NTS LogoSkeptical News for 23 December 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Darwin's Living Legacy--Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later


Scientific American Magazine - December 15, 2008

A Victorian amateur undertook a lifetime pursuit of slow, meticulous observation and thought about the natural world, producing a theory 150 years ago that still drives the contemporary scientific agenda

By Gary Stix

When the 26-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galápagos Islands in 1835 onboard the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. The naturalist, in fact, misclassified as grosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin's finches. After Darwin returned to England, ornithologist and artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back in the Beagle's hold, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches.

From Gould's work, Darwin, the self-taught naturalist, came to understand how the finches' beak size must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands. "Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends," he noted in The Voyage of The Beagle, published after his return in 1839.

Twenty years later Darwin would translate his understanding of finch adaptation to conditions on different islands into a fully formed theory of evolution, one emphasizing the power of natural selection to ensure that more favorable traits endure in successive generations. Darwin's theory, core features of which have withstood critical scrutiny from scientific and religious critics, constituted only the starting point for an endlessly rich set of research questions that continue to inspire present-day scientists. Biologists are still seeking experimental results that address how natural selection proceeds at the molecular level—and how it affects the development of new species.

Darwin's famed finches play a continuing role in providing answers. The scientist had assumed that evolution proceeded slowly, over "the lapse of ages," a pace imperceptible to the short lifetime of human observers. Instead the finches have turned into ideal research subjects for studying evolution in real time because they breed relatively rapidly, are isolated on different islands and rarely migrate.

Since the 1970s evolutionary biologists Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant of Princeton University have used the Galápagos as a giant laboratory to observe more than 20,000 finches and have shown conclusively how average beak and body size changes in a new generation as

El Niños come and go, shifting climate from wet to arid. They have also been able to chronicle possible examples of new species that are starting to emerge.

The Grants are just one among many groups that have embarked on missions to witness evolution in action, exemplars of how evolution can at times move in frenzied bursts measured in years, not eons, contradicting Darwin's characterization of a slow-and-steady progression. These studies focus on the cichlid fish of the African Great Lakes, Alaskan sticklebacks, and the Eleutherodactylus frogs of Central and South America and the Caribbean, among others.

Ruminations on evolution—often musings on how only the fittest prevail—carry an ancient pedigree, predating even Socrates. The 18th and 19th centuries produced fertile speculations about how life had evolved, including ideas forwarded by Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who lived between 1731 and 1802.

Darwinian evolution was the first capable of withstanding rigorous tests of scientific scrutiny in both the 19th century and beyond. Today investigators, equipped with sophisticated cameras, computers and DNA-sampling tools thoroughly alien to the cargo hold of the Beagle, demonstrate the continued vitality of Darwin's work. The naturalist's relevance to basic science and practical pursuits—from biotechnology to forensic science—is the reason for this year's worldwide celebration of the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of his masterwork, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.

Darwin's theory represents a foundational pillar of modern science that stands alongside relativity, quantum mechanics and other vital support structures. Just as Copernicus cast the earth out from the center of the universe, the Darwinian universe displaced humans as the epicenter of the natural world. Natural selection accounts for what evolutionary biologist Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, has called "design without a designer," a term that parries the still vigorous efforts by some theologians to slight the theory of evolution. "Darwin completed the Copernican Revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a lawful system of matter in motion that human reason can explain without recourse to supernatural agencies," Ayala wrote in 2007.

In this anniversary year, Darwin's greatest bequest can be found in the enormous body of research and theorizing that extends directly from his writings. It also serves to underline how evolution itself has undergone radical alteration in the past 150 years, a merger of the original theory with the science of the gene, which Darwin had as little understanding of as the ancients did.

This special issue of Scientific American highlights major questions that are still being addressed: How common is natural selection? To what extent does natural selection actually occur at the molecular level of the gene? What is the origin of the genetic variation on which natural selection operates? Does it work by administering a fitness test to individual genes, whole organisms, or even entire groups of animals, plants or microbes? Does it apply to humans if they are able to exercise a rigid control over their environment and even their biology?

A Naturalist by Nature

Like Albert Einstein and others gifted with genius, Darwin marched to his own drumbeat. He showed no signs of academic precociousness. Born into a well-to-do family in the English countryside, the young Darwin was a decidedly mediocre student who hated the regimentation of a curriculum centered on the classics. (Einstein was a rebellious youth and an erratic university student.) Following his father's desire, Darwin entered medical school but was repulsed by cutting open a human cadaver and never finished his studies. Paradoxically, he had little problem killing birds and small animals when hunting, just one of the tasks he set for himself on forays to watch wildlife and collect specimens.

Despairing that Charles would ever amount to anything, Robert Darwin ordered his second son to apply to the University of Cambridge to obtain a degree that would allow him to join the clergy. The man whose ideas are viewed by some clerics as a fundamental insult to religious faith graduated (barely) with a degree in theology.

Although his father tried to dissuade him, Darwin jumped at the offer to become a naturalist onboard a survey ship named the Beagle, an experience he would later characterize as "the first real training or education of my mind." The five-year, around-the-globe journey provided exposure to the natural world—and ample time for contemplation—that shaped his later thinking.

Milestones along the way included experiencing the great diversity of species in tropical Brazil and discovery of fossils, including a giant sloth 400 miles south of Buenos Aires, which caused him to ponder how these creatures became extinct. Accounts by gauchos on the Argentine pampas of their killing of indigenous peoples taught him about the primal, territorial impulses of the human animal. And of course, there was the relatively brief, five-week stay in the "frying hot" Galápagos, where he was able to contemplate how closely related species of turtles and mockingbirds inhabited neighboring islands, implying a common ancestry for both groups.

At sea, Darwin also read avidly two volumes of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology that embraced the idea of "uniformitarianism" in which the processes of erosion, sedimentation and volcanic activity occurred in the past at about the same rates as they do now. Lyell rejected the then prevailing catastrophism, which holds that sudden, violent events driven by supernatural forces had driven the shaping of the landscape. A trek inland in the Andes, where the explorers found an ancient marine deposit uplifted to 7,000 feet, helped to bring Lyell's ideas vividly to life.

Darwin had no awareness that he had embarked on a trip that would forever transform the biological sciences. The 57-month journey produced no moment of sudden realization, nothing equivalent to Einstein's "annus mirabilis" of 1905 in which he published papers about special relativity, Brownian motion and other themes. The treasure trove of the journey was what today could be called an immense database: a collection of 368 pages of zoology notes, 1,383 pages of geology notes, a 770-page diary, in addition to 1,529 species in bottles of alcohol and 3,907 dried specimens, not to mention live tortoises caught in the Galápagos.

By the time the Beagle returned to England in October of 1836, Darwin's letters, along with some specimens, had circulated among British scientists, cementing his reputation as a peer. This recognition assured that his father's aspirations for his son's place in the clergy were cast aside. Within a few years Darwin married a first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and then moved to a country estate whose gardens and greenhouses would provide a living laboratory for his work until his death, an existence made possible by the family's substantial wealth. Unexplained illness, with symptoms ranging from headaches to heart flutters to muscle spasms, plagued Darwin after the expedition until he died in 1882, quashing any thoughts of further expeditions.

Origins of a Theory

Darwin had begun to formulate his theories by the late 1830s, but he waited for two decades to publish (and then only under pressure from a competitor, Alfred Russel Wallace) because he wanted to ensure that his facts and arguments were beyond reproach.

The process of theory building crept along at an almost glacial tempo. From his readings of Lyell, Darwin took the idea of gradual change in the geological landscape and reasoned that it must also apply to biological organisms: one species must beget another. The recognition of biology's mutability was shared by some other evolutionary thinkers of the day. But it was conceived as a scala naturae—an ascending ladder in which each lineage of plant or animal arose by spontaneous generation from inanimate matter and then progressed inexorably toward greater complexity and perfection.

Darwin rejected this straight-line progression in favor of what is now called branching evolution, in which some species diverge from a common ancestor along separate pathways, contradicting the prevailing view that there are fixed limits on how far a new species can diverge from an ancestral one. Darwin recalled that three species of mockingbird he observed in the Galápagos could be traced to a single colonization of a related species he had observed in Latin America. His sketch of a branching "tree of life" is the only illustration in Origin of Species.

The concept of a tree of life still begged a "how" for evolution, a gap that led to Darwin's most revolutionary idea, the theory of natural selection. From reading the work of Thomas Malthus, Darwin recognized that populations tend to grow quickly, thereby overwhelming limited resources. He also had an obsession with animal and plant breeding. He would visit agricultural markets and collected plant catalogues.

In 1838 he came to the realization (shared at first with only a few friends) that the natural world, instead of deliberately choosing favorable traits as if it were a cattle breeder, has its own way of addressing a bulging demographic that threatens to exhaust an ecological niche. From the vast hereditary diversity within a given species, natural selection blindly weeds out those individuals with less favorable traits: in essence, Ayala's concise "design without a designer." Moreover, if two populations of the same species remain isolated—one in a desert, the other in the mountains—they may over long periods develop into wholly separate species, no longer able to breed.

Origin of Species was rushed to publication in 1859 because Wallace had a manuscript that came to virtually identical conclusions. The first 1,250 copies of the 155,000-word "abstract" immediately sold out. The clarity and accessibility of Darwin's argument stood out. No quips came forth, as they did for Einstein's theories, about how only three people on the rest of the planet could understand his work.

