NTS LogoSkeptical News for 12 October 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Natural products aren't necessarily healthful

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/article838801.ece

By By Rao Musunuru, Guest columnist In print: Sunday, October 5, 2008

My wife of 33 years reminds me almost daily of all the things I do not do. Not the housework, shopping, temple visits or social life; I'm talking about her advice about my health.

I do not drink enough water. I do not take enough antioxidants. I find excuses not to go to yoga classes. I do not eat enough organic stuff.

Never mind that I went through rigorous medical training for 13 years and have been practicing medicine for another 27 years and have received national awards for preaching prevention. She has all the answers for all my problems: tiredness, aches and pains, allergies and losing hair. I can imagine the pressures other people must be under from friends, families, claims and commercials to lead a "natural, safe and organic life."

Complementary and alternative medicine has a definite and important role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases when utilized appropriately and is being gradually integrated into mainstream medicine. It is especially attractive for patients suffering from chronic diseases, because of the frustration from inadequate relief of symptoms in spite of multiple prescription medications.

Over-the-counter natural products are one common form of complementary and alternative medicine. Patients tend to take them without informing their physicians, fearing they will offend their respected doctor, think it is irrelevant or the physician does not ask.

It is a common misconception that all the natural products sold in the stores or on the Internet are safe and healthy. Compounds like nicotine, opium, lead, mercury and arsenic are natural but definitely not safe. Many of the natural products sold for health benefits are not strictly controlled by government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.

Different brands of the same compound manufactured by different companies are not calibrated to the same dose or strength. They usually do not undergo rigorous clinical trials to assess their efficacy nor safety.

There may not be adequate quality control to safeguard against contaminants. Many of the times their advertisements are not screened for accountability or accuracy and their claims may not be substantiated. The companies that manufacture health or natural supplements can be driven by the same greed as the pharmaceuticals manufacturing the prescription medications.

Some of these natural compounds have similar chemicals as their prescription counterparts, for example the natural Red Yeast Rice and the prescription statin drug for control of elevated cholesterol. Patients most of the time do not inform their physicians about the use of these competing, complimentary, maybe even contradicting chemicals. So the patients are not monitored for the total dosage or side effects.

Weight control products are among the commonly marketed natural compounds. Unless a person has one of the rare specific medical conditions contributing to obesity, overweight is simply the result of excess calorie intake in relation to energy expenditure. The body stores excess calories as fat whether consumed in the form of carbohydrate, fat or protein. Healthy lifestyle changes like controlled eating and regular exercise should be the main strategy for weight control.

Also there is no end to the marketing of antiaging products. Aging is a normal and natural process of human development. One has to count his or her blessings for the good fortune of aging. The only definitive antiaging intervention is death. The goal should be pro-positive aging with healthy lifestyle changes, concentrating on the prevention of all the known risk factors that promote the ill effects of aging.

You can get your own body to produce natural chemicals, some useful and some harmful. A regular exercise program produces good chemicals that are conducive to good health. Physical and mental stress produce chemicals that are destructive and detrimental. Being overweight produces harmful chemicals causing inflammation, for example, heart attack and some cancers — for example, breast cancer. Fat around the belly is like a chemical factory and is particularly harmful.

Too much of a good thing is not necessarily good. Mega quantities of even natural vitamins and supplements may not be doing any good other than producing expensive urine and some may even harm the organs that are trying to get rid of them, like liver and kidneys.

Consult with your physicians before taking any of the natural products or remedies, including herbal supplements, to evaluate their necessity, efficacy and safety including the interactions.

The secret to success is finding the right balance, naturally.

Dr. Rao Musunuru, a cardiologist practicing at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson, is a member of Advisory Council for National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

[Last modified: Oct 08, 2008 03:08 PM]

Healing with Ayurveda

http://thestar.com.my/health/story.asp?file=/2008/10/5/health/1978216&sec=health

By LIM WEY WEN

An ancient system of medicine shares its immense healing potential with the rest of the world as it goes global.

DECADES ago, Ayurveda was India's well kept secret. First inscribed in ancient Vedic texts about 5,000 years back, the Indian medicine system €" one of the oldest in India €" was practised by Vaidyas (Ayurvedic healers) who prescribed herbal medicines for common ailments and massaged pain away in their straw and bamboo shacks.

For ailments that are not treatable by medicines and massage, there are surgical alternatives, not too different than what we have now. Meditation and exercise were also taught to help people preserve health and prevent sickness.

You can hardly find ready-made pills in an Ayurvedic pharmacy as different combinations of herbs (stored in bottles) are combined to trea t every individual patient.

"Ayurveda is believed to be as old as mankind or it originated at the time when man understood problems and solutions of life, especially those related to health," said ayurvedic physician Dr U Indulal, who is also the Deputy Director of The Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam and Research Institute (AVC) Ayurvedic hospital in India.

There was both a written, codified stream of knowledge and also an unwritten, oral stream of knowledge. The first stream nourished under a well organised medical system and the second one contributed to the sustenance of local health traditions, Dr Indulal explained.

Although the extensive knowledge of natural healing has been inherited by generations of Vaidyas, Ayurveda has largely remained within its Indian boundaries for centuries. The Ayurveda practises that went beyond were mostly adapted into the local traditional medicine practices.

In the 1940s, the vision of a young Vaidya, the late Arya Vaidyan P. V. Rama Varier, had broken this geographical barrier. Trained in the treatment of illness and preparation of Ayurvedic medicines in the Ayurveda College at Kottakkal, he was aware that advancement in modern medicine is equally important to a patient to alleviate his patients' disease.

Thus, he founded the Arya Vaidyan P. V. Rama Varier's Arya Vadya Pharmacy (AVP) in 1943 with the vision to globalise Ayurveda and create a new breed of physicians. Today, the AVP group, headed by his son, P. R. Krishnakumar, is one of the largest group in India that is making inroads towards this cause €" nurturing young Ayurvedic physicians and spreading Ayurveda to the world over.

"Basically, in the olden days, people were not interested in marketing. Doctors (Ayurvedic physicians) did not go to patients. If a person is sick, they will go to the doctor, not the other way around," said Krishnakumar when met in Coimbatore, India, at the recent International Grand Centennial Convention on Ayurveda (IGCC).

One of the first international conventions on Ayurveda, the IGCC is the grand finale of a year-long centenary celebrations to commemorate the virtues of the late P. V. Rama Varier. A series of scientific programmes, cultural events and public awareness campaigns across India and abroad preceded the event.

The drawback of our system is that we never documented (our results). In the old days the doctors will say "eat this medicine", but they never noted the medicine which was given to treat a particular disease, Krishnakumar said.

However, with global connectivity and the support from the Indian government, change is taking its form in the increase of international collaborative studies and research on Ayurvedic treatments, higher learning institutions that train aspiring Ayurvedic physicians and Ayurvedic healthcare facilities both in India and abroad.

With more than 2,700 international delegates from all around the world gracing the event and the expression of interest by Indian national institutions to document, study and mainstream the practise of Ayurveda, Ayurveda is on the right track in its course of globalisation.

The knowledge of life

Ayurveda, with its extensive history and complex literature, may seem impossible to comprehend at first glance. But as far as basic principles go, "It is easy to simplify the explanation of the Indian traditional medicine (Ayurveda) as it is simple by itself!" said Dr Indulal.

Ayurveda means "knowledge (Veda) of life (Ayu)". That means it is not just a traditional medical system, but more than that, he explained.

"It explains about things which are good and bad for life, and the happy and unhappy states of life. Ayurveda thus becomes a way of life as we can avoid these bad things and enter a happy state of life," he added.

One of the basic tenets of Ayurveda is that the constituents of all beings, living or otherwise, are known as the five great elements €" which can be loosely translated as earth, water, fire, air and space. On the same note, the human body is also formed and functioned by these elements.

The functions of the body are broadly categorised into three functional principles called doshas or humors by Ayurvedic physicians. The three doshas €" vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water) governs certain functions in the body. For instance, vata governs movement, breathing and sensory functions; pitta governs body heat, digestion and perception; and kapha governs stability, energy and lubrication in the body.

Instead of viewing diseases as the malfunctioning of certain organs or tissues, Ayurveda attributes ill health to the disruption of the functional principles of the body, called the doshas or humors by Ayurvedic physicians.

Ayurveda, in its original form, also includes the usage of surgical methods, not too different from what we have today. Some of the instruments used in surgical theaters today bears resemblance to tools like these used in the past.

Therefore, Ayurveda as a medicine system serves two purposes, Dr Indulal said. Firstly, Ayurveda seeks to maintain the balance of the doshas and the resultant health through individualised daily and seasonal routines, diet and other lifestyle habits.

Secondly, it strives to regain the lost balance of doshas through the mode of alleviation (internal medicines which are mild/moderate potency) or cleansing (by strong medicines and purification modalities known as panchakarma €" induced vomiting and purging, medicated enema, blood purification and head cleansing).

In its original form, Ayurveda is a complete system that encompasses several branches of medicine, namely paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology, geriatrics, general medicine, surgery, sex and infertility medicine, psychiatry and toxicology.

But after surviving civil wars and colonial rule, part of the Ayurvedic tradition, especially that of surgery, was lost. Medicine in all the other branches, particularly general medicine, are still practised in India and other parts of the world.

"Ayurveda has undergone a lot of transitions. In its long chain of continuity there are many missing links as well €" like the extinction of plants," said Dr Indulal. The foundation principles (the five elements and the doshas) remains permanent while the pharmacopoeia, formulary, treatment variations evolved over time.

"But what you see today, is what is best suited for modern life," Dr Indulal stressed.

Healing the individual

The crux of Ayurveda's complexity lies within its principle that every individual is unique, its subscription to the idea that herbs work synergistically to produce a therapeutic action, and its propensity to treat every individual holistically.

"For 10 diabetic patients, we may prescribe 10 different combinations of medicines, oils and diet (programmes)," said Ayurvedic physician Dr C. D. Siby, emphasising that although there is a general principle in treating a disease, the treatment programme is always individualised.

A patient who goes to an Ayurvedic physician will usually undergo a three-step examination €" observation, examination (by touch) and "interrogation", Dr Indulal said. Factors that are studied in these three steps are more extensive than the usual 10-minute clinic visit.

Physicians will first examine a patient through pulse reading coupled with observations of the eyes, tongue, voice and body temperature. Then, the physician determines the possible diagnosis with the aid of the patient's medical history €" with details such as sleeping and eating habits, mental disposition, and occupation taken into account.

"All observations are to determine the doshas involved in the patient's constitution and (his/her) current disease condition," said Dr Indulal.

Later on, medicines and treatments are prescribed not only to address the immediate problem at hand, but also to further strengthen or rejuvenate the body.

But Ayurveda is not just about herbs. Although oral medicines are prescribed, other therapies such as oil therapy that is administered through different methods such as massage, detoxification programmes through various methods and lifestyle changes will then be prescribed.

"Most Ayurveda medicines are from herbal products ... and it believes in the synergistic action theory," said Dr Siby.

That means, medicines will comprise many herbs which are cooked or boiled together. "This is to produce a desired action as the herbs enhance each other's actions or offset each other's harmful side-effects when consumed. This way, it is possible to have no side effects," he explained.

However, international scientific research is actively undertaken to document the safety and efficacy of Ayurvedic treatments.

Like any medical system, conventional or traditional, self-diagnosis and self medication in Ayurveda is not advisable. It is always best if you consult a qualified practitioner before you start any medications or treatment programmes, Dr Siby stressed.

It is important to note that while Ayurveda provides treatments to a wide range of ailments, it usually does not work overnight. In Krishnakumar's words, "It is definite, but slow".

"When a patient comes to an Ayurveda treatment programme, the patient should be able to take some responsibility to treat himself. Rather than physicians taking full responsibility for the treatment of the patient, the patient should also do his part to change his lifestyle and habits," Dr Siby noted.

