Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
By Brandon Keim March 27, 2008 | 11:12:55 AM
Even as creatures become complex, evolution doesn't get any harder.
The findings, published yesterday in Nature, shed doubt on a creationist criticism of evolution: that adaptation must rapidly slow as creatures grow more complicated, making them less able to adapt to changing conditions.
Led by Yale University evolutionary biologist Gunter Wagner, researchers measured the cumulative effects of genetic mutations in mice. Would tweaking a gene affect many different unrelated traits, thus imposing a "cost of complexity"? Or would the genetic ripple be constrained?
The latter, found the researchers: the effects of mutations were indeed multiple, but largely limited to related characteristics. The researchers also found no relationship between effect strength and the number of affected traits. Some scientists have wondered whether these would vary inversely, further slowing the pace of adaptation in complex organisms.
"I think the main broader impact of this work is on the evolution-creationism debate," wrote Wagner in an email. "I would say the only intellectually interesting argument that the creationists are using, at least the scientifically more sophisticated ones, is that random mutation can not lead to the evolution of complex organisms. And there are interesting mathematical arguments that have been made to support that. But our results show that organisms found a way around that problem by restricting mutational effects on very narrowly confined parts of the organisms."
Pleiotropic scaling of gene effects and the 'cost of complexity' [Nature]
Note: Several months ago, I wrote about a study of Scottish sheep that found a genetic relationship between hair color and reproductive fitness -- two seemingly unrelated traits. Didn't that contradict Wagner's findings?
Wrote Wagner, "Not really, these surprising pleiotropies have been know ever since Genetics was established as a discipline. The real question is how frequent are those broad effects among a sample of gene mutations" -- and these, he said, are not frequent at all, as shown in both his study and another published recently in Evolution.
By WILL SENTELL
Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: Apr 1, 2008 - Page: 4A - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
The chairman of the Senate education committee is sponsoring a bill to revamp the way science is taught in public schools, including views that challenge biological evolution.
Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa and sponsor of the bill, said Monday that it would be unfair to label his bill as one that would pave the way for the teaching of creationism — the view that life began about 6,000 years ago in a process described in the Bible's Book of Genesis.
"I believe that students should be exposed to both sides of scientific data and allow them to make their own decisions," Nevers said Monday.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, disagreed.
"This is all about God in biology class," Lynn said in a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C.
Nevers' bill is called the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act."
It says that:
Educational authorities in Louisiana should "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies."
Biological evolution, global warming and other topics "can cause controversy" in public school classrooms and may confuse teachers on how they should be taught.
Teachers and others should encourage students to tackle different views on such topics, including scientific strengths and weaknesses of each theory.
Professors of anthropology and others have told state officials in the past that biological evolution is widely accepted and that any attempt to downplay it would make the state look silly.
Critics have argued that high school biology textbooks are riddled with errors, tell a one-sided story of creation and that students should be exposed to what they call holes in the theory of evolution.
Nevers said his bill should not be considered a creationism measure because it would pave the way for theories that also challenge opinions on global warming, human cloning and other topics.
"I think the bill perfectly explains that it deals with any scientific subject matter which is taught in our public school system," he said. The bill says it should not be construed to promote any religious doctrine.
Nevers said he was asked to sponsor the bill by the Louisiana Family Forum, which describes itself as a group that promotes traditional family values.
Gene Mills, executive director of the group, said a bill is needed that makes it easier for teachers to delve into criticism of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Darwin wrote that life forms have changed over time by mutations, with the pressure of natural selection determining which changes succeed and which species survive or die out. Scientists accept evolution as the basis of modern biology but have modified Darwin's original ideas as new information about genes and other factors that affect evolution has been discovered.
"We just feel like we can't continue to dump old information on an unsuspecting environment and then call it educational excellence," Mills said.
Lynn said a key court ruling in recent years has all but derailed efforts like the Nevers bill. He also noted that, in the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law to add creationism instruction to public school classrooms.
The organization claims about 100,000 members nationwide. It calls itself a watchdog group to prevent government-backed teaching by religious groups.
Lynn stopped just short of vowing to challenge any such law in court.
"We take this seriously," he said of the bill. "We are hoping that our members in the state make it clear that this is a bad idea."
The legislation is Senate Bill 561.
By Jenna Wortham March 31, 2008 | 12:59:36 PM
A biology professor crashed a press call Friday to blast the upcoming pro-creationism film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
Paul Zachary "PZ" Myers, a biologist and atheist blogger who is interviewed in the documentary, interrupted the conference call to rail about what he calls "the falsehoods propagated in the film."
Call participants, including Expelled writer Ben Stein and several producers of the film, groaned and taunted Myers before the moderator asked the prof to get off the line.
Expelled, which opens April 18, follows Stein as the former Nixon speech writer and television host looks into ongoing campus clashes between evolutionists and proponents of intelligent design.
Myers, who teaches biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris, maintains he was misled about the nature of the film before he was interviewed. Myers, who has blogged extensively about the film, elaborated on his frustrations in a follow-up e-mail after the conference call.
"The Expelled movie was made under false pretenses, and despite their claims that they did not distort my interviews or [evolutionary geneticist] Richard Dawkins' [who also appears in the film], I think that interleaving our comments with old video clips of Nazis and Hitler and Stalin is rather egregious," wrote Myers.
April 2nd, 2008
The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has just published a booklet for school teachers urging them not to advocate creationism or intelligent design (ID). That's "evangelical" as in the German evangelisch (meaning Protestant, mostly Lutheran), and not "evangelical" as it's more commonly used in the United States. Still, it's interesting to see that the EKD in Germany, where there are few U.S.-style evangelicals and almost no dispute about the theory of evolution, felt it necessary to issue a 22-page booklet about teaching evolution. It's called "The Origin of the World, the Theory of Evolution and the Belief in Creation in School" (here in German).
EKD Chairman Bishop Wolfgang Huber (pictured below) writes in the introduction that there is "an intense debate" about these issues but that "it is being conducted in Germany in a different way from, for example, the United States of America. Still, a fundamental clarification is of considerable practical importance." He doesn't elaborate.
The daily Die Welt gave a bit more background. "This dispute is increasingly spilling over from the USA to us and has already led to political debates. The Hesse state culture minister (and Protestant synod member) Karin Wolff spoke last year of a "surprising agreement" between evolution and the Bible. With that she sparked a dispute within the Church in which the reasonable faction of the EKD found itself confronted with the growing strength of evangelicals loyal to the Bible. This "orientation aid" should now calm the dispute by setting limits towards both sides."The "orientation aid," as the booklet is called, criticises Richard Dawkins and other atheists for thinking science can disprove the existence of God. It compares the books of the "new atheists" to the communist textbooks in East Germany: "The new atheism propagated by Dawkins and others today fits seamlessly into this ideological scheme."
The booklet has several pages on the relationship between science and religion. Sorry, I can't translate them all but they boil down to saying that biblically literal creationism is unseriös ("unserious" is a serious put-down in German). ID turns God into a god-of-the-gaps, it adds. So how does the EKD want German schools to deal with creation? Unlike in the U.S., even state schools in Germany have religion classes, separated according to religions and denominations. The EKD says it believes the Biblical story of creation explains the overall purpose of life while science explains the physical details. "God the creator is part of this belief, but not creationism," the booklet writes. "So Protestant religion class can discuss creationism, but not advocate it."
The booklet talks positively about "cooperation that connects subjects" (fächerverbindende Kooperation) and says "in principle all classes can deal with both the belief in creation and the theory of evolution." Religion class is special in that it can advocate a religious view such as God as creator. "But teachers, because of their pedological responsibility and the duty to be evenhanded that goes with their occupation, cannot claim a comparable right for themselves, neither about creationism nor other views, for example atheist ones," it adds.
ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN LOUISIANA
Senate Bill 561, styled the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act," was prefiled in the Louisiana Senate by state senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12) on March 21, 2008, and provisionally assigned to the Senate Education Committee, of which Nevers is the chair. In name, the bill is similar to the so-called academic freedom bills in Florida, House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, which are evidently based on a string of similar bills in Alabama as well as on a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote. But in its content, Louisiana's SB 561 seems to be modeled instead on a controversial policy adopted by a local school board in 2006.
Adopted in 2006 with the backing of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state, the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy permits teachers to help students to understand "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught"; "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning" are the only topics specifically mentioned. A local paper editorially described it as "a policy that is so clear that one School Board member voted affirmatively while adding, 'but I don't know what I'm voting on'" (Monroe News-Star, December 3, 2006).
The controversy over the policy was renewed in September 2007, when Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sought to earmark $100,000 of federal funds to the Louisiana Family Forum. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (September 22, 2007) reported that the money was intended to "pay for a report suggesting 'improvements' in science education in Louisiana, the development and distribution of educational materials and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Ouachita Parish School Board's 2006 policy that opened the door to biblically inspired teachings in science classes." Thanks to pressure from NCSE and its allies, Vitter withdrew his proposal in the following month.
