Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
By OLIVIA JUDSON
Published: August 12, 2008
When the dog days of summer come to an end, one thing we can be sure of is that the school year that follows will see more fights over the teaching of evolution and whether intelligent design, or even Biblical accounts of creation, have a place in America's science classrooms.
In these arguments, evolution is treated as an abstract subject that deals with the age of the earth or how fish first flopped onto land. It's discussed as though it were an optional, quaint and largely irrelevant part of biology. And a common consequence of the arguments is that evolution gets dropped from the curriculum entirely.
This is a travesty.
It is also dangerous.
Evolution should be taught — indeed, it should be central to beginning biology classes — for at least three reasons.
First, it provides a powerful framework for investigating the world we live in. Without evolution, biology is merely a collection of disconnected facts, a set of descriptions. The astonishing variety of nature, from the tree shrew that guzzles vast quantities of alcohol every night to the lichens that grow in the Antarctic wastes, cannot be probed and understood. Add evolution — and it becomes possible to make inferences and predictions and (sometimes) to do experiments to test those predictions. All of a sudden patterns emerge everywhere, and apparently trivial details become interesting.
The second reason for teaching evolution is that the subject is immediately relevant here and now. The impact we are having on the planet is causing other organisms to evolve — and fast. And I'm not talking just about the obvious examples: widespread resistance to pesticides among insects; the evolution of drug resistance in the agents of disease, from malaria to tuberculosis; the possibility that, say, the virus that causes bird flu will evolve into a form that spreads easily from person to person. The impact we are having is much broader.
For instance, we are causing animals to evolve just by hunting them. The North Atlantic cod fishery has caused the evolution of cod that mature smaller and younger than they did 40 years ago. Fishing for grayling in Norwegian lakes has caused a similar pattern in these fish. Human trophy hunting for bighorn rams has caused the population to evolve into one of smaller-horn rams. (All of which, incidentally, is in line with evolutionary predictions.)
Conversely, hunting animals to extinction may cause evolution in their former prey species. Experiments on guppies have shown that, without predators, these fish evolve more brightly colored scales, mature later, bunch together in shoals less and lose their ability to suddenly swim away from something. Such changes can happen in fewer than five generations. If you then reintroduce some predators, the population typically goes extinct.
Thus, a failure to consider the evolution of other species may result in a failure of our efforts to preserve them. And, perhaps, to preserve ourselves from diseases, pests and food shortages. In short, evolution is far from being a remote and abstract subject. A failure to teach it may leave us unprepared for the challenges ahead.
The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, "The Republican War on Science," the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration's policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.
Moreover, since the science classroom is where a contempt for evidence is often first encountered, it is also arguably where it first begins to be cultivated. A society where ideology is a substitute for evidence can go badly awry. (This is not to suggest that science is never distorted by the ideological left; it sometimes is, and the results are no better.)
But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It's that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don't have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.
Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore. To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.
Olivia Judson, a contributing columnist for The Times, writes The Wild Side at nytimes.com/opinion.
for National Geographic News
August 12, 2008
Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans likely did not interbreed, according to a new DNA study.
The research further suggests that small population numbers helped do in our closest relatives.
Researchers sequenced the complete mitochondrial genome—genetic information passed down from mothers—of a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal thighbone found in a cave in Croatia. (Get the basics on genetics.)
The new sequence contains 16,565 DNA bases, or "letters," representing 13 genes, making it the longest stretch of Neanderthal DNA ever examined.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is easier to isolate from ancient bones than conventional or "nuclear" DNA—which is contained in cell nuclei—because there are many mitochondria per cell.
"Also, the mtDNA genome is much smaller than the nuclear genome," said study author Richard Green of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany.
"That's what let us finish this genome well before we finish the nuclear genome," he said.
The new findings are detailed in the August 8 issue of the journal Cell.
A Small Population
The new analysis suggests the last common ancestor of modern humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals lived between 800,000 and 520,000 years ago. This is consistent with previous work on shorter stretches of Neanderthal DNA.
Contrasted with modern humans, Neanderthals exhibited a greater number of letter substitutions due to mutations in their mitochondrial DNA, although they seem to have undergone fewer evolutionary changes overall.
The fact that so many mutations—some of which may have been harmful—persisted in the Neanderthal genome could indicate the species suffered from a limited gene pool. This might be because the Neanderthal population was smaller than that of Homo sapiens living in Europe at the time.
A small population size can "diminish the power of natural selection to remove slightly deleterious evolutionary changes," Green said.
The researchers estimate the Neanderthal population living in Europe 38,000 years ago never reached more than 10,000 at any one time.
Homo neanderthalis first appeared in Europe about 300,000 years ago but mysteriously vanished about 35,000 years ago, shortly after the arrival of modern humans—Homo sapiens—in Europe.
"If there were only a few, small bands of Neanderthals, barely hanging on, then any change to their way of life could have been enough to drive them to extinction," Green said.
"One obvious change would have been the introduction of another large hominid—modern humans."
Stephen Schuster, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University, said the new study should silence a lot of theories about interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans.
The study shows that "at least for the maternal lineage, there are no traceable genetic markers that suggest admixture of Neanderthals and modern humans," he said.
Schuster added that the researchers were exceptionally careful to isolate the Neanderthal DNA.
"Many more precautions were taken to ensure that no contamination with human DNA has flawed the analysis," he said, noting that researchers sequenced each letter about 35 times to be sure of their work.
"This was the weak point of previous reports," said Schuster, who was not involved with the study.
Thomas Gilbert, an ancient DNA expert at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who also was not involved in the study, called the research a "step forward" and a taste of what might come when the Neanderthal nuclear DNA is finished.
The team's argument that the Neanderthal population was small 38,000 years ago is speculative, Green said, but "it's better than what we could have said before."
By Deb DeMella
Thu Aug 14, 2008, 12:02 PM EDT
Arlington, Mass. - What is CAM?
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.
Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists and registered nurses. Some health care providers practice both CAM and conventional medicine.
While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies — questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.
The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually, as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge.
Are complementary medicine and alternative medicine different from each other?
Yes, they are different. Complementary and Alternative Medicine is founded on the principle that health is not just related to our physical symptoms. Our state of health is related to our emotional, mental and spiritual states as well as physical states. Complementary medicine operates under the premise that if you can increase well being in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states that individual will have a better outcome than if just physical symptoms are treated.
Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery or using deep breathing and relaxation exercises to lessen anxiety before the surgery. These activities are not used instead of traditional healthcare, but in addition. They complement medical treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor.
What is integrative medicine?
Integrative medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. It is also called integrated medicine.
At the Center for Cancer Support & Education we embrace this integrative medical model. Therefore, facilitators at the center provide a variety of healing modalities, to complement traditional healthcare and cancer interventions.
Energy healing is one of the integrative modalities we offer at the center. Energy healing is a popular modality for cancer patients for several reasons:
· Promotes relaxation and stress reduction
· Triggers body's natural healing ability
· Healing for body, mind and spirit
· Helps relieve pain
· Promotes better sleep
· Creates sense of calm/meditative states
· Reduces blood pressure
· Helps promote detoxification
At the center, we offer several types of energy healing in a variety of settings. Reiki sessions are offered privately, in a group workshop/training situation as well as integrated into expressive arts sessions. Polarity balancing therapy is another energy healing modality offered. Polarity balancing therapy is less well known, however it is extremely powerful and can yield incredible results.
What is Polarity Balancing Therapy?
According to the American Polarity Therapy Association, polarity therapy is a comprehensive health system involving energy-based bodywork, diet, exercise and self-awareness. It works with the human energy field, electromagnetic patterns expressed in mental, emotional and physical experience. In polarity therapy, health is viewed as a reflection of the condition of the energy field and therapeutic methods are designed to balance the field for health benefit. Polarity therapy was developed by Randolph Stone, DO, DC, ND (1890-1981), who conducted a thorough investigation of energy in the healing arts over the course of his 60-year medical career. Drawing information from a wide range of sources he found that touch, diet, movement, sound, attitudes, relationships, life experience, trauma and environmental factors affect the human energy field. Since Polarity therapy lends an energy-based perspective to all these subjects, the scope of polarity practice is often very broad, with implications for health professionals in many therapeutic disciplines. As a result, polarity has strong, mutually supportive connections to many other holistic health systems.
Basic characteristics of the human energy field are described in many sources, both ancient and modern. For example, the term "polarity" refers to the universal pulsation of expansion/contraction or repulsion/attraction known as yang and yin in Asiantherapies. Similarly, polarity integrates the "three Principles and Five Chakras of Ayurvedic tradition," and has been called the modern manifestation of ancient hermetic philosophy. At the same time polarity therapy also enjoys rich ties to modern science, which has confirmed its essential theme of energetic relationship as the basis of all phenomena.