Darwin spent the rest of his life continuing to explore natural selection firsthand with orchids and other plants at his country estate in Downe, 16 miles south of London. He left it to others to defend his work. The publication provoked controversy that continues to this day in the form of creationist debates that still dog public school boards. An article that appeared in Scientific American on August 11, 1860, described a meeting of the British Academy of Sciences at which a "Sir B. Brodie" rejected Darwin's hypothesis, saying: "Man had a power of self-consciouness—a principle differing from anything found in the material world, and he did not see how this could originate in lower organisms. This power of man was identical with the divine intelligence." But even then, Darwin had many defenders among leading scientists. At the same conference, the periodical reported, the renowned Joseph Hooker told the bishop of Oxford, another critic in attendance, that the cleric simply lacked any understanding of Darwin's writings.

Darwin had avoided discussion of human evolution in Origin of Species, but his The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex attributed human beginnings to Old World monkeys, an assertion that also offended many and made its way into cartoonish newspaper cari­catures of the scientist as half-man, half-ape. Even in the 1860s Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, and others had begun to complain that modern society protects its "unfit" members from natural selection. The distortion and misunderstanding of Darwinism, from Nazi ideologues to neoliberal economists to popular culture, have yet to cease. American novelist Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that Darwin "taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements."

The concept of evolution as a form of branching descent from a common ancestor achieved a relatively rapid acceptance, but accommodation for natural selection came much more slowly, even within the scientific community. The hesitation was understandable. In his work, Darwin had not described a mechanism for inheritance, attributing it to minuscule, hypothetical "gemmules" that ejected from each tissue and traveled to the sex organs, where copies were made and passed to subsequent generations. It took until the decades of the 1930s and 1940s for natural selection to gain broad acceptance.

It was then that the modern synthesis emerged as an expansive framework that reconciled Darwin's natural selection with the genetics pioneered by Gregor Mendel. In 1959, the centennial of the publication of Origin of Species, the place of natural selection seemed assured.

But in the ensuing years, the scope of evolutionary biology has had to broaden still further to consider such questions as whether the pace of evolution proceeds in fits and starts—a paroxysm of change followed by long periods of stasis. Do random mutations frequently get passed on or disappear without enhancing or diminishing fitness, a process called genetic drift? Is every biological trait an evolutionary adaptation, or are some characteristics just a random by-product of a physical characteristic that provides a survival advantage?

The field has also had to take another look at the notion that altruistic traits could be explained by natural selection taking place across whole groups. And as far as the origin of species, what role does genetic drift play? Moreover, does the fact that single-celled organisms often trade whole sets of genes with one another undermine the very concept of species, defined as the inability of groups of organisms to reproduce with one another? The continued intensity of these debates represents a measure of the vigor of evolutionary biology—as well as a testament to Darwin's living legacy. 

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Darwin's Living Legacy".

Hawaii's honeyeater birds tricked taxonomists


DNA from old museum specimens reveals evolutionary look-alikes By Susan Milius Web edition : Friday, December 12th, 2008 Text Size Enlarge

O'o and kioea birds, now extinct, specialized in feeding on flower nectar using long, curved bills and split tongues tipped with brushes or fringe. Since Captain Cook's expedition introduced the birds to western science, they have been classified in the honeyeater family with similar-looking nectar sippers living in New Guinea and Australia.

DNA from museum specimens of the Hawaiian species shows that the birds weren't a kind of honeyeater at all, according to Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Instead the Hawaiians' resemblance to the western Pacific birds offers a new and dramatic example of how evolution within different lineages can converge on similar forms for similar jobs, he and his colleagues report online December 11 in Current Biology.

O'os and the kioea weren't even closely related to the honeyeaters of the western Pacific, Fleischer says. The closest relatives of Hawaii's so-called honeyeaters were waxwings, silky flycatchers and the palmchat. These kin live mostly in the Americas and use tongues of unexciting shapes to eat bugs and berries. In the United States, the cedar waxwing and the Southwest's phainopepla may be the best-known examples.

"It's like we had this animal we always thought was a dog, and it's turned out to be a mongoose," Fleischer says.

Genetic evidence suggests that some ancestral relative of the waxwing group arrived in Hawaii between about five and 14 million years ago, Fleischer says. Living the island life, the ancestral birds shifted to nectar feeding and evolved body forms like the honeyeaters. All the birds with similar shapes and habits looked like kin to ornithologists.

Their degree of convergence is "remarkable," in the words of Keith Barker of the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum in Minneapolis. He's working with DNA that uncovered another long-lost relative of the waxwings, living among southeast Asian birds. "This was shocking to us, but not nearly as startling as Fleischer's finding," he says.

Discovering the mainland connection for Hawaii's o'os and kioea adds yet another animal group to the list of immigrants from the Americas that colonized Hawaii, Barker says. Yet, excepting the mints and silverswords, a lot of Hawaii's plants seem to have come from the opposite direction, from the South Pacific.

While living in Hawaii, the new nectar feeders diversified into four o'o species, each on a different island, with the kioea residing on the Big Island.Lemon-colored patches in o'o plumage supplied brilliant yellow feathers for island royalty's ceremonial capes and headdresses.

The kioea disappeared first, during the 1850s. O'os hung on longer. The last of the species, Kauai's, hasn't been seen since 1985. "I just missed it," says Fleischer, who moved to Hawaii that year.

Kioeas and o'os deserve a family of their own, Fleischer and his colleagues contend. Thus, even before it was named, the newly christened Mohoidae became the only bird family that disappeared without a survivor in the last hundred years.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) Movie Review


Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) Synopsis:

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed its about the controversial subject of evolution and how some educational professionals (doctors, professors, scientists, etc) have been recently blacklisted from universities and journals because of their theories disagreeing with Darwinism.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) Review:

I prefer action, comedy and sci-fi, movies but I occasionally watch documentaries so I won't feel so shallow. Several months ago I heard about Expelled just before it was released. I was surprised to learn that Ben Stein was behind this movie. I knew him as the lethargic teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and from Clear Eyes Commercials, but I didn't know much else about him. Due to the controversial nature of this movie I did not expect it to do well in the theaters, but I had no idea that the critics would crucify it like they did. It currently has a 3.5 Rating on IMDB and it was much lower than that when it first came out. In fact the low rating was one of the reasons I decided to rent it. I was curious to see if this movie had been black listed or if it was really as bad as reviewers and comment boards said it was.

In this film Ben Stein takes a look at many of America's institutions of higher learning and their opposition to allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution. He interviews several distinguished professors who claim to have lost their jobs for even bringing up the topic in their classes or in papers they had published. He claims the faculty members and higher powers who are proponents of Darwin's theory of Evolution have gotten rid of anyone who even raises the possibility of creationism as a theory in the classroom.

There is silly slapstick footage of old black and white movies spliced in throughout the movie which is supposed to be analogous to the ongoing battle over this topic. Stein really offended his critics when he compared those who teach only Evolution to Nazis. I think it's usually a mistake to compare anyone to Nazis, but I could see the point he was making. Many of the leaders of the third Reich were stanch disciples of Darwin and Eugenics and believed it was their duty to purge the world of weaker species and inferior humans. He addressed how planned parenthood and the euthanasia movement have also been influenced by Darwin. The movie took a very somber turn as he visited holocaust sites and Darwin's museum in Europe. I thought the movie started to drag and this point and lost some momentum.

An insightful part of this movie was to watch some of the most bitter opponents of intelligent design, creationism, and God. You get a real feel for their condescending attitude and the disgust they have for anyone who is foolish enough to even entertain such ideas. Seeing some of these intellectual giants made me grateful that I am not consumed in academia. (Watching some of their interviews also made me want to send them a gift certificate for a makeover.) I find it ironic that many of the great scientific discoveries were made by men who were under a great deal of scrutiny and opposition from the scientific community of their time. I would think that some of the antagonistic scientists would acknowledge this but when it comes to this topic there is no room for debate.

The highlight of the film was an interview Ben Stein had with Richard Dawkins, a devout atheist and outspoken opponent of intelligent design. Dawkins begins the interview by outright denying the existence of God and belittles the idea of ID but after continual questioning he ends up saying he could see some higher intelligence or life form seeding the planet for life but says it could possibly have been aliens but not the God we know. It was interesting to hear him contradict himself and actually describe the concept behind intelligent design.

The critics claimed this was a shallow one sided documentary. Few documentaries are unbiased these days. I have a feeling the critics of this movie are the same ones that give Michael Moore's work rave reviews. Ben Stein obviously had an agenda and wanted to convey his concerns and he does succeed raising several legitimate questions. I think it is interesting to see how quickly industries and societies that clamor for tolerance, diversity, and open mindedness will put the clamps on a movie like this if it doesn't agree with their beliefs or agenda. The media and academia ripped this movie a new one, but I thought it deserved a much better rating than most people have given it. I give it 6.7 out of 10 rating. Now I can't wait to get back to my shallow non-controversial movies.

Inhofe and the Global Warming Deniers


Category: Politics

Posted on: December 17, 2008 9:02 AM, by Ed Brayton

Tim Lambert has an amusing post about former Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, one of the most ridiculous men ever to serve in Congress (and imagine the competition he had to beat out to make that list) and his list of global warming deniers. Turns out that Inhofe's list is even more dishonest than the DI's list of evolution deniers.

Second, how do you get on the list? Well, you have to sign up to get on the Discovery Institute's list, but Inhofe will add you to his list if he thinks you're disputing the global warming consensus and he won't take you off, even if you tell him to do so. Yes, there is someone less honest than the Discovery Institute.

Lambert has some delightfully idiotic quotes from some of the folks who are on both lists, like Edward Blick, Professor Emeritus of the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering, University of Oklahoma, who said this:

The predecessors of today's unbelievers replaced the Holy Bible's book of Genesis with Darwin's Origin of the Species. Now with the help of Al Gore and the United Nations they are trying to replace the Holy Bible's book of Revelation with the U.N.'s report Anthropogenic Global Warming. They tell us that man's use of fossil fuels results in too much atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) which causes excessive warming and melting of polar ice caps. They say if we don't take drastic steps (trillions of dollars of taxes, year after year, after year), we will either roast to death, or drown in the rising seas. The plan is for the U.N. to take control of the world's economy and dictate what we can use for transportation (bikes?), what we can eat, where we can live, and what industries we must shut down. This whole scheme is a "Trojan Horse" for global socialism! ...