Now SB 561 echoes the central language of the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy. Contending that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the bill extends permission to Louisiana's teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."
Unlike the policy, the bill contains directives aimed at state and local education administrators, who are instructed to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." Administrators are also instructed not to "censor or suppress in any way any writing, document, record, or other content of any material which references" the listed topics.
Attempting to immunize itself against a likely challenge to its constitutionality, the bill also claims to protect only "the teaching of scientific information," adding that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion." The involvement of the Louisiana Family Forum -- which seeks to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking" -- is, however, no doubt going to provoke a careful scrutiny of the intent of the bill's backers. The upcoming legislative session begins on March 31, 2008.
For the text of Louisiana's SB 561 (PDF), visit:
For the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy, visit:
For the story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visit:
For NCSE's coverage of the Vitter earmark, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
NCSE'S SCOTT TO BE HONORED BY UCSF
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is to receive the UCSF Medal, the highest award of the University of California, San Francisco, on April 23, 2008. In a letter to Scott, the university's chancellor J. Michael Bishop wrote, "The award is offered in recognition of your distinguished advocacy on behalf of science in the public arena. The UCSF Medal is given in lieu of an honorary degree and is the highest honor that the campus confers." The UCSF website explains, "The UCSF Medal is an expression of recognition and appreciation by the UCSF community for individuals whose life work is consonant with UCSF's mission and whose contributions are of a scope and quality that justify the campus'[s] highest recognition."
For information about the UCSF Medal, visit:
THE GREAT NCSE JOURNAL GIVEAWAY
NCSE is still extending a special offer to libraries. Both because we are eager for libraries to maintain holdings of our journals, and because we are eager to make space in our storage facility, we are offering free copies of any or all of the back issues of Creation/Evolution (ISSN 0738-6001, nos. 1-39, 1980-1996), NCSE Reports (ISSN 1064-2358, vols. 9-16, 1989-1996), and Reports of the NCSE (continuing both, ISSN 1064-2358, vol. 17 ongoing, 1997-present) to libraries. Libraries can take advantage of the offer to replace missing or damaged individual copies or to extend the range of their holdings.
Probably academic libraries will be most interested -- and we urge our members and friends who work at colleges and universities to bring the offer to the attention of the periodical departments of their libraries -- but the offer is open to public and school libraries as well. Interested librarians should write to Archivist, NCSE, PO Box 9477, Berkeley CA 94709-0477, fax (on letterhead) to (510) 601-7204, or e-mail the NCSE archivist at email@example.com to request further information or order back issues at no cost to their libraries. The offer is good only while supplies last, and may be withdrawn at any time at NCSE's sole discretion.
For the above announcement on NCSE's website, visit:
For information about subscribing to Reports of the NCSE, visit:
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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
Posted on: Friday, 4 April 2008, 16:57 CDT
NEW YORK - A handful of journalists filed into a small theater at the Park Avenue Screening Room here last night to see a preview for "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." The 90-minute documentary-style flick features Ben Stein, a comedian, lawyer, actor and former speechwriter. It is a movie about the so-called debate between supporters of "intelligent design" and Charles Darwin's scientific theory of evolution.
Filmmakers proclaim in press materials that Stein "discovers an elitist scientific establishment that has traded in its skepticism for dogma" during the course of the movie through interviews with scientists and anti-evolution advocates.
Some scientists, however, are outraged about the conduct of the filmmaker during production and screening as well as the film's effort to tie Darwin's ideas to Hitler. One prominent scientist who is in the movie has since called it shoddy and sinister.
Intelligent design, or ID, holds that life on Earth is so complex that evolutionary theory can't explain the complexities, so life must have been designed. Scientists see it as creationism veiled in pseudoscience, an effort with religious backing designed to generate the appearance of controversy among scientists about Darwinian evolution where there is none.
ID has made headlines in recent years in Kansas, Ohio and Michigan as school boards and courts contested its teaching in public schools alongside evolution, which is a scientific theory holding that new species appear via gradual changes in inherited traits and mutations. In 2005, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching ID in biology class.
The basic principles of neither evolution nor ID are clearly explained in the movie.
"Expelled" is smattered with gloomy scenes of the Berlin Wall's construction, the Holocaust and other World War II-era footage, with Stein arguing during the course of it that a handful of academics have been persecuted for their beliefs that run counter to the scientific establishment.
Many of the ID supporters and sympathizers Stein interviews in the movie, however, were let go, not offered tenure or other career incentives because of expired contracts, improper publishing ethics and other conduct unrelated to their religious views, according to university and institution spokespeople who appeared in "Expelled."
Stein claims he "encountered many more [academics] who didn't want to appear on film," because of their fear of being persecuted.
But among the millions of scientists currently working in schools and institutions across the world, thousands of whom are trained evolutionary biologists, the overwhelming consensus is that evolution is a well-supported theory backed by observations in several fields using multiple lines of evidence.
Scientists interviewed in "Expelled," namely evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and Paul Zachary "PZ" Myers of the University of Minnesota and author of the blog "Pharyngula," have been crying foul since the movie's name was changed last year.
The two have written on their Web sites and blogs that the original film was called "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion" based on correspondence with Mark Mathis, the movie's associate producer at Rampant Films. But in late 2007 the movie title was changed to "Expelled" for marketing reasons, the producers reportedly said.
In a press release issued by Premise Media, which has also helped finance "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" movies, film producer Walt Ruloff claims the makers avoided distorting interviews.
"The incredible thing about &39; is that we don't resort to manipulating our interviews for the purpose of achieving the 'shock effect,'" Ruloff said.
But Michael Schermer, editor of "Skeptic Magazine" and an on-screen interview in the movie, said Stein and Mathis asked him the same question a dozen times during his interview for the film to extract an answer they were looking for.
"In frustration I finally said something like 'Do you have any other questions to ask me or do you keep asking me this question in hopes that I'll give a different answer?'" according to a statement by Schermer on richarddawkins.net.
Dawkins, Myers, Schermer and others are also outraged by the claims in the movie, especially that Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory is partly responsible for Nazism and the Holocaust.
In the film, after Stein is told of this purported connection by several ID supporters, who also tell him that Darwin's ideas of species fitness led to U.S. eugenics programs in the 1920s, Stein stares down a dimly lit statue of Darwin in London's Natural History Museum.
During a March 28 telephone press conference for "Expelled," Myers snuck in on the call and confronted the filmmakers about the issue. "Have you ever heard of a pogrom?" Myers asked. "Those have been going on for centuries." (A pogrom is an organized massacre of helpless people.)
On his Web site, Dawkins wrote that the Darwin-Nazi association is a fallacy.
"The alleged association between Darwinism and Nazism is harped on for what seems like hours, and it is quite simply an outrage," Dawkins said of the series of scenes in the movie. "Hitler was ignorant and bonkers enough for his hideous mind to have imbibed some sort of garbled misunderstanding of Darwin but it is hardly Darwin's fault if he did."
Expelled or uninvited?
During a March 20 screening of "Expelled" at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, which Myers registered to attend via a public Web site with his family, he was asked to leave by security while standing in line.
The security guard said a film producer gave the orders to remove Myers from the theater.
According to various news reports, producers accused Myers of being a "gatecrasher" - someone trying to attend an event uninvited - but he was registered for the event via the open, online registration process. Dawkins, who also registered to attend the screening, saw the documentary without incident along with Myers' family.
"It's an incredible piece of inept public relations to expel somebody ... from a film about expelling people for their opinions," Dawkins said during a videotaped discussion with Myers, "a film in which [Myers is] present, and acknowledged and thanked in the acknowledgements at the end of the film."
The overall mood of the film, as its makers assert, is satirical and sarcastic - and almost always at the cost of the scientists backing evolutionary theory. When Dawkins discusses scientific hypotheses for the seeding of life on Earth from another planet, for example, the film quickly displays black-and-white movie clips of flying saucers and aliens.
Dawkins said in the video on his Web site that he was unimpressed with the artistic direction of "Expelled."
"I'm not a professional filmmaker myself but I've had a lot to do with making documentaries," Dawkins said. "This was a very, very shoddy, poor, inartistic piece of work."
Dawkins also noted that images of guillotines, firing squads and other reactionary film clips that flashed between the words of sources especially garnered his dislike. "It was worse than just artless, it was also quite sinister," he said. "It was a bad film in every way."
"Expelled" opens in theaters nationwide starting on April 18.
BY DANA MASSING firstname.lastname@example.org [more details]
Published: April 05. 2008 6:00AM
How did we get here?
Some people think Charles Darwin had it right with his theory of evolution, which holds that species developed from earlier forms and that natural selection determines which ones survive.
Some people think we're the result of intelligent design, and that the intelligent designer was God.
Ben Stein, perhaps best known for portraying a teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," says he believes God is responsible for life.
