school textbooks received careful public scrutiny before they were allowed in Texas schools.

The 84-year-old Longview resident died Sunday in Phoenix, Ariz., after serving for decades as the public face of an effort to bolster both accuracy and conservative beliefs in public school textbooks. She and her husband, Mel, who died in 2004, began their work in 1961 in Hawkins after finding errors in a textbookof one of their sons.

They became nationally famous, and a Rice University professor who was head of the Texas Council for Science Education in 1982 said the Gablers were "the most effective textbook censors in the country."

They founded the Longview-based nonprofit organization Educational Research Analysts, which describes itself as a conservative Christian organization.

Educational Research Analysts is dedicated to finding factual errors in textbooks, as well as to pointing out "censorship of conservative political or social views," said Neal Frey, president of the organization who worked with the Gablers since 1982. The group's work will continue, he said.

The Gablers' work, he said, had national impact because Texas is such a large buyer of textbooks; what is approved here is often repeated nationally by publishers.

One of her sons, Phoenix resident Jim Gabler, recalled that his father worked more behind the scenes, checking facts, while his mother dealt with the public speaking.

"They made a real good tandem pair," Jim Gabler said. "My dad was very thorough, and really, my mother was more the extrovert."

"One of the things (my parents) realized early on is . . . most people had no idea what was in the textbook," Gabler said.

Some publishers started submitting their textbooks to his parents even before the approval process started so they could learn about the Gablers' objections early.

Grace Shore, a Longview woman who served five years on the State Board of Education, said the Gablers' work made publishers more aware of accuracy because they knew someone was looking over their shoulders.

Norma Gabler is also survived by her son Paul Gabler of Houston and her brother Jack Rhodes of Longview. Services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rader Funeral Home of Longview.

Evolution education update: July 27, 2007

A veteran antievolutionist is appointed to the Texas board of education, while the Pope's latest remarks on evolution seem encouraging. And a chance to learn how to teach evolution with NCSE's Louise Mead.

ANTIEVOLUTIONIST APPOINTED TO HEAD TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

On July 17, 2007, Don McLeroy was appointed by Texas governor Rick Perry (R) to chair the state board of education, succeeding Geraldine Miller. A member of the board for the last eight years, McLeroy was described by the Dallas Morning News (July 18, 2007) as "aligned with social conservative groups known for their strong stands on evolution, sexual abstinence and other heated topics covered in textbooks" and as "[o]ne of four board members who voted against current high school biology books because of their failure to list weaknesses in the theory of evolution."

In a statement issued on July 17, 2007, Texas Freedom Network's president Kathy Miller chided Governor Perry for his choice, writing, "Texas parents should be troubled that the governor has appointed as head of the state board a clear ideologue who has repeatedly put his own personal and political agendas ahead of sound science, good health and solid textbooks for students. Even worse, Mr. McLeroy will now be in charge of the board's scheduled revision of the state's science curriculum standards, an area where he has already cast his lot with extremists who want to censor what our schoolchildren learn."

The state's newspapers also expressed concern about McLeroy. Referring to previous ideological struggles in which the board was involved, the Dallas Morning News (July 19, 2007) worried, "The elevation of veteran board member Don McLeroy to the chairman's post raises concerns that the board is headed back in that direction," and urged McLeroy to steer clear of "the bitterness of past culture wars." Similarly, the Austin American-Statesman (July 22, 2007) commented, "McLeroy's elevation to chairman comes as the board begins a revision of science standards for public schools. That could prove embarrassing for Texas if McLeroy pushes for standards that push theology over science."

A document on McLeroy's personal website entitled "Historical Reality" and dated September 8, 2003, offers a glimpse of McLeroy's understanding of evolutionary science. Relying on discredited sources as Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution and Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon's Of Pandas and People as well as on tendentious misreadings of legitimate science and on long-ago-debunked creationist claims, McLeroy argued that common descent is "only a hypothesis, and a shaky one at that." He then urged his colleagues on the board to reject the books then under consideration -- a plea that was ignored.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for the sciences are scheduled to be reviewed and revised shortly, with a final vote by the Texas board of education presently expected in November 2008. Textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas are required to conform to the TEKS, so although the next round of biology textbook adoption proceedings is not expected to begin until 2009 at the earliest, it is likely that antievolutionists will try to undermine the treatment of evolution in the TEKS in order to provide a platform to campaign against the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks.

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_18tex.ART.State.Edition1.3bba4d6.html

For the statement from TFN's Kathy Miller, visit:
http://www.tfn.org/pressroom/display.php?item_id=5871

For the editorials quoted, visit:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-mcleroy_19edi.ART.State.Edition1.425e024.html
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/07/22/0722education_edit.html

For McLeroy's "Historical Reality" essay, visit:
http://www.donmcleroy.com/Textbooks/Historical_Reality.htm

For critiques of some of McLeroy's sources, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/7738_review_of_michael_behe39s__5_20_2003.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/icons/
http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=21

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=TX

THE POPE ON EVOLUTION AGAIN

Speaking to a group of Italian priests on July 24, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI again addressed the topic of evolution. Referring to debates over creationism in Germany and the United States, he suggested that evolution and belief in God the creator are presented "as if they were alternatives that are exclusive -- whoever believes in the creator could not believe in evolution, and whoever asserts belief in evolution would have to disbelieve in God," as the New York Post's article (July 26, 2007) translated it. "This contrast is an absurdity," he continued, "because there are many scientific tests in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being. But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?" A transcript of his remarks, in Italian, is available on the Vatican's website.

The Pope's most recent remarks, although brief, suggest that he is continuing to maintain a form of theistic evolutionism, as he reportedly did in his contribution to Schoepfung und Evolution, the proceedings of a seminar on creation and evolution that he conducted with his former doctoral students in September 2006; according to Reuters (April 11, 2007), "In the book, Benedict defended what is known as 'theistic evolution,' the view held by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches that God created life through evolution and religion and science need not clash over this." Although Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's 2005 New York Times op-ed "Finding Design in Nature," which seemed to express sympathy for "intelligent design" creationism, was widely feared to herald a possible shift in the Catholic Church's attitude toward evolution, subsequent developments, including a series of clarifications from Schoenborn, have for the most part indicated otherwise.

For the story in the New York Post, visit:
http://www.nypost.com/seven/07262007/news/worldnews/evolution___god_do_mix__pope_worldnews_bill_sanderson.htm

For the Pope's remarks (in Italian), visit:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2007/july/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20070724_clero-cadore_it.html

For NCSE's previous coverage of evolution and the Catholic Church, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/US/49_cardinal_creates_controversy_7_15_2005.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/XX/280_intelligent_design_criticize_1_20_2006.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2007/XX/721_the_latest_on_evolution_from_t_4_12_2007.asp

LEARN TO TEACH EVOLUTION WITH NCSE'S LOUISE MEAD

NCSE's Education Project Director Louise Mead will be teaching a course on teaching evolution, on-line through Montana State University, from September 17 to December 7, 2007. The course description:

***

Evolution is a powerful and generative concept that is fundamental to a modern understanding of biology and the natural world. Evolution offers insight into how we came to be, what our future may hold, and how we interact with the living world. However, despite its centrality to the modern biology classroom, teaching evolution can be especially challenging. Unlike instruction on many other topics covered in pre-college biology courses (organ systems, cell structure, ecosystem interactions, etc.), evolution instruction may encounter unique sources of resistance and misinformation in addition to more typical misconceptions and teaching challenges.

This course is designed to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to teach evolution effectively. In this course, students will get an overview of evolutionary history and theory, an introduction to current topics of evolution research, tools for making evolution relevant to the science classroom and students' lives, and strategies for lesson development, as well as practical techniques and background knowledge for responding to challenges to evolution instruction.

Ultimately, of course, the goal of this course is to change how its students teach in their own science classrooms. We hope that participants in this course will increasingly emphasize evolution in their K-12 classrooms through dynamic and coherent lessons that help their students overcome misconceptions and see how evolution is relevant to their lives.

***

The course is aimed primarily at science teachers teaching grades 7-12; prerequisites are a bachelor's degree and preferably teacher certification with one year of teaching experience.

For information about the course, visit:
http://btc.montana.edu/courses/aspx/nten.aspx?TheID=312

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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.

Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

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

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp

Commentary: Rio Rancho school policies influenced by ex-mayor need to be rethought

http://www.abqtrib.com/news/2007/jul/26/commentary-rio-rancho-school-policies-influenced-e/

Dave Thomas Thursday, July 26, 2007

Today's byline

Dave Thomas, a physicist and mathematician, is president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason. He is co-host of the group's "Science Watch," which airs Saturdays at 2 p.m. on KABQ-AM (1350).

Now that he has resigned, it's a good time to ponder the legacy of Rio Rancho's ex-mayor, Kevin Jackson, whose brief tenure has been disgraceful.

I don't pretend to be able to explain the mechanics of his mind-numbing meltdown, complete with accusations of misuse of public funds and his unwillingness to begin coming clean about his use of public money.

In light of recent events, I would like to encourage a re-examination of two of the man's prized issues: creationism and abstinence-only education.

These beliefs have negative effects when it comes to science and how it is taught in our schools. And they did not leave with Jackson. They are still on the books in Rio Rancho. They deserve a place in the refuse bin, next to the tattered remnants of Jackson's career.

Jackson has worked in the shadows amid continuing fight against evolution, preferring to support creationism through his relatives and organizations.

Before his election as mayor, Jackson's wife, Kathy, served on the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education. There, she joined with two other board members, who just happened to be pastors at Rio West Community Church, and passed Science Policy 401 in 2005.

This policy essentially paved the way for creationism by redefining science from something that must continually be tested rigorously to a mere collection of supposedly equally valid "interpretations" of the available data. Real science, of course, has a history littered with the corpses of thousands of discarded "interpretations."

Science Policy 401 was amended and is now basically toothless, but it's still on the books. It's time Policy 401, like Jackson, was retired.

Jackson and his wife formed the New Mexico Family Council years ago. It has identified itself as "one of 40 Family Policy councils throughout the country which work closely with (James Dobson's) Focus on the Family."

Back when Jackson ran the council, the organization's newsletter claimed responsibility for sending science teachers several dozen copies of the Intelligent Design tome "Darwin's Black Box," by Michael Behe.

This was cited as a classic example of the Intelligent Design "Wedge" strategy in the book "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design" by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross.