"Healing is always happening within the patient's body. Doctors and medicines play only a small role," he added.

Working together

In many ways, conventional (referred to by the Indian community as allopathic) medicine and traditional and complementary medicine does not have be mutually exclusive.

And this could be seen in the Indian government's "cafeteria approach" to healthcare. Conventional medicine and traditional medicine is provided under one roof in hundreds of their hospitals, with their respective practitioners acknowledging both the strengths and weaknesses of the diverging systems.

But can you see both a medical doctor and ayurvedic doctor at the same time? "Definitely," said Dr Siby.

If a patient is already consulting a doctor and taking medications for his chronic condition, an Ayurvedic physician will make sure that he continues his consultation, and provide other solutions such as dietary and lifestyle changes, or treatment for other illnesses he may experience.

Ayurveda can work to supplement or complement other systems of medicine, counter the adverse effects of conventional medicine and speed up the phase of convalescence (recovery), Dr Indulal noted.

For instance, patients can take Ayurvedic medicines to counter the complications in diabetes while still having conventional anti-diabetic medicines, get treatment for complications of chemotherapy and go for rejuvenation treatments after an acute illness.

At the opening ceremony of the IGCC convention, chairman of the allopathic K. G. Hospital, G Bakthavathsalam, even went as far as saying "allopathic medicine is the alternative medicine in India".

He reckons that conventional medicine is most suited for emergency and trauma care while Ayurveda provides long-term solutions for a person's general well-being as it combines physical and mental well-being along with spiritual development. It also focuses on rejuvenating the body, mind and spirit.

Outside India, Ayurveda is practised by medical doctors and Ayurvedic practitioners who seek to provide their patients with more treatment alternatives. Countries in Europe, especially, has seen growing acceptance of this ancient medical system.

"In Italy, a medical doctor can practice Ayurveda because it is (allowed) in the Italian Medical Act. However, therapists are not allowed to practise as they are not regulated by the Italian law," said Dr Antonio Morandi, the Director of the School of Ayurvedic Medicine "Ayurvedic Point" in Milan.

"Ayurveda was introduced to Europe 40 years ago. As Ayurveda bears close resemblance to European medical traditions, Europeans may find it easier to accept (it). There is also a trend to look for medical systems closer to the nature of people €" a more human form of medicine; not a mechanical one," Dr Morandi reasoned.

In Malaysia, Ayurvedic medicine is available at registered private centres and a pilot project by the Health Ministry is planning to provide Ayurvedic therapy such as panchakarma as an initial introduction towards Ayurveda in certain public hospitals.

All Ayurvedic practitioners are required by a national policy to register under the practitioner's body €" the Malaysian Association of Traditional Indian Medicine or Pertubuhan Perubatan Tradisional India Malaysia (PEPTIM).

Currently, there are about 40 registered centres with about 75 Ayurvedic physicians registered with PEPTIM, although according to PEPTIM President Datuk Dr Dorai Raja, many have yet to register.

The writer's trip to Coimbatore, India, was sponsored by the Ayushman Ayurvedic Trust, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy and local Ayurvedic centre Ayur Centre Sdn Bhd.

Bottoms up!

http://thestar.com.my/health/story.asp?file=/2008/10/5/health/2176833&sec=health

Sunday October 5, 2008 By DR ALBERT LIM KOK HOOI

Coffee should be drunk and not inserted up your posterior.

HAVE you heard of Kopi Luwak? The name itself will give you a hint. It must be something indigenous to the Malay Archipelago. Kopi Luwak or civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet, a wild tree cat in our part of the world.

Kopi Luwak or civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten and passed through the digestive tract of the civet cat. - AFP photo

The civets eat the berries but the beans inside the berries pass through the cat's digestive system undigested.

The excreted beans are then washed and lightly roasted so as not to destroy the complex flavours that develop on the journey from the lips of the cat to its anus.

Before you go all queasy and yuck-chy, let me tell you that Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world. It sells for between US$120 to US$600 (RM400 to RM2,000) per pound.

Even though the process €" the wild cat, the faeces, the collection €" takes place in Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi, it is mainly sold in Japan and the US. Most of us simply cannot afford it!

In these dire times of economic and political turmoil, I need a coffee break more than ever. And when I am in the mood to splurge, it's hot, steaming, black Kopi Luwak for me.

Some of us have found a more creative way of ingesting coffee. I am speaking of the coffee enema. An enema is usually plain saline €" perhaps with a little additive, barium, for diagnostic purposes or a laxative to treat intractable constipation.

The coffee enema (a big part of alternative medicine, especially Gerson Therapy) is inserted into the anal canal daily and is touted as an alternative cancer therapy.

It is a dangerous therapy in itself and it encourages cancer patients to forgo scientific conventional cancer treatment.

I should know. I have been in the field of oncology for 30 years. I know it does not work as a cure for cancer and I have seen its dangers.

The coffee enema is usually inserted by the patient herself or with the help of her carer or relative.

There is no medical supervision. A tube is inserted into the anal canal and pushed in ignominously and unceremoniously as far as it can go.

Anal tearing may result. Re-used (instead of single use) enema may carry bacteria and result in infection.

Use of hot coffee could result in serious internal burns. Extensive use of enemas (any enema) could result in dehydration.

Electrolyte imbalance may result. If severe enough, it could cause death.

The caffeine in the coffee enema may lead to caffeine addiction.

Overuse of any enema may temporarily excite the nerves of the anus, anal canal, rectum and colon. It could result in decreased function of the bowel. Constipation may ensue.

Excessive coffee €" from the top or the bottom €" may cause your blood pressure to increase.

The science of the coffee enema is simply not there. A coffee enema is meant to get rid of toxins.

If a toxin causes cancer (and it is not so all the time), it does so by mutating part of the DNA in one of our cells. Genetic mistakes accumulate in the daughter cells.

About 10 to 20 years later after the first DNA aberration, the patient presents to the doctor with symptoms and signs of cancer.

Coffee enemas, even if they truly neutralise the toxins in the lower bowel, are 10 to 20 years too late!

To be fair, we must put coffee enema to the test. Coffee enemas are being studied for the possible treatment of tumour lysis syndrome in pancreatic cancer (a rare occurrence in the subset of a subset of cancer).

This phase III clinical trial is funded by a US$1.4mil (RM4.62mil) grant from the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine awarded to Columbus University Rossental Centre for alternative medicine.

This trial has been criticised for its theoretical model of cancer development.

The primary investigator, Nicholas Gonzalez, has "never gone beyond the medical degree, in residences or Board certification" and "had to pay US$2.5mil (RM8.25mil) in damages to a patient he wrongly claimed to have "cured of cancer".

This study has had difficulty attracting patients. Do you wonder why?

I drink copious amounts of a great variety of coffee (no sugar, cream or milk please) because it enhances the quality of my life. I love the taste and it gives me a buzz.

However, I make sure it goes into my body through the proper and intended orifice.

Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi is a consultant oncologist. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Sweden? How could you!

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/10/sweden_how_could_you.php

Posted on: October 4, 2008 9:46 AM, by PZ Myers

I received an email today that brings up a curious decision by Lund University: they have appointed a new head of the university who seems to have a few bats in the belfry, and there is some concern that they may be rabid. The situation isn't helped by the fact that this newly appointed head, Per Eriksson, refuses to discuss some of his beliefs, even though these beliefs may well affect his performance on the job.

I'm hampered by the fact that all the news about this selection is in Swedish, and I can't read a word of it. Here's the short summary I was sent.

The Lund University board ignored the recommendation of an examination committee consisting of 90 university professors, students, and other concerned parties and appointed a renowned creationist Per Eriksson with strong connections to the Baptist movement in Sweden. When interviewed concerning the appointment the appointed headmaster candidate proudly pronounced publicly that he faithfully consulted his bible on a daily basis. Although religious freedom should be adhered to, the appointed headmaster candidate made a clear and conscious gesture by displaying his biases. The public pronouncement of his personal beliefs may be an indication of how personal convictions may influence and bias the Prof Eriksson's judgement in his influential position controlling the largest seat of learning in northern europe.

If he is a creationist, this is big trouble, and ought to be grounds for tossing him out on his ear. You cannot properly administer a modern university while simultaneously believing that the science disciplines are fundamentally in error because they do not bow down to your bronze age myths. However, I haven't yet found anything in which his creationism is made explicit. Mainly, I'm finding news stories where Eriksson is pretty cagey about avoiding any association with the tenets of his church.

For instance, here's a story in which the science faculty unanimously oppose his appointment (google translation), explaining that he is a member of a pentecostal church which is "connected to the Swedish Baptist community and the Evangelical Free Church"—that's a nice stew of crazy right there. This is an anti-science church with the stated belief that homosexuality is wrong, but nothing about creationism, other than that they say the bible is literally true.

Another source (google translation) tried to grill Eriksson on his own personal views on homosexuality and stem cell research: he's stonewalling (google translation).

Anyway, it's a strange situation. The Lund University board has selected a candidate who was strongly opposed by a committee of university faculty, and who has very suspicious affiliations with pentecostal/fundamentalist/evangelical religion. That's all I know at this point, but perhaps some of our Scandinavian readers can dig a little deeper than I can and report back.

Bolivia tries to bolster public health with traditional medicine

http://www.sciam.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=bolivia-tries-to-bolster-public-hea-2008-10-06

Oct 6, 2008 07:03 PM in Health
Gary Stix

The U.S. has a decidedly ambivalent relationship with alternative medicine, though large numbers of Americans routinely ingest nostrums from ginkgo to garlic. In Bolivia, by contrast, the status of holistic medicine has risen at even the highest levels of government. President Evo Morales is such a strong advocate that he recently launched a campaign to encourage its use by his countrymen, a majority of whom have neither the insurance nor the cash to pay for conventional health care.

Morales's pitch includes the appointment of a curandero (holistic healer), Emiliano Cusi, as his vice minister of medicine. Cusi plans to set up a national registry of practitioners and establish "cottage pharmacies" consisting of herbalists trained to make natural remedies in their homes, which they sell and distribute to hospitals.

So what exactly is Cusi's background? The Miami Herald reports that before being appointed to the government post, Cusi routinely prescribed folk remedies at his clinic in the city of El Alto. Among the more unorthodox: a pomade made from snake and lizard parts, blood from a dog and various herbs, which he applied to a patient who had sustained nerve and bone damage in a car crash. Cusi and his fellow curandero Antonio Condorichi declared their patient was ready to play soccer four months after the accident.

Other treatments were more mundane, such as a chamomile bath to treat inflammation and coca tea to calm an upset stomach.

The program instituted by Morales is part of a wider public-health effort, which includes providing free medical care to pregnant women and bringing in 1,500 Cuban highly trained physicians to boost the health system.

Indigenous patients in Bolivia sometimes distrust conventional medicine and will arrive at the hospital with their healer to act as an intermediary with physicians. If the current trend continues, patients may not have to take their healer along at all. They may actually be able to go to a hospital or clinic.

The scientist with an affection for snails and no tolerance for pedlars of creationism

http://news.scotsman.com/uk/The-scientist-with-an-affection.4563880.jp

Published Date: 07 October 2008

PROFESSOR Steve Jones is one of Britain's best-known scientists and a leading authority in the field of genetics.

Born in Aberystwyth, Wales, and raised in Liverpool, he studied zoology at Edinburgh University before continuing his studies at the University of Chicago.

Much of his formative work was concerned with snails, and how their anatomy can shed new lADVERTISEMENTight on biodiversity and genetics. He boasts of having collected hundreds of thousands of specimens from around Europe and keeps many in his London office.

A critic of creationism , which he describes as "the triumph of ignorance", his scientific theories have made him enemies in some circles, and he has received abuse and even death threats as a result of his research.