Dr. Randolph Stone wanted to offer more support to his patients. By exploring many different healing practices from throughout the world he brought together many aspects of life-promoting modalities. Stone subjected these modalities to the rigors of western analysis and testing. He found them to be valid and have merit. Many of the modalities had a philosophy that was congruent with the basic premise of integrative and complementary medicine: health and wellness come from a combination of our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical states of health. Each human being comprises a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual component. Everything that happens to a person on any of these levels affects every other aspect; each "person" is an inter-related web of systems.
Polarity therapy has the ability to find blockages and release this energy to normal flow patterns. By becoming more fully alive, one thing that happens is that the immune system can improve function; the body begins to recognize messages that promote life and respond accordingly. So, the polarity practitioner begins each session by taking a client history intake and evaluation through interview and observation.
So, how can it help with cancer or a brain tumor?
Polarity balancing therapy supports the brain as well as all other organs of the body because it focuses energy on achieving the highest level of wellness.
Wellness and healing do not mean cure…How do you feel? How do you know you can't feel better? This means whatever is happening in your body, mind, spirit and life it can be a support that helps you live your highest potential.
Private polarity balancing therapy sessions are offered through the Wellness Program at the Center for Cancer Support & Education. Sessions are appropriate for anyone dealing with the pressures of chronic medical conditions, caregiving or for people simply seeking higher levels of wellness and greater quality of life. Sessions help individuals feel better through hands on healing which can provide relief and support related to cancer, its treatment, caregiving, and grief.
Polarity balancing therapy/light acupressure/RYSE private therapy sessions: $70 an hour for cancer patients, caregivers and health care professionals. $85 per hour for general public. Six-session discount available. As with any conventional therapy, take responsibility for your healthcare and investigate professionals and practitioners.
For more information see: APTA (American Polarity Therapy Association) www.polaritytherapy.org and NIH (National Institute of Health)
The University of California system prevailed in a lawsuit in which the quality of creationist science textbooks was at issue. And the Clergy Letter Project is now recruiting rabbis who acknowledge the scientific importance of evolution.
VICTORY IN CALIFORNIA CREATIONISM CASE
The defendants in Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. have prevailed. The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centered on the University of California system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs -- the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school -- charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college; they objected to the university system's policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community."
On March 28, 2008, Judge S. James Otero ruled in favor of the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, which established only the constitutionality of the university system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. Still unaddressed, however, was the "as applied" issue -- that is, the question of whether those policies and statements were properly and fairly applied to the specific decisions cited in the lawsuit. The defendants subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' "as applied" claims. That motion was granted in Judge Otero's August 8, 2008 ruling, which ended, "Because Plaintiffs fail to raise any genuine issue of material fact to support their as-applied claims, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED" (emphasis in original).
In addition to a host of procedural considerations, the latest ruling addressed the university system's decision to deny approval for a biology course submitted by Calvary Baptist School (not to be confused with the Calvary Chapel Christian School), which used the A Beka text Biology: God's Living Creation. The book was evaluated by Barbara Sawrey, who described it as taking an "overall un-scientific approach to the subject matter"; her opinion was echoed by the defendants' expert witnesses Donald Kennedy and Francisco J. Ayala (a Supporter of NCSE), who stated that neither the A Beka text nor Bob Jones University Press's Biology for Christian Schools is appropriate for use as the principal text in a college preparatory biology course. Kennedy wrote, "the problem is not ... that the creationist view is taught as an alternative to scientific explanations, but that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately."
Michael Behe, a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism, served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, but his defense of the textbooks was unavailing. In his ruling, Judge Otero wrote, "Plaintiffs offer little admissible evidence to the contrary. Plaintiffs' Biology expert, Dr. Michael Behe, submitted a declaration concluding that the BJU text mentions standard scientific content. ... However, Professor Behe 'did not consider how much detail or depth' the texts gave to this standard content. ... Therefore, Professor Behe fails to refute one of Professor Kennedy's primary concerns that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately. Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to this issue. Defendants had a rational basis for rejecting Calvary Baptist's proposed Biology course."
The University of California's provost Wyatt R. Hume expressed pleasure with the ruling in a press release, saying, "The University welcomes students of all religious faiths and recognizes that a diversity of educational backgrounds among our students, including religious education, enriches the UC community and the academic experience. As we have said all along, the question the University addresses in reviewing courses is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide adequate instruction in the subject matter." Charles Robinson, the university system's general counsel, added, "Judge Otero's decision confirms that UC may apply the same admissions standards to all students and to all high schools without regard to their religious affiliations." The case is not over yet, however: the plaintiffs have appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
For the ruling (PDF), visit:
For the University of California's press release (PDF), visit:
THE CLERGY LETTER PROJECT SEEKS RABBIS
As part of its efforts to encourage and support members of the clergy who acknowledge the scientific importance of evolution, the Clergy Letter Project is now asking rabbis to sign its open letter concerning religion and science. The letter begins, "As rabbis from various branches of Judaism, we the undersigned, urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution," and observes, "It is possible to be inspired by the religious teachings of the Bible while not taking a literalist approach and while accepting the validity of science including the foundational concept of evolution. It is not the role of public schools to indoctrinate students with specific religious beliefs but rather to educate them in the established principles of science and in other subjects of general knowledge." Over one hundred rabbis have endorsed the letter so far.
The brainchild of Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, the Clergy Letter Project was founded in 2004; its activities include a similar letter for Christian clergy, currently endorsed by over 11,000 members of the clergy across the country and around the world; a pool of scientists willing to work with clergy on promoting scientific literacy; a collection of sermons, articles, readings, and websites relevant to the Clergy Letter Project's goals; and Evolution Weekend (formerly Evolution Sunday), in which religious leaders are encouraged to discuss the compatibility of faith and science in their sermons, Sabbath or Sunday schools, and discussion groups, on or about Darwin's birthday, February 12. Over 300 congregations are already planning to celebrate Evolution Weekend in 2009, the Darwin bicentennial year.
For the open letters from rabbis, visit:
For the other activities of the Clergy Letter Project, 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!
James Allan | August 16, 2008
HOW many readers have gone to dinner parties and listened to otherwise intelligent people assert that alternative medicine can be just as effective as mainstream, scientific medicine? Generally, the argument is that alternative medicine, in all its many forms, is just another complementary and legitimate form of healing.
So homeopathy, acupuncture, echinacea - even aromatherapy, magnetic resonance zones or anything with the word holistic in front of it - gets elevated to the same plane as chemotherapy, antibiotics or vaccines for mumps or measles. And this goes hand in hand with rather disdainful comments about sceptics of such alternative treatments not being open-minded and not being tolerant of competing world views.
So those who think alternative medicine is bogus are close-minded and intolerant. Well, that may be why I think it's bogus, but why should you?
What is one to make of this sort of embrace of a tolerance that says all beliefs are equally valid and worthy, which implies that sincerity of feeling is what really counts?
I suppose the more mischievous among us would begin by noting that this sort of tolerance is often more selective than many of its proponents pretend. Strong beliefs in favour of the efficacy of homeopathy or iridology or the latest natural herb are frequently propounded by those in the chattering middle classes, many of whom would look aghast at anyone who held firm religious convictions. As far as the latter is concerned, a thorough-going scepticism grounded in a scientific world view is the order of day. That and a fair bit of tut-tutting about how dull-witted you'd have to be to actually believe that stuff.
But mention echinacea or homeopathy, or even astrology or more bizarre notions such as recovered memory syndrome, and the mantra for these same chardonnay-sipping people becomes the rather fashionable one that there are other, deeper truths out there that empiricism and a scientific world view cannot show us.
A more fundamental response to the embrace of irrationality starts with a few facts. In reply to the Monty Pythonesque question, "What has testing and appeals to hard evidence and the scientific world view ever done for us?", the answer would go on and on and on. Our televisions, microwaves, CD players and cars are its products. So are our jet trips overseas. As are the world's vastly more productive farming practices that manage to feed more than six billion people. Yes, even nuclear weapons are its progeny.
But then pacemakers, antibiotics, various public health measures, inoculations, modern surgery techniques and more have nearly doubled average life expectancy in the past century. The scientific world view has made life better for humans as a whole than at any other time in our comparatively short history.
Nor is it true that this scientific world view - the one that has delivered untold benefits to mankind - is compatible with or complementary to the mystical, anti-evidence world view underlying the embrace of such notions as homeopathy. (And did you know that homeopathy rests on diluting substances to a ratio of about one atom per universe and on metaphors such as that the almost pure water you take remembers the now gone substance?)
