NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 September 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash


August 24, 2008 By AMY HARMON

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote "Evolution" in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

"If I do this wrong," Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, "I'll lose him."

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state's public schools to teach evolution, calling it "the organizing principle of life science." Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God's individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

Some come armed with "Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution," a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out.

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan. How they fare may bear on whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief.

"If you see something you don't understand, you have to ask 'why?' or 'how?' " Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Yet their abiding mistrust in evolution, he feared, jeopardized their belief in the basic power of science to explain the natural world — and their ability to make sense of it themselves.

Passionate on the subject, Mr. Campbell had helped to devise the state's new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom.

A Cartoon and a Challenge

He started with Mickey Mouse.

On the projector, Mr. Campbell placed slides of the cartoon icon: one at his skinny genesis in 1928; one from his 1940 turn as the impish Sorcerer's Apprentice; and another of the rounded, ingratiating charmer of Mouse Club fame.

"How," he asked his students, "has Mickey changed?"

Natives of Disney World's home state, they waved their hands and called out answers.

"His tail gets shorter," Bryce volunteered.

"Bigger eyes!" someone else shouted.

"He looks happier," one girl observed. "And cuter."

Mr. Campbell smiled. "Mickey evolved," he said. "And Mickey gets cuter because Walt Disney makes more money that way. That is 'selection.' "

Later, he would get to the touchier part, about how the minute changes in organisms that drive biological change arise spontaneously, without direction. And how a struggle for existence among naturally varying individuals has helped to generate every species, living and extinct, on the planet.

For now, it was enough that they were listening.

He strode back to the projector, past his menagerie of snakes and baby turtles, and pointed to the word he had written in the beginning of class.

"Evolution has been the focus of a lot of debate in our state this year," he said. "If you read the newspapers, everyone is arguing, 'is it a theory, is it not a theory?' The answer is, we can observe it. We can see it happen, just like you can see it in Mickey."

Some students were nodding. As the bell rang, Mr. Campbell stood by the door, satisfied. But Bryce, heavyset with blond curls, left with a stage whisper as he slung his knapsack over his shoulder.

"I can see something else, too," he said. "I can see that there's no way I came from an ape."

Fighting for a Mandate

As recently as three years ago, the guidelines that govern science education in more than a third of American public schools gave exceedingly short shrift to evolution, according to reviews by education experts. Some still do, science advocates contend. Just this summer, religious advocates lobbied successfully for a Louisiana law that protects the right of local schools to teach alternative theories for the origin of species, even though there are none that scientists recognize as valid. The Florida Legislature is expected to reopen debate on a similar bill this fall.

Even states that require teachers to cover the basics of evolution, like natural selection, rarely ask them to explain in any detail how humans, in particular, evolved from earlier life forms. That subject can be especially fraught for young people taught to believe that the basis for moral conduct lies in God's having created man uniquely in his own image.

The poor treatment of evolution in some state education standards may reflect the public's widely held creationist beliefs. In Gallup polls over the last 25 years, nearly half of American adults have consistently said they believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years. But a 2005 defeat in federal court for a school board in Dover, Pa., that sought to cast doubt on evolution gave legal ammunition to evolution proponents on school boards and in statehouses across the country.

In its wake, Ohio removed a requirement that biology classes include "critical analysis" of evolution. Efforts to pass bills that implicitly condone the teaching of religious theories for life's origins have failed in at least five states. And as science standards come up for regular review, other states have added material on evolution to student achievement tests, and required teachers to spend more time covering it.

When Florida's last set of science standards came out in 1996, soon after Mr. Campbell took the teaching job at Ridgeview, he studied them in disbelief. Though they included the concept that biological "changes over time" occur, the word evolution was not mentioned.

He called his district science supervisor. "Is this really what they want us to teach for the next 10 years?" he demanded.

In 2000, when the independent Thomas B. Fordham Foundation evaluated the evolution education standards of all 50 states, Florida was among 12 to receive a grade of F. (Kansas, which drew international attention in 1999 for deleting all mention of evolution and later embracing supernatural theories, received an F-minus.)

Mr. Campbell, 52, who majored in biology while putting himself through Cornell University on a Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, taught evolution anyway. But like nearly a third of biology teachers across the country, and more in his politically conservative district, he regularly heard from parents voicing complaints.

With no school policy to back him up, he spent less time on the subject than he would have liked. And he bit back his irritation at Teresa Yancey, a biology teacher down the hall who taught a unit she called "Evolution or NOT."

Animals do adapt to their environments, Ms. Yancey tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, "I think God did it."

Mr. Campbell was well aware of her opinion. "I don't think we have this great massive change over time where we go from fish to amphibians, from monkeys to man," she once told him. "We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don't see blizzards — the lizard bird."

With some approximation of courtesy, Mr. Campbell reminded her that only a tiny fraction of organisms that ever lived had been preserved in fossils. Even so, he informed his own students, scientists have discovered thousands of fossils that provide evidence of one species transitioning into another — including feathered dinosaurs.

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. "The kids are getting hurt," Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. "We need to do something."

The Dover decision in December of that year dealt a blow to "intelligent design," which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court's 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine "creationism re-labeled," and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

Inspired, the Florida citizens group soon contacted similar groups in other states advocating better teaching of evolution. And in June 2007, when his supervisor invited Mr. Campbell to help draft Florida's new standards, he quickly accepted.

During the next six months, he made the drive to three-day meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee six times. By January 2008 the Board of Education budget had run out. But the 30 teachers on the standards committee paid for their own gasoline to attend their last meeting.

Mr. Campbell quietly rejoiced in their final draft. Under the proposed new standards, high school students could be tested on how fossils and DNA provide evidence for evolution. Florida students would even be expected to learn how their own species fits into the tree of life.

Whether the state's board of education would adopt them, however, was unclear. There were heated objections from some religious organizations and local school boards. In a stormy public comment session, Mr. Campbell defended his fellow writers against complaints that they had not included alternative explanations for life's diversity, like intelligent design.

His attempt at humor came with an edge:

"We also failed to include astrology, alchemy and the concept of the moon being made of green cheese," he said. "Because those aren't science, either."

The evening of the vote, Mr. Campbell learned by e-mail message from an education official that the words "scientific theory of" had been inserted in front of "evolution" to appease opponents on the board. Even so, the standards passed by only a 4-to-3 vote.

Mr. Campbell cringed at the wording, which seemed to suggest evolution was a kind of hunch instead of the only accepted scientific explanation for the great variety of life on Earth. But he turned off his computer without scrolling through all of the frustrated replies from other writers. The standards, he thought, were finally in place.

Now he just had to teach.

The Limits of Science

The morning after his Mickey Mouse gambit, he bounced a pink rubber Spalding ball on the classroom's hard linoleum floor.

"Gravity," he said. "I can do this until the end of the semester, and I can only assume that it will work the same way each time."

He looked around the room. "Bryce, what is it called when natural laws are suspended — what do you call it when water changes into wine?"

"Miracle?" Bryce supplied.

Mr. Campbell nodded. The ball hit the floor again.

"Science explores nature by testing and gathering data," he said. "It can't tell you what's right and wrong. It doesn't address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions."

He grabbed the ball and held it still.

"Can anybody think of a question science can't answer?"

"Is there a God?" shot back a boy near the window.

"Good," said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. "Can't test it. Can't prove it, can't disprove it. It's not a question for science."

Bryce raised his hand.

"But there is scientific proof that there is a God," he said. "Over in Turkey there's a piece of wood from Noah's ark that came out of a glacier."

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

"If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree — would that damage your religious faith at all?"

Bryce thought for a moment.

"No," he said.

The room was unusually quiet.

"Faith is not based on science," Mr. Campbell said. "And science is not based on faith. I don't expect you to 'believe' the scientific explanation of evolution that we're going to talk about over the next few weeks."

"But I do," he added, "expect you to understand it."

The Lure of T. Rex

Over the next weeks, Mr. Campbell regaled his students with the array of evidence on which evolutionary theory is based. To see how diverse species are related, they studied the embryos of chickens and fish, and the anatomy of horses, cats, seals and bats.

To simulate natural selection, they pretended to be birds picking light-colored moths off tree bark newly darkened by soot.

But the dearth of questions made him uneasy.

"I still don't have a good feeling on how well any of them are internalizing any of this," he worried aloud.

When he was 5, Mr. Campbell's aunt took him on a trip from his home in Connecticut to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. At the end of the day, she had to pry him away from the Tyrannosaurus rex.

If this didn't hook them, he thought one Wednesday morning, admiring the cast of a T. rex brain case he set on one of the classroom's long, black laboratory tables, nothing would. Carefully, he distributed several other fossils, including two he had collected himself.

He placed particular hope in the jaw of a 34-million-year-old horse ancestor. Through chance, selection and extinction, he had told his class, today's powerfully muscled, shoulder-high horses had evolved from squat dog-sized creatures.

The diminutive jaw, from an early horse that stood about two feet tall, offered proof of how the species had changed over time. And maybe, if they accepted the evolution of Equus caballus, they could begin to contemplate the origin of Homo sapiens.

Mr. Campbell instructed the students to spend three minutes at each station. He watched Bryce and his partner, Allie Farris, look at the illustration of a modern horse jaw he had posted next to the fossil of its Mesohippus ancestor. Hovering, he kicked himself for not acquiring a real one to make the comparison more tangible. But they lingered, well past their time limit. Bryce pointed to the jaw in the picture and held the fossil up to his own mouth.

"It's maybe the size of a dog's jaw or a cat's," he said, measuring.

He looked at Allie. "That's pretty cool, don't you think?"

After class, Mr. Campbell fed the turtles. It was time for a test, he thought.

'I Don't Believe in This'

Bryce came to Ridgeview as a freshman from a Christian private school where he attended junior high.

At 16, Bryce, whose parents had made sure he read the Bible for an hour each Sunday as a child, no longer went to church. But he did make it to the predawn meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national Christian sports organization whose mission statement defines the Bible as the "authoritative Word of God." Life had been dark after his father died a year ago, he told the group, but things had been going better recently, and he attributed that to God's help.

When the subject of evolution came up at a recent fellowship meeting, several of the students rolled their eyes.

"I think a big reason evolutionists believe what they believe is they don't want to have to be ruled by God," said Josh Rou, 17.

"Evolution is telling you that you're like an animal," Bryce agreed. "That's why people stand strong with Christianity, because it teaches people to lead a good life and not do wrong."

Doug Daugherty, 17, allowed that he liked science.

"I'll watch the Discovery Channel and say 'Ooh, that's interesting,' " he said. "But there's a difference between thinking something is interesting and believing it."