For thousands of years our earth has undergone cooling and warming under the control of God. Man cannot control the weather, but he can kill millions of people in his vain attempt to control it, by limiting or eliminating the fuel that we use. How does God control our warming and cooling? Scientists have discovered it is the Sun! Amazing, even grade school children know this. The Sun's warming or cooling the earth varies with sunspot and Solar flairs.

This man is a professor at a major public university, for crying out loud. So is David Deming, an Associate Professor of Geosciences also at the University of Oklahoma. Deming recently gave this little gem:

Obama is a vapid demagogue, a hollow man that despises American culture. He is ill-suited to be president of the United States. As the weeks pass, more Americans will come to this realization and elect McCain/Palin in a landslide.

But this quote from Blick is a textbook example of creationist nonsense:

In an absolutely beautiful description, [Isiah] declares that these obedient ones "shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" (Isa. 40:28-31).

In addition to the obvious spiritual truth conveyed in this context, science has determined that this passage was rather ahead of its time in terms of aerodynamic information.

Dr. Edward F. Blick, who served as a professor in the School of Aerospace at the University of Oklahoma, did extensive wind-tunnel studies at the university with eagles. In doing research in 1971, Dr. Blick and his colleagues discovered that the eagle's six-slotted feathers (at the end of each wing) curve upward in gliding flight. Wind tunnel measurements demonstrated that this design reduced the size of the vortex (whirling current) that emanates from each wing tip. This, in turn, reduces drag on the wings and allows the eagle to soar great distances on the air currents--without even having to beat its wings.

Professor Blick, impressed with the accuracy of the Bible in this regard, stated: "Thus 2,700 years after the scripture in Isaiah was written, science has stumbled onto the same truth."

How do you even begin to parody such stupidity?

They must be ex-ideas


Category: Creationism

Posted on: December 22, 2008 5:56 PM, by PZ Myers

Allen MacNeill makes an interesting observation: those little eruptions of ID creationism on college campuses, the Idea Centers, all seem to be moribund, and he pronounces the college ID movement dead.

I quite agree. I think Intelligent Design as a whole is a zombie philosophy at this point — it's dead, its brain is rotting, and it has no glamor or appeal to most people anymore. It's still shuffling about, and it will continue to get mentioned now and then as people struggle to find some pretense of a non-religious motive for creationism, but really, we're all just waiting for someone with a metaphorical shotgun to put it down with a metaphorical blast to its metaphorical head.

This is not to say that creationism is dead. It's still thriving on college campuses. Look at all the openly religious campus organizations, like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and various other faith organizations, and you'll still find anti-evolution high on their agendas. The ID movement, though, is just a reeking nuisance.

Purged From SF Schools, Scientologists Woo Weeuns Out of State


Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 12:48:59 PM By Matt Smith

Four years after San Francisco Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov repelled a Scientology infiltration of California classrooms, the cult has moved to New Mexico, where believers hoodwinked the mayor of Las Cruces into allowing the indoctrination of third-graders.

Asimov's 2004-2005 investigative series documented how Scientologists, with the help of unwary teachers and administrators, set up so-called Narconon programs in San Francisco schools, beginning in the early 1990s.

As an Asimov headline put it, "As early as the third grade, students in S.F. and elsewhere are subtly introduced to church's concepts via anti-drug teachings."

Her stories spurred a California state investigation, which showed Scientology beliefs about drug physiology to be unscientific bunk.

Last month, the cult -- which teaches that drugs ooze out the pores in various colors, and that psychiatry is a scourge -- convinced Las Cruces, New Mexico Mayor Ken Miyagishima to allow Scientology programs into schools -- without informing him they were cult backed. This month, a tipster informed Miyagishima of the Scientology connection, and he canceled the program.

However, it's unlikely New Mexico schoolchildren have seen the last of the cult. In San Francisco, Scientology infiltrated classrooms for more than a decade unnoticed because they discreetly offered their program to individual teachers, with district-wide administrators none the wiser. It took a 2005 California-government crackdown to finally drive the cult out of schools.

In New Mexico, a reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News asked Scientology anti-drugs program representative Richard Henley whether the cult had attempted to indoctrinate children in other New Mexico school districts. Henley refused to say, explaining that requests had come from "individual teachers or classes ... for two or three years."

Ribbon Cutting Held to Welcome Dr. Kenneth Schramm


December 17, 2008

A ribbon cutting was hosted by the Blanco Chamber of Commerce to welcome Dr. Kenneth Schramm, who has opened Complementary Alternative Medicine at 405 Main St, Blanco, in the former Two Friends building.

Dr. Schramm is from St. Louis, Missouri, and he graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Los Angeles, California in 1977 where he earned his Dr of Chiropractic and Bachelor of Science Degrees. He has been in private practice since 1977. He also received certification in Radiology in 1979, acupuncture in 1982, and acheived Diplomate status in Acupuncture in 1990.

Dr. Schramm offers relief care for symptomatic pain relief, corrective care for correction of problem and relief of symptoms, and integrated care, to bring the body to its highest state of health.

He also offers special services, such as hair analysis, saliva testing, biomeridian impedence test, laser, foot bath, and applied kinesiology.

Dr. Kenneth Schramm's office hours will be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 10:30am to 6:00pm and Saturday, 10:30am to 3:00pm.

Here we go again — I get more email


Category: Creationism

Posted on: December 18, 2008 1:02 AM, by PZ Myers

Some online news organization has revivified the Cincinnati Zoo/Creation "museum" controversy, and they have blamed me for it all. Thank you, thank you, I appreciate the credit, but really, it must be shared with the thousands of people who responded with their letters, and particularly with the zoo administrators, who so quickly saw the folly of forming an affiliation with an anti-science/anti-education organization like Answers in Genesis.

However, Mark Looy of the Creation "museum" generously credited me by name as the ringlea…um, criminal mastermi…uh, instigator of the campaign to separate science from irrationality.

"I think so much pressure came on the zoo -- not only by local residents, but [from] all over the country, including an email campaign instigated by a professor in Minnesota, several hundred miles away," notes Looy.

"He got many of his colleagues to send very angry emails and made some nasty phone calls to the zoo -- so much so that the guest relations people at the zoo were just overwhelmed with how to deal with this."

According to The Associated Press, University of Minnesota-Morris biology professor P.Z. Myers urged readers of his blog to contact the zoo. In an email to the news service, he expressed his pleasure that the zoo moved so quickly and stated that someone in the zoo's marketing department "lost sight of the educational mission of the institution while trying to make money."

You know what this means. It means a new flood of angry emails from aggravated creationists. I guess the site where this was posted gets a lot of right-wing traffic, because the loons are calling. I've tossed a few of these letters below the fold — have fun. It's the weirdest thing, too — the majority of them are actually written in Comic Sans. You didn't think I picked that font for posting ridiculous comments on accident, did you?

First, who is this Mr Morris?

I guess it feels good to stamp your feet and get your way. When you can show physical proof of your foolish belief in your religion evolution you may impress me but we know you can't. If you think you can prove your false belief why don't you debate Mr. Morris publicly in front of a real audience. I do know you won't do this because of your high and mighty unfounded pride. You ought to be ashamed of yourself forcing your religion on others this is a free country and it should not happen. If your religion is so faultless and absolutely correct then debate with a professional from a creationalist Mr. Morris. Scientist thought the universe revolved around the earth about 1000 years ago,they thought the earth was flat 500 years ago and 200 years ago man couldn't fly so as we progress we find science is very fallible. So as long as people like you think you are an infallible god and socialism is the way you chose to deal with unproven fact there are always people that won't and can't believe another false religion. Please don't bother to respond to this email unless you will have an open debate with Mr. Morris because I choose to deal with you like you dealt with the Zoo but I won't stamp my feet and call all my friends to intimidate somebody I'm afraid to face and have an honest conversation with. Coward.

This one is very enamored with the idea that we must teach all the drivel, no matter how inane it is.

Dear Professor,

I am so very sorry that your belief in evolution is so weak, that you have to pressure anyone and everyone who wishes to present the Biblical version of the beginning of life. Are you afraid that evolution will be disproved? Afraid of the Facts? Does the weakness in evolution scare you so much that you have to scare people away from genuine scientific discovery by exploring all avenues how life began? One can only derive that you are actually a Satanist. As only a Satan worshiper would fear the teaching of Christ! What does an atheist fear? A true atheist would think that Christians (or other religious persons) were just wasting their time and would truly not be bothered. I will pray for you all your colleagues. Obviously, you all need a lot of prayers to see the REAL TRUTH. I have no problem with teaching evolution side by side with Creationism (or intelligent design), but for some reason, the evolutionists are afraid to let Creationism (ID) to be taught side by side, so that the students can derive their own opinion. You certainly have forgotten what true scientific research is really about. You know, exploring ALL avenues and not a single approach. This tells me that you are not truly qualified to teach because you are too biased to allow your students to learn all of the facts.

This one hits all the right-wing high notes.

I read about the recent attacks on Christianity from your department. I am referring to the trouble that was made over the Creation Museum in Kentucky and their joint venture with the Cincinnati zoo. My only words are : The Cincinnati zoo should let their monkeys go and cage the evolutionists because they act more like monkeys than the real ones.

This nation is going crazy with left wing attacks on traditional America and the Christian principles on which it was founded (not the revisionist historian separation of church/state myth). The war on Christmas every year, the blatant attacks on Christianity, and all the insane excuses people come up with to attempt to avoid God.