Prof Jones suggested in a radio interview two years ago that creationists should not be allowed to become medical doctors, as "all of (creationism's] claims fly in the face of the whole of science". He also insisted that no serious biologist could believe in biblical creation. Although he has spent most of his career at UCL, he has also had visiting posts at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of California at Davis, the University of Botswana, Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone and Flinders University in Adelaide. He was awarded the Royal Society Faraday Medal for public understanding of science in 1997, the BP Natural World Book Prize in 2000 and the Institute of Biology Charter Medal in 2002. He is also president of the Galton Institute.

The 64-year-old combines his academic work with a high-profile broadcasting career, appearing on programmes such as Newsnight and Question Time.

Rock Offers Mirror-Image Clues to Life's Origins

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/05/AR2008100501573.html

For more than 150 years, scientists have known that the most basic building blocks of life -- chains of amino acid molecules and the proteins they form -- almost always have the unusual characteristic of being overwhelmingly "left-handed." The molecules, of course, have no hands, but they are almost all asymmetrical in a way that parallels left-handedness.

This observation, first made in the 1800s by French chemist Louis Pasteur, is taught to introductory organic chemistry students -- until recently with the caveat that nobody knew how this came to be.

But research into the question has picked up in recent years, focusing on a 200-pound chunk of rock found 40 years ago in Murchison, Australia. A meteorite that broke off an asteroid long ago, it brought to Earth a rich collection of carbon-based material from far away in the solar system.

While the Murchison meteorite does not have any once-living material, it is telling researchers new things about how life may have started on Earth, and how that almost universal protein left-handedness came to be.

The answer they believe they have found is that 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, before life on Earth began, similar meteorites crashed regularly into the planet -- delivering the amino acids that would later be incorporated into all living things. The meteorites did this by providing building blocks with a slight preponderance of that handedness (known scientifically as chirality) that makes life possible.

"We know that all amino acids start mirror-image the same, but in living things they have this handedness," said Ronald Breslow, a Columbia University researcher who published recently on the topic. "This change doesn't happen spontaneously, and we've never been able to reproduce it in the laboratory" under conditions similar to early Earth.

"The answer to where it comes from looks increasingly like meteorites," he added, "from extraterrestrial bodies falling to Earth. It's a complex story, but we're beginning to understand it better."

Breslow and his colleagues made significant progress recently when they proved that the Murchison amino acids could transfer their left-handedness to otherwise symmetrical amino acids. They then found that small degrees of chirality could be dramatically amplified in a water solution under conditions similar to the early Earth.

Their conclusion: Even the relatively limited number of additional left-handed amino acids in the meteorites could, under the right conditions, lead to a world where almost all amino acids and proteins end up left-handed. Their papers appeared in the journal Organic Letters and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This transformation is essential to life because if all the amino acids and proteins -- which in time became the basic substance of the RNA and DNA that organize life through genes -- were equally left- and right-handed, they could never have bonded into the stable compounds needed for the infrastructure of living things.

The story is made even more complex by the likelihood that most or all of the amino acids in asteroids, meteors and comets traversing the solar system -- molecules that can be part of a living entity or not -- were initially evenly right- or left-handed. So how did meteorites bring in slightly more left-handed amino acids?

The most common theory is that some were transformed by radiation from a certain kind of faraway neutron star, the dense and very highly charged remnant of a massive star that had collapsed. The ultraviolet, circular-polarized light from these stars hit the asteroids as they sped through space and caused a disproportionately large number of left-handed amino acids to form before they hit Earth as meteorites. (In other solar systems bathed by different neutron stars, the effect of the polarized light would be to turn more amino acids right-handed, potentially leading to right-handed molecular worlds.)

Daniel Glavin, an astrobiologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, said he and his colleagues recently discovered that a particular amino acid in the Murchison meteorite, isovaline, was disproportionately left-handed at a level of almost 18 percent. Other left-over-right imbalances had mostly been in the single digits. The logical conclusion, Glavin said, is that the imbalance arose on a water-containing asteroid or comet well before it broke up.

"There are signs that this compound existed in a watery environment and that the change in handedness happened because of that," he said.

Chirality is a simple concept that is hard to fully grasp. A "chiral" molecule is one that cannot be superimposed on its mirror image. Like left and right hands that have a thumb and fingers in the same order but are mirror images, chiral molecules have the same things attached in the same order but are mirror images and not the same. To make things a bit more complex, while almost all proteins are left-handed, almost all sugars are right-handed.

When researchers initially reported the higher proportion of left-handed amino acids in the Murchison meteorite -- which now resides at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History -- the news was met with skepticism. The main criticism was that the meteorite was no doubt contaminated by earthly chirality when it struck, accounting for the overabundance of left-handedness.

Further study, however, has shown that some of the disproportionately left-handed Murchison amino acids are rare on Earth and contain much more of the heavy isotope of carbon (with an extra neutron) than is found in organic carbon on Earth.

Some researchers conclude that chirality and its complex origins make it less likely that life exists on other planets. But Breslow and Glavin hold the opposite view.

"I think this kind of chemistry could exist on many other planets and asteroids," Breslow said. "Meteorites crash into celestial bodies all the time. Given at all similar conditions that early Earth had, I don't see why some of those meteorites couldn't have the same effect when they hit other planets, too."

The Color of Evolution: How One Fish Became Two Fish

http://www.physorg.com/news142615133.html

By Kelly Blake, General Science / Biology

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ever since Darwin discovered that species can evolve, scientists have wondered how new species form. Answering this question is the key to understanding the diversity of all of life. A group of colorful fishes in Africa's Lake Victoria have been the focus of scientific efforts to unravel how new species form. This lake contains more than 500 species of cichlids, which play a leading role because of their rapid speciation and remarkable diversity. Still, the mechanisms involved in the rapid appearance of new cichlid species have remained elusive to scientists.

Now a new study highlighted on the cover of the journal Nature (October 1, 2008) suggests that species of Lake Victorian cichlids became new species after changes in how they see led to changes in the mates that they selected. The group of biologists, which is led by Ole Seehausen of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and includes Karen Carleton of the University of Maryland, say that the phenomenon provides evidence that differences in sensory perception contribute to the development of new species.

For many years, scientists have linked evolution to the environment and suggested that new species arise when populations become geographically isolated from one another, thus forcing them to adapt differently. The idea that organisms living right next to each other can separate into two new species has been proposed, but difficult to prove.

The waters of Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, are murky and red light penetrates deeper than blue light. In the shallow waters, the male fish tend to be green to blue, and in the deeper waters, the male fish are marked by a brilliant red. "These fish specialized to different microhabitats," Carleton explains, "which in this case is different depths. The visual system then specialized to the light environment at these depths and the mating colors shifted to match. Once this happened, these two groups no longer interbred and so became new species."

Carleton's previous research had identified long and short wavelength sensitive variants in one of the genes responsible for tuning the fish's vision to different depths. For this new study, the researchers sequenced hundreds of fish captured in the wild and showed that these visual variants segregate with depth and male color, supporting the idea that these fish have specialized to inhabit these micro niches.

The study is also significant because it shows the importance of lighting in the environment to the survival of the fish species, and the detrimental impact of pollution on biodiversity.

"With human activity contributing run off and algal growth in Lake Victoria, the water has been getting more turbid," Carleton says. "With very turbid water, the species can't distinguish each other anymore and so interbreed, leading to a loss of biodiversity."

Carleton's contribution to this study adds to a substantial body of research conducted by faculty in the College of Chemical and Life Sciences' Department of Biology that is seeking to understand animal communication and sensory systems and their role in speciation. Much of this research will be highlighted at the university's Bioscience Research and Technology Review Day 2008 on November 12. This year's program is organized under the theme of "Evolution and 21st Century Science" to coincide with the observance of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday.

Provided by University of Maryland

'Total biology' blamed for European deaths is gaining ground in Quebec

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/10/07/mtl-totalbiology1006.html

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A new therapy that claims to cure cancer and other diseases but has been blamed for dozens of deaths in Europe is gaining popularity in Canada, according to a Radio-Canada investigation.

"Total biology" is a therapeutic approach that claims illness is caused by psychological conflicts in the brain.

The approach, also known as new medicine or bio-psycho-genealogy, professes to heal all disease, including AIDS and advanced forms of cancer.

The method is gaining traction in Quebec where patients are often told to ignore their cancer, or stop medical treatment altogether, according to an investigation by CBC's French-language service.

Some European practitioners have been convicted for illegally practising medicine and another is being sued — but in Quebec, total biology's proponents are active in more than 30 Quebec cities.

The founder of total biology, Dr. Claude Sabbah, claims that up to 90 per cent of all illnesses are caused by messages from the medical community.

He teaches his approach in six-day seminars offered in France and Canada. He tells students that cancer and other diseases are formed in the brain first, and must be deprogrammed.

During the investigation, Radio-Canada journalists went undercover with hidden cameras seeking medical advice about fictitious diseases.

One of the journalists claimed to have breast cancer. She visited several total biology practitioners who told her that her life was not in danger, and the lump in her breast was the result of a maternal conflict.

She was recommended to stop chemotherapy altogether. During another visit a practitioner told her to drink champagne and relax.

Pray 15 times a day

Another undercover journalist who claimed he had prostate cancer was told his ailment was caused by a conflict between his parents at the time of his conception.

He was given orders to recite a prayer 15 times a day.

That kind of advice can be dangerous, said Dr. Yves Lamontagne, president of the Quebec College of Physicians.

"A lot of people are [following] that type of psychotherapy, and unfortunately, some people who are most of the time very sick don't know what to do exactly, and think this would be a kind of miracle for their disease," he told CBC.

Total biology violates Quebec's medical code of ethics, and people interested in alternative medicine or therapies should consult their doctors first, Lamontagne said.

The approach "can seem crazy," but it works, claims Olivier Comoy, a Quebec naturopath and total biology practitioner.

Comoy says he's seen cases where people have completely recovered from their illnesses after undergoing total biology therapy, which helps them understand how life events and emotions leave marks on their bodies and behaviours.

Sabbah is no longer allowed to practice medicine in France, but he's trained more than 7,000 people, most of them with no formal medical experience.

Many practise the approach in Quebec.

Lower Cholesterol Can Kill You

http://newsblaze.com/story/20081011180825zzzz.nb/topstory.html

Lower Cholesterol Can Kill You Says New Book Assailing Medical Profession and Pharmaceuticals on Treatments of Heart Disease

"How to Really Prevent and Cure Heart Disease" Shatters Five Leading Myths That Cost U.S. Consumers Nearly $200 Billion Per Year Alone

Los Angeles, CA - In an open challenge to conventional medicine, Dr. Gottfried A. Lange, M.D., one of Europe's leading advocates for alternative approaches to treating heart disease worldwide debunks the five most common myths about the causes and treatment of heart disease in his newest book entitled, "How to Really Prevent and Cure Heart Disease," published by HealthNet Publishing and available later this year.

Dr. Lange's shocking, sure to be controversial indictment of the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry cites scientific study after study that claim the following:

About $50 billion per year is paid to pharmaceutical companies for drugs to lower cholesterol without an improvement in heart attack and stroke statistics

Cholesterol does NOT cause heart attacks and strokes

High cholesterol levels are actually associated with high life expectance and low cancer rates

All cholesterol-lowering drugs potentially cause cancer and the two most-common are particularly carcinogenic.

Low cholesterol may contribute to declining sexual functions, Alzheimer's disease, and behavioral violence

In a world where cardiovascular disease remains the leading ca use of death and where three of four people diagnosed with cardiovascular disease will die from heart attack or stroke [1], Dr. Lange offers well-documented preventative and curative approaches based on his quarter century of practice and research. Since receiving his M.D. from Hamburg University in 1980, Dr. Lange has specialized in cellular nutrition, vitamin therapies, and the holistic practice of naturopathy.** His research on the harmful effects of pollutants, pesticides, and drugs on the human body led him to successfully test-pioneering de-toxification and rehabilitation methods. Based on his research, Dr. Lange has spent the past eight years working with and lecturing to health professionals and consumers on the use of advanced vitamin formulas to prevent and cure common "killer" diseases, leading to the publication of his alarming new work.