It seems almost churlish at these dinner parties to point out that alternative treatments rely on the placebo effect - that most people for most illnesses simply get better on their own (whether they take nothing, a sugar pill or unbelievably diluted water) - and on the deep-seated desire many have to want to believe something is working. And it seems churlish to ask why it is that these new age complementary medicines cannot produce results under double-blind drug trial conditions.
Here's a simple fact. When it comes to the empirical, causal world in which we live, not all beliefs (no matter how sincerely and passionately held) are equally valid. Science starts from the commonsense premise that there is an "out there" beyond our senses, one that imposes outcomes and answers on humans, however we may have been socialised. The world is not simply what we wish or think it to be.
Any trendy postmodernist who may pretend that basics such as gravity, say, are social constructs is easily dealt with. Give him the Jeremy Bentham test. Take him up any tall building and ask him to jump. He won't. He believes in a real, external world like the rest of us (outside the odd university English department, at any rate).
So you see, however many times some people may mistakenly repeat it, it is simply not true that you are more open-minded if you embrace alternative views that implicitly require you also to reject the discovered laws of physics and to put away the demand for hard, cold, testable evidence. More gullible? Yes. More open-minded? Not a chance.
Uttering terms such as complementary or competing world views is no substitute for evidence and empirical testing. Likewise, reading a product described as natural should not automatically send shivers of desire down your spine; such a description tells you nothing about whether it is good or bad. Hemlock is natural and it kills people. Fluoridation, hip replacements and braces are all highly unnatural and very good indeed.
No one likes to be rude at a fun dinner party or to risk social isolation by calling someone an idiot. But next time you find yourself seated beside a smart, well-paid enthusiast for the benefits of alternative medicine, you may just gently point out to him that if he gets cancer, he'd be better off opting for chemotherapy than for some equally valid, equally legitimate, non-traditional, world-view treatment.
James Allan is Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland.
Lawsuit Alleges Discrimination, Religious Students Treated as 'Second-Class Citizens'
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Aug. 15, 2008 —
Olivia Del Gavio-Kusich loved her religious classes at California's St. Francis High School, even though they didn't necessarily help her get into college.
When it came time to apply, just two of the Catholic school's eight required courses qualified for college credit in the prestigious University of California state college system.
And while she's OK with that, a coalition of private Christian schools is not and alleges in a lawsuit that UC's crediting policy is a form of religious discrimination.
Del Gavio-Kusich, a bright, college-bound 18-year-old from Belmont, Calif., says most of her core academic classes were rigorous. But other required classes, like Christian Vocations and another that detailed the Catholic church's position on sex education, were "mostly easy" and had "lots of opinion," she said.
"Some of them were a joke, and the textbooks were poorly written," she said.
The UC system -- which includes more than 220,000 students on 10 publicly funded campuses, considered some of the most competitive in the nation -- has historically agreed with Del Gavio-Kusich that many religious courses, especially those that declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution, do not meet academic muster.
"My religious courses never required much research and are taught by teachers who have their own beliefs," said Del Gavio-Kusich. "You get a religious point of view."
But a group of private Christian high schools and students is challenging UC, saying in a lawsuit that it practices religious discrimination by not accrediting many God-centric courses. They argue that secularism is also a belief and that religious students are judged unfairly.
"We have clear evidence of bias in the UC state system," said Robert Tyler, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts and spreading the Christian word that "society is increasingly devoid of the message and influence of God."
"These students are treated like second-class citizens for their beliefs," he told ABCNews.com.
A Dismissal, Then an Appeal
The lawsuit -- Association of Christian Schools International vs. Stearns -- was originally filed in 2005 and challenges the university system's approval process for college preparatory courses, known as a-g requirements.
But last week, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles dismissed the suit, ruling that UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting four texts at the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, Calif., not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and did not encourage "critical thinking skills."
In a previous ruling in March, Otero found no anti-religious bias in the state university system.
"We are very pleased with Judge Otero's decision," said Wyatt R. Hume, UC provost and executive vice president for academic and health affairs, in a prepared release after the dismissal was announced. "The University welcomes students of all religious faiths and recognizes that a diversity of educational backgrounds among our students, including religious education, enriches the UC community and the academic experience."
Soon after the dismissal was announced, the association of 700 mostly Protestant religious schools appealed Otero's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Rejecting Religious Courses Is 'Trend'
UC maintains it evaluates courses based on their academic merits, regardless of a high school's religious affiliation. Their legal experts say there is "essentially no difference" between the course approval rate for religious and secular schools.
But Faith and Freedom's Tyler disagrees. "Professors have been essentially expelled from universities -- blackballed -- because they might teach or believe in intelligent design or do not buy into everything about evolution," he told ABCNews.com. "That's what the UC school system has done."
An intensifying scrutiny of religious curricula is a "trend," according to Tyler. "This is going on across state and across religious lines," he said. "We are fighting this because it's about the future of private, religious education."
He also argues that three of the four rejected courses at Calvary Chapel fall into opinion-laden disciplines, like history, government and English literature. He said paperwork he received from UC said those courses were rejected because they were not "consistent with empirical historical knowledge accepted by the collegiate community."
"That doesn't make any sense," said Tyler. "The word 'empirical' is a scientific term of testing to determine the science. Well, you can't test history to see what was after it happened. What they are doing is throwing out the standard language, saying we don't like or agree with what you are teaching."
According to Tyler, the UC board also determined that the content in the course Christianity and the American Republic was "not consistent with [the UC's] viewpoint and knowledge generally accepted."
"They articulate the fact that they don't like our viewpoint," Tyler said.
Tyler said UC determined another English course titled Christianity and Morality in American Literature "does not offer a nonbiased approach to the subject matter."
"They are telling Christian schools they have to teach with an unbiased perspective," he said. He cited comparable college English courses that offer bias in feminism and multicultural topics.
A UC spokesman did not address Tyler's claims about specific courses, but argued the university system is not telling Christian schools what to teach but rather setting universal admissions standards that apply to all schools -- both religious and public.
According to Christopher Patti, legal counsel for the UC system, 43 of Calvary Chapel's college prep courses were approved by UC, a rate comparable to the course lists submitted by other schools.
"UC welcomes students from a wide range of academic settings," according to a statement from the UC. "In fact, UC accepts courses from hundreds of schools affiliated with many religious faiths."
No-Go for 'Bible as Unending Source'
According to a Web site set up by the university system, UC rejected the Calvary Chapel course titled Christianity's Influence on America because it used a text that "instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events" and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations."
The school's literature course, however, was rejected because the use of an anthology as the only common assigned reading was in direct conflict with UC's policy that students read at least some assigned works in their entirety as part of the classroom instruction, according to the UC Web site.
Still, Tyler cites instances of "discrimination" in 150 other institutions, including Jewish and Catholic schools. He said most private school students were better prepared for the UC system than public school students -- "averaging two grade levels advanced."
"They are not accepting the religious kids, only the secular ones," he said. "They end up saying, 'You only believe that God influenced history and intelligent design, as opposed to evolution. We do not accept you."
Thomas Buckley, professor of Modern Christian History at the University of California, Berkeley's Jesuit School of Theology, told ABCNews.com that the UC standards have been a "long-running concern," especially among fundamentalist Christian schools.
"There are people who are so quick to blow the whistle and call discrimination," he said.
"Any university has a right to set its criteria for admission," said Buckley, an expert in church-state issues. "When I was in high school -- San Jose Jesuit School -- I don't think my religious course counted toward college credit, and I don't think it should have."
"If [students] have taken some religious courses, that's lovely, but it shouldn't count as the criteria for admission," he said. "Would you want religion to take the place of English?"
Buckley argued that high school religious courses were "difficult to evaluate" and UC had a right to reject students who do not have "the same fundamental set of preparatory work achieved."
"Not getting credit for religious courses [is] a longstanding practice in higher education and it makes sense," he said. "You want all entering students to have a level playing field and to be treated equally."
Del Gavio-Kusich said she doesn't feel discriminated against, even though she took a full load of extra religious courses that didn't count on her college transcript.
She will happily enter California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo in the fall to study business.
Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures
Posted August 16th, 2008 at 8:30 am
Guest Post by Morbo
Creationists are like the Energizer Bunny: they just keep going and going. You beat them in court, and they come right back with something else. Anyone who cares about good science education in America must face the fact that cranks who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs walked alongside humans will never be truly defeated. They have to be watched constantly because they are always up to something.
Creationists often try to sneak into public education through the back door. Here's a case in point: California's system of state-funded colleges tries to be open to as many young people as possible. But there are certain academic standards hopeful students must meet to gain admission. One of these is that they were not taught utter nonsense in high school.