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

"I refuse to answer," Bryce wrote. "I don't believe in this."

Losing Heart

Mr. Campbell looked at the calendar. Perhaps this semester, he thought, he would skip over the touchy subject of human origins. The new standards, after all, had not gone into effect. "Maybe I'll just give them the fetal pig dissection," he said with a sigh.

It wasn't just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of "Evolution Exposed," published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

Where the textbook states, for example, that "Homo sapiens appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago based on fossil and DNA evidence," "Exposed" counters that "The fossil evidence of hominids (alleged human ancestors) is extremely limited." A pastor at a local church, Mr. Campbell learned, had given a copy of "Exposed" to every graduating senior the previous year.

But the next week, at a meeting in Tallahassee where he sorted the new science standards into course descriptions for other teachers, the words he had helped write reverberated in his head.

"Evolution," the standards said, "is the fundamental concept underlying all biology."

When he got home, he dug out his slide illustrating the nearly exact match between human and chimpanzee chromosomes, and prepared for a contentious class.

Facing the Challenge

"True or false?" he barked the following week, wearing a tie emblazoned with the DNA double helix. "Humans evolved from chimpanzees."

The students stared at him, unsure. "True," some called out.

"False," he said, correcting a common misconception. "But we do share a common ancestor."

More gently now, he started into the story of how, five or six million years ago, a group of primates in Africa split. Some stayed in the forest and evolved into chimps; others — our ancestors — migrated to the grasslands.

On the projector, he placed a picture of the hand of a gibbon, another human cousin. "There's the opposable thumb," he said, wiggling his own. "But theirs is a longer hand because they live in trees, and their arms are very long."

Mr. Campbell bent over, walking on the outer part of his foot. He had intended to mimic how arms became shorter and legs became longer. He planned to tell the class how our upright gait, built on a body plan inherited from tree-dwelling primates, made us prone to lower back pain. And how, over the last two million years, our jaws have grown shorter, which is why wisdom teeth so often need to be removed.

But too many hands had gone up.

He answered as fast as he could, his pulse quickening as it had rarely done since his days on his high school debate team.

"If that really happened," Allie wanted to know, "wouldn't you still see things evolving?"

"We do," he said. "But this is happening over millions of years. With humans, if I'm lucky I might see four generations in my lifetime."

Caitlin Johnson, 15, was next.

"If we had to have evolved from something," she wanted to know, "then whatever we evolved from, where did IT evolve from?"

"It came from earlier primates," Mr. Campbell replied.

"And where did those come from?"

"You can trace mammals back 250 million years," he said. The first ones, he reminded them, were small, mouselike creatures that lived in the shadow of dinosaurs.

Other students were jumping in.

"Even if we did split off from chimps," someone asked, "how come they stayed the same but we changed?"

"They didn't stay the same," Mr. Campbell answered. "They were smaller, more slender — they've changed a lot."

Bryce had been listening, studying the hand of the monkey on the screen .

"How does our hand go from being that long to just a smaller hand?" he said. "I don't see how that happens."

"If a smaller hand is beneficial," Mr. Campbell said, "individuals with small hands will have more children, while those with bigger hands will disappear."

"But if we came from them, why are they still around?"

"Just because a new population evolves doesn't mean the old one dies out," Mr. Campbell said.

Bryce spoke again. This time it wasn't a question.

"So it just doesn't stop," he said.

"No," said Mr. Campbell. "If the environment is suitable, a species can go on for a long time."

"What about us," Bryce pursued. "Are we going to evolve?"

Mr. Campbell stopped, and took a breath.

"Yes," he said. "Unless we go extinct."

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce's paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Toxic metals in Ayurvedic remedies


Popular Indian herbal medicines sold over the internet may contain harmful levels of poisonous toxic metals, The Guardian reports. Laboratory tests on Ayurvedic remedies found that up to one in five of them contained dangerous amounts of lead, arsenic and mercury, which "can lead to acute poisoning", the newspaper says.

There has been a surge in the popularity of alternative remedies such as Ayurvedic medicines, which are used to treat a variety of ailments. This study highlights the fact that many alternative therapies do not have to undergo the stringent health and safety research and monitoring that conventional medicines do. This study will lead to further testing and research into the safety of Ayurvedic medicines and other alternative therapies. People taking Ayurvedic or other alternative therapies to self-treat medical conditions should contact their doctor if they have any concerns, particularly if they are taking prescription medications at the same time.

Where did the story come from?

Dr Robert Saper from Boston Medical Center, US, and colleagues, carried out this research. The lead researcher had financial support through a Career Development Award from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; another researcher had previously been a research associate for the Ayurvedic medicine manufacturer, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal: Journal of the American Medical Association.

What kind of scientific study was this?

This was a cross-sectional analysis where the researchers obtained samples of Ayurvedic remedies identified through a broad search of the internet for manufacturers. They then tested the products in order to see if they contained detectable levels of lead, mercury and arsenic, and to see whether there were differences between US- and Indian-manufactured remedies. The researchers suspected that toxic metals may be present due to the process of combining herbs with minerals, metals and crystals during manufacture – a process known as rasa shastra.

In November and December 2004, the researchers carried out internet searches on five commonly used search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves) using the search terms 'Ayurveda' and 'Ayurvedic medicine'. The first page of results generated by each search engine was used as the source for the websites that supplied products for the study. In order to be included products had to meet the criteria of: containing traditional Ayurvedic herbs; being taken orally; and being available for purchase. A total of 673 products were identified and a computer-generated random number sequence was used to select 230 of them which were then purchased over the internet in August, September and October 2005.

"We suggest strictly enforced, government-mandated daily dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary supplements"

Robert Saper, lead author The researchers noted the country of manufacture for each product and whether the manufacturers were members of any herbal-manufacturer associations. They also documented formula, instructions for use and cost. An Indian-trained Ayurvedic practitioner noted whether formulations were traditional rasa shastra formulations or not. Products were anonymously transferred to vials and laboratory methods were used to test for detectable levels of lead, mercury and arsenic. The researchers then assessed the ratio of toxic metal-containing products compared with those without detectable levels.

What were the results of the study?

Of the 230 products selected for purchase, 84% of them were received and these came from 37 different manufacturers. Overall, 20.7% of the products had detectable levels of metals, with no significant difference between those products manufactured in the US (21.7%) compared with India (19.5%). However, 95% of metal-containing products were sold by US websites. The prevalence of detectable metals in the rasa shastra medicines (40.6%) was significantly higher compared with the non-rasa shastra medicines (17.1%). The rasa shastra medicines (mostly of Indian manufacture) contained significantly higher concentrations of both lead and mercury. The concentration of mercury was also significantly higher in Indian-manufactured products compared with US-manufactured products. All the products that contained metal were found to exceed at least one, or more, regulatory standards for daily intake of toxic metals, in other words, by taking the manufacturers recommended dose, recommended daily intake levels for the metals would be exceeded.

Seventy-five percent of products containing detectable metals came from manufacturers that claimed to have good manufacturing processes. Manufacturers who had membership of the Indian-based Ayurveda Drug Manufacturers Association (ADMA) were no more likely to have a reduced level of toxic metals in their products than those without membership; however, those with membership of the US-based American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) were less likely to have detectable toxic metals in their products.

The list of products that contained detectable toxic metals, their manufacturers and website suppliers is given in the journal article but they are not listed here. Complete indications for the use of each therapy are not given in the journal article.

What interpretations did the researchers draw from these results?

The researchers conclude that one fifth of both the US and Indian Ayurvedic medicine products purchased via the internet contain detectable levels of mercury, lead or arsenic.

What does the NHS Knowledge Service make of this study?

This research will no doubt raise concerns about the use and safety of Ayurvedic medicines.

The search and identification of products was carried out four years ago and manufacture of the remedies may have altered since then.

Although a large sample was tested, which is likely to be fairly representative, the method of sampling websites just from the first results page of a search for 'Ayurveda' and 'Ayurvedic medicine' is likely to exclude a whole range of products that were not identified.

It is not possible to say whether the 16% of products that the researchers were unable to obtain were more or less likely to contain toxic metals (reasons for non-supply were various, but did include the manufacturers having knowledge that the researchers were studying Ayurvedic medicine products).

The study may have been subject to some misclassification of manufacturer details, use or rasa shastra status, either due to unclear product information or errors in the researchers' data collection.

Although there may be overlaps between internet and shop-purchased products, results of this research can not applied to remedies purchased in health food shops and similar retailers, or to those prescribed by an Ayurvedic practitioner. The results also have no implications on non-Ayurvedic alternative therapies.

The possible effects on health of detectable levels of lead, mercury and arsenic in Ayurvedic medicine products is unknown and has not been investigated by this research. However, the researchers note that ingestion according to the manufacturer's instructions of any of the products they tested would mean that at least one regulatory standard (i.e. maximum allowable daily dose) was violated. They call for "strictly enforced, government-mandated daily dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary supplements".

With the surge in popularity of alternative remedies such as Ayurvedic medicines and their use to treat a variety of common ailments including depression, anxiety, brittle bones and blood pressure, the public should be aware that many alternative therapies do not have to undergo the stringent health and safety research and monitoring that conventional medicines do. This article highlights this issue and is likely to provoke further testing and research into the safety of Ayurvedic medicines and other alternative therapies. People taking any Ayurvedic or other alternative therapies to self-treat medical conditions should seek medical advice if they have concerns and inform their doctor, particularly if they are taking prescription medications at the same time.

Sir Muir Gray adds...

It is essential to remember that all medical care can potentially do harm as well as good.

Purdue, Citing Research Misconduct, Punishes Scientist


Published: August 27, 2008

An appeals committee at Purdue University has upheld findings of misconduct on the part of a professor who claims to have created energy-generating fusion in a tabletop experiment, the university announced on Wednesday.

With the findings, William R. Woodson, the university's provost, has imposed punishment on the professor, Rusi P. Taleyarkhan. Dr. Taleyarkhan remains on the Purdue faculty, but his distinction as a "named professor" has been removed, along with an annual allotment of $25,000 that accompanied it.

In addition, he is prohibited from serving as a thesis adviser to graduate students for at least the next three years.

John Lewis, a lawyer for him, said Dr. Taleyarkhan was considering his options, among them challenging the sanctions in court.

Beginning with a paper published in the journal Science in 2002, Dr. Taleyarkhan, who then worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has claimed that the force of sound waves can collapse bubbles in a liquid violently enough to generate conditions that fuse together hydrogen atoms, releasing energy. Scientists working in other laboratories have not been able to reproduce the experiments.