Dr. Lange maps out several well-documented remedies in his new book based on more than 250 scientific medical studies, reports, reviewed journals and his own work in de-toxification. The natural approaches include specific vitamin and food supplement therapies, diet, and exercise designed to specifically target arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. The book informs consumers on the proper working and functioning of cells and in particular shows how true healing must begin in the arterial wall itself.

** Naturopathy, also called naturopathic medicine, is a whole medical system-one of the systems of healing and beliefs that have evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world. Naturopathy is rooted in health care approaches that were popular in Europe, especially in Germany, in the 19th century, but it also includes therapies (both ancient and modern) from other traditions. In naturopathy, the emphasis is on supporting health rather than combating disease. [2]

[1] World Health Organization. Cardiovascular Diseases. WHO website. Accessed at http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/

[2] National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. An Introduction to Naturopathy. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Accessed at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/naturopathy/#7 on March 16, 2008.

Copyright © 2008, NewsBlaze, Daily News

Mysterious DNA Found to Survive Eons of Evolution

http://www.livescience.com/health/081009-mystery-dna.html

By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 09 October 2008 07:07 am ET

Scientists have discovered mystery snippets of mammal DNA that have survived eons of evolution and yet have no apparent purpose. The finding reveals just how much we don't know about the secrets hidden in our genome and that of other animals.

Most genes change throughout evolution via mutations; useless ones eventually get weeded out of the population while the helpful modifications take hold. However, about 500 regions of our DNA — the body's instruction code made up of base pairs of molecules — have apparently remained intact throughout the history of mammalian evolution, or the past 80 million to 100 million years, basically free of mutations.

"Mutations are introduced into these regions just as they are everywhere else, but they're swept out of the genome much more quickly," said researcher Gill Bejerano, professor of developmental biology and computer science at Stanford University. "These regions seem to be under intense purifying selection — almost no mutations take hold permanently."

And what's more, many of those sequences do not appear to code for any obvious function, or phenotype, in the body. Researchers suspect they do serve an important purpose, but have yet to figure out exactly what that purpose is. (These sequences are not the same as most non-coding or "junk" DNA, for which no function has been identified, because those sections are not so well-preserved.)

Ultraconserved regions

The researchers call these mystery snippets "ultraconserved regions," and found that they are about 300 times less likely than other regions of the genome to be lost during the course of mammalian evolution. Bejerano and his graduate student Cory McLean detailed the finding in the journal Genome Research.

The fact that these segments haven't been weeded out by natural selection implies that they serve an important function in mammals. Yet mice in the lab bred to lack four of these DNA strands appear healthy and don't seem to be missing any vital genes.

Wondering if the odd results were simply some fault of the lab experiment, and perhaps the mice really weren't as well off as they seemed, the researchers investigated whether any other mammals were also blithely living without these regions.

Amazingly, they found that was not the case. The researchers compared ultraconserved sequences of at least 100 base pairs shared by humans, macaques and dogs with the DNA of rats and mice. They found that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the segments shared among the primates and dogs were missing in the rodents. In contrast, about 25 percent of regular, not ultraconserved, regions in the first group were absent in the mice and rats.

"What's striking about this research is that [the regions] really are almost never lost," Bejerano told LiveScience. "You're asking if a species can live without these regions, and the resounding answer from our paper is that they seem to have an effect that is strong enough that evolution would weed [individuals without the regions] out of an evolving population."

Potential purposes

Scientists have some guesses about what these strange segments might be used for. Perhaps these DNA strands actually code for multiple layers of information, Bejerano suggested. In that case, each layer could be redundant, with other segments serving the same purpose in other contexts, but together they provide a vital backup system.

Or, they could be crucially important, but only at specific times in a species' history.

"Imagine that these regions somehow protect you from a disease that only strikes the population every once in a while," Bejerano said. "Once every 10,000 years you have this cleansing event, and only those with the region would actually stick around. That's one guess."

Mysterious DNA

For all the major advances in genome science in the last decades, there are still many basic questions left to be answered.

For one thing, though researchers have made strides in understanding what many genes do, there are many more areas of DNA that remain baffling.

"If you pick a particular region in the genome at random and ask me, 'What does this region do?' there is a very high likelihood that I would tell you, 'I don't know,'" Bejerano said in a phone interview. "That makes for a lot of mysteries that are still out there."

In addition to particular sequences of DNA that puzzle scientists, there are many basic questions about the workings of DNA for which answers have so far eluded researchers.

"We have very good guesses, but how the genome does its thing is by and large yet to be revealed," Bejerano said. "It's exactly the same in every one of our cells, but each cell behaves very differently. There's a lot more we have to understand in the relationship between genomics and developmental biology."

The research was supported by a Stanford Bio-X graduate fellowship and an Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation junior faculty grant. Bejerano is a Sloan research fellow and a Searle scholar.

Brunswick candidates offer stances on creationism

http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20081010/ARTICLES/810100242/1004?Title=Brunswick_school_board_candidates_offer_stances_on_creationism

By Ana Ribeiro Staff Writer

Published: Friday, October 10, 2008 at 2:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 10, 2008 at 10:31 p.m.

Bible in hand, Monique Weddle defended creationism in a debate in her high school psychology class.

Half that class at West Brunswick High School was for evolution, the other half for creationism, Weddle said. Influenced by her religious surroundings, she said she completely rejected evolution at the time.

Now a senior studying biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Weddle said she has come to accept both.

"You can't deny something that's scientifically proven," Weddle said of evolution, adding, "I still believe very strongly that God created the world, but you can't disprove evolution."

There are a lot of scientists who both believe in God and accept that life evolves, said Marcel Van Tuinen, an evolutionary biologist at UNCW and one of Weddle's former professors. A group of Brunswick County parents showed up at a lecture on evolution at the university last month, concerned about the county school board's talk of teaching creationism, Van Tuinen said.

But to others in Brunswick County, including two school board candidates, creationism and evolution are competing views that could be debated on scientific terms. The idea, and a discussion that has gone beyond the community, were ignited by Joel Fanti, a Southern Baptist chemical engineer who has a son at West Brunswick High. Fanti suggested at the Sept. 16 school board meeting that creationism be taught side by side with evolution, a thought four board members supported and which has become the object of ridicule on some science Web sites.

Issue for candidates

District 1 incumbent Ray Gilbert voiced his support for creationism and the related "intelligent design" at a candidates' forum Tuesday, saying he thinks it should be offered as an alternative theory to evolution, so students could come up with conclusions for themselves. Challenges to evolution should be included in the curriculum, the Libertarian and Christian minister added as he responded to a question from the public at the forum, held at Brunswick Community College's Odell Williamson Auditorium.

District 2 Republican Catherine Cooke, who presents herself as an active parent and therefore insider in the county school system, said she knows creationism is not to be taught as science, but she's not against the topic being explored in some form.

"There's a lot of scientific proof for creation," Cooke said, without elaborating on that proof. "It's not one-sided."

District 4 incumbent Shirley Babson, the school board chairwoman and a Republican, said she also knows the law doesn't allow the teaching of creationism as a standard course of study. But she said evolution should be taught as a theory, not as a fact.

Defining 'theory'

However, "when biologists use the term 'theory,' it doesn't mean the same thing as when creationists use it," said Van Tuinen, a member of UNCW's Evolution Learning Community, which promotes the community's understanding of evolution and classes and lectures dealing with the topic.

Evolution is a scientific theory, which means there's overwhelming support for it, tested and observed in the natural world, the biologist said. Long-term evolution, the kind that transforms animals, is slow and cannot be observed happening in one's lifetime, but fossils substantiate it, he said. And short-term evolution can be observed in things like viruses mutating and dog breeds that originate through the artificial selection of their breeders.

Any holes in evolution are in the knowledge of how it occurred in certain species – because not all fossils have been found – not in whether evolution occurred, Van Tuinen said. While he can ask a student to test and compare fossils to figure out where they came from, he can't ask a student to test whether God created him, he said.

Creationism is a religious belief that cannot be tested or substantiated scientifically, he added.

The state allows creationism to be part of an elective or presented as one of many religious beliefs in history class, but not in science class or as a standard course of study.

Stick to science

Although open to the idea of teaching creationism as an elective, other candidates at Tuesday's forum were firm in stating they wouldn't try to go beyond that.

Democrat Tom Simmons, who's running against Babson in District 4 and is interim director of a hands-on science program for students, said he doesn't see a place for creationism in science class because it's faith-based. Democrat John Jones and Republican Olaf "Bud" Thorsen, the candidates challenging Gilbert in District 1, said they wouldn't want to go against the law on the creationism matter.

In the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana's mandate that evolution could not be taught unless accompanied by creationism, ruling it an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Other states and districts – including Kansas and Dover, Pa. – have tried to challenge evolution in the curriculum on behalf of "intelligent design" but found themselves forced to give up on the idea.

Jones, a born-again Christian, said he thinks creationism belongs in church or at home. The school board can't afford a lawsuit regarding the teaching of creationism, said Jones, a veteran educator.

The separation of church and state should be upheld, Thorsen said, adding that he wouldn't want to force creationism on students and that schools should instead focus on teaching the basics.

"The issue is to teach students how to read and write," said Thorsen, a former member of the Brunswick County school board.

Democrat Christy Judah, also a longtime educator and Cooke's adversary in District 2, said the school board should follow the state's stance on creationism in schools, as well as abide by a strict procedure before trying to point out any errors in the curriculum.

"I'm feeling really uncomfortable with some of these responses," Judah said of her fellow candidates.

Ana Ribeiro: 343-2327

ana.ribeiro@starnewsonline.com

Quote marks, moose stew

http://www.business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=336965

NETERATI
Jai Arjun Singh / New Delhi October 11, 2008, 0:55 IST

In conversation with people who are conservative in matters of religious faith and such, I've noticed that almost any rational idea is described as "Westernised".

This is ironical, because one of the largest populations of religious fundamentalists in the world today (if you define fundamentalism as belief in the literal truth of an ancient text) is in that most "Western" of countries, the US of A. Opinion polls regularly indicate that more than

50 per cent of Americans are Creationists, specifically Young-Earth Creationists: in other words, they believe that the Adam and Eve yarn, the Flood and so forth really happened and that the universe is only a few thousand years old.

Recently, film critic Roger Ebert wrote a deadpan piece titled "Creationism: Your Questions Answered", in which he purported to have clarified these beliefs. Anyone who has followed Ebert's writings will know that he is not a Creationist himself.

The piece was intended as a gentle parody: though its tone was poker-faced, there was enough in it (in my view, at least) to make his real intentions obvious.

("Q: Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose? Ans: In charity, we must observe that the moose probably does not seem absurd to itself.")

So he probably didn't expect people to conclude that he himself subscribed to such ideas as the Earth being created in finished form on the night of October 23, 4004 BC. But this is exactly what happened, with the piece sparking thousands of comments —and much jeering — across the www. "His site might have been hacked by Creationists. But how do people who are that backward figure out how to hack a website?" wondered a commenter on Reddit.com (http://www.reddit.com /r/atheism). "Two opposable thumbs down" quipped someone else, a riff on Ebert's trademark "Thumbs up/thumbs down," movie-rating system.

Ebert's response was to write an eloquent blog post titled "This is the dawning of the Age of Credulity" (http://blogs.suntimes.com /ebert/2008/09/), where he commented on the decay of our instinct for satire and irony: "To sense irony, you have to sense the invisible quotation marks. I suspect quotation marks may be growing imperceptible to us. In a time of shortened attention spans and instant gratification, trained by web surfing and movies with an average shot length of seconds, we accept rather than select."