A bunch of creationist kids who were taught utter nonsense in Christian fundamentalist private schools decided that they wanted to attend these colleges anyway. School officials looked at their transcripts, saw that they were taught creationism and noted that this type of instruction fails to meet the standard as legitimate college prep courses.
So some of the kids sued. They were joined in the lawsuit by two fundamentalist Christian academies and the Association of Christian Schools International. Recently, a federal judge rejected the legal gambit.
U.S. District Judge James Otero said the University of California (UC) has the right to reject certain textbooks and classes if they omit important information in science and history and fail to teach critical thinking.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Otero
"upheld the university's rejection of a history course called Christianity's Influence on America. According to a UC professor on the course review committee, the primary text, published by Bob Jones University, 'instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events' and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations. Another rejected text, 'Biology for Christian Schools,' declares on the first page that 'if (scientific) conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong…'"
I have some sympathy for the youngsters involved.
After all, not all of them were sent to fundamentalist academies voluntarily. But young people who have been taught this junk are not shut out of the system entirely. They can still attend UC schools if they score well on Scholastic Assessment Tests. I'd cut them even more slack: I'd let them attend UC schools provided they agree to take remedial classes in areas where they are deficient. Any fundamentalist who can pass "Fundamentals of Biology" is welcome to advance to the next level.
In the end, this case wasn't so much about students' rights as it was gaining a foothold for creationism in higher education. Had the creationists won, you can bet national anti-evolution groups would be trumpeting it: "There must be something to creationism! After all, our classes are accepted by the University of California."
Thankfully, the court slammed the door on that. I can only wonder what the creationists will come up with next. I'm sure they'll surprise me. After all, their strategy is always evolving.
[Ed: This post was written by a legal intern at Discovery Institute who has chosen to post it anonymously.]
Immediately following the publication of "Teaching the Origins Controversy: Science, or Religion, or Speech?" in 2000 in Utah Law Review, multiple law review articles appeared opposing the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design (ID). It seems that the law review article by Professors DeWolf and DeForrest and Meyer hit a nerve that incited various law students to ardently defend the evolutionary theory they were uncritically taught in high school.
Once such student was Eric Shih, who published an article in the Michigan State Law Review in 2007 entitled, "Teaching Against the Controversy: Intelligent Design, Evolution, and the Public School Solution to the Origins Debate." Mr. Shih argues that "recent demands to 'teach the controversy' of intelligent design are nothing more than variations on the balanced tactics ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Edwards." In other words, ID is nothing more than a mask for creationism.
Mr. Shih's attacks are misplaced and confused. First, in real-world public policy debates, proposals proposals to "teach the controversy" have explicitly opposed requirements to teach intelligent design. As Stephen C. Meyer explained in a 2002 op-ed titled "Teach the Controversy" in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin, and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum.
I also proposed a compromise involving three main provisions:
1) First, I suggested--speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design--that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet.
(2) Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view.
(3) Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design.
(Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, "Teach the Controversy," Cincinnati Enquirer (March 30, 2002).)
Second, Mr. Shih forgets the fact that the sort of "teach the controversy" approach suggested by Dr. Meyer--to allow students to critique evolution--was implicitly supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Edwards ruling which held that, "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. … teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 593-594 (1987).
It is only by shoe-horning ID into the category of "creationism" that Mr. Shih makes his argument. The article asserts that public schools could never teach ID as an alternative to evolution because that would simultaneously advance an "inherently religious belief system" and inhibit "a secular government activity for religious reasons" (FN 205). Thus he argues that science teachers are "under an ethical duty to present accurate information to their students and are relied upon to maintain accepted scientific standards" (FN 219). The article goes on to contend that "design theory poses a unique threat to the education system in that it relies almost exclusively on attacks on a secular school subject in order to advance particular religious views" (FN 221).
Again, Mr. Shih's arguments are misplaced. Design theory is not based upon religious views. Those who have fairly researched the theory will realize that it is actually a secular view that can be taught as a secular school subject alongside evolution without violating the Establishment Clause.
Yet despite the article's diametrical opposition to intelligent design, it does find a place for it in the science classroom — but only where it is presented negatively:
[Once] students learn the basic tenets of the scientific method, teachers could directly address Intelligent Design theory during discussion about the naturalistic limitations of science…for example, students could be told that theories such as Intelligent Design are not scientific because every single study conducted by a design theorist relies upon an empirically unobservable and un-testable entity to explain what is being observed. (FN 234)
Under Mr. Shih's vision of education, students will learn why the scientific method cannot be used to empirically determine the existence of an intelligent being and why any claim contrary to this teaching is false. Is this a fair solution? Mr. Shih's hypocrisy should now be exposed: on the one hand he argues that ID should not be taught because it is an "inherently religious belief system," but then he argues that the taxpayer funded schools should attack that viewpoint. The government is supposed to remain "neutral" about religion (see Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968).), but perhaps in Mr. Shih's view, there's no problem with attacking what he calls "religion."
The genius of Mr. Shih's plan is that it creates rules that destroy the possibility of students considering any alternate theory before a fair presentation of the facts has been rendered. Why not present ID as a theory held by a minority of the scientific community that is in the beginning stages of development, and let students decide for themselves whether evolution or ID makes more sense? The last time I checked, science is not about clinging to one view and ending the investigation.
Additionally, Mr. Shih has not made a convincing case that intelligent design contradicts the scientific method. As Discovery Institute's Intelligent Design Briefing Packet for Educators states:
The scientific method is commonly described as a four step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.
It seems that Mr. Shih is creating rules to effect the result he desires, ignoring that intelligent design is a theory that makes its claims using the scientific method.
Posted by Staff on August 15, 2008 12:04 PM | Permalink
[Ed: This post was written by a legal intern at Discovery Institute who has chosen to post anonymously.]
In 2006, Martha M. McCarthy wrote an article ("Instruction About the Origin of Humanity: Legal Controversies Evolve") arguing that "concerns have been raised…that if the 'controversy' is taught and ID is actually subjected to scientific criticism, this may 'be more confrontational to students' beliefs than most high school teachers feel is appropriate.'" (FN 68) This misguided statement assumes four things. First, it assumes that students have a set of beliefs on the origin of humanity before they take biology. The second assumption is that high school teachers are the final authority on what is taught in public school science classrooms. The third is that high school students should not be exposed to confrontational ideas; her statement is boldly authoritarian. Finally, she assumes that intelligent design is a mere "belief" and that critiquing it has constitutional implications.
The first assumption, that students have preconceived opinions on origins, is probably correct. Students tend to believe what their parents believe until they decide otherwise, so it is fair to assume that students have some opinion on the issue. Interestingly, in two independent polls cited in the article, 55% and 64% of adults questioned on the issue felt that intelligent design (ID) and creationism should be taught alongside evolution. (FN 57) Other polls have shown that upwards of 75% of Americans support teaching ID. One might deduce that if students tend to believe what their parents believe, and a majority, or perhaps a supermajority, support teaching ID, then teaching these theories is not really confrontational to their beliefs. I have a strong suspicion that Ms. McCarthy objects to teaching ID because she is projecting her own views on to others: ID may contradict her own beliefs, but teaching it will not cause great controversy for most students.
McCarthy's second assumption, that high school teachers are the final authority on what is taught, is also fundamentally flawed. Public schools are funded by tax payer dollars, and therefore those who pay taxes should have the final say about the curriculum. Teachers are important and most of the time they do great work, but when it comes to issues that are divisive to society, teachers have the obligation to educate, not indoctrinate. The people should have the final say about the curriculum.
Third, given what is taught to students in other contexts, it seems incredible to hear arguments that it is too "confrontational" to expose high school students to the arguments that life may have been started by an intelligent agent. After all, in some states 4th graders are required to take sex education. I say that exposing high school students to the testable scientific idea that humans are the result of intelligent design is no more confrontational or controversial than teaching about sex to 9-year-olds.
Finally, McCarthy is wrong to call intelligent design a mere "belief." In fact, in a contradictory fashion, she admits that ID may be "subjected to scientific criticism." If ID can be scientifically critiqued, then it can be scientifically supported, meaning that it is not mere "belief" but a testable scientific hypothesis.
McCarthy's article goes on to argue, "[S]ince critical analysis is the ongoing testing of all scientific knowledge most scientists argue that singling out one concept for such critique is not appropriate…" (FN 81) Yet at least two courts have concluded that it is acceptable to "single out" evolution or biological origins for special treatment due to the unique form of controversy these subjects can cause when taught. (See Selman v. Cobb County Board of Education, 390 F. Supp. 2d 1286 (N.D. Ga. 2005) vacated and remanded 449 F.3d 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) and Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, 185 F.3d 337 (5th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1251 (2000).) Ms. McCarthy's arguments have a weak legal basis.