In July, an investigatory committee at Purdue, though coming to no conclusions about that finding itself, determined that Dr. Taleyarkhan had later falsely claimed independent confirmation of the work. Actually, the committee said, he had been involved in supervising the follow-up experiment, which was conducted by a postdoctoral researcher in his laboratory, and in writing the resulting scientific papers.

The committee also found that a graduate student in his laboratory whom Dr. Taleyarkhan added as an author to those follow-up papers had made no substantial contributions.

Dr. Taleyarkhan appealed the decision. The rejection of that appeal, by a three-member panel appointed by Dr. Woodson, the provost, was unanimous.

Responding to a request for comment, Dr. Taleyarkhan referred in an e-mail message to the investigatory committee's dismissal of 10 other accusations of misconduct, including improper presentation of data.

"The immense three-year-long investigation," he wrote, "has thrown out all allegations related to fraud and fabrication and therefore represents a success for the science."

Massive Takedown of Anti-Scientology Videos on YouTube


by via the EFF
Saturday Sep 6th, 2008 11:17 AM

Saturday, September 6, 2008 : Over a period of twelve hours, between this Thursday night and Friday morning, American Rights Counsel LLC sent out over 4000 DMCA takedown notices to YouTube, all making copyright infringement claims against videos with content critical of the Church of Scientology. Clips included footage of Australian and German news reports about Scientology, A Message to Anonymous/Scientology , and footage from a Clearwater City Commission meeting. Many accounts were suspended by YouTube in response to multiple allegations of copyright infringement.

YouTube users responded with DMCA counter-notices. At this time, many of the suspended channels have been reinstated and many of the videos are back up. Whether or not American Rights Counsel, LLC represents the notoriously litigious Church of Scientology is unclear, but this would not be the first time that the Church of Scientology has used the DMCA to silence Scientology critics. The Church of Scientology DMCA complaints shut down the YouTube channel of critic Mark Bunker in June, 2008. Bunker's account, XenuTV, was also among the channels shut down in this latest flurry of takedown notices.

Read More


Animal bones offer clues to evolution


By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / September 7, 2008

It's not just about the skeletons and skins, Gwil Jones said. It's what they can tell you about life on this planet.

He uses the example of evolution and how new discoveries led to new thinking about the relationships of different species, determined by patterns observed in skeletal remains gathered over many years.

"The more fossils that are found, the more complicated that pattern becomes," said the Northeastern University professor, whose collection inhabits the corridors and side rooms of the former World War II bunkers that house part of the university's Marine Science Center on East Point.

What scientists once "thought was related at one time is more distantly related or more closely related now, simply based on more evidence coming forth," he said.

For more than 30 years, Jones has collected bones, large and small. A collection he built while studying diseases in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Indonesia for the US Navy is kept at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

He estimates that there are nearly 40,000 specimens of mammals in his collection, which makes it the third-largest collection in Massachusetts, behind only Harvard and the University of Massachusetts. His collection features more skeletal remains of North Atlantic minke whales than the Smithsonian has.

Skulls from animals as exotic as elephants, giraffes, and rhinoceroses are lined up in display cases inside the bunker corridor.

Some large whale bones are stacked on heavy-duty shelves in a store room.

There are also drawers full of skins from small terrestrial mammals (shrews and mice, etc.), and the remains of small- to medium-sized fish, frogs, eels, and rays kept in jars on shelves.

The head and hide of a crocodile is folded on a countertop. One display case features only the skulls of seals.

"People will find a road-killed mink and call me and say, 'Do you want this?' " Jones said. "We'll take it. And we'll process it. There's ecology and systematics here. We'll take the parasites off, we'll take the stomach out and see what the stomach has in it. We'll learn as much as we can from it before we make it a skeleton."

The animals come from a variety of sources. A walrus skull came to the university after someone who knew Jones found it in a Lenox barn. A large waterhead turtle skull came into the collection after a Northeastern student dug it out of the trash in Cambridge. The giraffe came from the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, and zoo staffers cried as the Northeastern team took it away.

"They got very close," he said. "Apparently, they're very affectionate animals."

The collection includes an assembled but not articulated (meaning the bones are not connected) fin whale that measures 52 feet. Assembled along the floor of one of the bunker corridors, the large whale is a particular favorite of those on field trips.

A Northeastern professor since 1976, Jones has also served as the director of the marine science center since 2007.

When he moved his work from Boston to Nahant, he brought his bones - officially called The Center for Vertebrate Studies - with him.

That move has exposed the bones to a whole new world.

"It's been a great addition," said Tracy Hajduk, outreach coordinator for the center, which hosts field trips for students in K-12 as well as a summer program for high school students.

"It's something that kids can see here that they can't see anywhere else. It really hits home at how large some of these animals are, and some students really get interested because they can see it firsthand. We've had very positive feedback from both teachers and students."

Jones noted that approximately 900 people have visited the collection (all by appointment and with college permission) since the beginning of the year.

"A good way to look at a collection is to realize that it's virtually the same thing as a library," Jones said.

"Whether it's a library of CDs or a library of books, whatever, it's a life library," he said.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Evolution education update: September 5, 2008

The Fort Worth Weekly provides a useful update on the impending battle over evolution in Texas, while recent creationist initiatives are denounced in ASBMB Today.


A recent article in the Fort Worth Weekly (August 3, 2008) warns of the impending battle over the place of evolution in Texas's state science standards. "The basic fight is expected to be over what kids are taught about evolution -- which takes up only about three days of teaching in a 180-day school year," Laurie Barker James writes. "But scientists and teachers argue there are much bigger things at stake: the intimidation of teachers and the possible beginning of biblical beliefs being taught as science in Texas public schools."

Steven Schafersman, the president of Texas Citizens for Science, told the Weekly that the current educational climate "intimidates [science] teachers," forcing them "to avoid or minimize" the topic of evolution. James added, "The fact that none of the other science teachers interviewed for this article wanted their names used would seem to back up his allegation of fear in the teaching ranks. All but [Kevin] Fisher said they believe that any statement with their names on it could come back to them in the form of a pink slip."

Naturally, the case of Chris Comer, who was forced to resign from her position as director of science at the Texas Education Agency in October 2007 over her forwarding a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, was discussed. As NCSE previously reported, she is now suing the TEA, seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment that its policy of requiring its employees to be "neutral" with respect to creationism violates the Establishment Clause. The TEA is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

The article proceeds to explain the political dynamics of the Texas state board of education. Dan Quinn, the communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, told James that Texans have "elected a board with a bloc of ideologues who care more about promoting their own personal agendas than educating Texas kids," with seven of the fifteen members of the board -- one short of a majority -- identified as allied with the religious right. Among them is the chair of the board, Don McLeroy, whose hostility to evolution education is notorious.

Reacting to a claim that those seven members of the board are only seeking accuracy, Schafersman explained, "The intent of the SBOE creationists is to ask for misrepresentation of science, not for accuracy." They plan, he said, to "damage evolution instruction by trying to get the new science standards to include [lessons on] alleged but false 'weaknesses' of evolution, in order to weaken evolution content, confuse students, and make them think science is less accurate and reliable about biological origins than it really is."

What's next? "Experts are currently composing drafts, according to the TEA's schedule, and the SBOE will have another 'discussion' about the science curricula in November. [A spokesperson for the TEA] said the public can comment now, or at any of the meetings between November 2008 and March 2009, as well as via the agency's web site." But, James added, "Science teachers and their advocates are urging interested Texans to write directly to TEA Commissioner Scott or to their local SBOE members now -- and not to wait until the official proposal is released in January."

The TFN's Dan Quinn emphasized the importance of the issue, saying, "Right now, what the SBOE does will determine whether the next generation of Texas public school students get a 19th-century education in their 21st-century classroom ... The adoption of the science curriculum will determine whether students will be prepared to succeed in college and jobs of the future, or whether their education is subordinated to the views and beliefs of a fringe group of SBOE members." And James added, "What happens here will also ripple through the textbooks of other states."

For the article in the Fort Worth Weekly, visit:

For the website of Texas Citizens for Science, visit:

For the website of the Texas Freedom Network, visit:

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


Two articles in the August 2008 issue of ASBMB Today react to recent creationist iniatives. ASBMB's president, Gregory A. Petsko of Brandeis University, pulls no punches in his column, beginning, "They're at it again. Armed with another new idea from the Discovery Institute, that bastion of ignorance, right-wing political ideology, and pseudo-scientific claptrap, the creationist movement has mounted yet another assault on science. This time it comes in two flavors, propaganda and legislative."

The propaganda effort is the film Expelled, "which attempts to link evolution to the eugenics movement in Nazi Germany and to the Holocaust, and portrays advocates of intelligent design as champions of academic freedom and victims of discrimination by the scientific community." Petsko continues, "Fortunately, the film is sinking faster than the Lusitania ... Whether this is because people recognize it as rubbish or because it is simply a bad movie, I don't know."

Less easily dismissable, however, is the passage and enactment of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, which threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in the state's public school science classes. Quoting a defender as saying that it enables teachers to "teach the controversy," Petsko responds, "Let me say this as clearly as possible, so there can be no mistake about what I mean: there is no controversy."

Warming to his theme, he continues: "Just because a few misguided so-called scientists question the validity of the concept of evolution doesn't mean there is a controversy. ... The fact that some people believe nonsense does not give that nonsense scientific credibility." And the Louisiana Science Education is not really about academic freedom, he observes. "Any 'science' teacher who teaches that the earth might have been created about 6,000 years ago and that all the material evidence that it's billions of years old is controversial is simply incompetent."

Elsewhere in the same issue of ASBMB Today, ASBMB's policy fellow Angela Hvitved provides a history and analysis of bills like the Louisiana Science Education Act, noting that "most science education groups agree that, at best, these bills are unnecessary and do not provide any additional legitimate protection and at worst, provide cover for introducing intelligent design and other nonscientific topics into the science classroom."

ASBMB Today is a monthly publication of the American Society for Microbiology and Molecular Biology, a non-profit scientific and educational organization with over 12,000 members. Its mission is "to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through publication of scientific and educational journals, ... organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce."

For the August 2008 isue of ASBMB Today, visit:

For information about Expelled, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:

And for information about ASBMB, 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.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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!

Darwinian answers to challenging questions


Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 9/2/2008 8:00:00 AM

The New York Times is rehashing an old argument with the reprinting of "Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution."