Forrest went on to become the key witness proving the connections of creationism to its successor, Intelligent Design, in Judge John Jones' historic 2005 decision in a Dover, Pa., federal court case.

The Family Council has fired Jackson and is cooperating with state investigations into financial irregularities.

At the least, I hope someone is investigating how Kathy Jackson, the council's co-founder, was allowed to vote on giving her own organization contracts to teach abstinence programs in Rio Rancho schools.

Even with Jackson expelled from the council, the organization is still providing abstinence education through its "Best Choice" division.

It's time for a fresh look at abstinence-only policies. A recent study showed that students taught only sexual abstinence ended up with rates of unwanted pregnancies no better than those of students who received standard health education.

When these abstinence-only programs mention birth control, it is in a derisive way, much as creationists like to mention fossils only as a way to disparage evolution.

For example, students in the council's abstinence classes are taught only that condoms are not "100 percent safe at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

Rio Rancho's sex-ed policies do not meet state requirements for comprehensive sex education. However, the school board has yet to reconsider its stand.

Board member Don Schlichte, one of the pastors behind Science Policy 401, said in February that "I think we should let the state tell us we are wrong. We will go from there."

Well, the state has since spoken. It's time for action.

Science Policy 401 and abstinence-only education in Rio Rancho schools should be re-examined, not just because they were associated with the Meltdown Mayor, but because they are bad for the students of Rio Rancho.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Natural remedies 'potentially harmful'

http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=80d38d43-44e6-48da-b672-0011b8fae834&k=0

Tom Blackwell, National Post
Published: Monday, July 23, 2007

Half the pharmacists surveyed by Alberta researchers said they had seen evidence of dangerous interactions between natural health products and prescription drugs, a "startling" result that suggests natural remedies cause many more harmful side effects than once thought, a new study concludes.

Most of those pharmacists, however, failed to report the side effects to Health Canada's adverse-reaction database, the study indicated. The findings point to an "urgent need" for additional safety data on herbal and other natural products used by millions of Canadians, said the University of Alberta scientists behind the research.

"This [study] leads us to believe that natural-health product [NHP] adverse events are far more common than previously suspected," said their paper, just published in the journal Annals of Pharmacotherapy. "The majority of Canadians use NHPs and our data confirm that this use may carry unrecognized risk."

The lack of reporting of safety problems by health professionals is exacerbated by the fact that patients assume natural treatments will cause them no harm, argue the researchers at U of A's Complementary and Alternative Research and Education (CARE) program.

The study shows that patients must treat such remedies "with respect," Dr. Sunita Vohra, the program's head, said in an interview. "Just because it came from nature doesn't mean it is not active," she said. "It means that, in fact, it may be active, it may be effective, but may also be potentially harmful."

Dr. Vohra, a pediatrician who also has degrees in pharmacology and epidemiology, and her team recently were awarded federal funding for a new pilot project that will see 16 drug stores across the country systematically inquire about and report natural-cure mishaps.

Scientists have identified a number of harmful reactions that can occur when natural remedies mix with prescription and non-prescription drugs. For instance, the herb St. John's Wort will sometimes neutralize the effect of anti-rejection drugs in organ transplant patients, while concentrated garlic is suspected of weakening the anti-retroviral medicine used by HIV sufferers.

The study backs up Health Canada's concern that adverse events involving natural-health products, like pharmaceutical drugs, are "seriously under-reported," said Paul Duchesne, a department spokesman.

A representative of the Canadian natural-health industry said the research underlines the need for more education, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the extent of natural-health side effects until more research is done. Meanwhile, there is increasing evidence of the benefits of natural treatments, said Penelope Marrett, president of the Canadian Health Food Association.

"It's important that we're able to provide Canadians with the choices they want, that have research behind them and are credible," Ms. Marrett said. "People are asking for natural health products and want to see them available."

The CARE program, based out of Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, studies the use of alternative medicine on children. Dr. Vohra and her colleagues knew that about 70% of Canadians use natural-health products, often in tandem with other types of medicine. There have been few reports of adverse events involving the remedies, though, and it was unclear whether negative side effects were rare or simply under-reported.

To try to answer the question, the researchers surveyed a sample of pharmacists, the main source of adverse-reaction reports of all kinds to the federal government. Of the 132 who responded, 47% said they had encountered suspected interactions between natural-health products and drugs. Less than 2%, though, reported their suspicions.

Most saw evidence of reactions between St. John's Wort and an SSRI anti-depressant, a mix which seems to sometimes trigger an excess of serotonin in the brain, a condition known as serotonin syndrome that can result in dizziness, nausea and - in rare cases - death.

Health Canada is doing its own research on specific interactions between drugs and natural health products, as well as trying to better educate pharmacists and consumers about the issues, said Mr. Duchesne.

Top researchers criticize new meditation and health study

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-07/rm-trc072407.php

Public release date: 24-Jul-2007

Contact: Ken Chawkin
kchawkin@mum.edu
641-470-1314
Roth Media

Researchers available for interview
C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A.
Medical Director and Endowed Chair, Women's Health Program, Preventive Cardiac and Women's Heart Centers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Los Angeles

Robert Schneider, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Director, NIH-Funded Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa

Hector Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles

Vernon Barnes, Ph.D.
Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia Augusta, Georgia

Professor Harald Walach
University of Northampton and School of Social Sciences and the Samueli Institute for Information Biology in England

A controversial new government-funded report, which found that meditation does not improve health, is methodologically flawed, incomplete, and should be retracted.

This is the consensus of a growing number of researchers in the U.S. and abroad who have reviewed the report and are critical of its conclusions.

"Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research" was a health technology assessment report conducted at the University of Alberta and sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the NIH-National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The report was released earlier this month.

Respected reviewer urged authors to withhold publication—"Analytical strategy looked haphazard and ad hoc"

Professor Harald Walach of the University of Northampton and School of Social Sciences and the Samueli Institute for Information Biology in England reviewed the paper before its release and strongly urged the authors to withhold publication. "When I looked carefully into the details of the study, the whole analytical strategy looked rather haphazard and ad hoc," Walach said.

Relevant studies excluded from AHRQ findings

Robert Schneider, M.D., F.A.C.C., is one of the leading researchers on the health effects of meditation in the nation. Dr. Schneider has been the recipient of more than $22 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health over the past 20 years for his research on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique and natural medicine on cardiovascular disease. He says that relevant findings were excluded from the report, including peer-reviewed studies on the effects of this meditation technique on hypertension, cardiovascular disease, myocardial ischemia, atherosclerosis, changes to physiology, and improvements to mental and physical health.

Dr. Schneider cited two studies published in the American Journal of Cardiology in 2005, which demonstrated that individuals with high blood pressure who were randomly assigned to TM groups had a 30% lower risk for mortality than controls. These studies should have been included in the AHRQ report, Dr. Schneider said, but were inexplicably excluded. In addition, 75 published studies were overlooked, even though these were sent to the authors by one of the reviewers.

Dr. Schneider said the AHRQ report incorrectly analyzed studies and incorrectly rated the quality of the studies while applying statistical methods poorly, arbitrarily, and unsystematically. The report also included errors in collecting data from research studies, in recording data from papers, and in classifying studies. Several peer-reviewers pointed out major errors and inadequacies in the report prior to publication. However, these critiques by outside reviewers were largely ignored. (For critiques of the report, see http://www.mum.edu/inmp/welcome.html)

Dr. Schneider also cited a study published in the American Medical Association's journal Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006—one year after the AHRQ review ended in 2005—which confirmed that the Transcendental Meditation technique lowers high blood pressure in heart disease patients. The study was conducted at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and was funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Schneider directs the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, which was supported by an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as a specialized center of research in complementary and alternative medicine and cardiovascular disease. Creation Museum Packs 'Em In http://www.citizenlink.org/content/A000005110.cfm

7-24-2007

Even its creators are surprised by the popularity of the new Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Not even 2 months old, the 60,000-square-foot institution near Cincinnati exceeded expectations by passing the 100,000-visitors milestone last weekend.

An official said the Creation Museum should easily exceed the 250,000 visitors organizers had hoped to get in the first year. Because of huge crowds, the parent organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG), is seeking permission to add 600 parking spots.

The Creation Museum reflects AiG's "young Earth" view of creationism with displays including the Garden of Eden, animatronic dinosaurs, large models and real dinosaur bones and eggs. Detractors have accused it of "indoctrination" of young people in an anti-science ideology.

Mathematician Makes Hopeful Predictions about the Future of Evolution Education

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/07/mathematician_makes_hopeful_pr.html

Mathematician and intelligent design supporter Granville Sewell has posted an article, entitled "How Evolution Will Be Taught Someday," where he makes some interesting predictions about the future state of teaching science. He asks whether intelligent design will be taught and says, "probably not in my lifetime." In Sewell's view, "in the not-too-distant future, biology texts will refer to evolution as an amazing, mysterious 'natural' process, which scientists do not now understand, but hope to understand some day." Sewell continues to explain that this result would not be opposed by the Discovery Institute, which is not trying to push ID into schools:

But for most ID proponents, this will be a quite satisfactory outcome, certainly a huge improvement over the current sad state of affairs, where Darwin's natural selection is the only scientific theory around which enjoys widespread legal protection from scientific criticism in the classroom. The Discovery Institute , which actively promotes ID as a scientific theory, does not (contrary to common belief) support the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms, they only hope that biology instructors will be allowed to "teach the scientific controversy" over Darwinism.

Perhaps after a few generations in which biology texts point optimistically toward future discoveries which may uncover the mechanism of evolution, eventually some will begin to recognize the obvious, that there is no possible explanation without design. Until then, I will be happy with texts which simply acknowledge that the idea that the survival of the fittest can turn bacteria into giraffes, and cause human consciousness to arise out of inanimate matter, is doubted by some scientists.

(Granville Sewell, " How Evolution Will Be Taught Someday," emphasis in original)

Will Sewell turn out to be right?

Posted by Casey Luskin on July 25, 2007 1:36 AM | Permalink


Monday, July 23, 2007

Perpetual commotion

http://www.thestar.com/News/article/233540

Perpetual research

For updates on Steorn's public demonstration: www.steorn.com

More information on perpetual motion: www.hp-gramatke.net

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: uspto.gov/web/offices/ pac

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office: strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo

Huckster or genius? An Irish firm is the latest to trumpet a `perpetual-motion machine'

Jul 08, 2007 04:30 AM
Sarah Barmak Special to the Star

"Built to last."