Now the actor, author, economist, lawyer and former Nixon speechwriter is playing host in a movie that claims to reveal the persecution of educators and scientists who don't share Darwin's views.
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a PG-rated satirical documentary, opens April 18 in theaters.
An "Expelled" Web site describes it as a feature film in which Stein "goes on a quest to expose the suppression by science's anti-theist elite, and unveil new scientific facts that may suggest evidence of intelligent design in the universe."
Zach Schierberl is "very excited" about the film. The 31-year-old member of Millcreek Community Church believes in creationism.
"I personally have no doubt that the biblical creation account in the book of Genesis is literal, historical fact," he said. "I was taught evolution all my life, and like most people, I believed it, because it was all I was ever taught. ... I became a Christian when I was 25, and a year or so later I got in an argument with another Christian who did not believe in evolution. He challenged me to find some evidence that evolution was real. ... I began researching the topic in depth. What I found absolutely blew my mind."
Schierberl said he found no evidence for Darwin's theory.
"Evolution has become something of a religion among scientists, educators, and the media, and it is defended by them with an irrational fervor," he said. "I think most scientists know that it is, at the least, a seriously flawed theory, but everyone is afraid to speak out against it."
He thinks intelligent design should be taught in schools.
The Rev. David Leininger, of First Presbyterian Church in Warren, doesn't think Darwinism belongs with intelligent design in schools.
"One is science," he said. "One is religion."
Leininger has preached that people can believe in both science and God and that they don't rule out one another.
He considers Genesis a worship liturgy, not a science text.
While Leininger and Schierberl disagreed on some things, both said "Expelled" isn't generating local buzz.
The pastor had never heard of the film before being contacted by the Erie Times-News.
Schierberl learned about "Expelled" through a creationism e-mail list.
"Unfortunately, I don't think many other people have heard," he said.
"Expelled" promoters claim otherwise, calling it a film "surrounded in controversy."
Paul Lauer, president of Motive Entertainment, said in a recent teleconference that "there's been a tremendous amount of hype around this movie."
What there is of it arose mostly in March when evolutionary biologists P.Z. Myers, from the University of Minnesota Morris, and Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, showed up at a screening of "Expelled."
When Myers wasn't allowed in, he wrote about it on his blog, Pharyngula.
Myers and Dawkins are both in the film and have denounced it, saying the documentary ended up being different from what they agreed to appear in. Myers, who managed to crash the teleconference, criticized the creators of "Expelled" for the "falsehoods propagated."
He was particularly severe about the movie's suggested link between evolution and Nazism. He said anti-Semitism and pogroms in Germany preceded Darwin.
Stein, asked during the conference if he considered it fair to have clips of Nazis in "Expelled," said he would have had more about the Holocaust in the film if it was up to him.
He said Darwinism played a big role in rationalizing the Holocaust for the Nazis.
Asked by Lauer whether he was saying Darwinism leads to Nazism, Stein, a Jew, said no, but that the Nazis were carrying out Darwinian ideas.
Besides such "social implications of Darwinism," Stein and the producers also raised the issue of free speech.
"Really, it's a freedom of speech, it's a freedom of inquiry issue," producer Logan Craft said.
Schierberl plans to speak out about "Expelled" at his Bible study and encourage others to see it.
"If Ben Stein is right about this massive conspiracy to promote a bad theory and shut up everyone who criticizes it -- and I believe he is -- then the logical question becomes why," Schierberl said.
"Many people like evolution theory because if evolution were true, then it would be much easier to deny the existence of God," Schierberl said. "If God really exists, then we should definitely listen to him and follow his rules. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want to do that."
DANA MASSING can be reached at 870-1729 or by e-mail.
For more about "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," visit www.expelledthemovie.com or www.getexpelled.com.
The documentary, which opens April 18, will be showing at Tinseltown, according to the theater locator on the movie Web site.
To read biology professor P.Z. Myers' blog, visit http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula.
Last week CSC senior fellow David Berlinski gave a presentation based on his new book The Devil's Delusion in the Discovery Institute Washington DC offices. C-SPAN's Booknotes was there and will broadcast the event at least twice this weekend, so set your DVRs for Saturday at 11pm EDT / 8PM PDT.
From C-SPANs website:
The Devil's Delusion: Atheism And Its Scientific Pretensions
Author: David Berlinski
Saturday, April 5, at 11:00 PM
Sunday, April 6, at 6:30 AM
About the Program
David Berlinski, teacher and author of books on mathematics, challenges the fields of science and atheist thought by arguing that science has not been able to prove the inexistence of a God nor explain the start of the universe. This event was hosted by the Discovery Institute in Washington, D.C.
About the Author
David Berlinski is the author of several books, including "A Tour of Calculus," and "Newton's Gift." A former fellow at the Institute for Applied System Analysis, Mr. Berlinksi is currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Posted by Robert Crowther on April 4, 2008 1:16 PM | Permalink
By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/05/2008 01:00:00 AM PDT
In the 1960s, he marched in civil rights demonstrations with Martin Luther King Jr., singing "We Shall Overcome."
By the 1980s, he had become a household name, playing the droning teacher in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Today, the self-described rebel has combined his roles as social activist and actor to narrate "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a new documentary that tackles the controversial debate over evolution versus intelligent design.
Stein spent two years interviewing more than 150 educators and scientists who claimed they were persecuted for challenging Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and their belief that evidence shows an intelligent or divine influence in the creation of the universe and life.
In the film, which debuts April 18, professors, teachers, scientists and researchers tell Stein their reputations were destroyed and careers ruined after they questioned Darwinism.
"I learned we are a very long way from putting into practice the freedoms of speech we are guaranteed in the Constitution," said Stein, who is also a lawyer, economist and New York Times columnist who once served as a speechwriter for President Nixon.
"They told me how they were teaching the sciences to the highest standards they were capable of and being punished for it because they questioned the Darwinist paradigm, and that's an outrage in a free society."
Executive Producer Walt Ruloff said scientists also told them that federal health and science institutions and universities have instructed them to stop conducting publicly funded genomic, microbiological and other research into intelligent design.
"What we discovered in interviewing all these great minds all over the United States is what is at the heart of this is not science. At the heart of this is politics. But we are very excited because we are on the threshold of something fundamentally beautiful in science. And if it points to design, then so be it."
The humorous and thought-provoking film, portions of which Stein and the producers previewed last week at Biola University in La Mirada, has generated controversy across the nation.
In trailers shown at Biola, Stein - backed by George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" - interviews prominent professors and scientists on both sides of the debate, including Richard Dawkins, a University of Oxford evolutionary biologist and author of "The God Delusion."
Dawkins and colleague P.Z. Myers claimed they were originally told the documentary would explore the intersection of science and religion and were tricked into doing interviews. After learning the film made a case for intelligent design, Dawkins and Myers publicly denounced it.
Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris, also denied claims that the educational and scientific community has persecuted proponents of intelligent design.
The film has also come under attack by some critics who have likened Stein to a "Holocaust denier" for arguing that Darwinism helped inspire Nazi atrocities in World War II.
"Darwinism, as I see it, was a political system designed by Darwin, whether he knew it or not, to rationalize the domination of the world by Northern European man," Stein said. "Darwinism was one of the fundamental props of the National Socialists and the Nazi Holocaust.
"For that alone, it deserves extremely careful scrutiny."
The documentary, which is being marketed by the company that handled publicity for "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," comes as a growing number of educators and scientists are researching intelligent design.
"The most interesting thing about the movie is it's not a movie about intelligent design as much as it's a movie about why people can't discuss intelligent design," said Phil Cooke, a media consultant and president of Cooke Pictures.
"We live in America and we should be able to discuss, research and explore anything. The evidence is the evidence and all I think the movie is asking is to let these scientists pursue the evidence and see where it leads."
In fact, since 2001, more than 700 scientists from the National Academy of Sciences as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley and UCLA have signed the "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" list.
By signing the list, launched by the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank based in Seattle, the scientists declared they are "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
Posted April 6, 2008
By Amy Olson Wausau Daily Herald email@example.com
Though a belief in the power of prayer is central to many Christian denominations and other faiths, the healing it offers might have a greater effect on spiritual wounds than physical ailments.
Eleven-year-old Kara Neumann died March 23 of complications from untreated diabetes after her parents chose to pray for recovery at their town of Weston home rather than seek medical treatment.
Mike Neill, a chaplain at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, said he'd never personally encountered a family who chose prayer as a treatment over medical care.
Neill said he believes in prayer's power, noting it has benefits "even at times when we don't see healing" quickly or in the ways we seek. For many people, however, it can help them come to terms with what's happened and give them comfort. It also enables them to turn over what they can't control to God and helps them know God is with them.
"We are holistic beings," Neill said, and a person's emotional, physical and spiritual make-up are intertwined.
Research suggests many people pray and use other spiritual practices for healing. Forty-five percent of 31,000 people surveyed in 2004 used prayer for health reasons, according to research conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Almost one quarter reported having others pray for them.