Articles like this and the one by Mr. Shih make it clear that the larger scientific community would rather advocate evolutionary indoctrination than an unbiased presentation of scientific knowledge. Hopefully the next generation of law students will not fall for this threat to scientific progress.
Posted by Staff on August 16, 2008 10:32 AM | Permalink
Saturday, 16 August 2008
William Crawley is to be congratulated at least for enabling Radio Ulster listeners to hear Professor Dawkins totally discredit both himself and his decrepit and dying views on evolution and Darwinism.
While not putting forward one scintilla of evidence for his worn out theories, he did, in his typically un-gentlemanly fashion, attempt to deride all who disagreed with him.
Ranging from Moses who was 'a mere camel herder', through Lady Hope, whom he criticised, and the hundreds of Creationist PhDs and others 'who didn't know what they were talking about'. Near the end of his diatribe he compared his theories with the law of gravity.
Come now, Professor. Where have you heard mention of the law of evolution? Of course not!
The man-made theory of evolution is becoming increasingly unacceptable to the scientific community. And why not, since no evolutionary scientist can adequately explain where that first cell came from?
Simon Singh expected to arouse controversy when he claimed that chiropracters knowingly promoted bogus treatments for illnesses including asthma and ear infections. The bestselling author and Bafta-winning broadcaster did not, however, expect to have a High Court writ issued against him.
Mandrake, by Richard Eden
Last Updated: 8:05PM BST 16 Aug 2008
Mandrake can disclose that the presenter of the Channel Four series The Code Book is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.
"It wasn't a decision taken lightly," says Dr Antoni Jakubowski, a member of the association's governing council. "I know that a lot of thought went into this."
Dr Jakubowski, whose patients have included the golfers Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Justin Rose, adds: "It's a terrible shame he made those comments and he has been given a full opportunity to take them back. However, he hasn't."
The association has taken the unusual step of suing Singh himself rather than the newspaper that published his claims, The Guardian.
The article was about his recently published book Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine On Trial, in which he made various claims about the treatments offered by chiropracters.
Chiropractic is a therapeutic system based on the principle that the body can heal itself when the skeletal system is correctly aligned and the nervous system is functioning properly.
Once seen as a branch of complementary medicine, it has become an increasingly mainstream form of therapy and is now offered by many NHS trusts.
Although it has become a widely accepted treatment for acute pain and problems of the spine, such as whiplash, the evidence for applications beyond that is hotly debated.
There are ongoing studies into the usefulness of chiropractic for such problems as ear infections and infant colic and it is these which Singh was discussing in his contentious article.
Singh, who has a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge University, has written several bestselling books including Fermat's Last Theorem, which he turned into a Bafta Award-winning documentary for the BBC's Horizon programme.
"I will contest this action vigorously," says Singh, who was awarded an MBE in 2003 for services to science. "There is an important issue of freedom of speech at stake. Sadly, I cannot speak about it at this early stage because I have already engaged lawyers."
No doubt, the case will be followed closely by the practitioners of other much-maligned branches of alternative medicine, such as homeothapy, which has been trumpeted by the Prince of Wales.
Chesapeake, VA, United States, 08/14/2008 - Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation reached number four on the Amazon.com Creationism category this week.
Now in its second printing, this debut book challenges all creationist camps—whether Young-Earth, Old-Earth, or Theistic Evolutionist—to step outside of traditional paradigms and recognize how a modern, Western, post-Enlightenment scientific worldview actually blinds Christians from seeing the simple truth of Creation as it was originally intended.
This debut release from Gordon J. Glover and Watertree Press provides an accessible discussion of creation, evolution, and intelligent design for Christians who struggle with the relationship between faith and science. Stephen Matheson, Associate Professor of Biology at Calvin College, praised Beyond the Firmament: "Gordon Glover has created a delightfully readable yet comprehensive exploration of the relationship between the Genesis narratives and the science of our day, focusing on the context in which those narratives were given to humankind. Beyond the Firmament combines clarity and wit, honoring the Word of God while respecting our understanding of God's world. This is an impressive achievement for the author and a Godsend for Christians."
Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation is published by Watertree Press, a new Christian publishing house dedicated to quality non-fiction works that fulfill our motto: Read. Think. Grow. Beyond the Firmament is distributed by Ingram Book Group and may be ordered online at Amazon.com or BN.com.
About Beyond the Firmament
Author: Gordon J. Glover
Format: Soft Cover, 9x6", 228 pages
Retail Price: $16.00
Publisher: Watertree Press | watertreepress.com
About Watertree Press
Watertree Press LLC is a new Christian publishing house dedicated to quality non-fiction works which fulfill our motto: Read. Think. Grow. Our first release entitled Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and the Theology of Creation by Gordon J. Glover highlights our purpose – well-researched and thought-provoking content from an impressive first-time author.
by Herman Cummings
August 14, 2008 10:00 AM EST
Doing Things Correctly.
Hello. My name is Herman Cummings. I am the leading expert on the book of Genesis. There is no "close second". I'm also the author of the book "Moses Didn't Write About Creation!".
Now that Louisiana has boldly broken the monopoly of teaching evolution, it is important to maintain some measure of control and consistency, in order to provide equal education to all students and prevent the distribution of false and foolish teachings.
With the freedom to entertain alternatives to evolution, it is a given that the text of Genesis will be discussed. That is where I come in. Present day creationism and theology have no understanding of the (early) Genesis text. Some teachers may try to render what they think Genesis says, and they will be in error. The seven days in Genesis are too scientific to be understood without proper training, and they are not about Creation Week. Genesis is actually an advanced book of mathematics and science, that conveys the prehistoric history of life on Earth. I call it "the Observations of Moses".
In 1598 BC, on Mt. Sinai, God showed six 12-hr visions to Moses, who later had them written down. Moses did not understand what he saw. God was revealing to mankind the concept of Geologic Time, and the history of life on Earth after Creation Week.
I teach a 6-hr class for science teachers which gives them an overview of the first three chapters of Genesis, as it pertains to the appearance, and extinction, of life forms during the geologic history of Earth. This is the correct opposing view of evolution as should be presented in biology classes. Creationism is not the opposing view to evolution. Creationism would oppose the theory of the "Big Bang".
After taking this course, the teachers can correctly answer the questions that students would have about the apparent differences between what science has discovered, and what was previously erroneously perceived to be written in the Bible. Thus, the students would be given a balanced education in science, without solely being taught the dogma of atheism.
Also, by providing my class to your teachers, I also give protection against lawsuits which the ACLU is certainly anxious to file. I contacted the Dover Area school district in Pennsylvania, but they ignored me, and they lost both their jobs and the court case. I contacted both the Cobb County Board members and their law firm in Georgia, in 2004, and they both ignored me, and they lost their district case. I know how to defeat the ACLU in open court in such cases, to the point that they would be discouraged from filing such lawsuits again. But I would have to be invited to work with the defense.
Please contact me as soon as possible, in order that we can schedule classes for this current school year.
PO Box 1745
Fortson GA 31808
One-fifth favour creationism
By JASON BUCKLAND, SUN MEDIA
A majority of Canadians believe in the theory of evolution while about one in five accept creationism, a new study said yesterday.
An Angus Reid online poll shows 58% of Canucks think humans evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and 22% believe God created people in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
Robert A. Campbell, a former U of T religion prof now with Cape Breton University, said people in 2008 are more likely to form their own opinions on God rather than inherit them.
"There's a great deal more open debate about certain viewpoints now," he said.
HIGHEST IN ALBERTA
"The old view on evolutionary theory isn't necessarily the case any more. There's considerably more opportunity to be educated about belief instead of being indoctrinated about it."
About two-thirds of respondents aged 15-34 believe in evolution, but only 51% of those over 55 accept it.
Men (69%) and those with at least one university degree (71%) were more inclined to buy into evolution, while people from Alberta (40%) and members of the Conservative Party (29%) back creationism the most.
Household income apparently plays a role in belief, too. In homes with annual earnings over $100,000, about 66% accept evolution.
'OPENING THEIR EYES'
Campbell said he wouldn't be surprised to see the number of Canadians who reject creationism jump as the years go by and science is more present in day-to-day life.
"I think people are opening to their eyes to scientific aspects that are hard to ignore," he said. "Science is only going to be integrated into our lives more and entwined with that is quite a bit of evolutionary theory."
That view was echoed by a Wilfrid Laurier University student in town for a few days.
"I'm a man of facts, not fairy tales," Shane Dejong said. "I believe in evolution because, well, it's ridiculous to think humans were created out of thin air by a magical figure."