Evolution is the biggest lie Satan has ever told. Have you ever even read about where the idea of "millions of years" come from? It wasn't entirely Charles Darwin's idea. He simply used that idea to justify his own personal revelation to discount God. In other words, the only way his idea of evolution (it is not a theory because it is not testable in a lab environment) would work is if there was an massive expanse of time for it to happen in. Up until Darwin and a few others before him the idea of an old earth was ridiculous - and don't call me a flat earther because that term in itself is incorrect. Even the prophet Isaiah knew that the earth was round. (Read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science)

Plainly, these attacks on normal people such has been instigated in this case is downright silly and totally uncalled for. It is amazing that ultra-left wingers believe in nothing, yet support a 'separation of church and state". I too believe in this. I believe that the state, including university professors, should stay out of the church's business. Liberals complain about creationism being taught in school. Well, you know what, we do not want evolution taught in our churches and if we want to build a museum dedicated to the creator, then that's our right and our business. If you don't like it, don't look at it. It's as simple as that.

Evolution is used now as a tool to promote the vulgar and disgusting homosexual movement that has recently become violent. By claiming that evolution is real, the gay community can claim that they were born gay, which is absurd. No one is born gay. it is a psychological problems that stems from early childhood scenarios. Even the APA used to say this until they were pressured by the far left to change history and change science. That's what they do best.

I wish I could get a job teaching at a University, but I am not qualified. I am not a terrorist (BillAyers) and do not worship the environment(global warming nuts), do not seek monkeys as my creator (evolutionists) and do not brainwash other people (Marxists). I suppose I am disqualified from teaching. Maybe someday, America will wake up and fire every hippy liberal brainwashed professor and hire real teachers who teach the truth rather than a mock version of reality. How did that terrorist Bill Ayers not get executed for treason in the 1960s anyway? It is amazing that a man of his sickening stature could get a job teaching. Thank you ACLU! (Allied Communist Lickers Union). You have destroyed America. Maybe someday there will be an uprising and real Americans can take back this country from the slaves of deceit and aggressors who seek the destruction of their own well-being. I guess all that dope in the 1960s just hasn't worn completely off yet. Maybe one day America will wake up after the 60s generation is dead and gone and realize that we need to reclaim America again.

Until then, happy monkey! (or what ever non Christmas evolution people say)

P.S. MERRY CHRISTMAS! (It's about calling it what it is!)

Name deleted






This one is fairly representative of the succession of tirades I'm getting right now.

I just found out that you were one of the main reasons that the Cincinnati Zoo cancelled its partnership with the nearby Creation Museum. How dare you!!! And you should be ashamed of yourself, but since you are obviously an intolerant, left wing liberal, I can probably count on the fact you have no conscience, at least not one that would make you ashamed of something like this. You know I have heard many people talk about how Christians are such hypocrites, and true some are. But people like you are even worse hypocrites. You spout your speech about how people should be tolerant of others. Of course what you mean by this is that Christians should be tolerant. Well, sir (and I use that term extremely loosely), Christians are probably the most tolerant people on the planet. If we weren't, and if we spoke up more, then asinine liberals like yourself wouldn't be trashing this once great country. Your intolerance (which you denounce so vehemently in others) for people who believe differently than you is what led you to your massive e-mail and phone campaign by you, and readers of your blog, to the Cincinnati Zoo that made them cancel their partnership with the museum. I would think that as an educator you would want people to see different viewpoints, take them all into consideration, then choose for themselves what they believe. But it has gotten to the point that college and university professors today are no longer educators. All many of you do is spout your viewpoint as if it is the truth, and you don't tolerate (there's that word again) or even encourage open and honest discussion on topics among your students. All you do is force them to listen to you and what you believe and pass that off as education. Since you place so much stock in e-mail campaigns, don't be surprised if you suddenly become the recipient of one yourself. And I hope you have the courage to answer this e-mail, but then again I'm sure you don't. You, just like so many other pea-brained, pinheaded liberals I know, just want to make your stupid little comments then go into hiding and not take any responsibility for what you say or do. But then again, why would I expect you to answer this e-mail. You have no argument against what I have said. Your actions have proven that you are an intolerant, pseudo-intellectual snob.

That's probably enough. I expect I'll be getting a lot more of these over the next few days.

Beginning to crack the code of 'junk DNA'


Posted on Thu, Dec. 18, 2008

By Faye Flam Inquirer Staff Writer

To scientists, it was a mystery. Most of the genetic material we carry in our cells seemed to have no purpose.

It seemed so useless, some called it "junk DNA."

Weirder still, geneticists noticed that some of the junk has a life of its own, copying itself, viruslike, and jumping around the DNA.

This phenomenon had never been documented in humans until geneticist Haig Kazazian started studying boys with the blood-clotting disorder hemophilia.

Over years of painstaking research, Kazazian, now at the University of Pennsylvania, found that these straying bits of DNA can land in important genes like so much molecular debris - leading to a few cases of hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and several other genetic disorders.

For his lifetime of achievements, he was given one of the highest honors in his field last month: the Allen Award from the American Society of Human Genetics.

Kazazian, 71, has no plans to slow down. He is investigating whether this type of self-replicating junk DNA holds more power over human illness than has previously been imagined. It might influence our risk for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other common conditions.

"The one thing that drew me to Haig is his intellectual curiosity and his fearlessness," said geneticist John Moran, who studied under Kazazian at Johns Hopkins University before becoming a professor at the University of Michigan. "He took the field in a new direction - he really was one of the pioneers."

Johns Hopkins genetics professor Aravinda Chakravarti said that while geneticists looked at mice or fruit flies in search of clues to human disease, Kazazian also worked the other way, starting by unraveling mysterious medical cases to better understand how human DNA works.

Oddly, humans appear to carry much more DNA than we need. If you stretched out the DNA in just one cell, it would extend six feet - spelling out a four-letter code three billion letters long.

In a vast sea

Only 1 or 2 percent of all that is made up of genes - sequences that spell out recipes for a host of biological molecules known as proteins.

These genes are embedded in all of this other DNA like islands in a vast sea.

About a third of the other 98 percent of our DNA is made of "introns" - stretches of code that are spliced out when it's time to transcribe the genes into proteins. The rest is the stuff formerly called junk.

If there are messages written there, they are not altogether accessible. If the coherent 2 percent read like Harry Potter, the so-called junk DNA could be the more opaque stretches of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Kazazian didn't set out initially to investigate any of this. When launching his genetics career in the 1960s, he wanted to work on combating inherited diseases, such as hemophilia, muscular dystrophy and thalassemia, a form of anemia.

In high school and college, he imagined that he would become a doctor. That was the profession his father said he would have followed had his family not been imprisoned in a Turkish concentration camp in 1915 - along with thousands of other Armenians living in Turkey.

New vistas

Kazazian's father was 14 at the time. Both of his parents, all of his siblings, and his grandmother died in Turkey. In the early 1920s, he came to the United States and became a rug merchant. Medicine would have to wait until the next generation.

But Kazazian switched from medicine to genetics in the 1960s, inspired by the new vistas of knowledge the field was opening up.

In 1969, he joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins, where he began studying genetic diseases. He and other geneticists at the time were finding that dozens of different errors in the same gene could lead to the same disease.

He expected something similar when he started studying hemophilia, which is caused by various defects in a gene called factor VIII, carried on the X chromosome.

People with hemophilia often suffer bleeding into their joints, Kazazian said. And even a simple dental visit can leave them with profuse bleeding. Doctors eventually learned to treat the disease by giving patients factor VIII from donated blood.

But in the 1980s, HIV invaded the blood supply, and soon AIDS began to tear through the hemophiliac population.

Kazazian had come across three genetically unusual cases - boys with hemophilia whose factor VIII gene was disabled by an invading piece of stray DNA.

The invading DNA belonged to a specific category of the junk DNA called a transposable element. These had been observed in plants, where they had the power to act like a virus, copying themselves and jumping to new parts of the genetic code.

Most human transposable elements belong to a family called line1 elements. In total, Kazazian said, we carry about 500,000 of them, making up a whopping 17 percent of human DNA, a major portion of the so-called junk. Most of these are inert, having lost their ability to cut and paste themselves to new locations.

But a few are still capable of jumping around and causing trouble.

How had these line1 elements gotten into the boys' factor VIII genes?

To figure it out, Kazazian was able to identify some unique stretches of code in the line1 sequence affecting one of the boys.

Using what is called a genetic probe, he was able to find the same sequence in a line1 element in the boy's mother, but it was in a different place, on Chromosome 22. (Human chromosomes are all assigned a number except the sex chromosomes, which are labeled X and Y.)

In her case, it caused no problem. Kazazian said he suspected that the line1 element jumped from her Chromosome 22 to the X chromosome either in the mother's egg cell or during an early stage in the development of the embryo that became the boy.

The boy was 10 years old when Kazazian made the discovery. His case was tragic, Kazazian said. During his teens he showed promise as an actor, snagging a major role in the movie Lost in Yonkers. But as a teenager, he acquired HIV from his treatment and died at 21.

Kazazian traced another hemophilia case to a jumping line1 element and went on to find line1 elements lurking behind a case of muscular dystrophy.

In 1994, he came to the University of Pennsylvania to head the genetics department. He stepped down as director in 2006 but still retains an active research agenda, supervising a coterie of scientists working on line1 elements in animals and humans.

He is intrigued now by the possibility that active line1 elements may copy themselves and invade DNA during human development, introducing genetic variation within the same person's DNA.

He said there were some tantalizing hints that in brain cells, this process could spawn variations in personality and temperament. In other parts of the body, it could leave some cells more vulnerable than others to cancer.

Kazazian said he was sure that his life had been channeled in part by his father's ordeal in Turkey. "I always knew he had wanted to become a doctor," he said. "I think he would have preferred that I go into medical practice . . . but eventually he realized I had to do my own thing."

Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or fflam@phillynews.com.

Extreme preservation gives fly's eye view


Ancient fly in amber sports sophisticated photoreceptor arrangement

By Susan Milius Web edition : Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 Text Size Enlarge

Two flies stuck in Baltic amber still have enough soft tissue to confirm predictions that their kind had already evolved a fancy, open array of photoreceptors, according to a paper published online December 16 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Preserved, ancient eyes have turned up before, but "usually you don't get the internal parts," says Andrew Parker of the Natural History Museum in London. The bulging red eyes on these flies have what Parker says could be the oldest retinas yet examined.

And possibly best of all, "this time we could take it apart," Parker says. An intriguing fly eye he wrote about in 1998 had a fascinating outer surface, but the keepers of the specimen were not open to any cutting to see the inside.

The new specimens belonged to a family of long-legged, or dolichopodid, flies, whose members are buzzing around today.

Parker, Gengo Tanaka, now at Gunma Museum of Natural History in Japan, and their colleagues were able to study details only a few microns wide of the inner structure of the flies' eyes. Like their modern cousins, the flies had compound eyes made up of myriad lens and photoreceptor units.

Amber has preserved the fly eyes so well that researchers could see the arrangement of the rhabdomeres, the pigment-rich photoreceptors in cells that catch light coming through each lens.

Like modern long-legged flies, these preserved flies had little clusters of individual cells bearing rhabdomeres, dotting the tissue like asterisks.

That arrangement differs from photoreceptors in many other kinds of insects today, which have rhabdomeres fused into one structure that zings the light captured by the cells down a single waveguide pathway. Separating the cells improves the absolute sensitivity of the eye to light.

Biologists studying family trees have calculated that open rhabdomeres evolved independently in at least four insect groups. The preserved flies now show that the open array structure had already reached much of its modern form by 45 million years ago, Parker says.

"The most important aspect of this paper is the description of a fossilized visual system with unprecedented detail, down to the cellular level," says Todd Oakley of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies the evolution of vision.

The eyes of the ancient long-legged flies, it turns out, also had an anti-reflection grating covering the outer surfaces, Parker says. It's a version of the grating Parker has written about before, one that has since inspired an efficiency-boosting covering for solar panels.

Parker and his colleagues push their speculation into even more detail — into the molecular realm. Geneticists have now identified a single Drosophila gene, nicknamed spam for spacemaker, that encodes a protein that keeps rhabdomeres from fusing. So Tanaka and his colleagues contend that the Baltic amber specimens suggest spam itself has been around for 45 million years.

That's going a bit far considering how much we still have to learn about spam, says Daniel Osorio of the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. What he would like to hear speculation about, though, is what the open rhabdomeres suggest about the lifestyle of the two flies in amber. Tracking the Evolution of Creationist Rhetoric http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/12/tracking_the_evolution_of_crea.php

Category: Politics

Posted on: December 18, 2008 9:09 AM, by Ed Brayton

One of the most powerful tools we have for exposing the creationist agenda for public school science classrooms is the fact that we can trace their own words as their rhetoric, ironically, evolves. They continually change their catchphrases and then feign outrage when you point out that they really believe what they said they believed before their change in terminology. "Creationism" becomes "intelligent design" which becomes "critical analysis of evolution" which becomes "teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution" which becomes "having the academic freedom to teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. The Texas Freedom Network provides an excellent example of this semantic geneology when it comes to the Texas Board of Education.

These days they all claim that they're not trying to get ID into public schools, only the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution." But take a look at how the questions and answers regarding their position has changed over the last few years. In the 2008 voter guide put out by the Free Market Foundation, the Texas chapter of Focus on the Family, they were asked whether they supported teaching "both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution." All the usual suspects on the board said they strongly favored doing so. Here's a snapshot of the guide:

But go back 2 years to the voter guide for 2006 and you can see the old catchphrase at work. In 2006, the candidates for the SBOE were asked if they wanted to "present scientific evidence in our public schools supporting intelligent design, and not just evolution, and treat both theories as viable ones on the origin of life." And again, all of the folks currently pushing the "strengths and weaknesses" language said that they strongly supported teaching ID. Here's a snapshot of that guide:

But that's just the start. Let's go back to the 2002 voter guide, which asked the same question as in 2006, but with one key change: in the chart of responses, they labeled that issue "creationism." Here's a snapshot:

TFN's conclusions are spot on:

Bottom line: An "intelligent design" supporter today is a creationist with a thesaurus. And a backer of "weaknesses of evolution" is an "intelligent design" supporter who has read the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision. Same motives. Same end game. Same politicians who "Strongly Favor."

And they predict what the 2010 voter guide will ask:

ACADEMIC FREEDOM: Support the right of teachers to express their personal views on scientific theories on the origins of life.

And you can bet that the same ones who supported teaching creationism and ID will strongly favor that too. This is great work by TFN.

My "Neuroscience Denial"?


Dr. Steven Novella has post entitled "More Neuroscience Denial," and of course it's about me.

Dr. Michael Egnor has written two more posts reiterating his neuroscience denial over at the Discovery institute. This reinforces the impression that neuroscience denial is the "new creationism" - the new battleground against materialism as a basis for modern science.

First of all, I'm not a creationist, in the sense that I don't interpret Genesis literally. I adhere to neither "old creationism" nor "new creationism." It is my opinion that design is empirically evident in biology, so I support intelligent design theory. I'm a Christian, but my faith doesn't depend on any particular scientific theory. There are many Christians who accept the basic scientific tenets of evolutionary biology — e.g., the inference to random mutation and natural selection as the origin of most biological complexity. I don't agree with that view, but my reasons are scientific, not doctrinal.

I am deeply perplexed by Dr. Novella's obsession with "denial" as an epithet. The term is obviously meant to evoke Holocaust denial, and thus to place the denier beyond the moral pale. But I don't deny the Holocaust. I just deny materialism, which certainly doesn't put me in the same moral camp as David Irving. Most people deny materialism, in the sense that they deny that matter is all that exists. Most people deny the materialistic theory of the mind. I deny materialism; Dr. Novella denies dualism. One can't hold an opinion without denying other opinions. Dr. Novella calls himself a "skeptic." He denies a lot of things, probably more things than I do. He denies the mainstream religious beliefs of most of humanity. Is he a "denialist," too, like I am?

I don't deny neuroscience. I believe in neurotransmitters, neuroanatomy, synapses, axons, and so on. I'm well trained and well versed in neuroscience. I got honors in neuroscience in medical school. Dr. Eric Kandel, subsequently a Nobel Laureate, was my neuroscience professor at Columbia. I trained in neurosurgery for seven years, and spent quite a bit of time doing basic neuroscience research during my training (my mentor was Richard Bunge, who was a leader in the study of myelin sheaths that surround axons). Following my residency training, I've been practicing neurosurgery and conducting basic research in neuroscience at a medical school for the past seventeen years. No doubt Dr. Novella has good training and experience as well. We're both professionals, respected in our fields, probably with comparable knowledge in our related specialties.

So in what way am I a "neuroscience denier"? By calling me a "denier," Dr. Novella seems to mean that I deny the truth of something that has already been proven beyond reasonable doubt and has the assent of all informed people. He means that I deny that materialism can explain the mind entirely, and he means that that particular view is held by nearly all informed neuroscientists. But that's not true at all. Most neuroscientists spend their time concerned with getting probes to work and publishing papers on highly technical science. They're not philosophers, and they really aren't informed about the central problems in the mind-brain problem. They probably couldn't discuss intentionality or qualia or token identity theory with anything close to adroitness. Perhaps most couldn't even define the terms. Yet these are the central concepts in the mind-brain problem, and one can't say anything meaningful about the relationship between the mind and the brain without invoking them.

Within the community of philosophers who do understand and explore these concepts, materialism has not only failed to be "proven beyond reasonable doubt," but has actually been on the decline over the past decade or two. These philosophers are quite aware of the advances in neuroscience, but the main issues in the mind-brain problem aren't experimental issues. They are much deeper issues, about ontology and epistemology and causation. Strict materialism hasn't fared well in this light. The enthusiasm a half-century ago with computational models of the mind-brain relationship has waned as the deep problems of materialist theories have become better understood, and dualism of various sorts, such as property dualism, predicate dualism, hylomorphism, and even substance dualism, is in ascendance. In the view of very many philosophers of the mind, materialism hasn't so far even met minimal criteria of logical coherence, let alone empirical proof. Philosopher Joseph Levine has observed: "We lack an explanation of the mental in terms of the physical."

I'll get back to Dr. Novella's specific arguments in my ensuing posts, but Dr. Novella's invocation of "neuroscience denialism" leaves me dumbfounded. Just why Dr. Novella would confuse disagreement with his materialist ideology with denial of neuroscience is hard to see. The epithet "denialism" has a disturbing Orwellian ring to it, and it's not clear to me why anyone would invoke such a term in a discussion about the philosophy of the mind. Perhaps it's meant to intimidate. Perhaps Dr. Novella isn't used to having his opinions questioned, and it's just a slur, a substitute for a reasoned argument.

That seems closest to the truth.

Posted by Michael Egnor on December 22, 2008 9:02 AM | Permalink

The Evolution of Creationism Redux


Posted on: December 22, 2008 9:09 AM, by Ed Brayton

Genie Scott and Glenn Branch, the executive director and deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, have an article in Scientific American about the evolution of creationism and its latest appearance in the form of "academic freedom" legislation. It covers a lot of material that will be familiar to longtime readers of this blog, but it's worth reading just to have it all put in one place.