"There is already some preliminary evidence for a connection between prayer and related practices and health outcomes. For example, we've seen some evidence that religious affiliation and religious practices are associated with health and mortality -- in other words, with better health and longer life," wrote Catherine Stoney, program officer at the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine.
Still, researchers cannot determine cause and effect.
Studies suggest prayer seeking intervention -- called intercessory prayer -- has no effect as a treatment, said Dr. Steven Miles, professor at the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics.
A study of almost 800 people published in 2001 by Mayo Clinic researchers found patients with heart conditions who were prayed for fared no better than those who were not. A 2006 study by Harvard Medical School researchers of about 1,200 heart bypass surgery patients found those who were prayed for had similar rates of complications within a month of their operations to those for whom no prayers were offered.
In SMU visit, academy leaders say evidence-based science is needed
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
By KAREN AYRES SMITH / The Dallas Morning News
Texas students must receive a strong science education that includes important lessons on evolution if they are to be prepared to compete in the global economy, top national science leaders said Tuesday during a visit to Southern Methodist University.
Three scientists from the National Academies, a coalition of science advisory groups, said years of scientific research have consistently supported evolution, the biological theory that humans and other species evolved from lower forms of life.
Their comments came amid an ongoing review of the state's public school science curriculum that has sparked controversy about the best way to present evolution to students.
"I think parents really want their children exposed to different points of view," said Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "But the fact is there is no scientific controversy."
The scientists came to SMU for a speech about the need for more young people to study science so the U.S. can be more competitive with other countries. Before their remarks, the group spoke with The Dallas Morning News about the need for secondary teachers to present evidence-based science to students – including evolution.
Many conservatives, including the State Board of Education chairman, have long pushed for teachers to present what some groups say are weaknesses in the theory of evolution. For example, some argue that it can't explain the development of complex cells.
Many skeptics of evolution say they aren't calling for schools to teach creationism or intelligent design, a theory that says certain features of the universe are so complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause. But others argue that raising questions about evolution amounts to slipping God into the classroom.
Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, one of the National Academies, said that parents and students need to understand that people can support religion and evolution.
"Belief in religion and conviction about God is utterly in keeping with evolution," said Dr. Fineberg, a former provost at Harvard. "They are not incompatible."
The current Texas science curriculum, which was approved in 1998, dictates that students should understand the theory of evolution. But elsewhere in the rules it also stipulates that students should analyze any strengths and weaknesses of all theories.
Disputes over that curriculum have caused controversy for years. In November, the state's science director, Chris Comer, said she was forced to resign over allegations that she had inappropriately endorsed evolution. Texas Education Agency officials pointed to other infractions.
Since then, science teachers and professors from across the state have started to meet in groups to redraft the curriculum standards, which must be approved by the State Board of Education.
THE number of school students in Britain who believe in creationism is becoming a growing concern for science teachers, according to Professor Richard Dawkins.
The eminent Darwinist said the rise of the belief, which states that the Earth did not evolve following the big bang but was instead created by God, raised a serious problem for science teachers. Prof Dawkins was speaking at a debate held as part of this year's 20th anniversary Edinburgh International Science Festival.
In the packed lecture hall of the George Square Theatre the author of the best-seller The God Delusion debated God, Religion and Science with former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway. During a question and answer sessionafterwards he was asked if he felt the rise of creationism and fundamentalism were a concern in Britain.
"It is a very worrying trend, and I think a lot of it has come over from America and Australia," he said.
"I have spoken to a lot of science teachers in schools here in Britain who are finding an increasing number of students coming to them and saying they are Young Earth creationists. Now this is a belief that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and it is such a staggering mistake that it is very concerning to hear this. It is no small error – it is equivalent to someone believing, despite the evidence, that the width of North America from one coast to the other is only 7.8 yards."
Earlier both Dawkins and Holloway had kept the crowd of 480 entertained with a fascinating discussion on religion.
• The Edinburgh International Science Festival runs until April 5.
The full article contains 283 words and appears in Edinburgh Evening News newspaper.Last Updated: 02 April 2008 12:16 PM
Stephen Hume, Special to the Sun
Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Out for a hike in some lovely snow showers punctuated by sun bursts the other day, I checked the weather on my radio, caught a talk show interview and found myself listening with rapt fascination.
I learn that "mainstream" science is suppressing the publication of evidence that supports the case for some intelligent force or supernatural being -- perhaps even aliens -- designing the universe we inhabit.
Yep, those annoying "mainstream" scientists are at it again, muzzling the Darwin skeptics just as they've already muzzled the global warming skeptics. They don't seem to be too hot at repression, though, considering how much exposure the skeptics get.
What reason might science have for suppressing such startling and exciting proof?
Might it be less suppression than the possibility that the evidence just doesn't meet the exacting empirical standards by which science governs itself? You know, figuring out tests for the hypothesis, winnowing out the logical fallacies and providing independent replication of experiment results, blind peer reviews, that kind of boring stuff.
Nope, it's apparently weirder that that. Science, it seems, is just plain hostile to religion. And since those uncovering irrefutable evidence the universe was designed by some higher intelligence are deemed religious, the intelligent design minority therefore receives the Galileo treatment from the mainstream majority.
Galileo devised a telescope and his observations led him to believe that the Earth revolved around the sun, a conclusion contrary to the one approved by the church. Galileo recanted. His colleague, Giordano Bruno, defender of Copernican theory, did not recant and was burned alive.
Mind you, I've been trying to recall a case where "mainstream" scientists burned a skeptic at the stake for his theories, even figuratively, but I can't come up with one.
Okay, what with the Internet and print on demand publishing etc., why don't all these scientists now silenced for their rejection of Darwinism just publish and be damned? It seems they are fearful of speaking out about the censoring of their evidence because they will all lose their government grants.
Gosh, isn't this a twin to the argument that all those "mainstream" scientists who support the case for climate change and global warming are doing so because they afraid that if they come clean about the hoax they will lose their government grants?
But wait, didn't "mainstream" government-funded scientist James Hansen simply refuse muzzling when the political spinmeisters in the U.S. White House started suppressing research that produced results they didn't like?
Anyway, how and when did these aggrieved intelligent design folks position themselves as the persecuted minority? In the United States, research shows about 83 per cent of the population either believes in biblical creation -- things are just the way they were when God blew breath into Adam (the evolution of weapons from slings to the atom bomb notwithstanding, of course) -- or believes that God is guiding evolution. Only 1.6 per cent of the population doesn't believe in God. Only 26 per cent believes that Darwin was right and natural selection drives evolution.
But on this battlefield of perceptions -- where the fact that science is a method, not an objective, becomes confused with faith, which is an objective, not a method -- it gets even more curious.
Compare the number of atheists to the number of Americans educated as scientists and engineers and you discover that there are only half as many atheists as there are scientists. Ergo, even if every atheist were a scientist, the unbelievers would still be outnumbered two to one by scientists who believe in God. Some research suggests believers outnumber unbelievers by closer to three to one.
Now, maybe there is a gigantic conspiracy among "mainstream" scientists, half to two-thirds of whom are believers, to suppress intelligent design advocates because of an irrational response to religion.
Who knows? Maybe sasquatches watch us by night and mutter to themselves about humans obviously being the product of incompetent design.
On the balance of probabilities, though, perhaps intelligent design gets short shrift from mainstream science not because of some conspiracy against religion but because it isn't a sufficiently convincing refutation of Darwin, even to many of those scientists who believe in God.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
INTERIM VICTORY IN CALIFORNIA CREATIONISM CASE
The defendants in the ongoing case Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. won a legal victory when their motion for partial summary judgment was granted, and the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment was denied, in a March 28, 2008, ruling from Judge S. James Otero. The plaintiffs in the case -- the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school -- are charging the University of California system and a number of its employees with violating the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. The ruling establishes only the constitutionality of the university system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. Still to be resolved at trial is whether those policies and statements were properly and fairly applied to the specific decisions cited in the lawsuit.
A March 31, 2008, press release from the University of California system summarized the ruling: "UC moved for partial summary judgment on the basis that ... its review policies and the position statements are constitutional exercises of the University's right to evaluate the qualifications of applicants for admission. The Court agreed, holding that the University has a legitimate interest in evaluating the adequacy of high school courses to prepare students for study at UC; that its process for doing so is reasonable; that the University's academic standards are also reasonable and do not discriminate against religion; that the position statements are a reasonable application of those academic standards; and that the University accommodates religious school students in various ways. The University did not move for summary judgment on plaintiffs' challenges to several specific course approval decisions. The Court did, however, reject plaintiffs' motion seeking judgment on those 'as applied' claims, which remain for trial."