"Lasts an extra, extra long time."

"It keeps going, and going, and going, and going ..."

Sure, that's what they all say. But be it batteries or bubblegum, everything stops sometime. The only thing that goes on forever is the propensity to make this stuff up.

Perhaps this is what observers of Irish company Steorn are thinking these days. Nearly a year has elapsed since the firm put an ad in The Economist announcing that it had accomplished the impossible: developed a machine that would never stop running, producing unlimited clean power forever.

In other words, it declared it had solved the world's energy crisis in one stroke. Steorn had entered a province traditionally populated by hoodwinking fraudsters and talentless tinkers alike: the perpetual-motion machine.

Like the fountain of youth, perpetual motion is a collective dream, an inventor's fable that has drawn ardent believers through the centuries.

Unlike alchemy, however, it happens to be one mythic riddle that hundreds still attempt to solve.

Steorn claims it has constructed a device out of magnets that can run without consuming energy, producing power out of thin air.

This is, as the company's website helpfully confirms, "a violation of the principle of (the) conservation of energy," or the first law of thermodynamics, which states definitively that energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

If it is a hoax, it's an expensive one. Steorn has invested more than $5.7 million in Orbo, as the device is known, along with $160,000 on The Economist ad alone, according to British newspaper The Guardian.

The ad challenged the scientific community to prove Steorn wrong. It is perhaps that impressive amount of chutzpah that has captured the hopes of diehard fans, many of whom post daily on the company's Web forum and even go to parties at Steorn's headquarters.

"If your technology is legitimate – and I believe it is," gushed one forum member named Babcat at a members-only party last November, "it's the most important discovery in human history since fire."

Now, after 10 quiet months during which Steorn claims that an anonymous panel of 22 scientists have been testing their technology – a process set to conclude at the end of this year – it finally launched a public demonstration of the device at East London's Kinetica Museum on Wednesday and streamed it over the Internet – briefly, at least.

Shortly after it started, a note was posted on the company's website, advising that it was "experiencing some technical difficulties with the demo unit in London." Steorn chalked it up to "the intense heat from the camera lighting."

On Friday morning, Steorn CEO Sean McCarthy posted another note saying they had made the "unfortunate decision" to defer the demonstration for an unspecified period of time, adding they would explain what had happened later.

According to Brian Baigrie, who teaches the history and philosophy of science at the University of Toronto, perpetual motion is an idea that gives some groups a way of defining themselves against accepted norms – much, he points out, like arguments for intelligent design.

"The interest in rational design as an account of the creation of species wasn't that high prior to Darwin, although most individuals (before then) would have described themselves as theists," he says, adding that perpetual motion saw a parallel rise in popularity after the laws of thermodynamics were established in the 1860s.

"The scientific community really celebrated the rise of the science of thermodynamics as a great achievement, and this in itself has been an incentive to eccentrics and inventors to find a way to violate it."

Here are just a few of history's odd contraptions. Among the failed inventors? Leonardo da Vinci. Irish guys, take note.

The heavenly wheel

The first stab at designing a machine that would run forever came long before the machine age. Indian mathematician and astronomer Brahmagupta described a wheel that would rotate perpetually in his treatise the Brahmasphutasiddhanta, in 624 CE. The wheel was equipped with hollow spokes half-filled with mercury, so that the liquid would collect either left or right of the wheel's centre. This would break its equilibrium and force it to move, or so the idea went.

This so-called "overbalanced wheel" would prove to be among the most enduring designs in the perpetual-motion pantheon.

It was taken up in the West by Villard de Honnecourt in about 1235, who wrote that a wheel that had an odd number of moveable weights attached to its sides would spin indefinitely.

Rules of attraction

Magnets have long been thought to have magical powers, and their seemingly occult ability to influence metal from a distance inspired early tinkers to believe they held limitless energy. In 1269, French scholar Peter of Maricourt described a toothed wheel powered by a magnet that would rotate continuously, mimicking the eternal motion of the planets.

In the 17th century, English bishop John Wilkins, chief founder of the Royal Society, discussed magnets as potential sources of unbounded energy. He debated the merits of a device with an iron ball that could be pulled up a ramp perpetually by a large magnet. Wilkins admitted he couldn't get it to work.

Four hundred years later, Steorn designs a circular perpetual-motion machine. Its power source? Magnets, of course.

The da Vinci decoding

Renaissance painter, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, and polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452—1519) was fascinated by some of his colleagues' perpetual-motion designs, pondering whether such a device could really work.

Ultimately, the devices ran afoul of da Vinci, and he devoted pages of notes to debunking them. He concluded that the aforementioned unbalanced wheel would run for a little while but would always stop.

"Oh, ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued?" he eventually exclaimed. "Go and take your place with the alchemists."

But few listened.

The fraud

The prize for most impressive defrauding of a nobleman must go to Johann Ernst Elias Bessler, a German-Polish scholar also known as Orffyreus (1680-1745). He was one of the first perpetual-motion conspiracy theorists, those who believe their inventions are being purposely suppressed and discredited.

Despite his paranoia, he did get money from Karl I von Hessen-Kassel, Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel, to construct a giant unbalanced wheel. Bessler started the wheel and shut it inside a room. When the door was opened 40 days later, the contraption was still running. The machine was declared a success.

People grew suspicious, however, since few were actually allowed to look directly at the machine – or behind it.

A story about a maid who kept the machine going with a crank in an adjacent room began to circulate. Townspeople whispered that she had confessed to being paid two pennies an hour to work in shifts with Bessler's wife and brother.

His reputation ruined, Bessler destroyed all of his models and documents. He died at 65, after falling off one of his own contraptions.

The boom

The laws of thermodynamics were largely solidified in the mid-19th century, and perpetual motion was officially discredited. The French Academy of Sciences had not waited, however, declaring in 1775 that it would no longer accept papers on the subject, calling it an "impossible" goal that "has ruined more than one family."

But instead of halting the search for limitless power, the appearance of scientific proof that it could not exist breathed new life into the idea. The 19th century saw the highest number of perpetual-motion machine patents yet.

Among the influx of designs were early automobiles. One bizarre invention featured a giant magnet hitched in front of a carriage fitted with an iron anvil. The magnet would pull the carriage forward, which would in turn propel the magnet, making it run forever.

Somehow, orders for the car never materialized.

Present day

Today, patent offices in the U.S., among other nations, refuse to issue patents for perpetual-motion machines. Engineer Hans-Peter Gramatke, who has written a book in German about the folly of perpetual motion, estimates that 40 to 50 patents a year are still issued for devices whose fantastic elements are hidden by crafty inventors.

Steorn says seven patents are pending on its technology. And it claims that, with global warming and the oil shortage among our most serious crises, more is at stake than just bragging rights. When its claims are verified, Steorn says, it will give the technology away for free to developing nations.

"I have no doubts about the results," says Steorn CEO Sean McCarthy in a promotional video on his company's website. "None."

While most may believe he's wrong, we have plenty of reasons to hope he's right.

Preachers of doom

http://www.newstatesman.com/200707190043

Jeff Sharlet

Published 19 July 2007

Evangelicals who proclaim the coming apocalypse have failed to mobilise ordinary Americans but their views are gaining influence in Washington.

Have a Nice Doomsday

Nicholas Guyatt Ebury Press, 320pp, £10.99

ISBN 0061152242

Why are we so obsessed with the apocalypse? By "we", I don't mean those of us who actually believe in the imminent end of the world, as foretold by a literalist reading of the Bible (presumably a small share of this magazine's readers), but those of us who find apocalyptic believers - especially American apocalyptic believers - to be a source of sufficient anxiety that publishers churn out explanatory volumes such as Nicholas Guyatt's Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking Forward to the End of the World. Does the liberal-minded audience that Guyatt has in mind for what he refers to as his "unnerving" tour of the American apocalypse industry really believe the end is nigh?

Evidently they do. Guyatt's breezy investigation is only the latest response to the success of books that skip the "why" and go directly to The End, most famously the fundamentalist Left Behind novels that have sold more than 60 million copies around the world. The secular apocalypse business isn't as lucrative, but bestsellers such as Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy and Chris Hedges's American Fascists, and a spate of lesser accounts of apocalypse-minded Christians, have found a sizeable niche for themselves as well. These range from the deliberately comical - Alex Heard's Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America - to the densely theoretical - Catherine Keller's Apocalypse Now and Then: a Feminist Guide to the End of the World, a genuine tussle with the questions concerning apocalypse believers that rivals the original Revelation in its feverish imagination.

Such books are designed to frighten or to reassure, either to warn secular types of the potential for a political apocalypse created by those who believe in a spiritual one, or to persuade them that apocalyptic faith is akin to Elvis worship and flying saucer mania, the kind of lovable eccentricity that prospers in the US. American Theocracy presents a vision of malevolent power driven by biblical delusion; Apocalypse Pretty Soon offers a story of biblical delusion as a powerless end in itself, the mostly harmless meaning-making of the fringe.

Guyatt, an Englishman who went to Princeton University to write a dissertation on "manifest destiny" - the old American belief that God and the universe desired westward expansion, followed by US leadership of the world - ought to be well equipped to explore the unstable ground between such perspectives. It's an important project - as Guyatt points out, around 50 million US citizens believe Jesus will return with fireworks during their lifetime, and some of these believers are influential, such as the preacher John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel, and Joel Rosenberg, a former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu who converted from Judaism to evangelicalism, and whose apocalypse novels are so prescient - his novel The Last Jihad, written in 2000, essentially foretold 9/11 - that his work has been studied in the White House.

At the same time, apocalypse preachers tend to undermine any attempt to see them as prophets, sage or sinister. What are we to make, for example, of Tim LaHaye, who, at the age of 80, wears his hair as dark and shiny as shoe polish and who boasts to Guyatt about the golfing amenities of the fabulous Palm Springs home that his Left Behind books bought? Even LaHaye's bigotries are laughable - Guyatt spends several pages discussing another LaHaye book, The Unhappy Gays. This is only tangentially related to the apocalypse - LaHaye, like many fundamentalists, sees gay pride parades as harbingers of the end - but Guyatt knows that the image of LaHaye "undercover" in a "loud, brown, floral shirt and what appears to be a white PVC safari jacket, complete with silver pocket clasps and enormous triangular collars . . . cruising the haunts of San Diego's gay community" is the kind of comic material that requires no justification.