Anyone who relishes a dry, understated sense of humour will know what he means. The Internet has greatly diluted our ability to read between the lines — to read intelligently rather than take everything at face value. In email conversations, most people realise you're joking only when you include a smiley icon next to the relevant sentence: it serves as a signpost that says "Laugh here!" However, I have to admit that Creationism is a special case.

A commenter on Ebert's article drew my attention to something called Poe's Law, which states that "without a blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing". In other words, no matter how over-the-top such a parody may be, there will always be someone who cannot tell that it is a parody, having seen similar ideas from real fundamentalists.

Coincidentally, moose stew is the favourite dish of a Creationist — who may well be the US vice-president soon. On the comments section of a blog, there was a persuasive reply to Ebert's moose question:

Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose?

A. So I can kill it and make soup. The Lord be praised — Sarah Palin

But Palin deserves a column entirely to herself. More on her soon.

(jaiarjun@gmail.com)


Saturday, October 11, 2008

$7.5 trillion for a 'transitional' fossil?

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2008/10/palaeontologists-this-could-be.html?DCMP=ILC-rhts&nsref=ts11_bar

October 10, 2008 12:11 PM

Palaeontologists: this could be your lucky day. Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar has just offered ten trillion lira - a mouth-watering $7.5 trillion - to "anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution".

In the years before I joined New Scientist I dabbled in Jurassic sea urchin evolution and I think one of my new genera fits the bill nicely - for those who are interested, it provides an elegant transitional form between the very first so-called "irregular" sea urchins and the cassiduloid urchins that still exist today.

Others have suggested Tiktaalik roseae, a late Devonian lobe-finned fish with unusual appendages that are transitional between fin and leg. Its discovery in 2006 added an important piece to the jigsaw of tetrapod evolution.

So, will Oktar cough up? Unlikely. You might call the problem the Sorcerer's Apprentice syndrome. Poor Mickey Mouse found out that every time he chopped up one of his magic brooms, the problem doubled as each half sprouted new legs and continued its duties.

Palaeontologists everywhere can sympathise with Mickey's plight. When a seemingly large evolutionary gap is plugged with a remarkable new fossil, as happened just the other day with the discovery of a new primitive turtle from the Triassic, it just leaves two smaller gaps on either side. Now, instead of one gap in the fossil record there are two, and creationists argue that the fossil record is, paradoxically, even worse than it was before the new discovery.

Is there any hope of satisfying Oktar? The answer is yes, but perhaps only if you look at the fossil record of tiny plankton. How about this transitional series in Orbulina forams? There are literally trillions of forams in the oceans. When they die and sink to the sea floor they remain undisturbed for millions of years, offering palaeontologists a complete set of intermediate fossils.

Colin Barras, online technology reporter

Interviews with Scientists & Scholars Who Doubt Darwin's theory of evolution

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/10/recent_interviews_with_scienti.html

At ID The Future there have been a number of interesting interviews recently broadcast with a wide variety of scientists, scholars, and educators who have their doubts about Darwinian evolution.

University of Warwick sociologist Steve Fuller, the author of the recent book, Dissent Over Descent discusses topics from his book and explains the nature and problem of a scientific consensus on controversial topics. Fuller argues that intelligent design is not anti-science (just anti-establishment), as biological study continues to become more like an engineering project, it will be harder for scientists to deny that life is intelligently designed. Listen as Fuller addresses why there is, in fact, dissent over descent.

CSC Fellow Ray Bohlin earned his Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas. During his academic studies Bohlin developed doubts about evolution that he then explored in his book, The Natural Limits to Biological Change written in 1984. Listen as he explains his skepticism of evolution and offers advice for emerging scientific doubters of Darwin.

[Editors note: The writer seems to be saying Bohlin had an epiphany during his studies and began to doubt evolution. This does not reconcile with reality. Bohlin heads up Probe Ministries in the Dallas area, and at a public forum five years he stated he believes all other animals descended from other forms, but not humans.]

Rodney LeVake, a former high school biology teacher, informally expressed doubts about evolution to a colleague who then reported him to the principal. LeVake ended up losing his biology position, not because he taught creationism or intelligent design, but because he committed a thought crime by doubting Darwinism. Listen to part one as he tells his story of clear academic persecution. Listen to part two as he continues his story, explaining the law suit and what happened afterwards.

ID The Future is a podcast that explores issues central to the case for intelligent design, from the Big Bang to the bacterial flagellum and beyond. It features commentary and analysis of science and news as well as interviews with scientists and scholars about the debate over evolution and intelligent design.

Posted by Robert Crowther on October 11, 2008 8:44 AM | Permalink

Court tosses local couple's evolution suit

http://www.rosevillept.com/detail/95466.html

Caldwells claim site offended

By Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune

A local couple's legal claim that a U.C. Berkeley Web site on evolution pushes a religious viewpoint – in violation of the separation of church and state – cannot go forward, a federal appeals court has affirmed.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld earlier this month a lower court's 2006 dismissal of the case, filed by Granite Bay resident Larry Caldwell on behalf of his wife, Jeanne Caldwell.

In an opinion, Judge Pamela A. Rymer agreed with the lower judge's finding that the plaintiffs failed to show any evidence Jeanne Caldwell was harmed by the Web site, "Understanding Evolution for Teachers."

The site, which was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, included a page titled "Misconception: 'Evolution and Religion are Incompatible.'" The page said, in part, that many religious groups "have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings," and also linked to statements from religious organizations to that effect.

The lawsuit claimed that amounted to an endorsement of certain religious viewpoints, and that it tried to proselytize those viewpoints to public school students, violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The suit asked for an injunction against the Web site and declaration the site was unconstitutional.

Caldwell claimed she was "offended" by the Web site and made to feel like an "outsider," according to the original complaint, filed in U.S. District Court.

But the court found the Caldwells could not sue because Jeanne Caldwell's personal offense at the site's message was not enough to constitute an injury.

"Accordingly, we believe there is too slight a connection between Caldwell's generalized grievance, and the government conduct about which she complains, to sustain her standing to proceed," Judge Rymer wrote in the 14-page opinion.

Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group that was part of the Caldwells' legal team, said in an interview this week an appeal, either to an 11-judge panel or the Supreme Court, is still possible.

"We're cogitating over that now," Snider said. "We have a number of days to make a decision."

He said while courts have a long history of finding Establishment Clause violations in the physical public sphere, such as biblical messages displayed in courtrooms, they have yet to fully reckon with alleged violations of church and state in cyberspace.

"The real issue is whether the Internet is going to be an Establishment Clause-free zone," he said. "In other words, can you have no Establishment Clause violation or separation of church and state issue if it happens in virtual space, or does it have to happen in flesh and blood?"

The dismissal comes little over a year after Larry Caldwell lost his own legal battle with the Roseville Joint Union High School District also over issues connected to evolutionary theory.

That complaint, filed in 2005, centered on claims that the district violated Caldwell's constitutional rights in the year he attempted to introduce his controversial Quality Science Education Policy into the curriculum.

The proposed program included information contradictory to evolution.

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit in September 2007.vv

Keywords

Larry Caldwell, Jeanne Caldwell, U.C. Berkeley Web site, Understanding Evolution for Teachers, Misconception: 'Evolution and Religion are Incompatible'

St. John's wort helps with depression -- especially if you're German

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2008/10/it-works-it-doe.html

2:24 PM, October 10, 2008

It works. It doesn't. It works. It doesn't. That's health research news for you. One item that gives me whiplash, is the effectiveness -- or not -- of the herb St. John's wort for relief of depression.

Here, for example, is what the National Institutes of Health says: "There is some scientific evidence that St. John's wort is useful for treating mild to moderate depression. However, two large studies, one sponsored by NCCAM [the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine], showed that the herb was no more effective than placebo in treating major depression of moderate severity."

The University of Maryland Medical Center says that, "In numerous studies, St. John's wort has been effective in reducing depressive symptoms in those with mild to moderate but not severe (called major) depression."

So one site says the herb's effective in treating moderately severe major depression and the other says it's not effective for major depression but is effective for moderate and mild depression that would not be defined as major.

Argh! Argh! At this point one starts to wonder if the most confusing thing about these studies is the definition of depression. (According to Medline, "major depression" is diagnosed when five or more symptoms of depression persist for more than two weeks -- symptoms including feeling sad, hopeless, worthless or pessimistic.)

Perhaps it helps to not get overly hung up on such definitions. In any case, our friends from the Cochrane Collaboration have just weighed in with a Systematic Review that evaluated 29 trials on the topic and concluded the following: The herb does appear effective for major depression, at least mild and moderate versions thereof -- and, in fact, is as effective as antidepressants (and slightly better than placebos, suggesting that none of these items appear to be miracle-workers, antidepressants included).

But ... for some perplexing reason, trials conducted in German-speaking countries had better results than trials conducted in other countries. What the ?! Should melancholy, herb-chugging types all quickly move to Germany?

"This difference could be due to the inclusion of patients with slightly different types of depression," the review authors write. Use of the herb is quite accepted in such countries, which might influence what kind of patient enters a trial. "But it cannot be ruled out that some smaller studies from German-speaking countries were flawed and reported overoptimistic results."

The authors end their report with two reminders -- to tell your physician if you're taking the herb since it might interact with other meds, and bear in mind that supplements can vary a lot in quality.

-- Rosie Mestel

Darwinists in denial?

http://www.onenewsnow.com/Education/Default.aspx?id=280120

Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 10/10/2008 8:15:00 AM

The Discovery Institute says a group of Darwinists who are opposing efforts by the Texas State Board of Education to allow evolution to be debated in the classroom are clinging to 19th century science in the 21st century.

The group, which refers to itself as the 21st Century Science Coalition, opposes the teaching of scientific evidence that shows the weakness of prevailing evolutionary theory. They claim that teaching such scientific evidence would pave the way to the eventual teaching of religious ideas such as creationism.

Should topics such as creationism or intelligent design be taught in public schools alongside the theory of evolution?

Casey Luskin with the Discovery Institute says despite the group's name, they are in fact clinging to outdated 19th century science.

"What [the group is] trying to imply, and what it wants to have taught in the classroom, is that evolution is an uncontroversial fact that is absolutely, 100 percent proven to be true and that there are no scientists who dissent from it," Luskin explains. "And they want students to basically not learn about any views that might have scientific dissent from modern neo-Darwinian theory."

There is plenty of scientific evidence, according to Luskin, that questions leading evolutionary theory. He adds that one of the ways that Darwinists try to insulate their theories from criticisms is to relabel any criticisms as religious attack.

"But that is absolutely a false relabeling. In fact, there are over 700 scientists who dissent from neo-Darwinian evolution and have signed a statement of dissent that's on a list that can be found at DissentFromDarwin.org," Luskin points out. "And there are a large number of peer-reviewed, scientific articles that have come out in the last 10, 20, 30 years that challenge various key aspects of neo-Darwinian theory."

Luskin says teachers should be able to freely teach the scientific evidence for and against evolution.

Evolution education update: October 10, 2008

Texas newspapers are editorially supporting the treatment of evolution in the recently released draft set of science standards, while a lawsuit alleging that the Understanding Evolution website violates the First Amendment failed on appeal.

EDITORIAL SUPPORT FOR SCIENCE STANDARDS IN TEXAS

Texas's newspapers are beginning to express their editorial support of the draft set of science standards, released by the Texas Education Agency on September 22, 2008, and applauded for their treatment of evolution by the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition. Referring to the absence of the "strengths and weaknesses" language from the draft standards, the Waco Tribune (October 3, 2008) commented, "Explaining and investigating 'strengths and weaknesses' of any theory is inherent in scientific inquiry. But having such language in state standards, as has been the case for several years, is code for those who want religion to have a foot in the door when Darwin comes up," and added, "acknowledging the shortcomings of scientific theories, no matter what they are, is one of the essences of science. But when the objective is to inject matters spiritual, we are not talking about science. We are talking about religion that wants a seat at the table."