Creationism is not the only issue in the case, but it was discussed in passing in several sections of the ruling, three of which are noteworthy. First, Judge Otero rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the university system has a policy or well-established practice of rejecting biology courses that "contain topics such as theistic evolution, intelligent design, creation, or weaknesses of evolution," noting both that the defendants deny it and that courses using creationist biology textbooks as supplements have been approved. Second, evaluating the university system's policies and statements under the effect prong of the Lemon test, Judge Otero wrote, "an informed observer would be aware of the controversial nature of intelligent design and creation as scientific beliefs." Citing McLean v. Arkansas and Kitzmiller v. Dover, cases in which teaching "creation science" and "intelligent design" in the public schools were ruled to be unconstitutional, he continued, "No reasonable and informed observer could conclude that refusing to recognize intelligent design as science ... has the primary effect of inhibiting religion" (p. 33).
Third, discussing the two biology textbooks at issue, A Beka's Biology: God's Living Creation and Bob Jones University's Biology for Christian Schools, Judge Otero took notice of adverse opinions on the books from Barbara Sawrey, Donald Kennedy, and Francisco Ayala, but also observed, "Plaintiffs' evidence also supports Defendants' conclusion that these biology texts are inappropriate for use as the primary or sole text" (p. 42), citing in particular Michael Behe, a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism. Behe wrote in a declaration for the case, "it is personally abusive and pedagogically damaging to de facto require students to subscribe to an idea." But, Otero noted, the textbooks at issue are unabashedly dogmatic; Biology for Christian Schools, for example, declares on its first page, "If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them," and "Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible."
For the University of California system's press release (PDF), visit:
For Judge Otero's ruling (PDF), visit:
For information about the case from the University of California system, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in California, visit:
LOUISIANA'S ANTIEVOLUTION BILL UNDER SCRUTINY
A day after the legislative session began in Louisiana, the sponsor of Senate Bill 561 was in the news, denying that the so-called academic freedom bill would pave the way for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 1, 2008), state senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12) said, "I believe that students should be exposed to both sides of scientific data and allow them to make their own decisions," adding, "I think the bill perfectly explains that it deals with any scientific subject matter which is taught in our public school system." The bill in fact specifically identifies "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and calls on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies."
Nevers acknowledged that he introduced SB 561 at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum; the bill itself is based on a policy adopted, with the LFF's support, by the Ouachita Parish School Board in 2006. A religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state, the LFF claims that it "promotes 'Teaching the Controversy' when it comes to matters such as biologicial [sic] evolution"; yet it recommends a variety of young-earth and "intelligent design" websites, including the Institute for Creation Research, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism, on its own website. Unsurprisingly, then, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Reverend Barry Lynn, told the Advocate, "This is all about God in biology class."
Writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (March 20, 2008), the columnist James Gill observed that SB 561 is based on "the spurious premise that evolution is a matter of serious scientific debate and that both sides are entitled to a hearing. A lot of people have fallen for that line, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, although, of course, scientists, save a few stray zealots, regard the evidence for evolution as overwhelming." He also drew attention to a particularly problematic provision of SB 561 directing administrators not to "censor or suppress in any way any writing, document, record, or other content of any material" referring to the topics covered by the bill, which he described as "a license for crackpots." Gill concluded, "The bill is of no conceivable benefit to anyone but Christian proselytizers. Besides, its genesis is plainly sectarian."
For the article in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:
For the text of SB 561 (PDF), visit:
For the Ouachita Parish School Board policy, visit:
For the LFF's list of "Origins Science Websites" (PDF), visit:
For James Gill's column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
JUDGMENT DAY WINS A PEABODY AWARD
Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, the NOVA documentary about Kitzmiller v. Dover, was among the recipients of the 67th Annual Peabody Awards, which "recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web." According to a press release issued on April 2, 2008, "The centerpiece of this thoughtful, topical edition of NOVA was the recreation, verbatim, of key testimony and argument from a six-week trial in Pennsylvania that served as a crash course in modern evolutionary theory, the evidence for evolution and the nature of science." NCSE congratulates the producers of the documentary -- NOVA/WGBH Educational Foundation, Vulcan Productions Inc., and The Big Table Film Company -- on the honor.
Judgment Day was broadcast on November 13, 2007, receiving high praise from reviewers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Storm, who wrote (November 13, 2007) that it "stoutly defends science against the attack of the surprisingly hard-to-pin-down intelligent-design brain trust." It is now available on home DVD and at the show's website, which also includes a variety of supplementary materials: interviews with Kenneth R. Miller on evolution, Phillip Johnson on "intelligent design," and Paula Apsell on NOVA's decision to produce the documentary; audio clips of Judge John E. Jones III reading passages from his decision in the case and of various experts (including NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott) discussing the nature of science; summaries of the evidence for evolution and the background to the Kitzmiller case; and a host of resources for teachers.
For the press release from the Peabody Awards, visit:
For the review in the Philadelphia Inquirer, visit:
To buy Judgment Day on DVD from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the
For the website for Judgment Day, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/
KENNETH R. MILLER WEBCAST: APRIL 4
Kenneth R. Miller will be speaking on "God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial" at 7:00 p.m. (Central Time) on April 4, 2008, at the University of Texas, Austin -- and his talk will be webcast live, so people around the world can watch, and even submit questions for the discussion period. (It is necessary to download a small plug-in to view the webcast.) A Supporter of NCSE, Miller was a scientific expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools. He is Professor of Biology at Brown University, the coauthor of the most widely used high school biology textbook in the United States, and the author of Finding Darwin's God and the forthcoming Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul.
For information about the webcast, visit:
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.
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
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The so-called new atheists like Richard Dawkins have hijacked science in an attempt to bolster the foundations of their anti-religious views and in so doing are enshrining a new secular religion of scientism.
And now, along comes an agnostic to challenge them.
In a refreshing counterpoint, agnostic science writer David Berlinski, an urbane scholar with a withering wit to delight and entertain, vigorously defends religious thought against a movement of intolerance which now includes much of the scientific elite.
Click here for more about David Berlinski
Click here for more about The Devil's Delusion
Click here to see when and where Dr. Berlinski will be speaking
"If science stands opposed to religion, it is not because of anything contained in either the premises or the conclusions of the great scientific theories," Berlinski writes. "Confident assertions by scientists that… they have demonstrated that God does not exist have nothing to do with science, and even less to do with God's existence."
A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a brisk defense of religion.
An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community's cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask—and answer—some rather embarrassing questions.
According to Harvard University Professor of Government Harvey Mansfield, The Devil's Delusion is a "powerful riposte to atheist mockery and cocksure science, and to the sort of philosophy that surrenders to them."
The Devil's Delusion was one of the last books William F. Buckley Jr. reviewed before his recent death. He called it "everything desirable: it is idiomatic, profound, brilliantly polemical, amusing, and of course vastly learned."
A Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, Dr. Berlinski is currently on a speaking tour through America, featuring talks at universities and other venues in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas and Seattle.
David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.
Recent articles by Dr. Berlinski have been featured in Harper's Magazine, Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. Two of his articles, "On the Origins of the Mind" (November 2004) and "What Brings a World into Being" (March 2001) have been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing 2005 , edited by Alan Lightman (Harper Perennial), and The Best American Science Writing 2002, edited by Jesse Cohen, respectively.
He is author of numerous books, including A Tour of the Calculus (Pantheon 1996), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000, Harcourt Brace),.Newton's Gift (The Free Press 2000), The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky (Harcourt, October 2003), A Short History of Mathematics for the Modern Library series at Random House (2004), and The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (Crown Forum, 2008).
Posted by Robert Crowther on April 2, 2008 7:34 AM | Permalink
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Cloud cover affects temperature - but what determines cloud cover?
Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity.
The research contradicts a favoured theory of climate "sceptics", that changes in cosmic rays coming to Earth determine cloudiness and temperature.
The idea is that variations in solar activity affect cosmic ray intensity.
But Lancaster University scientists found there has been no significant link between them in the last 20 years.
Presenting their findings in the Institute of Physics journal, Environmental Research Letters, the UK team explain that they used three different ways to search for a correlation, and found virtually none.
This is the latest piece of evidence which at the very least puts the cosmic ray theory, developed by Danish scientist Henrik Svensmark at the Danish National Space Center (DNSC), under very heavy pressure.
Dr Svensmark's idea formed a centrepiece of the controversial documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle.
"We started on this game because of Svensmark's work," said Terry Sloan from Lancaster University.
"If he is right, then we are going down the wrong path of taking all these expensive measures to cut carbon emissions; if he is right, we could carry on with carbon emissions as normal."
Cosmic rays are deflected away from Earth by our planet's magnetic field, and by the solar wind - streams of electrically charged particles coming from the Sun.
The Svensmark hypothesis is that when the solar wind is weak, more cosmic rays penetrate to Earth.
That creates more charged particles in the atmosphere, which in turn induces more clouds to form, cooling the climate.
The planet warms up when the Sun's output is strong.
Professor Sloan's team investigated the link by looking for periods in time and for places on the Earth which had documented weak or strong cosmic ray arrivals, and seeing if that affected the cloudiness observed in those locations or at those times.