Ed Brayton is a journalist, commentator and speaker. He is the co-founder and president of Michigan Citizens for Science and co-founder of The Panda's Thumb. He has written for such publications as The Bard, Skeptic and Reports of the National Center for Science Education, spoken in front of many organizations and conferences, and appeared on nationally syndicated radio shows and on C-SPAN. Ed is also a Fellow with the Center for Independent Media and the host of Declaring Independence, a one hour weekly political talk show on WPRR in Grand Rapids, Michigan.(static)

Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar challenges scientists to prove evolution


As a poll reveals that more than a quarter of science teachers believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution, Oktar is offering an implausibly large reward to anyone who can point to a single fossil that proves evolution. Riazat Butt met him.

Adnan Oktar is fond of challenging people, throwing down the gauntlet to Richard Dawkins and anyone else who thinks they can prove Darwin's theory of evolution. Oktar is the public face of the Atlas of Creation, a book of epic proportions – in size and production costs – that has thudded onto 10,000 doormats since its publication in 2006.

In the ongoing debate about creationism, which has divided academic, scientific and religious communities, the Turk is something of a juggernaut. His book, weighing the same as a three-year-old child, claims to refute the theory of evolution on every one of its 786 pages and has been lapped up by creationist advocates across the religious and political spectrum.

Almost as promiscuous as the book's mailing list is the PR machine surrounding Oktar, which bombards journalists with offers of free flights to Turkey to interview the 52-year-old. The Guardian paid its own way to Istanbul to meet Oktar, en route to discover more about the Gulen movement, to find the high priest of creationism holding court in a plush gated development in Çengelköy, Istanbul.

His people – an array of sharp-suited, slick and shiny-haired Turks – filmed the interview for their own purposes. The experience felt sinister, but not as sinister as his retinue refusing to give directions to the interview location. Instead they insisted that a representative from Global Publishing – publisher of the Atlas – meet us at a gas station and accompany us to the house, a gaudy affair stuffed with figurines and gold-plated fittings.

Oktar, squeezed into a white trouser suit, declines to reveal how the Atlas industry is funded, nor will he say how much he is paid, or indeed whether he is paid at all. Challenged to explain the apparent contradiction between his beliefs and his plush surroundings, he responds: "I want to resemble Prophet Solomon. Prophet Solomon was like this. He used to be well dressed. He liked being well dressed. His palace was beautiful; there were beautiful people around him. Allah is beautiful. Allah loves those who are beautiful, wants everywhere to be beautiful. Paradise is also beautiful. [The] aim of a Muslim should be beauty."

Not everything that surrounds Oktar is aesthetically pleasing. He carries around with him a legacy of court appearances and allegations. In May he was given a three-year prison sentence – which he intends to challenge – following a spate of arrests in 1999. Oktar also claims he was thrown in a mental institution as punishment after the publication of his first book.

This "persecution" is, says Oktar, a burden on those called to God: "I'm a writer but at the same time I am a man of dawah [mission]. I support an idea. Every such person has been put pressure on, defamed, oppressed because of his ideas or assassinated. Anybody with an idea always sticks to his ideas, keeps spreading his ideas no matter how much he is oppressed, and this is what I think."

What he thinks, unashamedly and unapologetically, is that Darwin was lying and that there has been no evolution. He repeats this point throughout the interview.

"Almost 100 million fossils have been unearthed so far. All of these show that plants, animals, humans and insects have never undergone evolution whatsoever and they were all created in the same way by God. We can see this fact in each fossil we come across. There is no fossil proving the contrary. If they can show one, I will reward them 10 trillion Turkish Lira [£4.4 trillion]."

Around a minute later he adds: "There exists no fossil to prove the Darwinian theory. If they can show a few fossils, I will reward them 10 trillion. But there are almost 100 million fossils proving creation. In Turkey, we have exhibited thousands of them."

Another 30 seconds passes before he says: "Also let them coincidentally produce a single protein that maintains life I will again give 10 trillion TL."

He summons one of his men to fetch an Atlas of Creation and, thumbing through the pages, shows me why Darwin was wrong. He explains how the illustrations of fossils prove that no creature has evolved, that all organisms remain the same as they were 100m years ago.

"There is not one single fossil showing that humans evolved. For example, a 100-million-year-old crocodile, it didn't transform into a professor after a while."

How does he reach these conclusions, I wonder, imagining him to have laboratories and researchers at his disposal. Oktar himself, by his own admission, has no scientific experience or background. He is not an academic. He studied interior design.

Richard Dawkins has pointed out several glaring inaccuracies in The Atlas of Creation, but Oktar retains a powerful influence over various communities – especially Muslim ones – around the world. Earlier this year two of his representatives gave a talk at University College London at the invitation of the university's Islamic Society. Oktar's website lists more than a dozen such events in the UK in November and December alone.

On another website "complimentary" letters are featured from individuals and organisations following receipt of a Harun Yahya publication. The content ranges from a polite acknowledgement of the book to wholehearted support for its message. What does Oktar make of his global impact?

"Hundreds of professor, scientists, students and public send e-mails to our internet sites … We receive sincere messages that [the Atlas] has a great effect on them … It made an atomic bomb effect. Afterwards it had a radiation effect and it keeps going on. Those who read the book tell others and those tell others. It has an irresistible power. That is why it has a demolishing effect."

An exhausting 90 minutes later, the interview finishes with Oktar and his people disappearing into the basement to pray. The sun has set and, with no idea where we are, we wait for our escort out of the house.

KU researcher detects missing link in spider evolution


By Andy Hyland
December 22, 2008

A Kansas University researcher has discovered a missing link between spiders and their ancestors.

His findings may shed new light on how spiders came by the current trump card they play in their fight against the world's insect population: the silk used to spin webs.

Among the scientific community, there's some debate on how that silk came to be, said Paul Selden, the director of KU's Paleontological Institute at the Biodiversity Institute and professor of invertebrate paleontology.

Selden helped find a new kind of "pre-spider" that wove broad sheets of silk from plates attached to the undersides of their bellies.

The silk could have been used as a trail, to let the creature know it could get back to where it wanted to go, or for a variety of other purposes, Selden said.

Modern spiders make silk threads using modified appendages called spinnerets.

The small, 7-millimeter long animals Selden discovered also had a tail, unlike modern spiders.

Spiders have been around for quite some time, managing to last through whatever event killed off the dinosaurs.

With insects today being the most abundant and diverse populations on the planet, and with spiders being their main predators, it's not too much of a stretch to call spiders the most abundant and diverse predators on the planet, Selden said.

"The silk is obviously what made spiders so successful," he said.

When this creature was crawling around the earth 380 million years ago, there would be no need to spin webs, as there weren't any flying insects around at the time, Selden said.

In fact, there wasn't much of anything moving around.

"These were — and still are — the oldest known animals in North America," Selden said.

Selden and fellow researcher William Shear, a biology professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, made the discovery by painstakingly putting together bits of fossils to help make the discovery.

"It's like if someone gives you an old jigsaw puzzle and you've only got half the pieces and you don't know what the picture on the top of the box looks like," Selden said.

Third of science teachers want creationism taught in school


Dec 22 2008 By Andrew Jackson

THREE in 10 science teachers believe creationism should be taught in science lessons, according to a survey published today.

And more than a third (37%) of primary and secondary teachers in general believe that the subject should be taught alongside evolution and the Big Bang theory.

The Ipsos Mori poll of more than 900 primary and secondary teachers in England and Wales found that while nearly half (47%) believe it should not be taught in science lessons, two thirds (65%) agree that creationism should be discussed in schools.

This rises to three quarters of teachers (73%) with science as their subject specialism.

Two in three science specialists (65%) do not think that creationism should be taught in science lessons.

But few teachers think creationism as an idea should be dismissed outright.

Just one in four (26%) agree with a view expressed by Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham University that "creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought."

Fiona Johnson, head of education research at Ipsos Mori and director of the Ipsos Mori Teachers Omnibus, said: "Our findings suggest that many teachers are trying to adopt a measured approach to this contentious issue, an approach which attempts not only to explain the essential differences between scientific and other types of 'theory', but also to acknowledge that - regardless of, or even despite, "the science" - pupils may have a variety of strongly held, and arguably equal value, faith-based beliefs."

Prof Higgins said: "Creationism, as an alternative to the evolution of species, has long been thoroughly discredited by rigorous analysis of data.

"Of course, if a pupil raises it as a hypothesis then a brief discussion as to why creationism is wrong might be appropriate as part of an education in intellectual integrity and rational thought.

"But it would undermine any educational system to purposefully teach discredited ideas which are now only perpetuated through ignorance or flawed thinking - one might as well teach astrology, flat earthism, alchemy or a geocentric universe."

A Teachers TV poll of 1,200 teachers, published last month, revealed that a third of teachers believe creationism should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom.

In September, leading biologist the Rev Professor Michael Reiss resigned as the Royal Society's director of education days after suggesting creationism be included in science lessons.

Speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, Prof Reiss - an ordained Church of England minister - said it was better for science teachers not to see creationism as a "misconception" but as a "world view".

:: Ipsos Mori questioned 923 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales between November 5 and December 10.

Obama's science appointees called a team of all-stars


Accomplished and outspoken, they're likely to tackle climate change head-on.

By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer/ December 21, 2008 edition

Call it the "green team" or the "dream team." Either way, President-elect Barack Obama's choices to fill top science and environment-related posts in his new administration represent a remarkable assembly of talent.

With his picks well in hand, Mr. Obama is positioned to reverse what many see as eight years of sluggish action in the US and internationally on global warming. The picks also boost the prospects for wider use and further development of alternative energy sources. And the nominees – particularly those who come directly out of the science community – are expected to be strong advocates for erasing political interference with government research.

Many groups have sent the transition team a list of actions Obama could take to achieve the goals during the first 100 days, most of which could be accomplished by executive order.