The Austin American-Statesman (October 6, 2008) urged the board of education to "defer to scientists and its own advisory committee when it comes to determining what should be taught in biology classes. The six-member advisory committee, which includes science teachers and curriculum experts, recommended eliminating ideas 'based upon purported forces outside of nature' from high school biology courses. In other words, get rid of creationism and intelligent design, which teach that the universe was created by God or some other higher power." Invoking the increasing economic importance of evolutionary biology, the editorial added, "McLeroy and other board members should be strengthening science standards to accommodate a big push to attract world-class biomedical researchers, companies and grants to Texas. Those are growth industries that have not looked favorably on communities that water down science studies with vague and unproven ideas."

For the Waco Tribune's editorial, visit:
http://www.wacotrib.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2008/10/03/10032008waceditorial.html

For the Austin American-Statesman's editorial, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/10/06/1006science_edit.html

For the pro-science organizations in Texas, visit:
http://www.tfn.org
http://www.texscience.org
http://www.texasscientists.org/

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

APPEAL OF UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION LAWSUIT DISMISSED

After her lawsuit challenging the Understanding Evolution website on constitutional grounds was dismissed for lack of standing on March 13, 2006, Jeanne Caldwell appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit. In a ruling dated October 3, 2008, the appeals court rejected her appeal, affirming the lower court's decision.

Understanding Evolution, a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology (with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) and the National Center for Science Education, was originally intended as a resource for teachers; it subsequently expanded to appeal to everyone interested in learning about evolution.

Among the resources for teachers is a brief discussion of the idea, labeled as a misconception, that evolution and religion are incompatible. The website notes, "Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings," and provides a link to NCSE's publication Voices for Evolution.

Arguing that Understanding Evolution thereby endorses particular religious doctrines in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Caldwell filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. But her suit was dismissed because she failed to allege that she had federal taxpayer standing, failed to sufficiently allege state taxpayer standing, and failed to establish that she suffered a concrete "injury in fact."

Upholding the lower court's decision in Caldwell v. Caldwell et alia (the first defendant was Roy Caldwell, the director of UCMP), the appeals court's decision concluded, "Accordingly, we believe there is too slight a connection between Caldwell's generalized grievance, and the government conduct about which she complains, to sustain her standing to proceed."

Jeanne Caldwell was represented by Kevin T. Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute and her husband Larry Caldwell. It was a further legal defeat for Larry Caldwell, who previously sued his local school district, alleging that his civil rights were violated, after it declined to implement his proposals for evolution education; on September 7, 2007, the defendants won a motion for summary judgment in that case.

For the appeals court's decision (PDF), visit:
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0615771p.pdf

For Understanding Evolution, visit:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 09, 2008

When Alternate Theories Don't Make For A Good Curriculum

http://www.intellectualconservative.com/2008/10/08/when-alternate-theories-don%E2%80%99t-make-for-a-good-curriculum/

October 8th, 2008 by Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D

Because across the country school boards and legislatures have mounted aggressive efforts to introduce intelligent design as a co-equal, alternate theory to evolution in public school science classes.

"Our creationist detractors charge that evolution is an unproved and unprovable charade," wrote the brilliant paleontologist and Harvard professor, Stephen Jay Gould, "a secular religion masquerading as science." Signaling that those charges are still part of a contentious discussion about the origins of life, and how faith and science can coexist, even rabbis have come forward to lend their support to a continuation of the teaching of evolution and a resistance to pressure for public schools to question the validity of Darwinian theory and open the door to teaching alternate explanations of biological development — most specifically, the concept of "intelligent design."

In the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, for instance, Rabbi David Oler of Congregation Beth Or this summer drafted an open letter, signed by over 200 national Jewish leaders, that affirmed their support for the teaching of evolution. The Deerfield letter followed the lead of a similar earlier open letter, the Clergy Letter, that was signed by some 11,000 religious leaders and also supported the teaching of evolution in schools. Why the sudden interest in Darwin by religious leaders? Because across the country — in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Kansas, to name several recent locations — school boards and legislatures have mounted aggressive efforts to introduce intelligent design as a co-equal, alternate theory to evolution in public school science classes.

Intelligent design is acknowledged by many observers to be the latest spin on the "creationism" concept that Gould repeatedly questioned as a true science; to him, and to other mainstream scientists, the movement was solely an attempt to legitimize a religious and Biblical explanation for life's origins by giving it a scientific veneer. Frustrated by their defeats in court and inability to introduce creationism into schools as a viable, alternative theory to evolution, creationists have begun to publicly disavow religious sources for their philosophy and now suggest that life began through the work of an intelligent "designer," a supernatural force responsible for the entire creation of the universe and all life within it.

Unfortunately for intelligent design's supporters, the courts have repeatedly seen attempts to introduce this pseudo-science into public school curricula as an attempt to advance a religious philosophy where the state and the law cannot condone such an intrusion, and which is specifically prohibited by the First Amendment's establishment clause.

The intelligent design adherents, as well as their creationist predecessors, have aggressively attacked evolutionary theory as being no more valid a set of answers than their own explanation of the origin of life; in fact, they contend that evolution is merely a theory, not scientific fact, and therefore open to vigorous debate and scholarly inquiry.

If it is true that evolution is no more certain that intelligent design, they ask, why not expose students to both theories? Why keep students from investigating each scientific approach and choosing between them? "It's an academic freedom proposal," said Stephen C. Meyer of Seattle's nonprofit Discovery Institute, the principal generator of intelligent design research. "What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism."

There is one serious problem with the specious idea of teaching intelligent design in science classes as a concomitant scientific theory to evolution: no credible member of the scientific or academic communities has ever proven that intelligent design is anything more than a faith-based philosophy masquerading as science, grounded on the Genesis account of the creation of life. Despite the fact that they have tried, in pressing the intelligent design theory, to distance themselves from their faith, supporters have still not been able to convince the courts that intelligent design can stand on its own as a body of knowledge appropriate for science classes.

"The methodology employed by creationists is another factor which is indicative that their work is not science," the court found in its extensive and insightful decision in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. "The creationists' methods do not take data, weigh it against the opposing scientific data, and thereafter reach the conclusions [of the intelligent design theory]."

Science involves methodical investigation of unknown facts, with findings that are sometimes anticipated but frequently unknown, surprising, or serendipitous. Intelligent design fails as science because it was created as a specific contradiction to evolution, and was promulgated to support a pre-existing ideology. "While anybody is free to approach a scientific inquiry in any fashion they choose," the court in the Arkansas case added, "they cannot properly describe the methodology as scientific, if they start with the conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation."

The fact that intelligent design is not science is exactly the reason that it should not be part of any science curriculum — either as an alternative theory to evolution or as intellectual exercise by which students, exercising their "academic freedom," can investigate other approaches to the origin of life.

The fact is that not every intellectual viewpoint is worthy of being discussed in the classroom, merely because one group feels passionately that their issue has intrinsic value, is true, or should be heard as part of the marketplace of ideas. Some truths are absolute and do not require a fair and balanced measurement against some contradictory body of thought. An entire intellectual "industry" of Holocaust denial research has many fervent followers, for instance, but few sentient school boards would find it palatable or reasonable to have students exposed to the "theory" that the Holocaust never occurred along with history lessons expressing the verifiable and incontrovertible fact that it did.

Ironically, deniers conduct their research and have come to their findings about the Holocaust in a manner similar to the way intelligent design theorists come to theirs. In his essay "Why Revisionism Isn't," Gordon McFee seems to echo, in the context of revisionist history, the court's appraisal of how intelligent design was researched and promoted. Just as creationists start with the premise that the theory of evolution is flawed and subject to doubt, wrote McFee, "Revisionists depart from the conclusion that the Holocaust did not occur and work backwards through the facts to adapt them to that preordained conclusion." "Put another way, they reverse the proper methodology . . ., thus turning the proper historical method of investigation and analysis on its head . . . To put it tritely, 'revisionists' revise the facts based on their conclusion."

Deniers may have concluded and may passionately want to believe that there was no "Final Solution," that gas chambers were used merely to delouse prisoners, that only hundreds of thousands of Jews, not millions, were exterminated, and that the Holocaust is overall a hoax perpetrated by Jewish victims to extract sympathy and reparations from the world; but all of their invidious scholarship cannot prove the unprovable, and nor obviously would their theories deserve to be taught as an alternative "history" in public schools merely because they question history and employ perverse scholarship to deny and distort the magnitude of one of the most documented and pernicious events of contemporary times.

"'Creation science,'" Gould wrote in an essay he called "Verdict on Creationism," "has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage — good teaching — than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?"


Saturday, October 04, 2008

MIOS MEETING

Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Dr. Daniel Criswell Speak On the Subject
Bioethics in an Age of Discovery

What are the Biblical guidelines for scientific research? Is it ethical to clone other organisms besides man? Is there anything wrong with making genetically modified organisms? Is it ethical to produce foods that would benefit man using these methods? Are we allowed to enhance humans and make them "better"? Can animal genes and organs be used in man? What are the dangers and risks? What does God's word say about these proposed uses of modern biotechnology?

Daniel Criswell, Ph.D. Molecular Biology
Institute for Creation Research

Come share an enjoyable and profitable evening.

Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
Farmers Branch, TX

Tuesday, October 7th, 7:30 PM

Evolution education update: October 3, 2008

A new coalition of scientists is defending the teaching of evolution in Texas, and the International Planetarium Society affirms the scientifically ascertained ages of the earth and of the universe.

TEXAS SCIENTISTS SUPPORT TEACHING EVOLUTION

A new coalition of Texas scientists voiced its opposition to attempts to dilute the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, which are presently undergoing revision. At a news conference in Austin on September 30, 2008, representatives of the 21st Century Science Coalition challenged the idea that students should be told that there are "weaknesses" in evolution. Armed with a stack of scientific journals, Dan Bolnick, who teaches biology at the University of Texas, Austin, explained, "Not a single one [of the articles in these journals] gives us reason to believe evolution did not occur," the Austin American-Statesman (October 1, 2008) reported. "So where are the weaknesses? Simple: They don't exist. They are not based on scientific research or data and have been refuted countless times."

The Texas Education Agency released proposed drafts of the state's science standards on September 22, 2008. A requirement in the current standards for high school biology that reads "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" was replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change is significant because in 2003, the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards was selectively applied by members of the state board of education attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration.

The chair of the state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, favors the "strengths and weaknesses" language, telling the Austin American-Statesman (September 23, 2008), "I'd argue it doesn't make sense scientifically to take it out." The 21st Century Science Coalition organized and mobilized in response. Already over 800 Texas scientists with or working towards advanced degrees in life, physical, and mathematical science have signed the coalition's statement calling on the board to approve science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

For the story in the Austin American-Stateman, visit: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/10/01/1001evolution.html

For the 21st Century Science Coalition's website, visit:
http://www.texasscientists.org/

For the previous story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/09/24/0924science.html

For the full text of the coalition's statement, visit:
http://www.texasscientists.org/sign.html

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

IPS STATEMENT ON THE AGE OF THE EARTH AND UNIVERSE

The International Planetarium Society recently issued a statement on the ancient age of the earth and universe, noting that "Many independent lines of scientific evidence show that the Earth and Universe are billions of years old. Current measurements yield an age of about 4.6 billion years for the Earth and about 14 billion years for the Universe." The statement adds, "These measurements of age are accepted by nearly all astronomers, including both research astronomers and planetarium educators. These astronomers come from nations and cultures around the world and from a very wide spectrum of religious beliefs."