"For example; sometimes the Sun 'burps' - it throws out a huge burst of charged particles," he explained to BBC News.
"So we looked to see whether cloud cover increased after one of these bursts of rays from the Sun; we saw nothing."
Over the course of one of the Sun's natural 11-year cycles, there was a weak correlation between cosmic ray intensity and cloud cover - but cosmic ray variability could at the very most explain only a quarter of the changes in cloudiness.
And for the following cycle, no correlation was found.
Dr Svensmark himself was unimpressed by the findings.
"Terry Sloan has simply failed to understand how cosmic rays work on clouds," he told BBC News.
"He predicts much bigger effects than we would do, as between the equator and the poles, and after solar eruptions; then, because he doesn't see those big effects, he says our story is wrong, when in fact we have plenty of evidence to support it."
But another researcher who has worked on the issue, Giles Harrison from Reading University, said the work was important "as it provides an upper limit on the cosmic ray-cloud effect in global satellite cloud data".
Dr Harrison's own research, looking at the UK only, has also suggested that cosmic rays make only a very weak contribution to cloud formation.
The Svensmark hypothesis has also been attacked in recent months by Mike Lockwood from the UK's Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory.
He showed that over the last 20 years, solar activity has been slowly declining, which should have led to a drop in global temperatures if the theory was correct.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its vast assessment of climate science last year, concluded that since temperatures began rising rapidly in the 1970s, the contribution of humankind's greenhouse gas emissions has outweighed that of solar variability by a factor of about 13 to one.
According to Terry Sloan, the message coming from his research is simple.
"We tried to corroborate Svensmark's hypothesis, but we could not; as far as we can see, he has no reason to challenge the IPCC - the IPCC has got it right.
"So we had better carry on trying to cut carbon emissions."
Apr 03, 2008 03:00 ET
Vision Media Reviews New Books That Explore the Common Ground in the Long-Running Argument Between Evolutionist and Creationist
PASADENA, CA--(Marketwire - April 3, 2008) - As Florida's Academic Freedom Act concerning the teaching of creationist ideas in the science classroom and Ben Stein's new movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" underline, many people remain disquieted by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Since its introduction, several key elements of his theory have gone unexplained by science.
Has an explanation now been found? Vision Media author Dan Cloer reviews two recent books that bring new insights to Darwin's theory in "Everything Old is New Again." How natural selection creates complex body forms and structures from random genetic mutation remains controversial. The "idea that nature is a 'blind watchmaker' -- that undirected natural processes can, on their own, create complexity -- is both the core of modern evolutionary theory and at the heart of why the theory is so uncomfortable," Vision Media notes.
Can the creation of complexity be reconciled with mutation? Cloer discusses the common ground in this long-running argument between the evolutionist and the creationist.
In "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma," Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart propose "facilitated variation" as an answer to the evolution of complexity. Michael Behe counters with the idea of "irreducible complexity" in "The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism." Reviewed in the current issue of the quarterly Vision, these books speak to the question of how gene mutation may be directed toward creating the complexity of life we experience around us today.
According to Kirschner, Harvard Medical School, and Gerhart, Univ. of Calif. Berkeley, their theory of facilitated variation describes how random mutation may be funneled toward increasingly complex body forms. In "Plausibility" they state, "Ignorance about novelty is at the heart of skepticism about evolution, and resolving its origins is necessary to complete our understanding of Darwin's theory."
That skepticism is shared by Lehigh University's Micheal Behe. "Most mutations that built the great structures of life must have been nonrandom," Behe writes in "Edge." Behe popularized the idea of "irreducible complexity" in his 1996 book, "Darwin's Black Box."
For almost 150 years since the publication of "Origin of Species" in 1859, both the theist and the scientist have been debating the merits of natural selection. Mutation is the foundation of the theory of natural selection. Today we understand the genetic basis of mutation and its role in creating variation between individuals. But how does this random process achieve the complexity and apparent design of life and health we experience all around us?
"Have we any right to assume," Darwin asked, "that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?" The answer to this question remains as controversial as it was 150 years ago.
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By Brandon Keim 04.04.08 | 12:00 AM
Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, evolution has been widely accepted by scientists -- and, except for a few religious dogmatic types, the public -- as the blueprint for the engine of life.
But not every scientist thinks that evolution as it's now understood and applied is complete. They want to scale it up to the level of populations, even whole ecosystems. Moreover, they say evolution is intertwined with other dynamics that science is just starting to understand.
"The process of evolution is fundamental to the universe. Biology is the most obvious manifestation of it," said Carl Woese, a legendary microbiologist and one of the first proponents of this newly revised evolutionary framework.
Darwin described how changes in an organism are passed from generation to generation, dwindling or spreading through populations depending on their contribution to survival. Biologists later combined this with genetics, which had yet to be discovered in Darwin's time. The fusion -- called the modern evolutionary synthesis, or neo-Darwinian evolution -- describes evolution as we now know it: Genetic mutations produce changes that sometimes become part of a species' heritage and, when enough changes accumulate, produce new species.
But to Woese and others, change and selection need to be studied at other levels: A honeybee colony, for example, is as much an individual as a single bee. And when explaining how interacting units -- bees, or bacteria, or cells -- produce the qualities of the whole, change and selection alone might not suffice. What's needed is an understanding of the dynamics of complexity.
"There's nothing wrong with neo-Darwinian evolution in its own right," Woese said, "but it's not large enough to encompass what we know now."
Woese's specialty is bacteria, and he's not afraid of bold theories that turn conventional scientific wisdom on its head. In 1977, he and colleague George Fox rearranged the animal kingdom from five branches into three, two of which comprise microbes.
Microbes make up much of Earth's biomass, and they also cast into relief the shortcomings of neo-Darwinian evolution. A bucket of seawater can contain 60,000 bacterial species, and to Woese, these must be seen as a collective rather than as disparate units.
At the collective level, said Woese, bacteria exhibit patterns of organization and behavior that emerge suddenly, at tipping points of population variation and density called "saltations." Natural selection still favors -- or disfavors -- the ultimate outcome of these jumps, but the jumps themselves seem to defy explanation solely through genetic changes or individual properties.
Such jumps don't just call into question whether evolution is capable of producing sudden rather than gradual change. That debate raged during the later stages of the last century, but has been largely settled in favor of what paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould termed punctuated equilibrium. By contrast, Woese invokes yet-to-be-quantified rules of complexity and emergence. These, he said, may also explain other exceptional jumps, such as the transition from protein fragments to single cells and from single-celled organisms to multicellular ones.
But even bacterial communities resist framing in isolation. The human body, for example, contains nine bacterial cells for every cell of our own. There's no clear line separating our selves and our bacteria: We're walking ecosystems. The same blurriness exists when considering any collection of interacting organisms.
If these principles seem nebulous in a bacterial context -- microbes are, after all, invisible to the eye -- then the same principles can be discerned more clearly in the insect world, where some biologists now see certain species, especially honeybees and ants, as forming colonies that should be defined as self-interested organisms unto themselves.
In these so-called superorganisms, individual characteristics -- such as the chronologically varying reproductive stages of solitary female bees -- lay the foundations for highly complex organizations, such as honeybee hives in which different reproductive stages are assigned to separate worker castes.
According to Arizona State University evolutionary biologist Gro Amdam, until recently, scientists thought the division of labor had a genetic basis, but after scientists sequenced the honeybee genome, they couldn't find a trigger. Hyper-specialization seems to be an emergent property of the collective.
"That's a specific example of how a new pattern can be thrown into play," Amdam said. "You have an ordinary life cycle in an individual, but in a social context it's exploited by the colony."
The superorganism is still shaped by mutation and natural selection, but only recently have biologists, accustomed to thinking of evolution at the individual level, applied the superorganism concept to insects. It may very well have even broader applications.
"Man is the one who's undergoing this incredible evolution now," Woese said. "We see some in the insects, but the social processes by which man is evolving are creating a whole new level of organization."
But as with bacteria and people, how can a sharp distinction be drawn between a honeybee colony and the flowers that both nourish them and rely on them for pollination? And between the flowers and organisms that in turn rely upon them?
"Selection probably happens at all scales, from gene to individual to species to collection of species to ecosystem to we don't even know what," said Maya Paczuski, head of the Complexity Science Group at the University of Calgary.
Paczuski's group sees evolution as taking place at all these levels, with what happens in ecosystems rippling down to individuals, back up to populations, across to other populations, and so on -- all simultaneously, and in tandem with the mysterious dynamics of networked complexity.
But does it all happen mechanically? Or does evolution obey some larger imperative?
University of Nevada evolutionary biologist Guy Hoelzer calls that imperative biospheric self-organization. "The idea of evolution is embedded within self-organization," he said. "It coordinates the ecological roles of species so that ecosystems persist and process a great deal of energy."