Thursday, August 7, 2008
A SENIOR DUP Assemblyman has pressed for creationism to be taught alongside evolution in classrooms across the North.
Mervyn Storey, who chairs the Stormont education committee, said his "ideal" would be the removal of evolutionary teaching from the curriculum altogether.
"This is not about removing anything from the classroom, although that would probably be the ideal for me, but this is about us having equality of access to other views as to how the world came into existence and that I think is a very, very important issue for many parents in Northern Ireland."
Mr Storey has also challenged education minister Caitríona Ruane to apply her principles of "equality" to the issue.
"She tells us she's all for equality; surely if that is the case, you can't have one set of interpretations being taught at the expense of others," he told the Belfast News Letter.
Sinn Féin dismissed the comments as "a distraction from the real issues at hand" and declined to comment further.
This is the latest in a number of interventions by Mr Storey on the issue. In June last year, the North Antrim Assembly man made a similar call during a sitting of the Assembly Education Committee, when he pressed Ms Ruane to "ensure that scientific explanations, other than Darwinian evolution, are taught in schools as scientific explanations". Despite numerous requests, the DUP has declined to comment on the matter.
A statement from the Department of Education said that its policy is based on recommendations made by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and that there must be a distinction made between "the evidence based approach to scientific theories and knowledge in science lessons, and exploring other beliefs about how the world came into existence". Mr Storey has also weighed in to the ongoing dispute regarding the age of the Giant's Causeway, Co Antrim.
Mr Storey, among others, has called for the proposed visitors' centre to display not just accepted geological data, but also the creationist argument that the distinctive rock formation is only 6,000 years old. "The problem to date has been that we only have a narrow interpretation from an evolutionary point of view as to how these particular stones were formed," he said last year.
His comments follow other controversies involving senior DUP figures and "faith issues" in Northern politics. Last month, Strangford MP Iris Robinson faced widespread criticism for her description of homosexuality as an "abomination". She further asserted that "it is the duty of government to uphold God's law".
© 2008 The Irish Times
The doctor is in
By Alan Cooper, M.D.
August 06, 2008 | 05:28 PM
A few weeks ago, my middle son, Andrew, 23, left for an exotic six month adventure to a Taoist temple on the top of a mountain in a remote part of central China — fortunately, nowhere near the recent earthquakes. He and the other seven students were the first group of Westerners ever to be invited to study at this prestigious temple. He did not have a strong interest in eastern religion but his sense of adventure, and perhaps a very attractive girl with whom he travelled, might have had something to do with it.
I knew that one of the subjects of study would be traditional Chinese medicinal herbs along with the martial arts and Eastern philosophy. But I was intrigued to learn in his first email that he was learning the ancient Chinese art of cupping.
One takes cups approximately the size of a teacup, heats the air inside and places them on a patient's back, trying to achieve an airtight seal. When the air in the cup cools, a partial vacuum is created in the cup since cool air takes up less space than hot air. The vacuum in the cup can draw up a large amount of skin, underlying tissue and blood, creating rows of cup-sized blisters on the patient's back. Chinese medical theories explain that this process affects the flow of "chi" through the "meridians" of the body similar to acupuncture needles.
Wanting to learn more about this strange procedure, I "googled" it. I found that it is a very, very old treatment. The oldest medical writings, dating back to 1500 B.C. in Egypt, make reference to it. It is known in Persian, Arabic, Mexican and Irish literature, among others. The leading British medical journal, The Lancet, is named after the sharp objects used to scrape the skin prior to cupping. When the skin is scraped first, the cupping will actually cause blood to be removed. This is referred to as wet cupping, which is effectively the same as the ancient treatment of "blood letting."
Apparently cupping is being done in the United States now. Alternative medicine practitioners believe that the cupping process removes toxins from the system. When I researched cupping, I not only found many articles, but even a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow with rows of "cupping" marks all over her back. The process leaves ecchymosis (black and blue) marks on the skin, sort of like getting giant 'hickies.' I confess that I didn't know that cupping was part of current alternative medical treatment until I started looking into it after Andrew's letter, but I had heard of it before. I vaguely remember my father telling me about an old Jewish treatment that was called bankes (pronounced bonkers).
I find it very interesting that this strange old remedy has been used in all these cultures. Those of you who have been reading my articles know that I don't need much of a provocation to come up with my own peculiar theory.
It seemed to me that bankes would work much like the old remedy of "blood letting." In both cases the treatment would dramatically reduce total fluid volume in the bloodstream. This could bring about almost instant recovery to a person who was suffering from acute congestive heart failure. Modern medicine treats this condition in much the same way, only now we administer a substantial dose of the very quick-acting diuretic popularly known as Lasix. Lasix has the advantage of taking away excess fluid without taking away oxygen-carrying blood.
The problem in congestive heart failure is that the pumping action of the heart has become too weak to clear the fluid out of the lungs and the patient experiences shortness of breath. When the total fluid volume is suddenly reduced, whether with Lasix or cupping, the heart easily catches up, the lungs clear and the patient feels much better. Sometimes the failure was caused by some temporary setback, so the bankes/cupping treatment might appear curative. And what a dramatic cure it would be.
In an era when very few medicines quickly cured anything, it is easy to see how almost magical properties would be ascribed to this treatment. The practitioner, the patient, and any observers would certainly go around singing the praises of this wonderful cure. Since they would have had no clue of the underlying illness or the mechanism of action of reducing fluid load on the heart, they would logically try this treatment for all kinds of maladies.
I asked questions of some of my older family members about this, and my sister vaguely remembers that our maternal grandmother applied bankes to her back in an attempt to relieve a tummy ache. My father-in-law also remembers having the treatment applied to him as a child, but he doesn't remember what it treated or whether it helped.
Paltrow's paternal grandmother was a Jewish lady from Great Neck, who was a close friend of my mother's. I wonder if Paltrow first heard of this treatment when she was a little girl. Although I think it is interesting that my son is in China learning this ancient art that was also part of his Jewish heritage, you can be sure that I will install locks on the kitchen cabinets before he gets home.
Some disagreeCreation Science advocates dispute scientists estimates by tens of millions of years.
By Mary Garrigan, Journal staff Friday, August 08, 2008
Sue's birthday party is Sunday in Faith, but how many candles to put on her cake is open to debate in her hometown.
The science of paleontology and the radiometric dating techniques it uses would put the age of the world's most famous T. rex at about 66 million years. A cast replica of Sue's real fossilized bones, which are in Chicago's Field Museum, is on display in Faith through Sept. 1 as part of the traveling exhibition, "A T. rex Named Sue."
The Black Hills Creation Science Association, which hoped to piggyback onto the Sue exhibit to explain its belief in creation science, says Sue's fossil is much younger. Belief in a young Earth theory puts about 4,300 candles on Sue's birthday cake. Creation science adherents subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible's Book of Genesis; its advocates says dinosaurs lived as recently as 4,300 years ago.
"We put Sue at about 4,000 years ago," Russ McGlenn, a San Diego creation science teacher, said. McGlenn leads a three-week dinosaur dig/creation science camp for families each summer in the Lemmon area. "Our hypothesis is that she died in Noah's flood and was buried there, along with thousands of other animals."
The Field Museum wasn't interested in making the creation science perspective part of its Sue exhibition, according to Whitney Owens, traveling exhibitions director for the Chicago museum. When museum officials learned that creation science adherents in Faith, including Wayne Sletten, a retired veterinarian and longtime Faith resident, planned a series of lectures titled "Sue & Creationism Explained" in the same community center, they objected.
Owens invoked a clause in the exhibition's contract with the Faith Chamber of Commerce that says any additional local content added to the exhibition must be approved by the Field Museum.
"We're just exercising our rights under the contract," Owens said. "Sue's a scientific exhibition, so we felt that non-scientific elements would be best displayed elsewhere. We wanted to keep the attention on the science of Sue and on her return to Faith, not on the supernatural."
Lectures on creation theory would have distracted from Sue's homecoming, Owens said. "Sue's a great story by itself. We don't want anything to distract from the wonderful story that Sue gets to come home to Faith."
The Sue exhibit has traveled all across America since 2000, but Faith is the first location where creation science beliefs became an issue for it, Owens said.
"Actually, it is the first time. We thought we might run into this before, but this is the first time," she said.
It was the job of Faith City Attorney Eric Bogue to inform David LaFrance, a Rapid City engineer and president of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, that its lecture series wouldn't be welcome in the exhibition hall beside Sue. "They wanted the exhibit to be about the exhibit and not something else," Bogue said. "The contract says they have the right to pull the exhibit if they feel it isn't being appropriately handled."
Although the chamber of commerce was "very pleased to have the creation science viewpoint in Faith, we have to respect the ownership of the exhibit itself," Bogue said.