The article, penned by Discovery Institute senior fellow Jonathan Wells over five years ago, lists ten questions that were meant to bring awareness to the allegedly sketchy and falsified science behind evolutionary teaching. The New York Times recently reprinted the questions along with rebuttal from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). But Discovery Institute spokesman Casey Luskin says the NCSE's response was lacking.

"It's very obvious that The New York Times is afraid that students who are about to go back to school might have ideas in their heads that challenge Darwinian evolution," Luskin contends. "And so they took it upon themselves, as an allegedly unbiased media source, to actually print answers to the ten questions that students can ask their biology teachers about evolution. And, of course, all the answers that they print are from a...strictly pro-Darwin-only viewpoint."

For example, Luskin points out the peppered moth question. He says, in an attempt to prove natural selection, researchers staged photo shoots. "Basically the researchers glued moths on the tree trunks of trees in locations where it turns out the moths don't normally reside," he explains. "And so what they really do is set up an experiment that does not model the reality of biology."

In response, the NCSE argued that the pictures were meant to prove a point -- and that just because people stage the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg does not mean the battle never happened.

Comments on this article:

"There is no scientific debate on creationism/evolution, and scientific theories require some level of support before we allow them to be taught in our classrooms. Whether or not a few (and it is a very small number) of people decide they want to believe in this nonsense is irrelevant - schools are not the place for such conversations, especially given the complete lack of scientific support for 'intelligent design' and its various other forms. And for the record, a good number of the scientists you listed never even had a chance to be exposed the the theory of evolution because it had yet to be introduced, and even if they had its still an argument from authority and one unsupported by every shred of evidence."

"How funny! Non-scientists calling such scientists as these "lame": Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, Lord Kelvin, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Christian Huygens, Blaise Pascal, Marconi, Roger Bacon, Robert Boyle, Copernicus, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, George Washington Carver, James Joule, Sir Francis Bacon, Bernhard Riemann, Wernher von Braun, John Philoponus, Dietrich von Frieberg, Joseph Lister, Francesco Grimaldi, Niels Steno, John Dalton, Philip Gosse, Leonhard Euler, Arthur Eddington, Samuel F.B. Morse, Louis Agassiz, William Herschel, George Gabriel Stokes, Augustin Cauchy, George Boole, Carolus Linnaeus, Nicole Oresme, Ewald Georg von Kleist, David Brewster, John Herschel..."

"A poor article that does nothing to further belief in Creation. I do believe that God created the world, and He gave the creatures He created to ability to evolve and adapt to changing conditions. Case in point, the peppered moth, to which God gave the ability to adapt as its environment changed. Our world is too wonderful and too carefully in balance to have happened by chance. It had to have been created."

"Darwin disproved his own theory and said as much in several of his writings. Amazing how those conclusions are never published."

"Pretty lame that Luskin insists on going back to the tired, old, peppered moth incident. No serious, degree-holding (I mean, from a real university and not something like Bob Jones) biologist doubts evolution by natural selection, because 1) the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and 2)there is no other credible theory available."

"Evolution is all fiction. Because if animals evolved, then the previous animals must disappear, such as humans from apes. Check out www.drdino.com for the truth."

"Pretty unscientific arguement from the NCSE. The NCSE might have added because people dress as wherewolves during Halloween doesn't mean there are no wherewolves. Good article."

Climate 'hockey stick' is revived


By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

A new study by climate scientists behind the controversial 1998 "hockey stick" graph suggests their earlier analysis was broadly correct.

Michael Mann's team analysed data for the last 2,000 years, and concluded that Northern Hemisphere temperatures now are "anomalously warm".

Different analytical methods give the same result, they report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 1998 hockey stick was a totem of debates over man-made global warming.

The graph - indicating that Northern Hemisphere temperatures had been roughly constant for 1,000 years (the "shaft" of the stick) before turning abruptly upwards in the industrial age - featured prominently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2001 assessment.

But some academics questioned its methodology and conclusions, and increasingly strident condemnations reverberated around the blogosphere.

One US politician demanded to see financial and research records from the scientists involved.

However, a 2006 report from the National Research Council (NRC), commissioned by the US Congress, broadly endorsed its conclusion that Northern Hemisphere temperatures in the late 20th Century were probably warmer than at any time in the previous 400 years, and perhaps at any time during the previous 1,000 years.

Twin study

Since then, a number of research groups have produced new "proxy records" of temperatures from the centuries before thermometers were widely deployed.

Such proxies include the growth patterns of trees and coral, the contents of ice cores and sediments, and temperature fluctuations in boreholes.

Unravelling 'climate scepticism'

In their latest study, Dr Mann's group collated more than 1,200 proxy records - the majority from the Northern Hemisphere - and used different statistical methods to analyse their cumulative message.

"We used two different methods that are quite complementary in the assumptions they make about data, so that provides a test of the sensitivity of data to the methods used," he told BBC News.

"We also made use of a far wider network of proxy data than previously available.

"Ten years ago, the availability of data became quite sparse by the time you got back to 1,000 AD, and what we had then was weighted towards tree-ring data; but now you can go back 1,300 years without using tree-ring data at all and still get a verifiable conclusion."

Both analytical methods produced graphs similar to the original hockey stick, though starting further back in time. The "shaft" now extends back to about 700 AD.

The same basic pattern emerged when tree-ring data - whose reliability has been questioned - was excluded from the analysis.

"I think that having this extra data and using more methods to analyse it makes the conclusions more robust," commented Gabi Hegerl from the University of Edinburgh, UK, who was not involved in the research.

Past lessons

Critics of the idea of man-made climate change argue that conditions 1,000 years ago were as warm as, if not warmer than, they are today.

The new paper adds to the evidence against that notion. One of the analytical methods used suggests that temperatures in the Mediaeval Warm Period could have been no higher than they were in about 1980; the other suggests they were no higher than those seen 100 years ago.

In any case, said Dr Hegerl: "The whole line of argument [about whether temperatures have been as high in the past as they are now] is not very relevant."

The climate has always responded to factors such as changes in solar activity or volcanic eruptions, and always will, she said; the issue now is how it is responding to greenhouse gas emissions.

"In any case, the paper still comes to the firm conclusion that the most recent decades are unusual."

Ten years on from the study that provoked all the ire, Michael Mann's conclusion is that far from being broken, "the hockey stick is alive and well".

But, the Penn State University researcher added: "If we want to understand things like El Nino and how it relates to climate change, it's not enough to know just how anomalously warm the climate is today.

"We need to learn from the palaeoclimatic record. The science is not all done, there's still a lot of work to do; but what we are seeing now is definitely unusual in the context of the past."

A particular desire of scientists in the field is to increase the amount of data from the Southern Hemisphere. The majority of proxy records come from land rather than sea, and from land not covered in ice at that, which is in relatively short supply south of the equator.


Colloidal Silver: FAQ


Facts About Argyria, the Gray Skin Condition Rosemary Jacobs Blames on Colloidal Silver
By Miranda Hitti

WebMD Health NewsReviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 5, 2008 -- Media reports are abuzz today with the story of Rosemary Jacobs, a 66-year-old Vermont woman who says her skin is permanently gray because of colloidal silver.

Jacobs blames her gray skin, a condition called argyria, on colloidal silver in nasal drops that she took as needed for four years starting as an 11-year-old. She says her skin slowly turned gray. Jacobs' case was noted in May 1999 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

You wouldn't get colloidal silver exactly the way Jacobs did today. The FDA has cracked down on colloidal silver, but that doesn't mean those products are totally gone. Paul Karason, the so-called "Blue Man" in California who says he drank colloidal silver and applied it to his skin, has also attracted media attention for his argyria.

Jacobs says she wants colloidal silver supplements to carry warning labels about argyria. She also wants anyone who makes unsubstantiated claims about their safety and efficacy to be prosecuted.

What is colloidal silver, why do people take it, and what other health risks does it pose? For answers, WebMD spoke with Andrew Shao, PhD, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group for the dietary supplements industry. Other background information comes from the web sites of the FDA and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

What is colloidal silver?

Colloidal silver is composed of tiny silver particles suspended in liquid.

What is argyria?

Argyria is a permanent blue-gray discoloration of the skin and deep tissues. It can result from using colloidal silver products.

What other risks are there from colloidal silver products?

Apart from argyria, the NCCAM says colloidal silver products may cause side effects including "neurologic problems (such as seizures), kidney damage, stomach distress, headaches, fatigue, and skin irritation," and that colloidal silver may hamper the body's absorption of certain drugs (penacillamine, quinolones, tetracyclines, and thyroxine).

Why do people take colloidal silver?

"The products are purported to alleviate all sorts of medical conditions and diseases but there's no substantiation for that," says Shao.

Colloidal silver products are often marketed with unproven health claims. "Examples include that they benefit the immune system; kill disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; are an alternative to prescription antibiotics; or treat diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, syphilis, scarlet fever, shingles, herpes, pneumonia, and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate)," states the NCCAM's web site.

Is colloidal silver still in nasal drops?

No. The FDA banned colloidal silver from all over-the-counter drugs in 1999.

What about colloidal silver supplements?The FDA's 1999 ban on colloidal silver is specifically about over-the-counter drugs, not dietary supplements. But the FDA has cracked down on companies selling colloidal silver supplements that claim that the supplements cure conditions or do other things that drugs do.

Shao says that colloidal silver -- and colloidal gold and colloidal titanium -- "are not legitimate dietary ingredients. They play no role in the diet; they're not essential in the diet." But that doesn't mean colloidal silver hasn't been hawked online.

"The fact that it's on the Internet -- there's lots of stuff on the Internet that maybe shouldn't be," says Shao. "That's not an indication of FDA's blessing or lack thereof; it's more of an indication of insufficient enforcement."

Sarah Palin and Creationism


by Ralph Stone‚ Sep. 05‚ 2008

Reportedly, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a creationist--or at least she advocates teaching creationism alongside evolution in the public schools. I, therefore, conclude that she believes that Charles Darwin's tested theory of evolution is on the same scientific level as creationism. But just what is creationism?

The Bible (Genesis) tells us that God created heaven and earth and all contained therein in six days. (God rested on the seventh day). Genesis is treated by most scholars as an allegory, not literally true. Remarkably, creationists like Palin believe the Bible is literally true. While most Americans probably agree that God was responsible for the creation of life on earth, many disagree on what happened next. Creationists believe that humans and other living things have stayed the same since creation.