"In terms of appointing top scientists to key agency positions, we haven't seen the caliber of scientists we're seeing now," says Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. "Probably more important, we haven't seen such highly respected scientists who also have been outspoken conservation advocates.

The challenge, however: Shaping a collection of driven, highly accomplished individuals – including two Nobel prize winners – into a group that can help implement changes Obama seeks in policy areas ranging from shaping a green economic recovery and more aggressive action on global warming to stem-cell research. That's the view from several science-policy specialists as they look at the team Obama has named.

The four most recent additions came over the weekend. They include John Holdren, who heads the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, as the president's science adviser; Jane Lubchenco, a highly regarded marine scientist from Oregon State University to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and biomedical researchers Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and Nobel laureate, and Eric Lander, a key leader in the Human Genome Project and founding director of the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, to serve with Dr. Holdren as co-chairs of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

These nominations come on the heels of earlier nominations that include Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from the University of California at Berkeley and head of the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory to head the US Department of Energy.

The nominations also got a thumbs-up from one of the few members of Congress with scientific expertise, Rep. Rush Holt (D) of New Jersey, a physicist: "Those who want our nation to take real steps to address climate change and bolster innovation … are thrilled with this news."

One key area where the appointments are expected to make a difference is in correcting what many critics see as the Bush administration's consistent distortion or suppression of research conducted by government scientists.

In his weekend address, Obama highlighted the issue. "Promoting science isn't just about providing resources, it's about protecting free and open inquiry," he said. "It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient."

Holdren was one of the first scientists to speak out about the Bush administration's political interference with science, notes Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a public policy research and advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass.

Congress already has made a start in curbing political interference via two bills passed and signed by President Bush earlier this year. One shines more light on the process the US Food and Drug Administration uses to review new drugs and monitor the safety of the drugs it approves. The other strengthens the independence of offices of inspectors general from the departments they scrutinize, including provisions that help protect the anonymity of scientists and other whistle-blowers.

On the energy and climate front, Obama's nominees generally have been outspoken supporters of ramping up energy conservation efforts and increasing the country's reliance on climate-friendly ways to power the economy.

Even his nominees for the top posts at the State and Commerce Departments as well as the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Labor all "get it," says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at UCS. For example, Rep. Hilda Solis (D) of California, Obama's pick for labor secretary, has long advocated green jobs and worker training in clean-energy technologies. "With her analysis of the benefits of shifting to clean energy, she's all over that," Mr. Meyer says.

Dr. Chu's and Holdren's impact might be felt internationally as well, especially if Obama continues a process Mr. Bush started of holding regular meetings with those countries that emit the most greenhouse gases.

China has often been a target of US criticism for its rising emissions, and it is a key player in negotiations leading to a new global climate treaty. Chu has visited the country to explore alternative energy technologies with counterparts there. And Holdren has helped establish several cooperative programs with China and India that aim to accelerate the spread of green energy technologies.

"The difference between Bush and Obama is black and white," says Roger Pielke Jr., a science-policy specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

But the appointment of such a high-powered team also carries risks. It could well raise expectations among Obama supporters for major change on energy, environment, and other science-related issues that could be politically impossible to meet – both in level of ambition and in pace of change.

Still, adds Meyer, "If they can't pull it off, it won't be for lack of trying."

Monday, December 22, 2008

So who's on Inhofe's list and the HIV/AIDS deniers list?


Category: Global Warming
Posted on: December 21, 2008 1:00 PM, by Tim Lambert

So, I after looking at who was on Inhofe's list of scientists that he claims dispute global warming and on the Discovery Institute's list of Darwin dissentors, I thought I should see who was Inhofe's list and this list of HIV/AIDS "rethinkers". The HIV/AIDS list seems to be even dodgier than Inhofe's, including chiropracters, homeopaths, poets and this Lovecraft-inspired entry:

Ivy Shoots. PhD student, Miskatonic University, Massachusetts; Fulbright Scholar

Anyway, there were five names on both lists:

Eduardo Ferreyra. President of the Argentine Foundation for a Scientific Ecology, which seems to just be Ferreyra and a couple of his friends.

Ferrerya has commented on this blog -- as well as the HIV/AID and AGW denial, he subscribes the DDT ban myth. Plus this:

In January 1980, conducted an expedition into a Jivaro indian tribe on the Wichimi River, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, few miles from the Peruvian border. He went along with César Miranda, Emerit Professor at the National University in Córdoba, Argentina, and together made a research that suggested the Jivaro indians came from Okinawa, Japan.

Dr. James DeMeo. Director, Orgone Biophysical Research Lab. Apparently orgone energy is the real explanation for global warming:

However, cloudbusting is definitely not "magic", but a combination of both natural science and empirical art, requiring the practitioner to know much about modern science, climate and technical matters. They must also have the capacity to feel the atmospheric orgone energy via organ sensations, and to see the expressive language of the living which appears across the whole of Nature, if one knows what to look for, and has the eyes to see. It helps us to understand previously inexplicable things such as the relationship between desert-spreading and the subsequent appearance of droughts and heatwaves, both of which fuel the misunderstood "global warming" and "El Nino" effects, which in fact are regional in nature, and always connected with outbreaks of expanding Saharasian desert atmospheres.

Joel Kauffman. Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Kauffman doesn't think that orgone energy is causing global warming. No, he writes:

Either Warmers or Skeptics may accept that primordial ionizing radiation from within warms the Earth.

Michael R. Fox reckons that global warming is a big fraud by scientitsts so thay can get research money:

One explanation of this may be described by John Ray, M.A., Ph.D., writing from Brisbane, Australia: "The Holy Grail for most scientists is not truth but research grants. And the global warming scare has produced a huge downpour of money for research. Any mystery why so many scientists claim some belief in global warming?"

Justin Loew. Meteorologist, WAOW-TV. The comment that got him on to Inhofe's list was this, where he does not seem to be disputing AGW:

Call me skeptical, but I think the headlines have shifted dramatically over the last year (to "climate change") in response to the fact that the earth hasn't warmed one degree since 1998. In fact, the average global temperature has gone down slightly. I suppose it might start to sound silly saying "global warming" when the globe hasn't warmed for 10 years. If the AGW theorists are confident in the global climate model predictions of environmental armageddon, then they should not be afraid to continue using the term "global warming" or more accurately AGW.

In case anyone's interested: There were four names on the Discovery Institute's list of Darwin skeptics and on the list of HIV/AIDS doubters: Robert W. Bass, Bruce D Evans, Mae-Wan Ho, and Jonathan Wells.

Medical Acupuncture Gaining Acceptance by the U.S. Air Force



Last update: 11:55 a.m. EST Dec. 18, 2008

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y., Dec 18, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Medical acupuncture, which is acupuncture performed by a licensed physician trained at a conventional medical school, is being used increasingly for pain control. Richard Niemtzow, MD, PhD, MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Medical Acupuncture, a peer-reviewed journal ( www.liebertpub.com/acu) and the official journal of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, is at the forefront of these efforts in the military.

The technique developed by Dr. Niemtzow has been so successful that the Air Force will begin teaching "Battlefield Acupuncture" to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2009. "Battlefield Acupuncture" can relieve severe pain lasting several days.

Based on modern neurophysiological concepts, Niemtzow developed a variation of acupuncture that involves inserting very tiny semi-permanent needles into very specific acupoints in the skin on the ear to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This method can lessen the need for pain medications that may cause adverse or allergic reactions or addiction.

"This is one of the fastest pain attenuators in existence," said Dr. Niemtzow, who is the Consultant for complementary and alternative medicine for the Surgeon General of the Air Force, and is affiliated with Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. "The pain can be gone in five minutes."

Medical Acupuncture is an authoritative peer-reviewed journal published quarterly in print and online, written for physicians by physicians, that presents evidence-based clinical papers, case reports, and research findings that integrate concepts from traditional and modern forms of acupuncture with Western medical training. Tables of contents and a free sample issue may be viewed online at http://www.liebertpub.com/acu

Recent papers on acupuncture for pain published in the Journal include "Pain: An Evidence-Based Approach Through the Auricular Acupuncture Microsystem," "Effect of Acupuncture in Trigeminal Neuralgia," "Acupuncture for the Treatment of HIV-Associated Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (Guillain-Barre Syndrome)," and "Acupuncture Clinical Pain Trial in a Military Medical Center: Outcomes."

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Journal of Women's Health, and Journal of Palliative Medicine. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's 60 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at www.liebertpub.com

Contact: Vicki Cohn, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., (914) 740-2100, ext. 2156, vcohn@liebertpub.com

SOURCE Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Copyright (C) 2008 PR Newswire

Dad Uses Alternative Meds, Girl Ends up Braindamaged


Posted by JeanneSager at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2008

The doctor who finally got to look at a little girl after weeks of her father trying alternative medicines to treat an infection of her heart said she was as ""sick as the sickest person I've ever seen in 35 years." That's saying something.

The man's eleven-year-old daughter now uses a wheelchair to move around and has serious cognitive impairment. Prosecutors who secured six months in prison to punish the father say he distrusted modern medicine.

The man apparently opted to feed his daughter Mannatech, a supplement promoted round the world as a means to "enhance the body's cell-to-cell communication and improve overall health." Last year, the company was charged by the Texas Attorney General for operating an illegal marketing scheme. Attorney General Greg Abbott says his investigators found claims of the supplement's health benefits were being exaggerated to "exploit" families.

In Australia, the father of the sick girl had reportedly given her so much it was stuck between her teeth and clogging her mouth when she was finally brought into the hospital, unable to walk and hallucinating. Her mouth was black and peeling, according to court documents, and the rest of her body was pale. The mother apparently pushed for traditional medicine, but said she was afraid that her estranged partner would deny her access to her children if she pushed further.