A series of four talks by McGlenn and Brian Young of the Creation Instruction Association were moved to the Frontier Room, a private building directly across the street from the Sue exhibit. McGlenn spoke to about 50 people each week, then led a tour of the Sue exhibit from a creation science perspective.
LaFrance and McGlenn say young Earth believers are often the victims of the kind of scientific "discrimination" that the Field Museum showed.
"There were some of us who were kind of upset by that, but we're used to viewpoint discrimination, that entrenched point of view in traditional science that isn't willing to allow evidence of a young Earth," LaFrance said. "I see it a lot."
Speaking by telephone from his home in San Diego, McGlenn said there is plenty of scientific evidence to support his lecture series arguing that T. rex and other dinosaurs lived much more recently than millions of years ago. "Our goal was to say, one view of Sue is that she's 65 million years old. But here's another view of Sue, with scientific evidence to support it."
Traditional academic circles limit the definition of scientist to "someone who believes in the evolutionary theory," said McGlenn, who describes himself as an amateur paleontologist who has led dinosaur digs on the Stuart Schmidt ranch near Keldron for seven years. "Unless you spout the party line, you aren't allowed in the building," he said. "But we are scientists in our own right."
Although McGlenn agrees that the Bible is not a science book, he says it is "an accurate history book" that contains the essential hypothesis of creation science: A worldwide flood that lasted exactly 371 days left behind vast deposits of mud and sediment that allowed the bones of animals killed in that flood, including Sue, to be preserved as fossils.
He dismisses radiometric dating techniques, which have been in common use by geologists, archaeologists and paleontologists for more than half a century, as inaccurate and unreliable.
"It results in far too wide a range of ages to be accurate," McGlenn said.
City attorney Bogue isn't saying how old he thinks Sue is. He's just thrilled to have her in town for the summer. "I'm not an expert. I'm just happy to have it here."
Sue's birthday party on Sunday will include talks by Peter Larson, paleontology expert and president of the Black Hills Geological Institute in Hill City. Larson and a crew from his institute unearthed Sue near Faith 18 years ago this month. Larson will speak at 12:30 p.m. about the discovery and excavation of Sue and again at 2 p.m. about gender identification of T. rex fossils.
Also, part of the birthday celebration is a 3:30 p.m. talk by local rancher Bucky Derflinger, who discovered the juvenile T. rex fossil "Bucky." That fossil, which belongs to Larson's Hill City institute, is on display as part of the Sue exhibit, with approval by the Field Museum.
"That's all entirely appropriate and in keeping with the exhibition. Black Hills Geological Research is another scientific institute. We welcome them," Owens said about the Hill City group.
Posted Friday, August 08, 2008 2:17 PM
Nothing against fossils, but when it comes to tracing the story of human evolution they're taking a back seat lately to everything from DNA to lice, and even the DNA of lice. A few years ago scientists compared the DNA of body lice (which are misnamed: they live in clothing, not the human body) to that of head lice, from which they evolved, and concluded that the younger lineage split off from the older no more than 114,000 years ago, as I described in a cover story last year. Since body lice probably arose when a new habitat did, and since that habitat was clothing, that's when our ancestors first needed a haberdasher. The Y chromosome has been an even greater source of clues to human evolution, showing among other things that the most recent common ancestor of all men alive today lived 89,000 years ago in Africa, and that the first modern humans walked out of Africa about 66,000 years ago and became the ancestors of everyone outside that natal continent.
The Y chromosome is at it again. Scientists reported this week that an analysis of Y chromosomes in a dozen African populations sheds light on one of the more controversial questions in human prehistory: did innovations such as animal herding spread because their inventors did, migrating to new places and teaching the natives new tricks, or because the idea spread on its own, as neighboring tribes noticed the new trick and adopted it, and then neighbors of those guys did the same, on and on until the idea had spread like wildlfire?
According to a paper in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pastoralism—cattle- and sheep-herding—arrived in southern Africa 2,000 years ago on a wave of human migration from eastern Africa, not by the spread of ideas to neighbors near and far.
"There's a tradition in archaeology of saying people don't move very much; they just transfer ideas," said genetic anthropologist Joanna Mountain of Stanford University, senior author of the paper with geneticist Peter Underhill. But in this case, at least, the people themselves moved.
Scientists knew about two prehistoric migrations of Bantu-speaking people from eastern Africa, where pastoralism first arose, to southern Africa: 30,000 years ago and again 1,500 years ago. But anthropological evidence showed that the first sheep and cattle herds existed in southern Africa 2,000 years ago. That suggested that the idea jumped from group to group ("hey, look what those guys are doing") without the people themselves actually trekking south.
The Stanford scientists analyzed genetic variation on the Y chromosome, which is passed almost intact from father to son. The only change through the generations occurs through rare mutations. By counting and comparing mutations, geneticists can trace ancestries of living men, in this case 13 populations in Tanzania and in the Namibia-Angola-Botswana border region of southern Africa. In this case, it revealed a novel mutation in some men in both places, which implies that those men had a common ancestor. The novel mutation arose in eastern Africa about 10,000 years ago and was carried by migration to southern Africa about 2,000 years ago not by Bantu-speakers, in whom the mutation is absent, but in speakers of what's called the Nilotic language. These unsuspected ancestors first brought herds of animals to southern Africa before the Bantu migration.
Why did they migrate south? Underhill suspects that a shift in rainfall 10,000 years ago caused some people to stay in rainy areas and grow crops, while others moved to dry regions and lived the nomadic life of herders, he and colleagues proposed in the June issue of the journal Antiquity.
POLLING CREATIONISM IN CANADA
Among Canadians, 58 percent accept evolution, while 22 percent think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and 20 percent are unsure, according to a new poll from Angus Reid Stategies. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1007 Canadian adults interviewed on-line on July 29 and 30, 2008, and its margin of error is +/- 3.1%. The results are virtually unchanged from a 2007 poll, in which 59 percent of the respondents accepted evolution, 22 percent preferred the creationist option, and 19 percent were unsure.
In a press release, a number of further findings were noted: "Men [were] more inclined than women to believe in evolution (69% versus 48%); women [were] more prone to believe in creationism (28% versus 16%) ... Males (69%), younger adults (67%) and those with at least one university degree (71%) [were] more inclined to believe in evolution ... [and] Albertans (40%) and Conservative Party supporters (29%) [were] more likely to think humans were created by God."
Comparing these results with poll results in the United States is not straightforward, since the question that the Gallup Organization has used since 1982 offers two versions of a pro-evolution response: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process" and "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process." The corresponding Angus Reid response omits any mention of God.
According to a useful summary, in the latest Gallup poll using the question, conducted in May 2008, 50% of respondents preferred the pro-evolution responses, with 44 percent preferring "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," and with only 5 percent volunteering a different response or declining to answer. It might seem, then, that Canadians are not as much supportive of evolution as they are dismissive of creationism, compared to their American counterparts.
As the political scientist and polling expert George Bishop observes, however, minor changes in the wording of poll questions about creationism and evolution can make a substantial difference in poll results, so it would be premature to jump to any conclusions. Over the years, Reports of the NCSE has carried a variety of reports and analyses of such polls, including Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist's "The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?".
For the Angus Reid poll results and press release (PDF), visit:
For the summary of Gallup poll results, visit:
For the Bishop article and the Duncan and Geist article, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
I see that while I was out of the office, the availability of selected content from volume 27, numbers 5-6, of Reports of the NCSE was announced in the August 1, 2008, evolution education update, even though it was already announced in the previous week's update. If that was the worst thing that happened while I was on vacation, I may consider going on vacation more often. Thanks to Josh Rosenau for filling in for me.
For the selected content from RNCSE 27:5-6, visit:
To subscribe to RNCSE, 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!
KEN MILLER'S "ONLY A THEORY" REVIEWED IN NATURE
NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller's new book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul," is reviewed in the July 31, 2008 issue of Nature. Reviewer PZ Myers writes that "Miller is a fine writer who sharply addresses the details of the arguments about intelligent design creationism. When tackling old chestnuts such as the 'only a theory' complaint, or Michael Behe's argument for a maximum limit for the number of genetic mutations, or William Dembski's rehash of William Paley's watchmaker argument for complexity, Miller discusses the contemporary biological explanations while refuting the errors."
Myers notes that Miller's "religious leanings give him insight into both sides of the struggle." While he finds Miller "sympathetic to the creationists' perspective," Miller also "opposes them uncompromisingly. Miller does not confuse sympathy for the intent of creationists with sympathy for its effects. The conflict has wider consequences than the teaching of one discipline in US public schools - the creationists aim to revise what science means, discarding rationalism, naturalism, materialism and other Enlightenment values to incorporate the supernatural and loosen the rigour of all sciences."