Creationists believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that Darwin's theory of evolution does not adequately explain the complexity of life. They believe that various forms of life began abruptly by an intelligent agency (God) with their distinctive features in place, i.e., fish with scales and fins, birds with feathers and wings, etc. Creationists cannot accept that humans evolved from apes. To them this is sacrilege. "Intelligent design" -- creationism repackaged -- holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause (God), not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Darwinism is based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution set forth in his "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," and subsequent writings. His theory of evolution is considered the foundation of biology. Darwin posited a tree of life with one species giving rise to another species over billions of years. Species evolved over time through natural selection acting on inherited traits. Darwin had no idea how those traits arose or how they were passed on from generation to generation. The discovery of DNA gave rise to a new field of science called genetics, which confirmed Darwin's theory and explained how traits are passed on. Genetics also confirmed the most controversial part of Darwin's theory that humans and apes have a common ancestry. But even after 126 years, his theory supported by information which has been tested again and again over time is still anathema to the creationists.

The courts have ruled that intelligent design and creationism should be taught, if at all, in Sunday school - not in our public schools. For example, in 2005, the federal court in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (Pennsylvania), stated: "Intelligent design cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents" and thus, is unconstitutional. The judge also stated: "Intelligent design is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community."

Like Palin, President Bush has said that schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life. Education, however, is not necessarily about debating both sides because that assumes both evolution, which has been tested over time, should be taught alongside creationism, which is superstitious nonsense. Not surprisingly, Bush White House appointees have been accused of suppressing or censoring science that goes against the administration's political and religious leanings.

Another adherent of junk science is not going to improve this country's tarnished world image.

Brokaw Misconstrues Independent Voter Trends on Teaching Evolution


Last Sunday morning, MSNBC's "Meet the Press" (hosted by Tom Brokaw) interviewed Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty about whether "creationism vs. evolution ... should be taught side by side in public schools." Pawlenty observed that Brokaw should be talking about intelligent design (ID), not creationism: "In the scientific community, it seems like intelligent design is dismissed. Not entirely, there are a lot of scientists who would make the case that it is appropriate to be taught and appropriate to be demonstrated." Pawlenty said that the decision should be left to local districts. Discovery Institute, of course, has long-opposed mandating ID in public schools.

Continuing to call the issue "creationism vs. evolution" and failing to acknowledge intelligent design, Brokaw then asked political strategist Mike Murphy how the teaching of "creationism vs. evolution" would "cut with the independents." Also confused and mistaken, Murphy replied, "It's trouble."

In fact, polls have shown that large percentages of Independent voters — and even strong majorities of Democrats — support both teaching ID alongside evolution as well as the far more modest proposition to simply teach both the scientific evidence for and against evolution, without teaching ID.

A 2006 Zogby Poll found that 74% of Independent voters and 60% of Democrats support the view that biology teachers should teach Darwinian evolution, but also the evidence against it. The poll also found that 65% of Democrats and 79% of Independents support the view that "When Darwin's theory of evolution is taught in school, students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life." This bears repeating: 79% of Independent voters supported teaching ID when evolution is taught. 86% and 85% of Republicans in the poll supported these positions, respectively.

In these politically polarized times, on how many issues do over 60% of Democrats and over 70% of Independents agree with a viewpoint held by over 80% of Republicans? It seems that Brokaw and Murphy may need to re-analyze the poll data about where the majority of Americans truly stand on the reasonable proposition that evolution should be taught in a non-dogmatic and critical fashion.

Posted by Casey Luskin on September 5, 2008 9:21 AM | Permalink

Palin's creationist views would endanger U.S. progress


Posted on Sun, Sep. 7, 2008

Arthur Caplan is chairman of the medical-ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania

There has been no end of reaction to Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential pick. After the initial "Sarah who?" response from those in the other 49 states, some commentators have decided it was brilliant to place a dynamic young woman at McCain's side.

Despite Palin's boisterous coming-out speech at the Republican convention, I think McCain has actually thrown away any chance he had of being elected because the selection of Palin puts an issue on the table that McCain may find exceedingly uncomfortable to have to wrestle with over the next two months.

No, I don't mean Palin's views on abortion, although she is staunchly anti-choice. Nor do I mean her pro-gun views, her vociferous opposition to embryonic stem cell research, or her involvement in "Troopergate."

Instead, her selection forces out into the open the question of whether the United States can compete in world markets that rely on our scientific and technical prowess with a creationist as vice president or president.

Palin wants creationism taught in school. She told the Anchorage Daily News that schools ought to "teach both." Really?

Faithful followers of the battle over creationism in Pennsylvania will recall that nearly three years ago federal Judge John E. Jones barred a public school district from teaching "intelligent design" in biology classes. The judge delivered a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board, saying its decision in October 2004 to insert "intelligent design" into the science curriculum violated the constitutional separation of church and state. Creationism is a religious belief that has no place in science classes.

Of all the staunchly conservative views Palin holds, this one may pose the greatest threat to the future of our children, your health, and the nation's economy.

It may thrill the Republican Party's conservative base to have a woman as president who believes in biblical inerrancy and wants to see creationism taught as science, but it will mean the United States can kiss goodbye any chance this nation has of using biomedical science to take on the rest of the world in biotechnology, alternative-energy technology, synthetic biology or genetics.

And that means we can more or less kiss goodbye any chance we have of using our current prowess in biomedical science to drive our economy forward both in states such as Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey and in high-tech areas around the country.

The pundits will gurgle on as they have been about how Palin can gut a fish or cook up a mean mooseburger. But what cannot be ignored is her view that a narrow religious account of how the world began and evolved belongs in the science classroom.

If Palin's fundamentalist religious thinking are on display in the White House, then the odds are lower that America can tap biological science to work our way out of global warming, oil dependency, pollution, dying oceans, and finding new ways to grow healthy food.

A vote for Palin, or any creationist, is casting a vote for change, all right. A change back to the lifestyles of the 19th century.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Explore Evolution Textbook Featured in Science Magazine


Science magazine urgently contacted us several days ago allegedly to get our take on the Louisiana Science Education Act passed by the state's legislature and awaiting the governor's signature. (A bill opposed by the AAAS, publishers of Science.) The reporter interviewed CSC's John West for upwards of an hour seemingly trying to get the facts straight. Then she called back with an urgent request for a picture of the cover of Explore Evolution: The Case For and Against Neo-Darwinism. One wonders why she bothered.

Science has a story in their latest issue that is in lock step with their typical Darwin only approach to science education policy. It leads with a from Darwin defender Barbara Forrest, puts the words academic freedom in scare quotes, and then inserts a quote from LA. Governor Jindal that was not about, nor had anything to do with, the LSEA. Finally they round it out with attacks from critics, nicely referred to as science educators.

"Science educators say the new wording is intended simply to circumvent rulings by U.S. courts that creationism and intelligent design are unconstitutional religious intrusions into a public school science curriculum."

Never mind that they ignored us. But, what about the science educators who testified in support of the act? What do they say? Dr. Caroline Crocker, a noted skeptic of Darwinism, and Professors of Biology Dr. Wade Warren and Dr. Brenda Pierson of Louisiana College all spoke on behalf of the LSEA and in support of teaching students both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Dr. Pierson summed it up pretty well:

"The bottom line is this: science is complicated, often controversial, but oh so interesting. We need to be academically honest when discussing scientific theories and searching for scientific truth. Teachers deserve the freedom to present the evidence for controversial theories and also the evidence against them."

And what about the bill itself, what does it say? Again, let me quote from Section 1D:

"it shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion."

So, the reporter waste her time as well as ours and files a report that doesn't even mention Discovery Institute or cite any of the points we made. And of course it doesn't cite anything responding to the critics of the bill, least of all the section of the legislation that prohibits any promotion of religion.

Oh yeah, they do use a graphic of Explore Evolution that they urgently demanded as well--with dismissive caption that doesn't even describe the book. Well, I guess at least we can describe Explore Evolution as "featured in Science."

Posted by Robert Crowther on June 22, 2008 8:37 AM | Permalink

'Quack' degrees will damage our university say academics


Joanna Sugden From Times Online September 4, 2008

Degrees in homoeopathy and herbalism could be scrapped after academics branded them "quackery" and said they would damage their university's reputation.

In an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), academics said courses such as acupuncture contain a "roll-call of quackery" and damage the institution's hopes of being taken seriously.

Now the university has announced a review into the degrees after the first-year course in homeopathy, due to begin this term, was cancelled because of lack of interest.

Mike Eslea, a senior lecturer in UCLan's School of Psychology, organised the letter criticising the introduction of a degree in Chinese herbal medicine.

Eileen Martin, pro vice-chancellor and dean of the faculty of health, which runs the courses, will lead the review.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and an outspoken critic of "pseudoscience" degrees, said the review could result in an "internal whitewash".

He criticised the choice of Ms Martin to lead the investigation. "(The courses) presumably generate income for her faculty, so she can hardly be regarded as being free of vested interest," he said.

A spokesman for UCLan told the Times Higher Education Supplement: "As a university we value and practise transparency and tolerance and welcome all academic viewpoints.

"With this in mind, and because we have received concerns from some colleagues as to whether the university should offer courses in homoeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture, the university has set up a working group to review all the issues."

Kate Chatfield and Jean Duckworth, who lead the homeopathy course said "relentless attacks" by the "anti-homeopathy league" had taken their toll and the review was a small victory for their opponents.

A list of universities offering alternative medicine degrees was published earlier this year by Dr Simon Singh and Professor Edzard Ernst, co-authors of Trick or Treatment, alternative medicine on trial. They found 43 institutions, including Westminster University and Greenwich, with 155 courses they deemed unscientific including Ayurvedic medicine.

Westminster University top, followed by Greenwich, Middlesex, Salford and Thames Valley.

In total they found 43 institutions offering 155 unscientific courses, including homoeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and Ayurvedic medicine, in some cases as a BSc or MSc.

Related Links

Full text: letter calling for homeopathy boycott
No miracle cure for junk science
Alternative therapies should not be dismissed

Teaching Evolution


A Catholic scientist frames a national debate.

By Paul Cottle | SEPTEMBER 15, 2008

There is no issue more visible and emotional in the field of science education today than evolution, and no state where the issue has been more hotly debated than Florida. For much of the last year, a committee of educators and scientists worked with officials from the state's Department of Education to hammer out new standards for science education. Their decision to designate evolution one of the "big ideas" in the state's science curriculum was opposed by groups like the Florida Family Policy Council and conservative lawmakers who objected to the teaching of evolution in the classroom. In the end a compromise was reached, and new standards were passed requiring the teaching of evolution, but the wording of the law was changed to call it a "scientific theory" (see sidebar for details).

I was a member of the standards committee. At the outset, we spent little time worrying about the potential controversy over the teaching of evolution. Instead, our goal was to apply the results of recent research on how children learn science to the state science education standards. Yet when we made public a draft of the new standards in October 2007, it quickly became clear that the debate over teaching evolution would dominate the process.