The statement also explained the need for the society to take a stand: "Planetariums are based on science and education and as such reflect the ideals and principles of these disciplines. Planetarium educators seek to present both scientific results and an understanding of how these discoveries are made." The International Planetarium Society describes itself as "the global association of planetarium professionals. Its nearly 700 members come from 35 countries around the world. They represent schools, colleges and universities, museums, and public facilities of all sizes including both fixed and portable planetariums." Its primary goal is "to encourage the sharing of ideas among its members through conferences, publications, and networking."

For the IPS's statement, visit:
http://www.ips-planetarium.org/pubs/age-of-universe.html

For the IPS's website, visit:
http://www.ips-planetarium.org/

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sacking Little Green Footballs' Outrageous Claim That "Discovery Institute Is in League With Islamist Creationists"

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/10/sacking_little_green_footballs.html

Earlier this year, the popular blog Little Green Footballs (LGF) made an outrageous attempt to link Discovery Institute to the Muslim creationist Harun Yahya (a.k.a. Adnan Oktar). Their post claimed, "Discovery Institute is in league with Islamist creationists, a fact that is indisputably true," specifically referring to Yahya / Oktar. Discovery Institute's president Bruce Chapman dignified their charges with a forceful refutation, but LGF's reply to Mr. Chapman was basically a string of ad hominem attacks that relied on a tenuous chain of distorted and incomplete facts. If there was any doubt left that Discovery Institute and Islamic creationists are not "in league," consider a recent interview with Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar in Der Spiegel where he expressed his strong dislike for intelligent design (ID):

SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what extent were you influenced by the Christian fundamentalists from American and Europe, from the proponents of so-called Intelligent Design?

Oktar: I find this concept of Intelligent Design somewhat dishonest. One should straightforwardly believe in the existence of Allah, one should stand up for Religion, whether for Islam or Christianity. The concept of Intelligent Design claims that things were somehow created but not by whom. One should clearly say: It was Allah.

(Original Der Spiegel "INTERVIEW MIT HARUN YAHYA" in German, September 22, 2008, translation provided by a friend)

That pretty much drives the last nail into the coffin holding LGF's claim that Discovery Institute is "in league" with such "Islamist creationists." Their claim is certainly not "indisputable," and it is by no means true.

Yet Yahya is not the only creationist to oppose intelligent design. Old earth Christian creationist Hugh Ross has criticized ID saying, "Winning the argument for design without identifying the designer yields, at best, a sketchy origins model." Young earth creationist leader Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research wrote that intelligent design, "even if well-meaning and effectively articulated, will not work ... because it is not the Biblical method." And Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis ("AiG") says that "AiG's major 'strategy' is to boldly, but humbly, call the church back to its Biblical foundations" and therefore AiG does not "count ourselves a part of this movement nor campaign against it."

Addressing Misconceptions about ID

These creationists are absolutely right that ID does not try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer and does not use biblical or religious methodologies in making its case for design in nature. Of course, creationist groups can employ a religious methodology if that is what they desire to do, but intelligent design is different: ID takes a strictly scientific approach to studying origins. While some people may see that as a weakness, I have always seen that as a strength of ID.

And while some creationists seem to appreciate ID's scientific methodology and understand why ID does not try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer, others like Yahya apparently do not grasp ID's approach: The refusal of ID proponents to use ID to draw scientific conclusions about the nature or identity of the designer is principled rather than merely rhetorical. It has nothing to do with being "dishonest"; rather, ID's non-identification of the designer stems from a desire to take a scientific approach, respect the limits of scientific inquiry, and not inject religious discussions about theological questions into science.

In short, ID as a scientific theory does not identify the designer because under present scientific knowledge and technology, there is no known scientific method for identifying the intelligent source responsible for design in nature. Thus for the scientific theory of ID to try to identify the designer would be to inappropriately conflate science with religion. Thomas Woodward explains the principled reasons why the current biological evidence for ID is insufficient to allow us to identify the designer:

There is no 'Made by Yahweh' engraved on the side of the bacterial rotary motor--the flagellum. In order to find out what or who its designer is, one must go outside the narrow discipline of biology. Cross-disciplinary dialogue must begin with the fields of philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology, and theology. Design itself, however, is a direct scientific inference; it does not depend on a single religious premise for its conclusions.

(Thomas Woodward, Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design, pg. 15 (Baker Books, 2006).)

In other words, the empirical data, such as the information-rich, integrated complexity of the flagellar machine, may indicate that the flagellum arose by intelligent design. But that same empirical data does inform us whether whether the intelligence that designed the flagellum is Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Yoda, or some other type of intelligent agency. There is no known way to use such empirical data to determine the nature or identity of the designer, and since ID is based solely upon empirical data, the scientific theory of ID must remain silent on such questions.

In contrast to the claims of Yahya, ID's non-identification of the designer has nothing to do with being "dishonest." Yet many ID proponents (including me) have been extremely open about our personal views on the identity of the designer, but we have made it clear that these are our personal religious views and not the conclusions of intelligent design. In this regard, I have encountered ID-proponents who are openly Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, or other. For further discussion and documentation, please read "Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why Intelligent Design Doesn't Identify the Designer," where I explain that, "I too believe the designer is the God of the Bible, but this is not a conclusion of ID; it is my personal religious view that stems from factors outside of intelligent design."

As I noted, intelligent design's non-identification of the designer stems from an intent to respect the limits of scientific inquiry and not make claims that go beyond what can be learned using scientific methods. Any fair analysis of the situation will come to the following conclusions:

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 2, 2008 6:15 AM | Permalink

Applying Science to Alternative Medicine

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/30/health/research/30tria.html?ref=science

Dr. Josephine P. Briggs and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine have been conducting clinical trials.

Now the federal government is working hard to raise the standards of evidence, seeking to distinguish between what is effective, useless and harmful or even dangerous.

"The research has been making steady progress," said Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health. "It's reasonably new that rigorous methods are being used to study these health practices."

The need for rigor can be striking. For instance, a 2004 Harvard study identified 181 research papers on yoga therapy reporting that it could be used to treat an impressive array of ailments — including asthma, heart disease, hypertension, depression, back pain, bronchitis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, lung disease and high blood pressure.

It turned out that only 40 percent of the studies used randomized controlled trials — the usual way of establishing reliable knowledge about whether a drug, diet or other intervention is really safe and effective. In such trials, scientists randomly assign patients to treatment or control groups with the aim of eliminating bias from clinician and patient decisions.

Sat Bir S. Khalsa, the study's author and a sleep researcher at the Harvard Medical School, said an added complication was that "the vast majority of these studies have been small," averaging 30 or fewer subjects per arm of the randomized trial. The smaller the sample size, he warned, the greater the risk of error, including false positives and false negatives.

Critics of alternative medicine have seized on that weakness. R. Barker Bausell, a senior research methodologist at the University of Maryland and the author of "Snake Oil Science" (Oxford, 2007), says small studies often have a built-in conflict of interest: they need to show positive results to win grants for larger investigations.

"All these things conspire to produce false positives," Dr. Bausell said in an interview. "They make the results extremely questionable."

That kind of fog is what Dr. Briggs and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, with a budget of $122 million this year, are trying to eliminate. Their trials tend to be longer and larger. And if a treatment shows promise, the center extends the trials to many centers, further lowering the odds of false positives and investigator bias.

For instance, the center is conducting a large study to see if extracts from the ginkgo biloba tree can slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The clinical trials involve centers in California, Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and recruited more than 3,000 patients, all of them over 75. The study is to end next year.

Another large study enrolled 570 participants to see if acupuncture provided pain relief and improved function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. In 2004, it reported positive results. Dr. Brian M. Berman, the study's director and a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, said the inquiry "establishes that acupuncture is an effective complement to conventional arthritis treatment."

In an interview, Dr. Briggs said another good way to improve clinical trials was to ensure product uniformity, especially on herbal treatments. "We feel we have really influenced the standards," she said.

Over the years, laboratories have found that up to 75 percent of the samples of ginkgo biloba failed to show the claimed levels of the active ingredient. Scientists doing a clinical trial have a large incentive to fix that kind of inconsistency.

Dr. Briggs said such investments would be likely to pay off in the future by documenting real benefits from at least some of the unorthodox treatments. "I believe that as the sensitivities of our measures improve, we'll do a better job at detecting these modest but important effects" for disease prevention and healing, she said.

An open question is how far the new wave will go. The high costs of good clinical trials, which can run to millions of dollars, means relatively few are done in the field of alternative therapies and relatively few of the extravagant claims are closely examined.

"In tight funding times, that's going to get worse," said Dr. Khalsa of Harvard, who is doing a clinical trial on whether yoga can fight insomnia. "It's a big problem. These grants are still very hard to get and the emphasis is still on conventional medicine, on the magic pill or procedure that's going to take away all these diseases."

A version of this article appeared in print on September 30, 2008, on page F7 of the New York edition.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Debate erupts over proposal to teach creationism in Brunswick schools

http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20080929/ARTICLES/809290288/-1/OPINION&title=Debate_erupts_over_proposal_to_teach_creationism_in_Brunswick_schools

By Ana Ribeiro Staff Writer

Published: Monday, September 29, 2008 at 10:16 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 at 12:14 p.m.

A Southern Baptist minister thinks it's a good idea. A Catholic priest disagrees. A Buddhist monk says, come all.

Creationism supporterStaff Photo By Matt Born Joel Fanti of Supply believes the theory of creationism should be taught in public schools alongside evolution.

The issue: After a parent's suggestion at its Sept. 16 meeting, the Brunswick County school board showed excitement about teaching creationism in the classroom and began to look into it.

What's new: School board Chairwoman Shirley Babson says she has consulted an attorney and heard about the state's position on the issue and thinks there's no way to include creationism in the standard course curriculum under the law.

What's next: Joel Fanti, the parent who brought the board the creationism teaching suggestion, says he plans to address the board again at a future meeting and encourage it to foster a debate in the schools on what he perceives as the fallacies of the theory of evolution.

The Brunswick County school board's desire to teach creationism alongside evolution in the classroom – which many consider a violation of the separation of church and state, as backed by past court decisions – has launched a debate that has spread to local religious communities, the Internet and beyond.

It has prompted people from outside the county to e-mail the board. It has drawn ridicule in online forums and blogs, reacting to the comments of board member Jimmy Hobbs, who characterized evolution as an atheistic concept, and parent Joel Fanti, who said he wasn't around 2 million years ago to witness evolution at work.

"It just amazes me some of those responses, how venomous they have been," said Fanti, who sparked the debate by proposing at the board's Sept. 16 meeting that the teaching of creationism share classroom time with evolution. "I don't even know what their definition of religion is. I can argue their views on evolution are a religion, too, because it can't be proven."

The Rev. Brad Ferguson, Fanti's pastor at New Beginnings Community Church in Shallotte, said he supports Fanti's views.

"There is some scientific evidence supporting creationism," the Southern Baptist minister said. "Kids should be presented both sides. … You can't isolate disciplines. Science and faith – they go together."

Not all Christians find that appropriate for the classroom.

Religion in class?

Father Hector La Chapelle, of Shallotte's St. Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church, said he's concerned about a literal, one-sided interpretation of the Bible being presented in schools.

La Chapelle, who e-mailed the school board opposing the idea of teaching creationism, said the belief has no place in a school curriculum and he's against even having a Bible class, because it's not up to public schools to teach religion.

"The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go," La Chapelle said, echoing the words of his e-mail to the board. "We don't take the Bible literally, or as a history or science book. It's a faith document. Evolution is not a religious question. It's a scientific question. It doesn't go against my belief that God created the world."

The school system has enough lawsuits to deal with and is misdirecting its energies discussing adding a subject that is not even allowed by the state, the church's e-mail to the board says.

St. Brendan's has a following of 1,680 families and 411 children, many of them involved in the Brunswick County school system, said Mary Hart, the church's faith formation director and co-signer in its e-mail to the board. Hart said that she, like Fanti, has a child who attends West Brunswick High School.