While Myers finds reason to disagree with Miller about the social forces driving creationism in America, he concludes: "Only a Theory is a useful overview of a perilous political attack on the nature of science."
CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE
Selected content from volume 27, numbers 5-6, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website, featuring reports on a disastrous excursion for "intelligent design" in Oklahoma, developments in the Answers in Genesis schism, and the failed attempt to earmark $100,000 in taxpayer funds to a creationist organization in Louisiana. Additionally, RNCSE's editor Andrew J. Petto considers "The History of Life as a Walk in the Park" -- with color photographs of J. Nicholas Schweitzer's exhibit in Madison, Wisconsin, available only on-line. And there are reviews, too: Randall B. Irmis reviews Thomas R. Holtz Jr.'s Dinosaurs, James F. McGrath reviews God and Evolution: A Reader edited by Mary Kathleen Cunningham, and Jason R. Wiles reviews Anne H. Weaver's The Voyage of the Beetle.
If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 28, number 2) features reports on the treatment of evolution in Florida's new science standards, the recent antievolution legislation in Louisiana, and the ICR's failed bid to obtain certification for its graduate program in science education in Texas. Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch explain why allowing students to opt out of evolution is a bad mistake. And there are reviews of books by Pascal Richet, David Standish, Francisco Ayala, Michael Lienesch, Carl Zimmer, and the mysterious A. Nonimous. And more is in the pipeline for future issues of RNCSE, including articles by Lawrence S. Lerner on state science standards, Steven Salzberg on a creationist paper that almost found its way into a respected journal, and Taner Edis on a new setback for Islamic creationism. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!
For the selected content from RNCSE 27:5-6, visit:
To subscribe to RNCSE, 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!
Hear David Lines Speak On the Subject
Footprints: Then And Now
The Delk print, recently acquired by the Creation Evidence Museum, has a human footprint that was intersected by a theropod dinosaur footprint. This presentation explores the details of the Delk Print, what we know about it?s discovery, ongoing investigations with X-ray C.T. scanning, and what we know about bare human feet when people push them into mud. David Lines has had the privilege of studying and making hundreds of photos of the Delk Print, and will share some of those this evening.
Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
Farmers Branch, TX
Tuesday, August 5th, 7:30 PM
By BUD KENNEDYbud@star-telegram.com
For 30 years, a university professor in Denton taught students about ethics, tolerance and the goodness of humankind.
Now, Joe Barnhart has come face-to-face with evil.
The retired University of North Texas religion and philosophy professor, 76, remains hospitalized in stable condition in Tennessee. He was one of six churchgoers wounded Sunday in a shooting that killed two.
An unemployed truck driver is facing charges. Police say Jim Adkisson, 58, went to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville to "kill liberals."
Barnhart's co-author of books on religion, former community college instructor Linda Kraeger, 61, of Denton, was among those killed. Barnhart's daughter, brother and sister-in-law were among the injured.
Barnhart, a graduate of a Southern Baptist seminary in Kentucky, is a nationally known philosophy professor, said Paul Kurtz, founder and chairman of the New York-based Council for Secular Humanism.
"He is such a kind, decent man who believes in goodwill and fairness to all," Kurtz said by phone. "What a tragedy that we have such a culture of violence that some man would go into a church and indiscriminately start killing people."
Barnhart's wife, Mary Ann, was unhurt. The couple moved to Barnhart's native Tennessee last year, where they attend another Unitarian Universalist church. They visited Tennessee Valley to see children perform the musical Annie.
Police said the shooter told them that he chose the church because of — in the words of the police report — "liberal teachings" and a "belief that all liberals should be killed."
He was particularly upset that the church welcomes gay and lesbian worshippers, police said.
Ron Flowers, a Texas Christian University religion professor, has often shared panel discussions with Barnhart, particularly on issues defending the judicial doctrine of separation of church and state.
"For somebody to go in and gun people down because of their beliefs — that's along the same line as church arson," Flowers said. "People destroy churches, and now they're destroying lives, because they can't tolerate the other person's beliefs. It's the ultimate violation of what we hold dear, which is freedom."
Barnhart retired last year as chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at UNT. Barnhart had argued to include religion in the department, Flowers said.
Another UNT philosophy professor, Pete A.Y. Gunter, knows both Barnhart and the church. Gunter and his wife married there when Gunter was teaching at the University of Tennessee.
Barnhart's shooting is ironic for two reasons, Gunter said.
"First, Joe is from East Tennessee, and he missed it all his life. So he moves back home, and this is what he finds," Gunter said.
Second, Barnhart often sharply criticized radio and TV talk entertainers and political preachers, Gunter said.
"He has always been concerned about the talk show hosts and preachers who spread a lot of hatred around," Gunter said. "He would say that these people have some share of responsibility when some listener turns around and decides to kill liberals."
In a search of the suspect's home, Knoxville police seized a book by archconservative radio entertainer Michael Savage, along with other books by TV performers Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
"If you put somebody on the radio in a town, and that host starts telling people that their neighbors are evil and want to destroy America, then you've got to expect that sometime down the line somebody will go out and try to hurt somebody else," Gunter said.
Gunter recalled the scenic Unitarian church. "What I remember is the beautiful view from the back through the dogwoods," he said.
Legend has it that Christ's cross was made from a dogwood.
Jesus probably wept Sunday.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538
Scientists say material in dinosaur bones is probably just biofilm from bacteria. The finding sparks a strong response from researchers who reported finding Tyrannosaurus rex tissue.
By Wendy Hansen, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 31, 2008
Soft, organic material discovered inside a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that scientists believed was 70-million-year-old dinosaur tissue may have been nothing more than ordinary slime, scientists said in a study published Wednesday.
Researchers reported in the online journal PLoS ONE that bacterial colonies infiltrating tiny cavities in the bones long after the dinosaurs died may have naturally molded into shapes resembling the tissues they replaced.
Carbon dating performed on one sample showed that the tissue-like material was modern, circa 1960.
After further examination with light and electron microscopy, researchers concluded that the substances were most likely remnants of biofilms, or layers of bacterial cells and the sticky molecules they secrete.
The finding sparked a strong response from the researchers who originally said they had found ancient dinosaur tissue.
Mary H. Schweitzer, the biologist from North Carolina State University who found the original material, said in a statement that errors in the current study "seem to underlie a fundamental misunderstanding of our work, our data and our interpretations."
The dinosaur tissue was reported in 2005 after Schweitzer's team, working at a remote dig site in Montana, was forced to break a T. rex femur into chunks small enough to be transported by helicopter. Inside were pieces of rubbery material that looked like blood vessels and bone marrow.
Subsequent analysis showed that proteins in the material resembled those found in birds, long thought to be close relatives of dinosaurs.
The find was received as one of the year's most stunning scientific discoveries, although many scientists were skeptical that dinosaur tissue could survive tens of millions of years.
Hoping to find more samples of dinosaur tissues, a team of scientists at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington decided to examine a fossilized turtle toe.
They cracked open the bone, put it under an electron microscope, and within minutes saw spheres reminiscent of blood cells, like those reported by Schweitzer's group.
"We did the happy dance," said Thomas Kaye, an associate researcher at the museum and the leader of the group.
The researchers then dissolved the bone in mild acid, exposing hidden tissue that resembled vessels and bone-forming cells. The findings were similar to those of Schweitzer's group.
But as Kaye examined more fossils, he was puzzled that he found similar materials in nearly every bone. It didn't make sense to him that so much tissue could have survived for millions of years.
The solution came from Zbigniew Sawlowicz of Jagiellonian University in Poland, who identified the small spheres resembling blood cells as framboids, iron-containing structures known to form in the presence of bacteria.
Further examination revealed pockets of microbe-like shapes and tiny furrows that may have been trails that bacteria blazed though the muck, the researchers said.
Kaye said the evidence -- and common sense -- clearly pointed to bacterial leftovers. "Believe me, I didn't want it to be this explanation," he said. "I would much rather have it be dinosaurian tissue."
But Schweitzer argued that there are significant holes in Kaye's study, namely an explanation for why the protein in the tissue looks like that expected for a dinosaur. She added that her group has considered biofilms but has found no evidence for their presence.
Some scientists were hesitant to take sides.
"It's actually quite common to find biofilms in areas where fossils would be formed," said Frank Corsetti, an earth scientist at USC who was not involved in the research. "It's an interesting idea, but the jury is still out."
Jennifer Macalady, a geo-microbiologist from Pennsylvania State University who also was not involved in the research, said: "To tell you the truth, I don't find either side of the story very convincing."