But LaHaye's biggest sellers, the Left Behind novels he co-authored with Jerry Jenkins, aren't so amusing. The first book begins with the Rapture, when, according to a strained reading of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, those who are saved will pop out of their clothes and ascend to heaven. All those who failed to accept Jesus as LaHaye understands him are "left behind" to the rule of the Antichrist, a smooth-talking Romanian who manages to instal himself as the head of the United Nations, which is an institution of enormous power in LaHaye's imagination. So far, so wacky; but the series reaches an awful climax in its 12th instalment, when Jesus returns and the tongues of those Jews who've not yet praised his name explode in their mouths. That, apparently, is the kind of tough love LaHaye means when he speaks of his great affection for Israel.

The spirit of the books might be best summed up by the new Left Behind video game that Guyatt test-drives. Players roam New York City converting passers-by - or massacring infidels. Guyatt gives over many pages of his book to the ramblings of apocalypse preachers, but their message is simple: convert or die. The good news, according to the Left Behind video game, is that if you accept the fundamentalist Christ, you get a new outfit: "When you convert men, they transform into identical preppy kids wearing V-necks. Women suddenly sport an orange jumper, like Velma from Scooby-Doo."

As the title indicates, Guyatt means his book to be funny, but he picks his targets wisely. Left Behind is vile, which makes for laughs. Mel Odom, who was hired by LaHaye's publisher to write a Left Behind military thriller spin-off series, tells Guyatt that his bestselling Apocalypse Dawn is "Tom Clancy with prayer" - but as ridiculous as that sounds, Guyatt is sympathetic to Odom. A single father of four, Odom writes to feed his kids. He's also written novelisations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, television shows that are hardly loved by his fundamentalist audience. What excites him about both Buffy and the apocalypse is the simple story of good versus evil; Buffy's demons or LaHaye's Antichrist make it all the more exciting. Beyond that, he's not much interested in the particulars of who gets raptured and why. "The Christian ideology," he says to Guyatt, "of exclusionary stuff - no, man. It's bring people close to the fire, warm them, feed them and give them a safe place to sleep."

This sensible theology, introduced late in Have a Nice Doomsday, prompts Guyatt to speculate that "it's possible that some of the 60 million Left Behind readers might have ideas about faith and the world beyond America that depart from the apocalyptic perspective". Possible? It's guaranteed. The great weakness of Have a Nice Doomsday, and of the secular fascination with apocalypse believers in general, is that both tend to mistake official doctrine for belief, as if readers are slaves to the texts. The Left Behind books are popular at my local library with immigrants, who like them not for their theology, but for their clichéd plots and simple prose - they are good tools for learning English. In five years of travels in fundamentalist America, I've met hundreds of Christian conservative Left Behind fans. Almost all drew careful distinctions between the mysteries of scripture and the black and whites of LaHaye's imagination. No more than a handful took his books literally and even fewer took any steps to adjust for the coming rapture.

Unfortunately, that handful includes some of the most powerful fundamentalists in the US. Guyatt's strongest chapters deal with Hagee, who "looks like a tubby Donald Rumsfeld" and "sounds a lot like a macaw". That's funny, but Hagee isn't: US politicians court his approval and the huge amounts of money that his Christians United for Israel can channel their way. In return, they parrot his prophecies, cleansed of the references that would reveal them as such - Hagee's conviction that the US may have to attack Iran as part of a scheme foretold in the Book of Ezekiel is sanitised as ostensibly sober-minded policy advice based on the needs of the nation rather than the scripture. Hagee, in turn, is invited on to CNN and Fox as a "Middle East expert" to advocate that very policy. Which is all the more disturbing when one considers that apocalypse preachers such as Hagee have a rather ambivalent relationship to America's welfare. For their predictions to be proven correct, the US will have to suffer a great deal more - a prospect they relish.

This fact leads to the most valuable insight of Have a Nice Doomsday, one that lifts it above the alarmism of American Theocracy and the bemusement of Apocalypse Pretty Soon: apocalyptic theology, Guyatt argues, is at odds with the American belief in manifest destiny. In the minds of men such as Hagee, both beliefs are narcissistic and often hateful, but they spring from different sources (an irrational pessimism versus an irrational optimism) and they lead to different ends. One with a big bang and a capital E, and one that's no more or less apocalyptic than the age-old project of empire. Which is what inspired the Book of Revelation in the first place - its author, John the Revelator, was thinking about Rome, rather than the US. The apocalypse has always been now.

Jeff Sharlet is the author of "In the Shadow of the Cross: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of America's Civil Religion", forthcoming from HarperCollins


Sunday, July 22, 2007

German Politician Sparks Creationism Education Row

http://au.christiantoday.com/article/german-politician-sparks-creationism-education-row/2980.htm

Posted: Saturday, 21 July 2007, 8:26 (EST)

A German minister for culture has provoked outrage among politicians and some religious figures for suggesting theological questions about the origin of the world should be included in school biology lessons.'

A German minister for culture has provoked outrage among politicians and some religious figures for suggesting theological questions about the origin of the world should be included in school biology lessons.

The remarks by Karin Wolff, culture minister in the affluent western state of Hesse, have fuelled fears that creationist views could creep into science classes in Europe.

Creationists believe God made the world in six days, as the Bible says, and oppose teaching of evolution. Mainly held by conservative Protestant Christians, creationism also has a Muslim version being promoted in Europe by Turkish Islamists.

Critics, who see creationist views as anti-science, are worried the ideas that have increasing support in the United States are getting a toehold in Europe.

Earlier this year Britain published school guidelines saying the issue should be discussed in religious education classes, rather than in science classes where U.S. creationists want it.

Wolff, a Protestant who rejects charges she is promoting creationist ideas, sparked the debate in Germany by telling a newspaper she wanted "modern" biology lessons and that she saw common ground between natural sciences and religion.

"I see no contradiction between biological evolution and the biblical explanation for the world's origin," she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily. "In fact there is an amazing overlap between the Bible's explanation of the seven days of creation and scientific theory."

ALARM

Wolff has won support from some conservative religious figures, including Augsburg's Catholic Bishop Walter Mixa.

But Social Democrats and Greens have called her a "Christian fundamentalist" who is not qualified to be Hesse's culture minister. Her own conservative and mainly Catholic Christian Democrats have also sent mixed signals.

Wolff's comments have caused alarm because Germany's federal states are largely responsible for education policy. She also seems to have raised questions about the traditional separation of questions of faith from scientific theory in German schools.

Both Protestants and Catholics, about equally represented in Germany, have criticised Wolff.

"Frau Wolff is ignoring the differences between natural sciences, religion and philosophy. That does not correspond to the Protestant view," said Michael Beintker, a member of the EKD Protestant Church in Germany's theology committee.

A spokesman for the local branch of the Catholic Bishops' Conference said biology lessons were not the right place to discuss creationist theory.

The debate is also creating waves among Germany's 3.2 million Muslims, most of whom are Turkish.

"I do not find this a very sensible debate, said Safter Cinar of Berlin's Turkish Alliance.

"The constitution says our lessons should be based on science and that religion and science should be separated. A conservative minority of Muslims might like the idea but most Turkish Muslims in Germany don't support (creationist) ideas."


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Suspect in Colorado anti-evolution death threats case is missing

http://mensnewsdaily.com/2007/07/21/suspect-in-colorado-anti-evolution-death-threats-case-is-missing/

July 21, 2007 at 8:44 am

Young Earth Creationist Menachem "Michael" Korn, suspected of sending death threats to various biology faculty and others at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is apparently missing or on the lam. Although the police said they will not name the individual in question until the person is arrested, previous reports and comments by faculty and staff at the university made it clear that Korn is the man in question.

Action was taken recently after the threatening behavior escalated and the letters passed beyond being a nuisance. It had gotten to the point where one graduate student and one faculty member were scared about entering the department out of concern for their safety. Korn, a former Messianic Jew who now self-identifies as Christian, allegedly sent various anti-evolution letters to faculty at the university.

Pictures of Korn have now been distributed to faculty with instructions to call police Korn is spotted. Before going missing, Korn had refused to respond in detail to media requests for his side of the story, but he had sent emails to the Denver Post and has sent copies of those emails to other media sources, such as Wired. Korn later contacted Wired by telephone where he claimed to be unavailable since he was "traveling" and refused to discuss the letters in detail but spent most of the discussion focusing on claimed flaws in evolution.

A university spokesperson has speculated that one reason police have been reluctant to formally name Korn is that the threats may have not crossed the line of what legally constitute death threats. For example, Korn said that "He [pastor Jerry Gibson] said that every true Christian should be ready and willing to take up arms to kill the enemies of Christian society. But I believe it is far more effective to take up a pen to kill the enemies of Truth." Jeffry Mitton, a professor at the University, has filed for a restraining order against Korn.

Although the United States has had vigorous debate over the Creation-evolution controversy, and anti-evolutionists have engaged in threats and physical violence in some heavily Islamic countries such as Turkey, to date there have been no serious violent incidents in the United States. One possible exception is the unconfirmed attack on Paul Mirecki, a professor at the University of Kansas, in 2005. However, this may have been in response to other comments made by Mirecki that were about the more general culture wars and the Religious right in the United States and not about evolution in particular.

Islamic Creationist and a Book Sent Round the World

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/17/science/17book.html

July 17, 2007 By CORNELIA DEAN

Correction Appended

In the United States, opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools has largely been fueled by the religious right, particularly Protestant fundamentalism.

Now another voice is entering the debate, in dramatic fashion.

It is the voice of Adnan Oktar of Turkey, who, under the name Harun Yahya, has produced numerous books, videos and DVDs on science and faith, in particular what he calls the "deceit" inherent in the theory of evolution. One of his books, "Atlas of Creation," is turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn.

At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, "Atlas of Creation" is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin's theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran.

In bowing to Scripture, Mr. Yahya resembles some fundamentalist creationists in the United States. But he is not among those who assert that Earth is only a few thousand years old. The principal argument of "Atlas of Creation," advanced in page after page of stunning photographs of fossil plants, insects and animals, is that creatures living today are just like creatures that lived in the fossil past. Ergo, Mr. Yahya writes, evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception or "a theory in crisis."