Woese expanded the concept. "Evolution is a better version of the second law of thermodynamics, of time-zero, which implies that things are going to degenerate until even the atoms fall apart. But maybe that's not the way it's going to play out."
Such theories are still new and controversial. The scientific community at large may never accept them. But ideas do evolve, even Darwin's.
"I think Darwin would be happy as a lark to come back and see what's going on," said Peter Bowler, co-author of Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence. "He'd say, 'This is quite exciting!'"
Film highlights two Southern California scientists
by Lori Arnold
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Inquiring minds may want to know, but if America's college students want to explore options beyond Darwin's theory of evolution, they may be out of luck.
That's the premise of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a documentary that showcases examples of campus censorship of professors and students who are interested in learning an alternative explanation of life called Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design argues that life was not created as a random, purposeless, chance occurrence, but that all life has an apparent design that is the product of an intelligent designer. Hosted by author, economist, actor, presidential speechwriter, and comedian Ben Stein, the documentary—due in theaters nationwide April 18—examines specific cases of censorship across the country.
"There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can't possibly touch God," Stein said in the movie.
Among those featured in the documentary is Dr. Caroline Crocker, a full-time visiting faculty member at George Mason University. A cell biologist, Crocker said that three years ago she was teaching a course on the structure, function and evolution of cells when she included several slides about Intelligent Design, offering it as an alternative theory. Crocker said she was reprimanded by a supervisor, pulled from lecture duties and relegated to teaching labs for the remainder of the term. Her contract was not renewed the following semester.
"My purpose always in teaching was to make students think about what they are being taught, not just learn it and regurgitate it," she said in an interview. "Students are not allowed to question Darwinism. There are universities where they poll students on what they believe and single them out."
Crocker, who is working on a book about her experience, said she is contacted weekly by at least one student reporting repercussions from inquiring about Intelligent Design. One student, she said, was denied entrance into medical school while another was denied a doctorate degree.
"It's science; it's not a crime," she said.
In an effort to help students who want to pursue the science of Intelligent Design, Crocker recently accepted the post of executive director at the San Diego-based IDEA Center.
Founded in 2001, the center's name is an acronym for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness. The nonprofit organization emerged from an IDEA club established in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego, according to co-founder Casey Luskin.
"We are working on some strategies to protect students who dare to question Darwinism," Crocker said. "Our two main purposes are to educate students and to protect them. They need it."
Luskin said he became interested in Intelligent Design as a UCSD student by reading books and attending a campus debate on the issue. Otherwise, he said, the theory was not discussed in his classes.
"The purpose is to help students learn about the debate over ID and the investigating of it," he said. "They want to learn about these things but they can't because their teachers won't talk about it. They are generally only being taught one side of an issue most of the time. When it was brought up, it came from a negative perspective."
The main focus of the IDEA Center is help students to start clubs on both college and high school campuses. The club at UCSD would host pizza and movie nights and other extracurricular activities to explore ID.
"The goal, really, is to have a serious intellectual investigation without getting angry about it, or being able to be friends while we were arguing about it," said Luskin, a program officer with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, one of the nation's leading ID think tanks.
In all, 35 IDEA clubs have been started, including local chapters at Poway and Scripps Ranch High Schools, the IDEA Web site said. Besides UCSD, other California colleges with chapters include California State University, Sacramento, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.
Critics of Intelligent Design argue that the concept closely mirrors creation and, as such, has no place in science.
Luskin disagrees with the argument that ID is based solely on religion.
"Whether people were religious or not, everyone (in the IDEA Club) would agree that ID was a scientific argument based on science," Luskin said.
Supporters of Intelligent Design said Darwin's research no longer holds up in light of significant scientific developments in the 150 years since Darwin's thought emerged. The study of DNA cells, microbiology and the emergence of the human genome, supporters say, all point to complexities that make random selection unrealistic. Design is the only reasonable scientific explanation of the origins of life.
In addition to the scientific study and its process, Stein uses the documentary to explore why the stakes are so high when it comes to the debate on Darwin, showing how the theory not only undermines the Old Testament record of creation, but also aims to diminish modern-day Christianity.
In documentary clips provided before the film's release, Stein interviews noted atheists Drs. Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and Peter Atkins, all of whom support evolution. Each spokesman takes swipes at the spiritual realm.
Myers, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, compared religion to a hobby, saying it brings some people the type of comfort one can find in knitting.
"What we have to do is get it to a place where religion is treated at the level it should be treated," he told Stein in the on-screen interview. "That it's something fun that people get together to do on the weekends and really doesn't affect their life as much as it has been so far."
Devaluing religion, Myers said, would benefit society by providing "greater science literacy, which is going to lead to the erosion of religion and then we'll get more and more science to replace it, and that will displace more and more religion, which will allow more and more science in, and we'll eventually get to the point where religion has taken that appropriate place as a side dish rather than a main course.
"If you separate out the ethical message from religion, what have you got left? You've got a bunch of fairy tales."
Dr. Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford, was more direct in his 'Expelled' assessment.
"Religion, it's just fantasy, basically," he said. "It's particularly empty of any explanatory content and is evil as well."
Dr. Paul A. Nelson, a biology professor at Biola University in La Mirada, lauds the documentary, and not just because he's one of the Intelligent Design advocates interviewed by Stein.
"Long before there were any Christians by name, people were debating the issue of design," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Chicago. "It's a question that's as deep as humankind."
Nelson, a fellow with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said he believes the issue of academic freedom often collides with First Amendment issues, giving alternative science theories a distinct disadvantage.
"It creates this funny, tilted playing field," he said. "So we have this weird asymmetry in American high schools, especially, which is quite unnatural. All theories are equal, but not as equal as others."
The result, he believes, short-circuits inquiry and could ultimately be counterproductive to Darwin enthusiasts.
"They need to recognize that something has gone tremendously wrong," he said. "The open-ended inquiry of science has been distorted."
Despite the attempt to thwart Intelligent Design in higher education, Nelson said students "get a little inoculation" and learn just enough to become skeptical about evolution.
"The educational establishment has failed to persuade most Americans that they are right when it comes to evolution," Nelson said.
Nelson said he's hopeful the documentary will serve to keep the debate before the public and, by default, on school campuses.
"At the end of the day I am encouraged," he said. "Human curiosity is so powerful that it will win out. Intellectual freedom will win out the day. The message of 'Expelled' is that the Berlin wall did come down."
Published by Keener Communications Group, April 2008
By LIAM JULIAN
The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 28, 2008
The evolution debate in Florida grows tiresome, and not only because Ben Stein - he of unfailing monotone-is now involved, but because it keeps rehashing the same, tired points albeit in different ways.
Stein trotted to Tallahassee the other day to offer a preview of his forthcoming documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," which chronicles the supposed classroom suppression by "Big Science" of any theory that competes with evolution. Lawmakers were allowed to see the movie; the press and public were not.
Stein was also hanging around the capitol to promote the "Academic Freedom Act," sponsored by Republican Sen. Ronda Storms and Rep. Alan Hays. The bill would allow teachers the right "to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views" of evolution. Stein said at a news conference, "This bill is not about teaching intelligent design. It's about freedom of speech."
Casey Luskin - who works for the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design - echoed Stein's sentiments and said the bill would protect only teachers who choose to educate students about scientific objections to evolution. Luskin, however, believes that intelligent design is science.
There they go again. If this bill passes, of course, the tedious debate will revive: Is intelligent design science or isn't it?
Let's avoid this already exhausted topic, though, and examine other reasons why making the "Academic Freedom Act" a law is a lousy idea for Florida's students and schools.
To start, Stein's claim that the bill protects "freedom of speech" deserves close consideration.
Teachers are already free to say whatever they please to a roomful of 8-year-olds, just as I'm free to say whatever I please around my office. If I casually observe that my boss is a philistine afflicted by halitosis, or if a Florida history instructor mentions that his school's principal is a "lump of foul deformity," neither of us will wind up in a dark, damp jail-cell. We will both, however, almost surely be fired (although public-school teachers are protected by powerful unions, so perhaps the history instructor keeps his job).
What Stein really meant to say is that the bill insulates teachers from being held accountable for their speech. One wonders whether Florida's citizens really desire that public-school teachers have that type of protection, one to which few private-sector workers are entitled (and for good reason).
The "Academic Freedom Act" is an insult to principals, who will see their autonomy over school functions further diluted if the bill becomes law. Unlike most managers in the private sector, public-school principals are not allowed to exercise authority over their schools and their staffs. They cannot, for example, hire and fire employees - a basic management tool - without bearing sundry red-tape encumbrances.
This bill only adds more of that red tape. Principals would have no way to discipline teachers who are, say, presenting to students inaccurate scientific information ("who says it's inaccurate?") or deviating from the prescribed, state standards.
Principals are accountable to the government for the academic performance of their students, and yet the government is proposing another bill that will severely hamper the management flexibility of principals. This is accountability without autonomy, and it's a recipe for failure.