"I think the board members are trying to inject their belief in the school system, and that troubles me," Hart said. "As a Christian, I don't think they represent all Christians."

At the Wat Carolina Buddhist monastery near the county schools' central office in Bolivia, head monk Phra Vidhuradhamma has an inclusive approach to the question. Although Vidhuradhamma knows the law restricts the teaching of religion in schools and it must be followed, he'd like every religion to be taught equally in schools, he said.

But he said that would be difficult to achieve because most of the community's residents are Christian.

"I think it would be good for human beings to learn everything," Vidhuradhamma said. "We need to learn more and more, to be open-minded, to understand."

When asked about his view on how things began, Buddhist monk Vidhuradhamma took a lid off a mug and ran his finger around it, smiling.

A circle, he pointed out – with an infinite number of beginnings.

Local debate, national interest

Brunswick County school board Chairwoman Shirley Babson has received e-mails on the creationism issue from the Catholic church, a biologist and people from as far as the state of Washington. Out of the seven obtained by the Star-News, one e-mail – from an Ocean Isle Beach resident – favored the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

School board member Scott Milligan, absent from the Sept. 16 meeting where the discussion on teaching creationism began, said he came back into town and walked into a controversy he doesn't want to respond to without having all the facts.

In a matter of hours, the story spread from the Star-News forums to sites all over the Internet, including the popular science blog Pharyngula, which has registered more than 200 comments on the topic at scienceblogs.com/pharyngula.

Comments there were overwhelmingly unsympathetic toward Fanti's request and the board's response, many wondering if they hadn't heard of the Dover, Pa., case of 2005, in which a federal judge ruled the teaching of "intelligent design" in the classroom unconstitutional.

As local and state school districts tried to insert creationism into the science curriculum, a string of Supreme Court and other court decisions have ruled its teaching, or that of variations like "intelligent design," a violation of the separation of church and state.

The state's stance

The state school system says that, although creationism cannot be taught in science class or as a standard course of study, it can be taught as part of an elective. It can also be included in history class, as long as it's presented as a cultural perspective along with all other religions and not promoted over any religions or secularism, said Tracey Greggs, social studies chief with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

"Because our society is so pluralistic, it would not be beneficial to teach one religion over another," Greggs said.

After reading e-mails by people disgruntled about the idea of teaching creationism, hearing about the state's point of view and consulting with attorney Kathleen Tanner, Babson said she thinks the board will not try to go against the law to teach creationism, although she would like to see it in the classroom one day.

Fanti said he learned about the court cases after addressing the board and now thinks the idea of teaching creationism as part of the curriculum will be crushed. But he plans to ask the school board to encourage "evolutionists" in the schools to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of their theory.

"Instead of making it a religious issue, let's make it a scientific issue," said Fanti, who identifies himself as a chemical engineer.

Ana Ribeiro: 343-2327

ana.ribeiro@starnewsonline.com

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No place for creationism in science class, state says
Brunswick school board to consider creationism teaching

Scientists unite for science curriculum

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6032587.html

By KELLEY SHANNON Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press

Sept. 30, 2008, 4:54PM

AUSTIN — Scientists from Texas universities on Tuesday denounced what they called supernatural and religious teaching in public school science classrooms and voiced opposition to attempts to water down evolution instruction.

The newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition said so far it has 800 members who have signed up online.

"Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education," said David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The State Board of Education is considering new science curriculum standards. It is expected to vote next spring. Because Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks, its ongoing science debate affects textbooks nationwide.

An academic work group proposed that Texas standards for biology courses eliminate the long-held language of teaching students the "strengths and weaknesses" of theories.

The science coalition supports that language change because it says talking of "weaknesses" of evolution allows for religion-based concepts like creationism and intelligent design to enter the instruction. The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that says it monitors the influence of the religious right, also praises the proposed language change.

But they say they fear State Board of Education members, led by chairman and creationist Don McLeroy, will switch the language back before the final vote.

Even at Baylor University in Waco, the world's largest Baptist university, professors don't teach creationism because it's not based on science, said Richard Duhrkopf, an associate professor of biology.

"We shouldn't be teaching the supernatural in science classrooms," Duhrkopf said. "It's time to keep religion and faith in the Sunday schools and not in the public schools."

McLeroy denies he is trying to force religion and the supernatural into Texas schools.

"I'm getting sick and tired or people saying we're interjecting religion," he said. "We're certainly not interjecting religion. Not at all."

McLeroy says he supports restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language and said working groups left some form of that language in the proposed standards for chemistry and astronomy. He also said he supports the "testable explanations" approach advocated by the National Academy of Sciences.

"Texas students need to understand what science is and what its limitation are," McLeroy said Tuesday, repeating part of an opinion piece he wrote in August. "I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses."

Federal courts have ruled against forcing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. So teaching the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as evolution has become "code" for pushing religion-based ideas in schools, said Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network.

"It's time for the State Board of Education to listen to experts instead of promoting their own personal and political agendas," Quinn said.

Texas scientists challenge proposal to teach weaknesses of evolutionary theory

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/10/01/1001evolution.html

Science curriculum draft that would remove ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" from what Texas students are taught in biology classes.

By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Armed with stacks of scientific journals, a group that says it represents more than 800 Texas scientists is challenging the idea that discussion of the weaknesses of evolutionary theory belongs in science classrooms.

The group of professors held a news conference Tuesday in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency in Austin and said that they would be watching while a state board rewrites the state public school science curriculum next year.

"Not a single one (of the articles in these journals) gives us reason to believe evolution did not occur," said Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, pointing to stacks of the scientific journal Evolution. "So where are the weaknesses? Simple: They don't exist. They are not based on scientific research or data and have been refuted countless times."

Last week, the state released an early committee recommendation for the new science curriculum that would excise ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" from what Texas students are taught in biology classes. The curriculum, once approved, will outline what will be taught about science to every public school student in the state.

Organizers of the 21st Century Science Coalition said the group formed about two weeks ago and blossomed in membership in response to comments by State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, who opposes a committee proposal to remove the requirement that the "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught in biology classes.

McLeroy has also said he wants to spell out in the curriculum that there are limits to what science can explain.

Critics of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism — ideas that hold that the universe was created by a higher power — say such language has been used to undermine the theory of evolution.

"It's clear he wants to promote a particular religious agenda," said David Hillis, a UT integrative biology professor. "Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education."

In an interview after the news conference Tuesday, McLeroy said he "totally rejected" the idea that he or anyone on the board wants to inject religion into science classrooms. "I'm not arguing for supernatural explanations, only testable ones. When I look at the evidence, I see lots of problems," McLeroy said.

William Dembski, a senior fellow for the Discovery Institute, a think tank devoted to challenging aspects of evolutionary theory, said the fossil record defies the theory of evolution in several instances. Because of the inconsistencies and other reasons, Dembski said, "I'd argue that constitutes a weakness."

The institute promotes intelligent design.

Coalition member Richard Duhrkopf, who teaches introductory biology at Baylor University, said that although one might expect his university — the largest Southern Baptist and second-largest Christian university in the country — to teach creationism in science classrooms, it does not.

Creationist theories, Duhrkopf said, "just don't make the grade as science, and to teach them would be to teach a lie to our students."

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

Texas scientists support teaching evolution

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2008/TX/265_texas_scientists_support_teach_10_1_2008.asp

A new coalition of Texas scientists voiced its opposition to attempts to dilute the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, which are presently undergoing revision. At a news conference in Austin on September 30, 2008, representatives of the 21st Century Science Coalition challenged the idea that students should be told that there are "weaknesses" in evolution. Armed with a stack of scientific journals, Dan Bolnick, who teaches biology at the University of Texas, Austin, explained, "Not a single one [of the articles in these journals] gives us reason to believe evolution did not occur," the Austin American-Statesman (October 1, 2008) reported. "So where are the weaknesses? Simple: They don't exist. They are not based on scientific research or data and have been refuted countless times."

The Texas Education Agency released proposed drafts of the state's science standards on September 22, 2008. A requirement in the current standards for high school biology that reads "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" was replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change is significant because in 2003, the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards was selectively applied by members of the state board of education attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration.

The chair of the state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, favors the "strengths and weaknesses" language, telling the Austin American-Statesman (September 23, 2008), "I'd argue it doesn't make sense scientifically to take it out." The 21st Century Science Coalition organized and mobilized in response. Already over 800 Texas scientists with or working towards advanced degrees in life, physical, and mathematical science have signed the coalition's statement calling on the board to approve science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

October 1, 2008

Over 800 Scientists Stand Against Language Critical of Evolution

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20081001/over-800-scientists-stand-against-language-critical-of-evolution.htm

By Eric Young Christian Post Reporter

Wed, Oct. 01 2008 03:38 PM EDT

Over 800 scientists in Texas have signed a statement to "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses'" of evolution – references, they say, that politicians "have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

"Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education," said David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, according to The Associated Press.

Hills is one of the state's more than 400 science faculty members who have signed the "Scientists for a Responsible Curriculum in Texas Public Schools" statement, which also includes more than 430 signatures from other Texas scientists.

"We simply believe that students deserve the best science education in their Texas classrooms," explains the 21st Century Science Coalition, which is spearheading the signature campaign.

At the heart of the matter are the current standards for the state's science curriculum, under which students are expected to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

Some of the Texas Board of Education's committee members have asked the board to remove the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase as the board looked to update state science standards this summer.

Among those requesting the board to drop the phrase is Kevin Fisher, a committee member who told the NY Times that questions left unanswered by evolution should not be regarded as its weaknesses.

Other critics include Texas Freedom Network, a group that has opposed state proposals for Bible classes and Bible textbooks in the past and is currently spearheading the "Stand Up for Science" campaign.

"It's time for state board members to listen to classroom teachers and true experts instead of promoting their own personal agendas," expressed TFN president Kathy Miller in a statement. "Our students can't succeed with a 19th-century science education in their 21st-century classrooms. We applaud the science work groups for recognizing that fact."

While there has been strong opposition against the standards' current language, several board members have appeared to favor it, saying it maintains a balanced debate on evolution.

"Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven," Board Vice Chairman David Bradley told The Houston Chronicle earlier this summer. "Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

Bradley also dismissed concerns by critics over the board's intention to sneak religion into the classroom.

"The only thing that this board is going to do is ask for accuracy."

Barbara Cargill, the vice chair of the board's Committee on Instruction, said giving students the freedom to discuss both sides of evolution will ensure them a "well-rounded education."

"It prompts them to be critical thinkers, and it also helps them to respect the opinions of other students even if they disagree," she told the Chronicle.

Meanwhile, Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, has rejected allegations that the group is using the "strength and weaknesses" rhetoric as a new strategy in pushing intelligent design in schools following the 2005 Dover case – when intelligent design was barred from being taught in Pennsylvania's Middle District public school science classrooms.

On the organization's blog site, staff member Robert Crowther pointed out that the "strengths and weaknesses" language was adopted by the Texas Board of Education over a decade ago, long before the Dover case, and that debate over it has been going on across the nation since then.

While the Discovery Institute has not yet issued comments regarding the current progress of the scientist signature campaign, Anika Smith, editor of the organization's Evolution News & Views blog, has voiced her disapproval of the media's coverage, singling out a recent AP article that gave no explanation for the signatories' opposition to current language "except the unsupported claim that thoroughly examining Darwin's theory in the classroom is something only creationists do."

"Actually, AP reporter Kelley Shannon is pretty sure that the whole thing is a creationist ploy to teach religion in our schools," Smith wrote Wednesday.

The State Board of Education will begin discussing the proposed new standards this fall and have tentatively set a deadline of March 2009 for final adoption. Publishers use the state's curriculum standards to create new science textbooks. The state is scheduled to adopt new science textbooks in 2011.