In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.

The book caused a stir earlier this year when a French translation materialized at high schools, universities and museums in France. Until then, creationist literature was relatively rare in France, according to Armand de Ricqles, a professor of historical biology and evolutionism at the College de France. Scientists spoke out against the book, he said in an e-mail message, and "thanks to the highly centralized public school system in France, it was possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children."

So far, no similar response is emerging in the United States. "In our country we are used to nonsense like this," said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

He said people who had received copies were "just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.

"If he sees a picture of an old fossil crab or something, he says, 'See, it looks just like a regular crab, there's no evolution,' " Dr. Padian said. "Extinction does not seem to bother him. He does not really have any sense of what we know about how things change through time."

Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, said he and his colleagues in the life sciences had all received copies. When he called friends at the University of Colorado and the University of Chicago, they had the books too, he said. Scientists at Brigham Young University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Georgia and others have also received them.

"I think he must have sent it to every full professor in the medical school," said Kathryn L. Calame, a microbiologist at the Columbia University medical school who received a copy. "The genetics department, the biochem department, micro — everybody I talked to had it."

While they said they were unimpressed with the book's content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost. "If you went into a bookstore and saw a book like this, it would be at least $100," said Dr. Miller, an author of conventional biology texts. "The production costs alone are astronomical. We are talking millions of dollars."

Fatih Sen, who heads the United States office of Global Impex, a company that markets Islamic books, gifts and other products, including "Atlas," would not comment on its distribution, except to describe the book as "great" and refer questions to the publisher, Global Publishing of Istanbul. Repeated attempts by telephone and e-mail to reach the concern, or Mr. Yahya, were unsuccessful.

In the book and on his Web site (www.harunyahya.com), Mr. Yahya says he was born in Ankara in 1956, and grew up and was educated in Turkey. He says he seeks to unmask what the book calls "the imposture of evolutionists" and the links between their scientific views and modern evils like fascism, communism and terrorism. He says he hopes to encourage readers "to open their minds and hearts and guide them to become more devoted servants of God."

He adds that he seeks "no material gain" from his publications, most of which are available free or at relatively low cost.

Who finances these efforts is "a big question that no one knows the answer to," said another recipient, Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in Missouri who studies issues of science and religion, particularly Islam. Dr. Edis grew up in a secular household in Turkey and has lived in the United States since enrolling in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, where he earned his doctorate in 1994. He said Mr. Yahya's activities were usually described in the Turkish press as financed by donations. "But what that can mean is anybody's guess," he said.

The effort seems particularly odd given the mailing list. Both Dr. Padian and Dr. Miller testified for the plaintiffs in the Dover, Penn., lawsuit that successfully challenged the teaching of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, in schools there. Other recipients include Steve Rissing, a biologist at Ohio State University who has been active on behalf of school board candidates who support the teaching of evolution and science museums that accept evolution as the foundation for modern biology.

"I don't know what to make of it, quite honestly," said Laddie Elwell, the director of the Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji, Minn., which she said received a dozen copies. Chuck Deeter, a staff member, said he and his colleagues might use the books' fossil photographs in their programs on Darwin, which he said can be a hard sell in a region where many people are fundamentalist Christians with creationist beliefs.

Support for creationism is also widespread among Muslims, said Dr. Edis, whose book "An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam" was published by Prometheus Books this spring.

"Taken at face value, the Koran is a creationist text," he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a scholar of Islam "who is going to be gung-ho about Darwin."

Perhaps as a result, he said, Mr. Yahya's books and other publications have won him attention in Islamic areas. "This is a guy with some influence," Dr. Edis said, "unfortunately for mainstream science."

Dr. Miller agreed. He said he regularly received e-mail messages from people questioning evolution, with an increasing number coming from Turkey, Lebanon and other areas in the Middle East, most citing Mr. Yahya's work.

That's troubling, he said, because Mr. Yahya's ideas "cast evolution as part of the corrupting influence of the West on Islamic culture, and that promotes a profound anti-science attitude that is certainly not going to help the Islamic world catch up to the West."

As the scientists ponder what to do with the book — for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves — they also speculate about the motives of its distributors.

"My hypothesis is, like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which fights the teaching of creationism in public schools. "These people are really serious about this."

That may be, Dr. Miller said, but it's also possible "that Harun Yahya and his people have decided that there are plenty of Muslim people in the United States who need to hear this message."

In his e-mail message, Dr. de Ricqles said some worried that the book was directed at the Muslim population of France as a strategy to "destabilize" poor, predominantly immigrant suburbs "where a large population of youngsters of Moslem faith would be an ideal target for propaganda."

But despite its wide distribution, Dr. Padian predicted that the book would have little impact in the United States. "We are used to books that are totally wrongheaded about science and confuse science and religion," he said. "That's politics."

Correction: July 21, 2007

An article in Science Times on Tuesday about the widespread distribution of "Atlas of Creation," a book with an Islamic creationist point of view, misstated the name of a company that shipped some of the books. It is SBS Worldwide Ltd., not SDS Worldwide.

Critics assail Perry's pick to head state education board

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/07/18/0718edchair.html

But supporters call Bryan dentist fair and true to principles

By Jason Embry

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gov. Rick Perry named Bryan dentist Don McLeroy as chairman of the State Board of Education on Tuesday, a choice that created immediate controversy.

The Texas Freedom Network, which is often critical of social conservatives in government and politics, quickly pointed out that Republican McLeroy was among a minority of board members who in 2003 said biology textbooks should include what they considered weaknesses in Darwin's theory of evolution.

He also voted with a board majority in 2004 for health textbooks that included little information about contraceptives, despite state guidelines saying students should be able to analyze the effectiveness of so-called barrier protection, such as condoms.

"Texas parents should be troubled that the governor has appointed as head of the state board a clear ideologue who has repeatedly put his own personal and political agendas ahead of sound science, good health and solid textbooks," Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said. She pointed out that the board will revisit the state's science curriculum in the coming months.

But fellow board member Gail Lowe, a Lampasas Republican, said McLeroy is an independent thinker who listens to his opponents.

"He's always been fair to both sides," Lowe said. "But certainly, he's a solid conservative, and he supports the same types of initiatives that the governor does, which I think was a big reason he was appointed."

Perry spokesman Robert Black called McLeroy "a principled leader who will do a great job."

McLeroy, who could not be reached Tuesday, has been on the board for eight years, and he's a former member of the Bryan school board. As chairman, he'll set the state board's agenda along with the state education commissioner and Texas Education Agency staff, Lowe said.

The state board has been known for its textbook debates in recent years, sometimes veering into politically charged issues such as same-sex marriage and pregnancy prevention. The Legislature has weakened board members' influence by, for instance, seeking to limit their control over textbook content.

The board still has the power to put books on the state's lists of approved texts, and its purview also includes setting a passing standard for state tests.

Skulls Add to "Out of Africa" Theory of Human Origins

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=DA5114C2-E7F2-99DF-30BBDDD4415DED90&chanID=sa003

July 18, 2007

Pattern of skull variation bolsters the case that humans took over from earlier species

By JR Minkel

The shapes of skulls from around the world may have opened a new window onto the exodus of the first humans from Africa. According to a new report, groups of skulls from local populations are less diverse the farther those populations settled from the ancestral continent.

The result supports the popular scientific theory that modern humans swept "out of Africa" some 50,000 years ago and supplanted earlier species such as Neandertals. It may also help researchers better pinpoint where in Africa modern humans came from and how messy the exodus could have been, says evolutionary geneticist William Amos of the University of Cambridge in England.

Amos, Cambridge evolutionary biologist Andrea Manica and their colleagues analyzed shape data from 4,666 male skulls, all less than 2,000 years old, collected from 105 places around the world. For each location, they compared the variation in 37 different measurements with the distance the population's ancestors would have had to travel to get there from Africa. (Cairo and New York City appear relatively close on a map, but early humans would have had to hoof it across Asia and the Bering Strait to reach North America from Africa.)

As smaller bands broke off from larger settlements, they would have carried with them a less diverse subset of the bigger group's genes, which partly translate into anatomical features such as skull shape. So the farther early Homo sapiens trod from their homeland, the less variable their skulls should become. Unless, that is, they bred with previously established populations of Neandertal or other early humans, which would have injected new genes and boosted variability.

The researchers found no signs of interbreeding, they report online today in Nature. "What you find is a very nice linear decline of variability as you move farther away from Africa," Amos says. Prior studies had identified an identical trend in the diversity of simple genetic sequences or markers.

"The beauty of the skulls," Amos says, "is there are so many of them and they come from populations that are not very well represented genetically," such as aboriginal Americans and Australians. He notes that additional skulls from African populations could help map early human migrations from or to Ethiopia, where the oldest known human remains originate.

Physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis says few experts doubt the out-of-Africa scenario in broad terms. "The issue is how much modern humans spreading out of Africa after 50,000 years ago interbred with regional groups of archaic humans, where and when"—something we may never know, he says. The new study, he contends, only "reinforce[s] the idea of a special isolation of modern humanity from anything less 'pure.'"

Amos says that even very limited interbreeding would have disrupted the skull trend if the offspring had survived and propagated—although the extent of that limit has yet to be worked out. The big unknown, he says, is the messiness of the African exodus, including its timing among different groups. Mathematical models of migration could shed light on that problem, he says, adding that the skull data "open up lots of nice testable hypotheses."

'Hidden' species may be surprisingly common

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12293-hidden-species-may-be-surprisingly-common.html

00:01 19 July 2007

NewScientist.com news service Phil McKenna

Cryptic species – animals that appear identical but are genetically quite distinct – may be much more widespread than previously thought. The findings could have major implications in areas ranging from biodiversity estimates and wildlife management, to our understanding of infectious diseases and evolution.

Reports of cryptic species have increased dramatically over the past two decades with the advent of relatively inexpensive DNA sequencing technology.

Markus Pfenninger and Klaus Schwenk, of the Goethe-Universitat in Frankfurt, Germany, analysed all known data on cryptic animal species and discovered that they are found in equal proportions throughout all major branches of the animal kingdom and occur in equal numbers in all biogeographical regions.

Scientists had previously speculated that cryptic species were predominantly found in insects and reptiles, and were more likely to occur in tropical rather than temperate regions (see Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol 22, p 148).