I am an "evolutionist," as the opponents of evolution education would say. More to the point, I am a naturalistic scientist in that I believe that my mission as a scientist is to explain scientific observations within the framework of the laws of nature. Yet I am also a Christian, and as such I do not reject the supernatural. I believe in Christ's resurrection.

The Debate in Florida The debate over evolution education in Florida was rancorous and presented particular ethical dilemmas for me. For one, a majority of my fellow Christians were on the opposite side of the argument from me—indeed, most Americans are. As an evolution education advocate, I am on the same side as many atheists, including militant "new atheists" like Richard Dawkins, who see evolution education as an opportunity to beat back religion in our society. As a result, I found that I was self-consciously vetting my own statements—both public and private—to make sure I was not denying my faith. I made several brief public professions of my faith during prepared statements, including during my talk before the State Board of Education on Feb. 19 and in an op-ed piece published by The Tallahassee Democrat. I was not alone: many of the other Christians on the standards committee also made their faith known during public meetings and to the media. Members of the public who followed the debate learned that there were several church officers and Sunday school teachers among the advocates of evolution education.

Unfortunately, I was in the minority among Catholics in my defense of evolution. It came as no surprise that according to a St. Petersburg Times poll published this February, a few days before the State Board of Education vote, 91 percent of evangelicals in Florida oppose evolution education. Yet that same poll reported that 79 percent of Catholics also took the anti-evolution education position. This is particularly disappointing given the church's well-established position in favor of the teaching of evolution. David M. Byers, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Science and Human Values from 1984 to 2003, noted this stunning separation between the beliefs of the American faithful and church teaching in an article in America ("Religion and Science in Dialogue," 2/7/05). He said that the Catholic Church "properly recognizes evolutionary theory as firmly grounded in fact," but noted that the church's "educational leadership has been very slow to correct the anti-evolution biases that Catholics pick up from prominent elements in contemporary culture."

The fact that my opponents in the evolution education debate were almost exclusively my brothers and sisters in the Christian faith imposed certain responsibilities. To quote one of several scriptural injunctions on this topic, "So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith" (Gal 6:10). This meant that my comments—both private and public—had to remain civil at a minimum, and respectful whenever possible. My working assumption was that my opponents were acting on the basis of their deepest convictions, even though there seemed to be a few cynical opportunists on both sides of the debate. Overall my evangelical opponents displayed both a deep commitment to their cause and a basic decency. One of the first people to congratulate me after my talk to the State Board of Education was John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council and a fervent opponent of evolution education. Only moments before I spoke, Stemberger had loudly warned the board that thousands of evangelical parents would withdraw their children from the public schools if the proposed standards on evolution were adopted.

In the end, the religious dimensions of the debate made it impossible to craft a resolution that satisfied everyone. Many Christians who were not committed to "young earth creationism" were attracted by the ideas of the intelligent design movement, which holds "that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection," according to the New World Encyclopedia, quoted on the Web site of the Discovery Institute, a well-funded think tank formed to support the movement.

Intelligent Design

Some Catholics in Florida are among those intrigued by the notion of intelligent design. In the weeks following the board of education vote, I heard homilies by two priests who, in addressing the nature and meaning of God's creation, acknowledged that parishioners held a variety of beliefs about the origin and development of life. But they did not mention the church's acceptance of modern evolutionary biology. Meanwhile, as of this writing, no Catholic priests in Florida have signed a public letter endorsing the teaching of evolution in public schools, an initiative known as the Clergy Letter Project that has drawn 11,000 signatures nationwide.

This reluctance to take a public stand on evolution is not limited to Catholics in Florida. In June, I was stunned when Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a devout Catholic and holder of a bachelor's degree in biology from Brown University, voiced his support during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" for teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in public schools. It is clear that despite Byers's urging, the Catholic Church in the United States has not fully addressed the widely held misconceptions regarding church teaching on evolution.

In Florida, as elsewhere, the evolution education debate featured strongly worded volleys between vocal minorities at both extremes, between those who see the scientific clarity of evolution and religious conservatives who claim that evolution promotes moral decay. (If that sounds a little strong, consider this quote from the Truth Project, an educational initiative of James Dobson's Focus on the Family: "Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy.")

The Discovery Institute has framed the evolution education debate as a struggle over academic freedom—in particular the freedom of teachers to challenge and even disregard the naturalistic approach to science and to argue that the existence of unanswered scientific questions on the origin and development of life provides proof of the existence of God. Politically, it seems prudent for supporters of evolution education to frame a competing vision for teaching science in public schools, one that appeals to many parents and voters in the vast middle ground. These include individuals (and many Catholics) who are neither committed to an anti-evolution position nor convinced by arguments for evolution.

Even though this group does not have strong opinions on evolution, I think they would endorse an educational approach that focuses on two principles: tolerance for students from a variety of backgrounds, including religious backgrounds; and the accountability of teachers and administrators for their adherence to state educational standards and their performance in helping their students learn science. Such a vision of the science classroom might provide a potent moral and political antidote to the dubious assertion that academic freedom should apply to the teaching of science in the K-12 classrooms.

Educating Catholics

Catholics not convinced by this argument might consider the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who recently called the debate over evolution "an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such." Catholics in Florida can also look to the guidance of their bishops. In February, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando published an op-ed piece in The Orlando Sentinel endorsing the teaching of evolution while at the same time rejecting the notion that "evolution requires a materialistic or an atheistic understanding of the human person or of the entire universe." "The Catholic Church does not have to reject the theory of evolution in order to affirm our belief in our Creator," Bishop Wenski concluded. "As Catholics, we can affirm an understanding of evolution that is open to the full truth about the human person and about the world."

Still, the task of educating Catholics on this issue remains a tricky one, not least because it could threaten the strong partnership the church has forged with evangelical groups to advance pro-life causes. (One need only recall the controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo in Florida to remember how powerful the partnership between Catholics and evangelicals can be.) Indeed, when during one of my prepared statements I read a quotation from a church source defending the teaching of evolution, my evangelical opponents expressed great surprise that the church held a position different from theirs.

Evolution education is a national issue, with heated debates taking place in legislatures and state education departments all over the country. The Catholic Church in the United States has an opportunity to lead the nation to a resolution of this matter by educating its own followers about the church's embrace of modern science. They can also point out to their Christian brothers and sisters, as Bishop Wenski did, that the teaching of evolution need not go hand in hand with a materialistic atheism.

As a physicist and a Christian, I have learned that faith and science need not be antithetical, that a deeper understanding of the natural world can inspire awe at the workings of God's creation. Yet I have come to this understanding by working within the intellectual framework widely accepted by the scientific community, a framework that includes the tenets of evolution. This framework should also guide the teaching of young people, in Florida and elsewhere. The Catholic Church and its partners in the faith have no reason to fear the results.

Paul Cottle is a professor of physics at Florida State University and a member of the committee appointed by the Florida Department of Education to draft new science standards for the state's primary and secondary public schools.

Devolution in Education


The fight is on over teaching "intelligent design" in Texas schools.

By Laurie Barker James

Regularly updating the subject matter taught in public schools would seem such a basic good idea as to be a no-brainer — and noncontroversial. Who would want their kids learning from history textbooks, for example, that end with the Soviet Union still intact or literature classes that cover only the works of dead white guys from Europe who wrote with lots of where-art-thou's?

The Texas Education Agency reviews each subject matter area, from kindergarten through high school, once a decade. A committee of teachers spends months studying the curriculum, recommending what new material should be added and outmoded information eliminated. Then the proposal goes to the 15-member elected State Board of Education for review, and the public gets to comment.

This summer and fall, the science curriculum comes under scrutiny. But far from being a yawner, the review may turn out to be a key battleground between scientists and science teachers on one hand and the religious right on the other.

The basic fight is expected to be over what kids are taught about evolution — which takes up only about three days of teaching in a 180-day school year. But scientists and teachers argue there are much bigger things at stake: the intimidation of teachers and the possible beginning of biblical beliefs being taught as science in Texas public schools.

Those teachers believe that for the religious right — or any religious group — to be able to dictate what is taught, or how, on any scientific subject undermines science education. They believe the religious right is confusing the debate by talking about how evolution is "only" a theory and that ideas like creationism or "intelligent design" should be given equal weight. While many elected officials in this country, including even Alaska governor and presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, say that a "healthy debate" on creationism is possible, for scientists that's almost akin to equating rock-solid math principles with a religious debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Science teachers like Kevin Fisher say evolution is not a complex idea. "First-graders are capable of understanding evolution," said the science coordinator for Lewisville public schools, who is a player in the curriculum review process. "It's descent with modification, or how things change over time."

Simple it may be, but Texas science teachers report that they're now unsure what they can say to their classes or how they can say it. Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said that the current educational climate "intimidates [science] teachers" to pressure them "to avoid or minimize" the topic of evolution.

The fact that none of the other science teachers interviewed for this article wanted their names used would seem to back up his allegation of fear in the teaching ranks. All but Fisher said they believe that any statement with their names on it could come back to them in the form of a pink slip. And they may be right. Just ask Christine Comer.

Comer, formerly the director of science curriculum for the TEA, alleges that she was forced to resign last October after she sent out an e-mail announcing that renowned author Barbara Forrest was coming to speak in Austin. Forrest, author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, is a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. The notice went out to a listserv of educators to whom Comer routinely sent information about speakers and resources.

"I sent the e-mail as an 'fyi,' not as something formally endorsed by TEA," Comer said. Because evolution is included in the state's current science curriculum, she maintains, it was completely proper for her to make her colleagues aware that a nationally known expert on the subject was coming to town.

Roughly two hours later, Comer was called into her supervisor's office and handed an e-mail written by Lizzette Reynolds, who'd just been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as the TEA's commissioner for statewide policy and programs. Reynolds had received a copy of Comer's message and deemed it both "potentially an offense" and contrary to TEA policy of "remaining neutral" on the subject of creationism. She recommended that Comer be reassigned or fired. First, Comer was told to send a second e-mail with a disclaimer. Then, she said, TEA administrators told her to choose between being fired — potentially putting her retirement funds and other benefits into jeopardy — and quitting her job.

TEA officials said that there were legitimate reasons for Comer's dismissal, unrelated to the events in October, although the timing seems suspicious to many observers. According to TEA officials, Comer's termination was related to "repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination," and it was coincidental that the "last straw" coincided with a fairly controversial issue. A Nov. 5 memo from Monica Martinez, then the TEA's acting curriculum director, recommended the termination, noting that Comer had been "counseled" previously that year about "exercising good judgment … when sharing information regarding science education in Texas."