Here's another disturbing piece of the "Academic Freedom Act": Students may not be penalized in any way for subscribing "to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution." So when little Johnny receives an "F" for an essay in which he has proclaimed the earth was created in a week, little Johnny's teacher better watch out - the lawyers are coming.
In this particular case, Floridians should be especially wary. Academic-freedom bills, of all stripes, are generally terrible things. They proclaim to protect a persecuted class, but rarely is that verifiable.
The Storms and Hays proposal purports to shield public-school teachers who are vilified for questioning evolution's tenets. But a significant number of such teachers simply doesn't exist.
And what's more, public-school educators, especially the most incompetent ones, already receive from their unions more job protection than they need or deserve.
The "Academic Freedom Act" is thoroughly flawed and is deserving of deft dismissal.
Liam Julian is a Tampa Bay area native. He is associate writer and editor of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
By Katherine T. Phan Christian Post Reporter
Fri, Mar. 28 2008 06:06 PM ET
The Florida Senate's pre-K-through-12 education committee approved a bill Wednesday that protects teachers who include theories questioning evolution in their coverage of the much-debated topic.
Legislators voted 4-1 to advance the "Academic Freedom Act," or SB2692, which provides "public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views" on evolution.
Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) and state Rep. D. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) introduced the measure in response to new science standards adopted last month by the Florida Board of Education that, for the first time, required schools to use the term "evolution" instead of such terms "as changes over time" for the scientific theory. The new standards also mandate that evolution be taught in more detail.
"Evolution will still be taught as a matter of law. This bill does not undo the current standard," said Storms, a former teacher, according to The Tampa Tribune.
The legislation protects teachers and students from discrimination or penalty based on their position on Darwin's theory of evolution, according to the bill's text.
The measure also states that it does not "promote any religious position."
The 37 scientists and educators who helped develop draft science standards for the state board have objected to the "Academic Freedom" measure.
They contend the bill is "a subterfuge for injecting the religious beliefs held by some into the science classroom," the group said in a statement, according to the Sun Sentinel.
In arguments presented before the committee Wednesday, a representative of American Civil Liberties Union said the measure would open to door to teaching religious beliefs.
Proponents of the bill, however, maintain that the proposal would not permit teachings of alternative theories to evolution - specifically intelligent design or creationism – but apply to scientific theories critical of evolution.
According to Storms, a teacher might say: "Here's the theory of evolution and here are the flaws and here are the breaks. Here are the people with legitimate questions. Here's what the theories are," the Palm Beach Post reported.
The legislation has garnered the support of Florida Family Policy Council, the intelligent design think-tank Discovery Institute and actor Ben Stein, who hosts the upcoming documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," about scientists and educators who faced persecution and disciplining for questioning evolution.
"This bill is not about teaching intelligent design. It's about freedom of speech," Stein told reporters at a press conference earlier this month, before screening his film before Florida legislators in Tallahassee.
"It's interesting for me to note that the only folks who brought up religion today have been those in opposition," said Storms, according to The Tampa Tribune.
Sen. Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton), who voted against the measure Wednesday, brought up a point made in a staff analysis of the bill, which said that there have been no complaints of teachers or students who faced the discrimination described in the bill.
Storms said victims of such discrimination were afraid to come forward, the St. Petersburg Times reported.
The Senate version of the bill must now be approved by the Senate judiciary committee before it can be scheduled for the Senate floor.
The House bill, HB1483, hasn't been scheduled for a hearing.
BY MADELEINE BUNTING (Issues)
29 March 2008
Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All; Snake Oil Science; and next month sees another, Trick or Treatment: what these new books have in common is varying degrees of frustration at the seemingly inexorable rise of complementary medicine.
It seems the aim of some of these authors is to finish off a burgeoning health industry that they believe is based on charlatans and quacks preying on the gullible and desperate.
The books reflect the growing exasperation in some quarters that public opinion is not as amenable to persuasion and scientific evidence as they would hope. The language gets lurid; the mood music to pronouncements on complementary medicine is increasingly alarmist — we are living in dangerous times, an un-Enlightenment looms as tides of irrationality threaten to overwhelm the palisades erected by science. "Reason is a precious but fragile thing," declared Richard Dawkins in his series, The Enemies of Reason, last autumn. "Reason has liberated us from superstition and given us centuries of progress. We abandon it at our peril."
What so troubles these science warriors is that it is estimated a third of people in the UK now use complementary medicine, at a cost of GBP1.5bn a year. In the US, the figures are substantially higher; it has been calculated that more visits are made to healing therapists than to doctors. There is an extraordinary paradox here: a half-century of astonishing conventional medical advances has not succeeded in eliminating complementary medicine. Quite the reverse: the breakthroughs in conventional medicine have been accompanied by the proliferation of other forms of healing.
To the science warriors, this bizarre state of affairs can only be explained by irrationality. They bemoan the state of science education and lament how, contrary to expectation, literacy and access to information have failed to eradicate superstition. So it takes a brave scientist to launch into this territory and risk getting attacked from both camps by daring to ask a simple question: is there anything science can learn from complementary medicine? That is precisely what Kathy Sykes is doing in her current BBC television series, Alternative Therapies.
Sykes is too good a scientist to give complementary medicine an easy run. Tonight she examines reflexology, and gives it pretty short shrift. There are 30,000 reflexologists working on a million British feet a year. They base their work on a theory that parts of the sole of the foot correlate to organs in the body. The only problem is that Sykes could find no one, reflexologist or scientist, who could explain how these correlations might work. Furthermore, it turned out that this "ancient" healing system seems to have originated with an imaginative American woman in the 1930s. But patients swear by it.
One reflexologist points Sykes to her annual garden party full of babies and children as evidence of the success she has had with infertility problems. This is the point where most scientists snort with derision at the use of personal anecdote as evidence, but Sykes presses on and it takes her into two areas of scientific research. First, she digs up new research on the importance of touch, which can have a profound impact on the brain. Even the hand of a stranger reduces anxiety and that of someone with whom one has a close relationship is even more significant. In fact, Sykes finds some scientific underpinning which goes beyond placebo in many of the therapies she looks at. But it is placebo which emerges as a recurrent and crucially important thread in her quest.
This is one of the most common charges made against complementary medicine - that most of it is no better than placebo. But there is a way of turning that accusation around: perhaps complementary medicine is an effective way to harness placebo as one of the most powerful of healing processes. Rather than being derogatory about the phenomenon as "just" placebo, perhaps we should see it as one of the most remarkable and little understood aspects of the human body.
That line of inquiry has taken Sykes to the US several times over the course of the two series she has made. There placebo has become a new frontier in medicine. In a range of studies with startling results many factors contribute to placebo: the confidence of the doctor; the social, cultural expectations around the procedure; the empathy and warmth of the patient-doctor relationship; the patient's degree of faith. Get all these right, and the outcome can be remarkable. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk is publishing a study this week which shows that placebo is as good as any conventional treatment available for irritable bowel syndrome.
This kind of research into placebo gives some insight into why complementary medicine has boomed and why there are so many people who cite their own experience to passionately defend it.
Complementary medicine is most popular where conventional medicine fails, such as with musculoskeletal conditions and mental health - stress, depression, anxiety. Several complementary therapies are particularly effective at pain relief -- you had to see Sykes's footage of hypnotism helping a woman to have teeth extracted without anaesthetic to believe it.
Conventional medicine prolongs life but is less successful in prolonging good health -- we can expect to spend more years of our life in poor health, as a government report showed last week — and in producing wellbeing. So people are voting with their feet, trying to find other ways to fill the gaps left by conventional medicine. We need scientists to help to identify what they are looking for and why, rather than pouring scorn indiscriminately on and on the relations between belief, mind and body, of which science still has such a fragmentary understanding.
© Guardian News Service
29 Mar 2008
NEW YORK: Scientists claim to have uncovered evidence that the evolution of animal life on Earth was delayed by almost two billion years.
According to them, the delay was due to a deficiency of oxygen and the heavy metal molybdenum, a key micronutrient for life that serves as a proxy for oceanic and atmospheric oxygen.
"Following the initial rise of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere 2.4 billion years ago, oxygen was transferred to the surface ocean to support oxygen-demanding microorganims, they said. "Yet the diversity of these single-celled life forms remained low, and their multicellular ancestors, the animals, did not appear until about 600 million years ago," said the study's lead author Prof Timothy Lyons of California University.
The researchers reached the conclusion by tracking molybdenum in black shales, which are a kind of sedimentary rock rich in organic matter and usually found in the deep ocean.
When they estimated how much of the metal had been dissolved in the seawater in which the sediments formed, the researchers found significant, firsthand evidence for a molybdenum-depleted ocean relative to the high levels measured in modern, oxygen-rich seawater.
Molybdenum is of particular interest as it is used by some bacteria to convert the element nitrogen from a gas in the atmosphere to a form useful for living things.