"Species that are seemingly widespread and abundant could in reality be many different cryptic species that have low populations and are highly endangered," says Pfenninger. Until the genetic information of all species in at least one taxon is thoroughly studied, no one will know just how many cryptic species exist. "It could be as high as 30%," Pfenninger says.

Call to arms "I'm flabbergasted by their results," says Alex Smith of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. "It's a call to arms to keep doing the broad kind of genetic studies that we are doing." Smith is a part of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, an international effort to map a unique genetic "barcode" for all species on earth.

Sampling as many individuals as possible, they hope to complete work on all fish and birds in another 5 to 10 years. Once either of these taxonomic groups is completed, Pfenninger says researchers will able to extrapolate how many cryptic species exist throughout the animal kingdom.

Examples of cryptic species include the African elephant. A 2001 study found the elephants were actually two genetically distinct, non-interbreeding species, the African bush elephant and the African elephant. The species are currently listed as vulnerable and threatened, respectively, by the World Conservation Union. In the case of the neotropical skipper butterfly, genetic testing revealed the "species" was actually 10 distinct cryptic species.

Mistaken mosquitoes The reclassifications are more than an academic exercise. They define populations that have evolved independently of each other and whose genetic differences can have significant consequences.

In the early 1900s misidentification of mosquito species based on morphology confounded attempts to control malaria in Europe. Ultimately, what was thought to be a single species was actually made up of six sibling species, only three of which transmitted the disease.

"The basic unit in biology is always the species, and you have to know what you are dealing with," Pfenninger says. Much previous research is now obsolete, he says, because it is not clear what species was being studied.

Pfenninger is now trying to determine whether cryptic differentiation is simply an early stage of morphological differentiation – but preliminary results suggest not.

Journal reference: BMC Evolutionary Biology (18 July 2007)

Creationism and the Dumbing Down of Texas

http://blogs.houstonpress.com/houstoned/2007/07/creationism_and_the_dumbing_do.php

Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 01:49:29 PM

Looks like Texas is on the move to be as stupid as Kansas.

Yes, it looks like creationism may be taught in public schools on an equal basis with evolution. That's fair, right? Except that creationism a.k.a. "the theory of intellligent design" is religion (well the Christian fundamentalist brand anyway) and evolution is science.

Listen, if you want to believe in creationism, go ahead. If you can't find any way to reconcile your religious beliefs with science other than to reject evolution, a-ok. But that is a religious preference. You might as well reject the theory of gravity while you're at it. And all those old bones and fossils they've dug up? Fakes, just like the moon landing. It's a pretty slippery, greasy slope of ignorance.

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed conservative Dr. Don McLeroy to head our state's Board of Education. And the expectation is that McLeroy will lead the way into creationism in the upcoming board debate over state textbooks.

According to Kathy Miller, president of the liberal Texas Freedom Network:

Since his election in 1998, Mr. McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, has dragged the Texas State Board of Education into a series of divisive and unnecessary culture war battles:

-- He voted in 2001 to reject the only advanced placement environmental science textbook proposed for Texas high schools even though panels of experts – including one panel from Texas A&M – found the textbook was free of errors. In fact, Baylor University used the same textbook.

-- In 2003 Mr. McLeroy led efforts by creationism or "intelligent design" proponents to water down discussion of evolution in proposed new biology textbooks. He was one of only four board members who voted against biology textbooks that year that included a full scientific account of evolutionary theory.

-- In 2004, Mr. McLeroy voted to approve "abstinence-only" health textbooks that failed to include any information about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention, despite state curriculum standards requiring that students learn such information.

KTRH-AM is running a survey today on whether creationism should be taught in the schools. Guess what? By a 65-35 margin, listeners want it. Makes me proud.

I counterpropose we follow the lead of Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson who founded The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to protest the Kansas decision. As Henderson pointed out, there are also multiple views as to how Intelligent Design works. According to his theory, a Flying Spaghetti Monster dressed in pirate regalia is in control of the forces of our universe. For the full text of his letter, click here.

This makes about as much sense as what we're proposing to teach our kids in Texas. – Margaret Downing

Believe it or not: Ghost hunters go high-tech

http://news.com.com/2100-1008_3-6197680.html

By Elsa Wenzel Associate editor, CNET

Published: July 20, 2007, 4:00 AM PDT

When Sharon Leong conducts field work, she packs a digital camera, a thermometer and an electromagnetic field meter. She isn't a private detective or an electrician. Leong, a legal secretary by day, is an avid ghost hunter by night.

With those gizmos and many others in tow, Leong treks to reputedly haunted homes, battlefields, bars and hotels, gathering what she thinks may be evidence of a world beyond this earthly one.

The pursuit of ghostly evidence has been a popular pastime for centuries. Now, instead of Ouija boards, ghost hunters are increasingly turning to high tech gear to assist in their search.

Such ghost hunters rely upon digital equipment to document potential signs of hauntings. Cameras and voice recorders pick up eerie sights and sounds, while handheld gadgets measure electromagnetic radiation and odd drops in temperature. Jumpsuits like those from the movie Ghostbusters are unnecessary, but pocket-laden cargo pants and fishing jackets are handy for stashing all of the gear.

Hobbyists like Leong find equipment either in pedestrian electronics shops or at custom online emporiums, such as Ghost Mart, which specializes in "discount paranormal research equipment." Although most of the equipment is built for more ordinary purposes, others, like a $30 electromagnetic field (EMF) "ghost meter," are clearly targeted at amateur ghost seekers. Complete kits can be ordered at a wide range of prices, between $250 and $2,000.

"We'll probably seem medieval to people in the future, running around with our cameras, but you've got to start somewhere," Leong said. "Something is causing these instruments to go cuckoo, but we're not sure what or why."

Leong has traveled to famed spooky sites, like the Alcatraz prison, with fellow members of the San Francisco Ghost Society. It is one of hundreds of ad hoc paranormal groups that together comprise many tens of thousands of members in North America. The International Ghost Hunters Society has members in more than 90 countries.

The Internet allows enthusiasts to share footage they've captured instantly and anonymously, finding like-minded souls while escaping public ridicule. Ghost Village is a top hub for this community. It receives 80,000 unique visitors each month, twice that around Halloween.

The craze has even reached the iPod; Apple iTunes lists more than 1,000 paranormal podcasts. Among them is the talk show of the San Francisco Ghost Society, led by group founder Tommy Netzband. He and his associates make free house calls to investigate what they believe to be three types of hauntings: "residual," "intelligent" and "inhuman."

"Ninety percent of these things have a reasonable explanation," Netzband said. "When people call me and say, 'Shadows are chasing me,' I automatically think they're crazy. We're not here putting ideas in people's heads to make them think this is a glamorous job. I've experienced shadow people, residual hauntings, and I've been tricked by ghosts, but it took me years and years."

Netzband finds that most hauntings fall into the "residual" category, understood as impressions of past events that remain ingrained within a place, replaying in the present time like a stuck record. These could be sensory traces of acutely emotional moments in someone's life, such as anguished last breaths, a song, or the scent of perfume. For instance, Netzband leads ghost tours of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood past a sidewalk said to be haunted by the sound of running boots worn by a teenager shot to death in the 1970s.

Netzband and others find that paranormal pastimes have grown in popularity in the last decade along with sitcoms like NBC's Medium and reality shows like Ghost Hunters on the Sci Fi channel, which attract millions of viewers. MTV produces the Celebrity Paranormal Project, while the Discovery channel airs A Haunting episodes. A Web promotion for the Travel Channel's Most Haunted program offers an application that turns a mobile phone into an EMF reader.

Ghost hunters both on television and on the street tend to favor digital cameras, which capture light in infrared and ultraviolet spectrums that regular film cannot pick up. Yet, some haunting hobbyists prefer film cameras--especially Polaroids--because printed images are harder to doctor than pixels. Leong, for one, carries a Canon PowerShot 5.1 megapixel digital camera in addition to a disposable, film point-and-shoot. She recommends using a wide angle lens and a tripod, especially when leaving video cameras to record for hours on end.

However, in the field, ghost hunters rarely come up with pictures of stereotypical shadowy figures or white-gowned women. Instead, they consider photographs that show floating balls of light to be the most common sign of a spirit's presence. The orbs are normally caused by a flare of the flash or a trace of dust on a lens. But Netzband thinks that some light blobs represent genuine "ghost poo." This type of discharge, otherwise known as ectoplasm, may appear as a glowing light or mist once, say, Elvis has left the building.

Many ghost hunters believe that hauntings are tied to changes in electromagnetic frequencies, and that uncanny activity spikes during a solar flare or a full moon. Netzband, Leong and their cohorts therefore sport handheld EMF detectors and Geiger counters for radiation readouts when exploring a haunted locale. Hand-cranked or Faraday flashlights are handy, should a spirit drain the batteries. Old-fashioned compasses and newfangled infrared thermometers also come into play.

Ghost hunters say residual hauntings are a holographic glimpse into another dimension or time. But they believe that the "intelligent" class of hauntings, more than echoes of the past, actually respond to people and events in the present time and thus require different equipment.

However, the deceased apparently need technical help to talk. The $70 Belfry Bat Detector picks up ultrasonic sounds. More common, though, are cassette or digital voice recorders used as ghost-whispering gadgets. Some ghost hunters prefer devices with poor recording quality, believing that entities use white noise to form a voice.

The conversation may sound one-sided while investigators ask questions of ghosts, but ghost hunters swear they hear words and phrases, known as electronic voice phenomena (EVP), once they play back a recording, crank up the volume, and clean it up with software. Experimenters have edited with software such as Adobe Audition or Audacity, and uploaded hundreds of EVP sessions to various Web sites.

Lisa and Tom Butler say they have been talking to dead people through voice recordings for 16 years. The husband-and-wife team runs the American Association for Electronic Voice Phenomena, a nonprofit group whose Web site receives some 2,000 visitors daily. The Butlers say they achieve audible results for nearly one-third of their recording sessions, enough to be statistically meaningful.

"This is a lot bigger than ghost hunting," said Lisa Butler, a retired psychologist. "We have people reaching their loved ones, both through audio and visual formats. There are people who are skeptical about it, but it's something you can do for yourself."

More than a handful of people claim to have invented a "telephone to the dead," first imagined by none other than Thomas Edison. Leong saw such a ghost-gabbing device demonstrated this spring at the Colorado's Stanley Hotel (it inspired Stephen King's novel The Shining). But she's not interested in dialing the dead.