Comer filed suit in July against the agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, alleging she was illegally fired for "contravening an unconstitutional policy at the TEA." She charges that the policy requiring employees to be neutral on the biblical interpretation of the origin of humans is illegal, since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal. The Texas attorney general's office, on behalf of the TEA, has made a motion to dismiss Comer's lawsuit.

The TEA is being cautious in its public statements about science curriculum, in part, officials said, because the review process is in its early stages. But the issue of what state employees and teachers can and cannot say has deep roots in Texas' conservative government.

The process of chipping away at the theory of evolution in Texas science curriculum actually began with Texas Proclamation 95 in the mid-1990s. Signed by then-Gov. George Bush, the proclamation requires basic biology textbooks to "formulate, discuss, critique, and review hypotheses, theories, laws, and principles, and their strengths and weaknesses."

Opponents of the theory of evolution, who are variously called creationists, Young Earth believers, or anti-Neo-Darwinists, have laid the groundwork both nationally and in Texas over the past decade to turn the relatively simple task of curriculum development into a fight over the basic theory of how humans came to be. Whatever you call them, this group of mostly fundamentalist Christians believes in biblical inerrancy. In recent years, many of them have lined up behind the concept of "intelligent design," which attempts to use scientific terminology to promote the idea that, as it says in Genesis, the world was created in six days. If the Bible is correct, the proponents say, the Earth is very young — less than 7,000 years old.

The Austin-based Texas Freedom Network, which says its members include more than 30,000 religious and community leaders, watches "far-right issues" affecting Texas schools. In the early 1990s, TFN began charting the religious right's progress in turning what the network calls "a sleepy corner of Texas government" — the State Board of Education — into a battleground over issues such as the theory of evolution.

Dan Quinn, communications director for TFN, said that Texans have "elected a board with a bloc of ideologues who care more about promoting their own personal agendas than educating Texas kids."

According to TFN, the 2006 elections brought the number of SBOE members with religious right affiliations to seven — one short of a majority. Pat Hardy, who represents Tarrant County on the board, is a relatively conservative Republican and one of the few board members who's actually a teacher. As a Christian, Hardy believes that God is responsible for the creation of the universe. As an educator who taught for more than 30 years, she sees the danger in pushing religion into the state's public school science curriculum, a stance that causes considerable heartburn for more conservative Republicans.

In her recent primary battle to keep her education board seat, Hardy had the dubious distinction of being branded a "RINO" by some members of her own party. A "Republican in name only" runs the risk of challenges from more conservative candidates, backed by a mega-church or two. Hardy said that her 2006 opponent, Dr. Barney Maddox, never attacked her personally but used campaign materials that fed the allegation of "weaknesses" in the current science theory.

During the campaign, Maddox refused to talk about his position on evolution. However, his affiliations seem to confirm his ideological leanings. As a doctor, Maddox was tapped more than a decade ago to sit on the state review panel for high school biology textbooks. He condemned one potential textbook (Prentice Hall's Biology: The Living Science) because, he said, the book "violated state law [Proclamation 95] requiring discussion of scientific weaknesses of evolution." Maddox also wrote an article for the Institute for Creation Research, in which he is credited as "author of the biological sciences course material for the Creationist Worldview distance education program offered by ICR."

Hardy won re-election this spring, and the SBOE remains, for the time being, tenuously balanced.

In the curriculum revision process that began earlier this year, some teachers' groups have accused the SBOE of smokescreening its true agenda, a charge that the SBOE leadership denies. David Bradley, a Republican board member from Beaumont, has been quoted as saying that, during the science curriculum revision process, "the only thing this board is going to do is ask for accuracy." Conservative board members have denied that there will be any controversy, unless liberal-thinking groups like the Texas Freedom Network bring it.

Schafersman, of Texas Citizens for Science, said Bradley is being disingenuous at best. "The intent of the SBOE creationists is to ask for misrepresentation of science, not for accuracy," he wrote in an e-mail. "What Bradley and his colleagues actually plan to do is damage evolution instruction by trying to get the new science standards to include [lessons on] alleged but false 'weaknesses' of evolution, in order to weaken evolution content, confuse students, and make them think science is less accurate and reliable about biological origins than it really is."

Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, is the current State Board of Education chairman. As a medical professional, his credentials for board membership might seem impeccable. However, McLeroy, who was appointed by Perry, is also an evangelical Christian who rejects the theory of evolution. Quoted in The New York Times on June 4, McLeroy said his rejection of evolution — "I just don't think it's true or it's ever happened" — is not based on religious grounds.

"My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science," he said in the interview.

That may be true. But the decidedly anti-evolution slant of McLeroy and his conservative colleagues on the education board may make that difference.

In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News on May 31, Bradley told a reporter, "Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven."

Statements like that — throwing around terms like theory and hypothesis and guess as though they were interchangeable — just illustrate the problem, as far as Lewisville's Fisher is concerned.

In layperson's terms, if you say, "It's just a theory," that usually means you're talking about a guess, or something unproven. But Fisher said that, in the precise language of science, a theory is something that has been rigorously tested, reviewed by scientists, modified when new evidence becomes available, verified by repeated experimentation, and has become part of the scientific consensus. A theory differs from a law in that a law governs a single action, like the law of gravity. A theory, on the other hand, explains a whole series of related phenomena, like the theory of relativity. A hypothesis, Fisher said, is a guess that hasn't been through that scientific process of being tested and proved up. And creationism, which is based on biblical interpretation, isn't even a guess: It's a belief, based on faith, he said.

"A theory isn't a guess," Fisher said. "Science deals with natural explanations which are testable." In that context, he said, "evolution can be proven. The evidence is overwhelming."

Teachers like Fisher, with science backgrounds, and scientists like Schafersman believe that evolution is a concept critical to the understanding of all of the sciences. A former geology professor, Schafersman said his biggest criticism of the state board's process is that most of the elected officials who will formally approve the curriculum are not educators. And in this case, he said, the fact that most also are not scientists can make a huge — and dangerous — difference for Texas students.

The lack of science background on the part of most state board members means they may not understand that creationism is a belief, not a scientific theory, like evolution, that is subject to being proved.

The idea that divine guidance played a part in the creation of the world — the basis of "intelligent design" — "is a possibility, but we have no way of testing it," Fisher said.

However, that doesn't stop "ID" proponents from touting it as a credible scientific theory or, conversely, attempting to discredit evolution with the words, "It's just a theory."

Chief among the proponents of intelligent design are the "fellows" at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. According to its web site, the institute's Center for Science and Culture is run by a group of "more than 40 … biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts." The web site states that the institute is not a religious organization and also maintains that intelligent design is not the same as creationism.

One of the center's primary goals is to support research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of Darwinian theory. The CSC's leaders have advanced degrees — but they aren't scientists: Director Stephen Meyer has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, while Associate Director John G. West holds a doctorate in government.

One of the hallmarks of the institute, according to many scientists, is that the CSC generates pseudo-scientific research, done by researchers with Ph.D. credentials, to bolster claims concerning intelligent design, to build support for that idea as a credible scientific theory. Of course the proponents of intelligent design also include those with legitimate hard-science backgrounds, like McLeroy and Maddox.

The argument at the root of the issue is biblical inerrancy, a doctrine as old as the Christian church itself. Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, early scientists and Christians, challenged the Catholic Church's doctrine on the Earth as the center of the universe.

We can now demonstrate that the Earth moves around the sun, not vice versa. Back before the Protestant Reformation, however, even scientific evidence drew a penalty when it came into conflict with accepted interpretation of what the Judeo-Christian Bible (which had been translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek and then Latin at that point) said. Perhaps it's fittingly ironic that Charles Darwin, who proposed the theory of evolution in the mid-1800s, was first a ministry student before a voyage aboard the Beagle changed the course of his future. Now people of diverse faiths — clergy as well as laypeople — accept the theory of evolution and want to see it taught in schools. The TFN's Quinn says that many people of faith do not believe evolution to be "anti-God."

"We can honor the faith of all Texans by teaching sound science in science classrooms and leaving personal views of the creation of the world to families and houses of worship," he said. "As a person of faith, I find it insulting when it's implied that those who want their kids to get a sound science education aren't 'Christian enough.' "

Ralph Mecklenburger, the rabbi at Fort Worth's Beth-El Congregation, has been paying attention to the debate about Texas' science curriculum. As an expert in the Torah, or Old Testament, upon which the proponents of intelligent design base their theories, the rabbi is concerned with misinterpretation.

"Has evolution been demonstrated experimentally? Yes, many times," he wrote in an e-mail. "Intelligent design, on the other hand, may be true, but until someone comes up with a way to test it, it will not be science."

Many scientists echo Mecklenburger's statement that, despite challenges, the theory of evolution has held up for more than a century. Those scientists and many teachers believe that intelligent design proponents ignore the proofs and use outdated information to hammer away at accepted science. Historically, Jews found the Bible to be "full of memorable ways to teach values, but we know it is not science," Mecklenburger said. "We deny that science and religion conflict, but that is because we recognize that the Bible is about religion, not about science."

The Discovery Institute was the prime source of information for a group of school board members in Dover, Pa., who, like the seven Young Earth philosophists on the Texas SBOE, wanted to put forth their version of natural history. In 2004, Dover school administrators, at the insistence of the district's board, added the following sentence to the biology curriculum: "Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design."

Other school trustees resigned in protest, and science teachers refused to read the statement to their students, citing a part of the Pennsylvania code of education stating that teachers cannot present information they believe to be false. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of 11 parents with children in the district, and the case went to trial in September 2005. Discovery Institute fellows were listed initially as key witnesses, but the defense case unraveled as it became clear that, despite their protests, the proponents of intelligent design actually did have religious motivation and were using religious theory.

That December, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that the Dover board was using religious materials, which was unconstitutional. In his 139-page ruling, Jones wrote that "a significant aspect of intelligent design movement is that, despite defendants' protestations to the contrary, it describes intelligent design as a religious argument." The writings of leading ID proponents, he said, "reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity." The judge further noted that "making students aware" of the alternative hypotheses to evolution is in essence the same thing as teaching them about it, and, under current law, promoting religion in the public school classroom is not acceptable.

The Discovery Institute's policy of promoting intelligent design as secular science was thwarted in Pennsylvania, but it may well reappear in Texas. According to Comer, the issue of intelligent design isn't problematic just for biologists.

"People who teach astronomy have already been verbally attacked in workshops discussing the Big Bang theory and the idea that the Earth is 14 million years old," she said. "It's an area I never would have thought would be controversial."

Comer also said she thinks that the process of science curriculum review is more "secretive" this year. However, according to Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA's director of communications, that's not true.

"We just started [the curriculum review] in January," she said. "A year is the standard time frame for this kind of review. We're following the normal process."

Hardy, the Tarrant County member of SBOE, said the education board is scheduled to take an initial vote on the science curriculum recommendations in January 2009, with the final vote in March.

A lot can happen between then and now. Bradley, one of the SBOE's most vocal evolution opponents, is up for re-election, and his opponent, Democrat Laura Ewing, is a Pearland educator. Ewing's campaign slogan is "Special interest groups have derailed Texas education."

Ratcliffe said that the public will have ample time for comment. Experts are currently composing drafts, according to the TEA's schedule, and the SBOE will have another "discussion" about the science curricula in November. She said the public can comment now, or at any of the meetings between November 2008 and March 2009, as well as via the agency's web site. However, as of Tuesday, there was no official link on the TEA's web site to post public comment about the science curriculum. Science teachers and their advocates are urging interested Texans to write directly to TEA Commissioner Scott or to their local SBOE members now — and not to wait until the official proposal is released in January.

Religiously conservative states like Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are all facing the same kind of challenge to their science curricula. It could happen in other states as well, but in Texas, a small number of citizens with a particular ideological viewpoint have been elected to positions of power. In addition to the probable threat of lawsuits filed on behalf of parents if any part of the theory of intelligent design makes its way into Texas textbooks, the issue poses other problems, not only for Texas children but for the nation.

"Right now, what the SBOE does will determine whether the next generation of Texas public school students get a 19th-century education in their 21st-century classroom," said Quinn. "The adoption of the science curriculum will determine whether students will be prepared to succeed in college and jobs of the future, or whether their education is subordinated to the views and beliefs of a fringe group of SBOE members."

What happens here will also ripple through the textbooks of other states. Texas, the second-largest purchaser of textbooks (behind California) spent more than $25 million in the 2004-2005 school year on high school biology texts alone, which means that publishers create books based on the needs of Texas schools.

Quinn also warned that the science curriculum may go the excruciating way of the language arts curriculum review process, completed earlier this year. Experts in language arts — teachers and volunteers — worked for three years to develop a new curriculum, only to have their work thrown out by the SBOE (Static, May 21, 2008). Asked why the board rejected the recommendations of acknowledged experts, SBOE chair McLeroy told reporters at the time that, "My experts are Winston Churchill and common sense."

Quinn called the statement "arrogance and willful ignorance."

"Just like teachers wouldn't know better than Dr. McLeroy how to fill a cavity, he does not know better than [the educators] how to educate Texas children," he said.

Laurie Barker James is a local freelance writer.

Fort Worth Weekly factually challenged when it comes to intelligent design and Darwinian evolution


This story by Laurie James Barker in the Fort Worth Weekly completely misrepresents not just the important issue of how evolution is taught in Texas, but also the views and policy positions of Discovery Institute. Ms. Barker didn't bother to talk with anyone at Discovery Institute, or it seems to even adequately research our organization. Never mind that she's produced an extremely biased polemical piece, as opposed to objective reporting of the issue.

There are numerous factual errors, errors of omission and such, but for brevity I will simply focus on a few of her mistakes.

First, Barker misrepresents the credentials of Discovery Institute's scientists and scholars and through her writing leads the reader to believe that those affiliated with the Institute do not have scientific degrees. This is simply untrue.

She writes:

Chief among the proponents of intelligent design are the "fellows" at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. According to its web site, the institute's Center for Science and Culture is run by a group of "more than 40 … biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts." The web site states that the institute is not a religious organization and also maintains that intelligent design is not the same as creationism.

One of the center's primary goals is to support research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of Darwinian theory. The CSC's leaders have advanced degrees — but they aren't scientists: Director Stephen Meyer has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, while Associate Director John G. West holds a doctorate in government.

One of the hallmarks of the institute, according to many scientists, is that the CSC generates pseudo-scientific research, done by researchers with Ph.D. credentials, to bolster claims concerning intelligent design, to build support for that idea as a credible scientific theory. Of course the proponents of intelligent design also include those with legitimate hard-science backgrounds, like McLeroy and Maddox.

Discovery Institute has as Fellows nine PhD biologists or biochemists. Additionally, there are several who are chemists, physicists or astronomers. To imply that Discovery's PhD credentialed Fellows are only in philosophy or some other non-hard science area is untrue, and a disservice to readers.

Barker goes on to say:

The Discovery Institute was the prime source of information for a group of school board members in Dover, Pa., who, like the seven Young Earth philosophists on the Texas SBOE, wanted to put forth their version of natural history. In 2004, Dover school administrators, at the insistence of the district's board, added the following sentence to the biology curriculum: "Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design."

Adding later:

The Discovery Institute's policy of promoting intelligent design as secular science was thwarted in Pennsylvania, but it may well reappear in Texas.

This is absolutely false. Discovery Institute actively opposed the actions of the Dover School Board. Indeed, before the ACLU ever filed a lawsuit the Institute released a statement explaining that we did not endorse the Dover board's action. And, on December 14th 2004, when the ACLU filed their suit Discovery Institute issued a press release saying: The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called "misguided" today by Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten.

We've been very clear for the better part of a decade that we do not favor mandating or requiring the inclusion of intelligent design theory in science classes. Discovery's science education policy states:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. … Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned.

Barker's article tries to persuade readers that there is no scientific debate or controversy over Darwinian evolution. Typically, she plays fast and loose with definitions, and conflates creationists and creationism with intelligent design theory and the scientists that advocate it.

There are three simple, but very different definitions of biological evolution.

1) Change over time (even billions of years, most leading ID scientists believe the universe is billions of years old)
2) Common ancestry, all forms of life evolved from a single original life form
3) Natural selection acting on random mutation is the primary mechanism by which life forms have evolved.

Barker's article implies that evolution is simply change over time – something which almost no one disagrees with, certainly not any Discovery Institute scientists.

Intelligent Design scientists do not have a problem with definition #1. There is some debate over definition #2 within the scientific community, but the idea itself is not incompatible with ID. Definition #3, commonly referred to as Darwinian Evolution, is a specific part of evolution that ID challenges and is the heart of Darwin's theory.

One point of the story seems to be to present evolution as completely and widely accepted by scientists. If you mean evolution as defined in points one or two above, that is likely the case. However, the third point, which we dispute, is also considered controversial among many scientists who are not proponents of intelligent design.

Recently, some of the world's most prominent scientists met at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Austria to discuss this very subject. Writes science reporter Susan Mazur in New Zealand's Scoop magazine:

What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them "the Altenberg 16" – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence.

Eminent evolutionary biologist Stanley Salthe oversees an e-mail debate among a number of leading biologists, which led to this Altenberg meeting. Interestingly, Salthe is pretty straightforward in what he thinks about it all:

"Oh sure natural selection's been demonstrated. . . the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution in the sense of long-term changes in populations. . . . Summing up we can see that the import of the Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. What evolves is just what happened to happen."

Barker's article is wrong about Discovery Institute, misrepresents what evolution and intelligent design are, and misleads readers about the evidence related to Darwinian evolution. Perhaps she should stick to what she knows enough about to have an informed opinion: restaurant reviews.

Posted by Robert Crowther on September 4, 2008 2:59 PM | Permalink

Study Finds No Autism Link in Vaccine


Digestive Problems, MMR Scrutinized

A CDC official said that in the first eight months of 2008, 91 percent of the 131 children with measles had not been vaccinated or had uncertain status. (By Mike Hutmacher -- Associated Press)

A common vaccine given to children to protect them against measles, mumps and rubella is not linked to autism, a study published yesterday concludes.

The findings contradict earlier research that had fueled fears of a possible link between childhood vaccinations and a steep increase in autism diagnoses. In February 1998, the Lancet journal published a study by British researcher Andrew Wakefield of 12 children with autism and other behavioral problems that suggested the onset of their behavioral abnormalities was linked to receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

The new study comes as the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington is in the midst of evaluating evidence on whether children's vaccines are implicated in causing autism. A special master is evaluating three different kinds of claims -- two of which specifically link the MMR vaccine with autism.

Like Wakefield's study, the new study looked for evidence of potential links between MMR vaccinations, autism and the digestive (gastrointestinal, or GI) problems sometimes seen in autistic children.

"If in fact you want to implicate a factor in the causation of an illness, it must be present before the illness," said W. Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology, neurology and pathology at Columbia University, explaining the idea behind the study. "In the event MMR was responsible for autism, the MMR must precede the onset of autism."

"There was no evidence . . . MMR preceded either autism or GI problems" in the children studied, he said.

The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, examined when the children began showing behavioral problems and when they were vaccinated, and it examined bowel biopsies for telltale genetic traces of the MMR vaccine. Since obtaining the biopsies required sedating the children and an invasive procedure, Lipkin said his analysis was limited to a small sample of 38 children who needed the biopsies as part of their medical care.

The researchers studied the biopsies for traces of measles virus RNA. Where a 2002 study had found traces of the measles virus in a high percentage of biopsies taken from autistic children, the new study did not -- and also found no difference in the biopsies of children who were autistic and children of similar age who were not.

Lipkin said the theory linking MMR vaccine to autism involves a chain of events where the live virus in the measles vaccine would grow in the intestinal tract, cause inflammation and trigger formation of toxins that would affect the central nervous system.

If the dramatic results reported in the earlier research were accurate, Lipkin and his coauthors said, they should have found traces of measles RNA in bowel biopsies of a large proportion of the autistic children. Instead, they found such traces in just one child who was autistic and one child who was not.

Patient advocate Rick Rollens, who is convinced that vaccines caused his son to become autistic, said the new research had been rigorously conducted. Rollens, who co-founded the MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis, which studies autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, praised the study for highlighting the importance of gastro-intestinal problems among autistic children, but he predicted it would not put the controversy to rest.

"This study has addressed one of many theories" about how vaccines might be linked to autism, Rollens said. "This study by itself does not exonerate the role of all vaccines."

Larry Pickering, a pediatrician and immunization expert at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the 1998 study and others had prompted some parents to forgo vaccinating their children.

In the first eight months of 2008, he said, 91 percent of the 131 children diagnosed with measles in the United States had not been vaccinated against the disease or had uncertain vaccination status.

"Often these children will cluster," he said. "If a measles case comes into this cluster, this virus is very easily transmitted. The clustering of people without protection against measles is doubly worrisome."