Skeptics argue that there is nothing to fear from a perceived haunting other than wasting time and energy. Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, has seen phasmophobia, or fear of ghosts, drive families from their creaky old homes. And if ghosts seek to right wrongful deaths, he wonders why we don't see more hauntings.

"This whole country is an Indian burial ground," he said. "People have been on this planet (hundreds) of thousands of years and probably wherever you are at some point, someone dropped dead nearby." Supposed evidence that ghost hunters provide, such as EVP recordings, only mislead impressionable people, Radford said.

"All of these are ambiguous stimuli, the audio equivalent of faces in clouds. I've been there where people have cranked up this poor little tape recorder saying, "I hear someone saying 'Set me free!' Or maybe it's saying, 'A wallaby!' This is not a message from the other side."

So, what about the orbs of light? They're all camera glitches, Radford said. And as for EMF readings, there's no evidence that ghost meters pick up anything but electromagnetic field readings, which scientific studies have correlated with psychological hallucinations, but not with ghosts.

Throughout history, people have deployed the seemingly magical, new technologies for mystical pursuits. During the Spiritualism movement of the 19th century, tricksters took phony double-exposure portraits of semitransparent "ghosts." During seances, mediums rigged parlor contraptions to tap out crude Morse code messages under tables. In the 1930s, people recorded such sessions with the phonograph.

"In recent years, it has to do with the sense that ghosts communicate at different wavelengths, so (people think) if we could tap into the infrasound, or infrared, with the right gadget, then we can hear them," said Mary Roach, who wrote the book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

Her research found no mainstream scientific studies to back up the claims of ghost hunters. Still, one-third of Americans believe in ghosts, according to a poll in 2005 by the Gallup Organization, which found a notable increase in paranormal beliefs since the 1980s. Whether the popularity of ghost-hunting feeds, or is fed, by television, Roach finds the trend both amusing and disturbing.

"These shows tend to be on channels like Discovery, which were originally associated with science," she said. "The people they're putting on are billed as researchers, but they're amateurs. I don't like to see it presented as a legitimate, acceptable and truthful undertaking."

Jeff Belanger, who runs GhostVillage.com and has written seven books on the paranormal, agrees that the ghost-hunting equipment lends a sense of credibility to something that cannot be measured. "As much as some organizations and individuals try to strip out the esoteric and spiritual and bring it down to pure science, it's not always possible because you're looking for something beyond our understanding of the universe," he said.

But Belanger finds ghost stories valuable for teaching people about history. He thinks that interest in the extraordinary spikes after catastrophic events. For instance, the Spiritualism movement coincided with the Civil War. More recently, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and wars in the Middle East may have spurred more Americans to imagine the afterlife.

"Here's an important news break for everyone: we're all going to die and what comes next is one of the biggest mysteries in universe," Belanger said.

Evolution education update: July 20, 2007

Elaborately produced but scientifically bankrupt tomes promoting Islamic creationism are appearing in the mailboxes of scientists around the country, while Kevin Padian reviews three accounts of the Kitzmiller case for Nature and Philip Kitcher discusses his recent book Living with Darwin on Point of Inquiry.

ISLAMIC CREATIONISM INVADING THE UNITED STATES

The Atlas of Creation, a massive volume by the pseudonymous Islamic creationist Harun Yahya distributed throughout Europe in early 2007, is now being circulated to scientists in the United States. The New York Times (July 17, 2007) reports that copies of the book are "turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn. At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, 'Atlas of Creation' is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin's theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran."

Among the recipients were University of California, Berkeley, paleontologist Kevin Padian (who serves as president of NCSE's board of directors) and Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller (a Supporter of NCSE). Both marveled at the production values of the Atlas, with Miller estimating that such a book would cost at least $100 in a retail bookstore, but both were dismissive of its content, with Padian commenting that Harun Yahya "does not really have any sense of what we know about how things change through time." Padian added that he thought that the distribution of the Atlas would have little effect in the United States: "We are used to books that are totally wrongheaded about science and confuse science and religion."

It is unclear how the recipients were chosen. The Times noted the irony that Padian and Miller, who served as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional, were on the list, as was Ohio State University biologist Steve Rissing (a member of NCSE), a long-time defender of education evolution. It is also unclear how the campaign is funded. Truman State University physicist Taner Edis (a member of NCSE), author of the recent book An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam (Prometheus Books, 2007), told the Times that Harun Yahya's activities are generally described in the Turkish press as funded by donations, adding, "But what that can mean is anybody's guess."

Toward the end of the article, the Times's reporter wrote, "As the scientists ponder what to do with the book -- for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves -- they also speculate about the motives of its distributors." (The Times was unable to reach the shipper; the publisher, Global Publishing of Istanbul; or Harun Yahya himself.) NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "My hypothesis is, like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed." She added, "These people are really serious about this."

For the story in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/17/science/17book.html

For NCSE's previous coverage of Islamic creationism, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2007/XX/17_islamic_creationism_in_france_2_5_2007.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rncse_content/vol19/8371_cloning_creationism_in_turkey_12_30_1899.asp

PADIAN REVIEWS KITZMILLER BOOKS

Paleontologist Kevin Padian reviews (subscription required) three books about Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools was found to be unconstitutional, in the July 19, 2007, issue of Nature (448: 253-254). "A gullible and obstinate school board in the middle of Pennsylvania's rolling hills was just crazy enough to buy [intelligent design]," he writes, "and that was the start of the now-famous Dover case." Summarizing the different approaches of the books, Padian explains:

***

The author of 40 Days and 40 Nights, Matthew Chapman, is a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin; his presumed vested interest in the proceedings is tempered by his own history as a school dropout, a movie screenwriter and a Brit with a perpetually bemused view of colonial antics. Still, his odyssey is a fulfilling one, and he seems genuine enough to get himself invited into many homes where insights and passions run deep. Gordy Slack, author of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything and an experienced science writer and editor, likewise brings his own family baggage (his father is a staunch fundamentalist) to his account, but his reporting is more linear and his background research deeper. Edward Humes in Monkey Girl is even more scholarly and thorough in his approach, and contextualizes the trial historically. Unlike Chapman and Slack, he does not insert himself into his narrative, but his views of the proceedings are no less clear.

***

Padian praises all three of the books as "entertaining and informative," giving the nod to Humes's Monkey Girl on account of its comprehensiveness; he also mentions a fourth book, by local reporter Laurie Lebo, to appear on the trial, which, he says, "promises even more lively details of this perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violation and the never-ending assault on American science education."

The president of NCSE's board of directors, Padian himself testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller trial. In his decision, Judge Jones commented, "Dr. Padian's demonstrative slides, prepared on the basis of peer-reviewed scientific literature, illustrate how [Of] Pandas [and People] systematically distorts and misrepresents established, important evolutionary principles." A transcript of Padian's expert witness testimony in the trial, complemented with the slides that he displayed in the courtroom, is available on-line.

For Padian's review in Nature (subscription required), visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/1411_the_antimuseum_an_overview_a_7_6_2007.asp

For Padian's testimony and slides from the Kitzmiller case, visit:
http://www2.ncseweb.org/kvd/exhibits/Padian/Padian_transcript.html

PHILIP KITCHER ON POINT OF INQUIRY

Philosopher Philip Kitcher appeared on the Center for Inquiry's podcast Point of Inquiry for July 13, 2007, discussing his latest book, Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Oxford University Press, 2006) with host D. J. Grothe. Discussing Living with Darwin in BioScience, NCSE's Glenn Branch wrote, "Kitcher discusses the evidence for, and the creationist resistance to, deep time, common ancestry, and natural selection, in vivid and fluent prose, and always with accuracy and insight. Recognizing the historical respectability and the current bankruptcy of intelligent design, he describes it as 'dead science' -- although, in light of its shambling tenacity, 'zombie science' is perhaps a preferable label. Kitcher concludes by offering a historically detailed and sociologically acute diagnosis of creationism as a reaction to what is understood -- and not unreasonably so, he suggests -- as the vanguard of the Enlightenment's critique of supernaturalist and providentialist forms of religion." A Supporter of NCSE, Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. An eminent philosopher, he is the author of many books, including the classic critique of young-earth creationism, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (MIT Press, 1982).

For the podcast with Philip Kitcher, visit:
http://www.pointofinquiry.org/?p=118

To purchase Living with Darwin from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0195314441/nationalcenter02/002-9119745-6094654

To purchase Abusing Science from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/026261037X/nationalcenter02/002-9119745-6094654

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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.

Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc

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

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://www.ncseweb.org/membership.asp


Friday, July 20, 2007

Post-Darwinist on Darwinism and Pop-Culture

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/07/postdarwinist_on_darwinism_and.html

The ever observant Denyse O'Leary over at the Post-Dawrinist blog has an interesting little post about NCSE's Eugenie Scott's recent attempts to spin the "inside story about the Discovery Institute, the well-financed 'think tank' promoting intelligent design and other far-right causes." (Well financed? What, compared to the average biology department at the average college? Our budget is a tiny fraction of just a tiny fraction of all the Darwin dominated budgets out there. And, far-right causes? What, like green hybrid vehicles or passenger ferry service?

Among other things Scott apparently refers to us as "right wing libertarians" with a "road map to theocracy". What in the world is a libertarian theocrat you might wonder? A former DI colleague (who asked to remain unnamed because he was worried about being associated with such "conspiracies") sarcastically explained to me that it must refer to "robber barron capitalism and a state church that regulates the hell out of peoples' sex lives."

For accuracy and clarity you won't get from the NCSE website go here. Among the numerous truth sheets on this page are these two which I'm sure completely unspin Scott's alleged "inside" story.

Discovery Institute and "Theocracy"

Overview: Periodically certain Darwinists make false and unsubstantiated claims that Discovery Institute advocates "theocracy" or is part of the "radical Christian right" or supposedly supports something called "Christian reconstructionism." These charges are little more than smears, and they show the bankruptcy of the Darwinists' own position. Rather than argue about the substance of the scientific debate over neo-Darwinism, all Darwinists can do is engage in baseless ad hominem attacks.

The "Wedge Document": How Darwinist Paranoia Fueled an Urban Legend

Overview: In 1999 someone posted on the internet an early fundraising proposal for Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dubbed the "Wedge Document," this proposal soon took on a life of its own, popping up in all sorts of places and eventually spawning what can only be called a giant urban legend. Among true-believers on the Darwinist fringe the document came to be viewed as evidence for a secret conspiracy to fuse religion with science and impose a theocracy. These claims were so outlandish that for a long time we simply ignored them. But because some credulous Darwinists seem willing to believe almost anything, we decided we should set the record straight. For a more detailed response please read "The Wedge Document: So What?".

Posted by Robert Crowther on July 20, 2007 12:11 AM | Permalink


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Did Darwinism Hinder Research Into Understanding Cancer and Diabetes ?

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/07/did_darwinism_hinder_colon_can.html

It's beyond dispute that the false "junk"-DNA mindset was born, bred, and sustained long beyond its reasonable lifetime by the neo-Darwinian paradigm. As one example in Scientific American explained back in 2003, "the introns within genes and the long stretches of intergenic DNA between genes ... 'were immediately assumed to be evolutionary junk.'" But once it was discovered that introns play vital cellular roles regulating gene production within the cell, John S. Mattick, director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, was quoted saying the failure to recognize function for introns might have been "one of the biggest mistakes in the history of molecular biology."

Now it's turning out that this "mistake" of ignoring function for junk-DNA may have also hindered discovery of the causes of colon cancer. A news article from Science reports: "Three independent groups have hit on the first common genetic variant that appears to raise the risk of colorectal cancer, albeit by a small amount, and which they estimate is found in half the world's population. Although rare genes have been linked to the disease before, this is the first evidence of common DNA--and also notable because it falls outside a gene, in so-called 'junk DNA.'" The Washington Post also reported that causes of Type II diabetes may be linked to malfunctions in non-coding "junk" DNA. How much earlier might these non-coding "junk" DNA causes of disease have been recognized had scientists operated under an intelligent design paradigm rather than a Neo-Darwinian one?

Update 7/17/07: Wired Magazine's blog network is now reporting that "junk"-DNA's regulatory function may be the key to improving the techniques used to treat diseases in gene therapy: "[T]he findings could explain why gene therapy that transfers genes but not junk DNA hasn't fulfilled its promise, and [one scientist] illustrated it thusly: 'And we know what happens when a foreman doesn't turn up on a building site: you get the tea-drinking and wolf-whistling, but not much building.'" Now it seems that Darwinism's failure to inspire research into function for non-coding "junk" DNA may have also hampered our understanding of how to use gene therapy to treat diseases!

Posted by Casey Luskin on July 16, 2007 1:07 AM | Permalink

Islamic Creationist and a Book Sent Round the World

http://www.mezunusa.com/icerik/news/display_mezun_news.cfm?ID=33398&TYPE=7

In the United States, opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools has largely been fueled by the religious right, particularly Protestant fundamentalism.

Now another voice is entering the debate, in dramatic fashion.

It is the voice of Adnan Oktar of Turkey, who, under the name Harun Yahya, has produced numerous books, videos and DVDs on science and faith, in particular what he calls the "deceit" inherent in the theory of evolution. One of his books, "Atlas of Creation," is turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn.

At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, "Atlas of Creation" is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin's theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran.

In bowing to Scripture, Mr. Yahya resembles some fundamentalist creationists in the United States. But he is not among those who assert that Earth is only a few thousand years old. The principal argument of "Atlas of Creation," advanced in page after page of stunning photographs of fossil plants, insects and animals, is that creatures living today are just like creatures that lived in the fossil past. Ergo, Mr. Yahya writes, evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception or "a theory in crisis."

In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.

The book caused a stir earlier this year when a French translation materialized at high schools, universities and museums in France. Until then, creationist literature was relatively rare in France, according to Armand de Ricqles, a professor of historical biology and evolutionism at the College de France. Scientists spoke out against the book, he said in an e-mail message, and "thanks to the highly centralized public school system in France, it was possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children."

So far, no similar response is emerging in the United States. "In our country we are used to nonsense like this," said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

He said people who had received copies were "just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.

"If he sees a picture of an old fossil crab or something, he says, 'See, it looks just like a regular crab, there's no evolution,' " Dr. Padian said. "Extinction does not seem to bother him. He does not really have any sense of what we know about how things change through time."

Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, said he and his colleagues in the life sciences had all received copies. When he called friends at the University of Colorado and the University of Chicago, they had the books too, he said. Scientists at Brigham Young University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Georgia and others have also received them.

"I think he must have sent it to every full professor in the medical school," said Kathryn L. Calame, a microbiologist at the Columbia University medical school who received a copy. "The genetics department, the biochem department, micro — everybody I talked to had it."

While they said they were unimpressed with the book's content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost. "If you went into a bookstore and saw a book like this, it would be at least $100," said Dr. Miller, an author of conventional biology texts. "The production costs alone are astronomical. We are talking millions of dollars."

And then there's postage. Dr. Padian said his copy was shipped by a company called SDS Worldwide, which has an office in Illinois. Calls and e-mail messages to the company were not returned, but Dr. Padian said he spoke to someone there who told him SDS had received a cargo-container-size shipment of books, "with everything prepaid and labeled. It just went all over the country."

Fatih Sen, who heads the United States office of Global Impex, a company that markets Islamic books, gifts and other products, including "Atlas," would not comment on its distribution, except to describe the book as "great" and refer questions to the publisher, Global Publishing of Istanbul. Repeated attempts by telephone and e-mail to reach the concern, or Mr. Yahya, were unsuccessful.

In the book and on his Web site (www.harunyahya.com), Mr. Yahya says he was born in Ankara in 1956, and grew up and was educated in Turkey. He says he seeks to unmask what the book calls "the imposture of evolutionists" and the links between their scientific views and modern evils like fascism, communism and terrorism. He says he hopes to encourage readers "to open their minds and hearts and guide them to become more devoted servants of God."

He adds that he seeks "no material gain" from his publications, most of which are available free or at relatively low cost.

Who finances these efforts is "a big question that no one knows the answer to," said another recipient, Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in Missouri who studies issues of science and religion, particularly Islam. Dr. Edis grew up in a secular household in Turkey and has lived in the United States since enrolling in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, where he earned his doctorate in 1994. He said Mr. Yahya's activities were usually described in the Turkish press as financed by donations. "But what that can mean is anybody's guess," he said.

The effort seems particularly odd given the mailing list. Both Dr. Padian and Dr. Miller testified for the plaintiffs in the Dover, Penn., lawsuit that successfully challenged the teaching of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, in schools there. Other recipients include Steve Rissing, a biologist at Ohio State University who has been active on behalf of school board candidates who support the teaching of evolution and science museums that accept evolution as the foundation for modern biology.

"I don't know what to make of it, quite honestly," said Laddie Elwell, the director of the Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji, Minn., which she said received a dozen copies. Chuck Deeter, a staff member, said he and his colleagues might use the books' fossil photographs in their programs on Darwin, which he said can be a hard sell in a region where many people are fundamentalist Christians with creationist beliefs.

Support for creationism is also widespread among Muslims, said Dr. Edis, whose book "An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam" was published by Prometheus Books this spring.

"Taken at face value, the Koran is a creationist text," he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a scholar of Islam "who is going to be gung-ho about Darwin."

Perhaps as a result, he said, Mr. Yahya's books and other publications have won him attention in Islamic areas. "This is a guy with some influence," Dr. Edis said, "unfortunately for mainstream science."

Dr. Miller agreed. He said he regularly received e-mail messages from people questioning evolution, with an increasing number coming from Turkey, Lebanon and other areas in the Middle East, most citing Mr. Yahya's work.

That's troubling, he said, because Mr. Yahya's ideas "cast evolution as part of the corrupting influence of the West on Islamic culture, and that promotes a profound anti-science attitude that is certainly not going to help the Islamic world catch up to the West."

As the scientists ponder what to do with the book — for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves — they also speculate about the motives of its distributors.

"My hypothesis is, like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which fights the teaching of creationism in public schools. "These people are really serious about this."

That may be, Dr. Miller said, but it's also possible "that Harun Yahya and his people have decided that there are plenty of Muslim people in the United States who need to hear this message."

In his e-mail message, Dr. de Ricqles said some worried that the book was directed at the Muslim population of France as a strategy to "destabilize" poor, predominantly immigrant suburbs "where a large population of youngsters of Moslem faith would be an ideal target for propaganda."

But despite its wide distribution, Dr. Padian predicted that the book would have little impact in the United States. "We are used to books that are totally wrongheaded about science and confuse science and religion," he said. "That's politics."

Kaynak: The New York Times
Tarih: 17.07.2007

Islamic creationism invading the United States

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2007/US/919_islamic_creationism_invading_t_7_17_2007.asp

The Atlas of Creation, a massive volume by the pseudonymous Islamic creationist Harun Yahya distributed throughout Europe in early 2007, is now being circulated to scientists in the United States. The New York Times (July 17, 2007) reports that copies of the book are "turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn. At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, 'Atlas of Creation' is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin's theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran."

Among the recipients were University of California, Berkeley, paleontologist Kevin Padian (who serves as president of NCSE's board of directors) and Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller (a Supporter of NCSE). Both marveled at the production values of the Atlas, with Miller estimating that such a book would cost at least $100 in a retail bookstore, but both were dismissive of its content, with Padian commenting that Harun Yahya "does not really have any sense of what we know about how things change through time." Padian added that he thought that the distribution of the Atlas would have little effect in the United States: "We are used to books that are totally wrongheaded about science and confuse science and religion."

It is unclear how the recipients were chosen. The Times noted the irony that Padian and Miller, who served as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools, was ruled to be unconstitutional, were on the list, as was Ohio State University biologist Steve Rissing (a member of NCSE), a long-time defender of education evolution. It is also unclear how the campaign is funded. Truman State University physicist Taner Edis (a member of NCSE), author of the recent book An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam (Prometheus Books, 2007), told the Times that Harun Yahya's activities are generally described in the Turkish press as funded by donations, adding, "But what that can mean is anybody's guess."

Toward the end of the article, the Times's reporter wrote, "As the scientists ponder what to do with the book -- for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves -- they also speculate about the motives of its distributors." (The Times was unable to reach the shipper; the publisher, Global Publishing of Istanbul; or Harun Yahya himself.) NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "My hypothesis is, like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed." She added, "These people are really serious about this."

July 17, 2007