Although the fact that more families are using alternative medicine to treat their kids' illnesses gave me some hope that some parents will finally stop rushing to their paediatrician demanding a round of antibiotics for every bump and hiccup, this sort of story is just what I was afraid of.

Raised in a househould that is highly supportive of traditional medicine (my mother's in the health field), I can admit there are alternatives that are beneficiary. Think saline mist to clean out the sinuses, a long sitz bath to soothe the sting of chicken pox, that sort of thing. These are options not only for parents who are uninsured or underinsured but those of us who are lucky enough to have insurance, but don't want to be throwing pills at everything. Sometimes the old-fashioned remedies have passed the test of time.

Should these so-called "health supplements" really be considered alternative medicine? Where does one draw the line?

Toxic Poinsettias? Hangover Cures? It May Be All Fiction


Researchers debunk common holiday and wintertime health myths
Posted December 18, 2008
By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 18 (HealthDay News) -- It's that magical time of year when people are willing to suspend disbelief just a little bit and hope that holiday miracles, like Santa delivering presents across the globe in a single evening, can actually happen.

It also appears to be a time of year when people might be willing to suspend critical thinking and buy into some common holiday and wintertime health myths, according to researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine.

In the Christmas issue of BMJ published online Dec. 18, the researchers pointed out six commonly believed myths that even some health professionals believe are true. But, when the researchers looked for evidence to back up the myths, they couldn't find it. The debunked myths include:

Suicide rates are higher during the holidays.
Poinsettias are toxic if eaten.
Hangovers are curable.
Sugar makes children hyperactive.
You lose most of your body heat through your head.
Eating at night makes you fat.
"We really don't know why some myths become so embedded," said one of the article's co-authors, Dr. Rachel Vreeman, an assistant professor of pediatrics.

"Sometimes you hear these myths from people you consider to be experts," suggested Vreeman's co-author, Dr. Aaron Carroll, director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. "And, often, there's a kernel of truth in some of these myths. For example, sugar gives us energy, so some people might leap to the conclusion that too much sugar gives you too much energy."

But, he added, that's not the case. At least 12 double-blind, randomized, controlled trials have looked at the effect of sugar on children, and none found evidence for the sugar-equals-hyperactivity myth. In one study, children weren't even given sugar, but their parents were told they had been -- and parents who thought their children had eaten sugar rated their behavior as more hyperactive.

Another pervasive myth is that more people try to commit suicide over the holidays, but numerous studies have failed to find a peak of suicides during the holidays, according to Vreeman and Carroll.

Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, said he wasn't surprised that there was not an increase in suicides during the holidays, because people tend to be surrounded by other people in December. He wondered, however, what happens after the holidays.

"There are such high expectations around the holidays," he said. "Holiday anxiety and depression are very common, so a better question might be whether or not people are more unhappy during the holidays."

Another common holiday myth surrounds hangover cures. Although most everyone has a favorite that they swear works for them, the only real cure for a hangover is not to drink excessively in the first place. Also, Siegel pointed out that some hangover cures, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, can actually create troubles, such as liver problems or stomach irritation, in people who've been drinking.

As for the other myths? Vreeman and Carroll said that poinsettias, even in large doses, appear to be safe, though they certainly don't recommend consuming them. Your head, like the rest of your body, releases heat, but it's no more important to shield your head than to protect other parts of your body against the cold.

And, finally, they said that eating at night won't make you fat as long as what you're eating doesn't put you over your normal daily calorie total. Generally, they said, people who eat at night tend to gain weight, because those calories consumed nocturnally are in addition to three regular meals and snacks.

So, Santa, if you've already had breakfast, lunch and dinner, maybe you'd better put down the milk and cookies.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on other important health myths.

Antievolution bills dead in Michigan


December 19th, 2008 Michigan General 2008

When the Michigan legislature ended its last voting session for 2007-2008 on December 19, 2008, two antievolution bills — House Bill 6027 and Senate Bill 1361 — died in committee. The identical bills were instances of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution; as NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in their article "The Latest Face of Creationism," published in the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, "'Academic freedom' was the creationist catchphrase of choice in 2008: the Louisiana Science Education Act was in fact born as the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, and bills invoking the idea were introduced in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina, although, as of November, all were dead or stalled. ... The appeal of academic freedom as a slogan for the creationist fallback strategy is obvious: everybody approves of freedom, and plenty of people have a sense that academic freedom is desirable, even if they do not necessarily have a good understanding of what it is."

The Michigan bills contended that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact of climate change, and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects." If enacted, the bills would have required state and local administrators "to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and "to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that curriculum addresses scientific controversies" by allowing them "to help pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

In a press release dated May 20, 2008, Michigan Citizens for Science blasted HB 6027, writing that "it does a disservice to teachers, school administrators and local school boards by urging them to incorporate material into science classes that is at odds with well-established science ... HB 6027 ushers schools down a path that will inevitably lead to expensive and divisive court battles." Similarly, in July 2008, the Michigan Science Teachers Association decried both bills, arguing (document) that the stated goals of the bills are already addressed by the state's educational system. The MSTA added, "Whereas evolution, climate change and cloning are the only 'controversial topics' cited in these bills while 'controversial topics' in non-scientific fields are noticeably omitted and whereas the Curriculum Expectations already address the pedagogical & educational goals of these bills, the legislative intent of these bills is called into question. ... . This type of legislation may enable the introduction of non-scientific ideologies, such as 'intelligent design (ID) creationism', into the public science classroom."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Evolution education update: December 19, 2008

Evolution is the theme of the current issue of Scientific American, and NCSE is represented. Meanwhile, the threat of creationism in the Muslim world is discussed in the journal Science, and "The Man Who Wasn't Darwin" -- Alfred Russel Wallace -- is profiled in National Geographic.


"The Evolution of Evolution: How Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World" is the theme of the latest issue of Scientific American (January 2009), commemorating the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species -- and NCSE is represented, with Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott's discussion of the newest mutations of the antievolutionist movement in "The Latest Face of Creationism."

Branch and Scott explain that "creationists are increasingly retreating to their standard fallback strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution: misrepresenting evolution as scientifically controversial while remaining silent about what they regard as the alternative. ... Creationism's latest face is just like its earlier face, only now thinly disguised with a fake mustache." But the effects of their efforts are as pernicious as ever: "Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis is -- to be blunt -- a lie."

Also featured are David J. Buller on "Evolution of the Mind," H. Allen Orr on "Testing Natural Selection with Genetics," David M. Kingsley on "Diversity Revealed: From Atoms to Traits," Ed Regis on "The Science of Spore," Neil H. Shubin on "The Evolutionary Origins of Hiccups and Hernias," Peter Ward on "The Future of Man -- How Will Evolution Change Humans?" and David P. Mindell on "Putting Evolution to Use in the Everyday World."

The staff of Scientific American contributed to the issue as well, with Gary Stix introducing "Darwin's Living Legacy -- Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later," Kate Wong reviewing "The Human Pedigree," and the editors explaining "Why Everyone Should Learn the Theory of Evolution" -- "Darwin's legacy has a direct bearing on how society makes public policy and even, at times, on how we choose to run our lives," they comment.

For the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, visit:

For Branch and Scott's article, visit:


Salman Hameed of Hampshire College addressed the challenge of Islamic creationism in the December 12, 2008, issue of Science (322 [5908]: 1637-1638), warning that "although the last couple of decades have seen an increasing confrontation over the teaching of evolution in the United States, the next major battle over evolution is likely to take place in the Muslim world (i.e., predominantly Islamic countries, as well as in countries where there are large Muslim populations)." He added, "Relatively poor education standards, in combination with frequent misinformation about evolutionary ideas, make the Muslim world a fertile ground for rejection of the theory."

"We do not know much about general views about science in Muslim countries, let alone on the specific question of evolution," Hameed observed, although he discusses a recent survey asking, "Do you agree or disagree with Darwins theory of evolution?" He reported, "Only 16% of Indonesians, 14% of Pakistanis, 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, and 22% of Turks agree that Darwins theory is probably or most certainly true," he reports -- although 37% of Kazakhs agreed, which is comparable to the 40% of Americans who regard "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals" as probably or definitely true, as reported by Jon D. Miller, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, and Shinji Okamoto in 2006.

Similarly, not much is known about the state of evolution education in Muslim countries. The national academies of science of fourteen Muslim countries are signatories to the Inter-Academy Panel statement in support of evolution education (included in the third edition of Voices for Evolution), but what is actually presented about evolution in those classrooms is unclear. Citing work by Anila Asghar and Brian Alters (a member of NCSE's board of directors) surveying Pakistani textbooks and teachers as well as a recent study of Muslim university students studying in the Netherlands, Hameed tentatively suggested that in the Muslim world it is the idea of human evolution that elicits the most resistance.

Also contributing to the rejection of evolution in the Muslim world, unsurprisingly, is the view that evolution is tantamount to atheism. In a December 11, 2008, interview posted on New Scientist's website, Hameed commented, "If evolution is presented as a choice between evolution and religion, people are going to pick religion. No question." Similarly, in the Science article, he explained, "Evolutionary ideas about human origins may face serious obstacles, but a peaceful religious accommodation is also possible. However, efforts that link evolution with atheism will cut short the dialogue, and a vast majority of Muslims will reject evolution."

There is already a substantial creationist movement in the Muslim world, Hameed observed, writing in a December 12, 2008, essay posted on the Guardian's science blog that "the dominant voice shaping the evolution-creation debate in the Muslim world is that of Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar, who uses the pen name Harun Yahya." (For background, see Taner Edis's "Cloning Creationism in Turkey" published in Reports of the NCSE in 1999.) Both in his Guardian essay and in his Science article, Hameed urged the scientific community to take action: "Scientists, especially biologists, should write for newspapers and magazines read by a Muslim audience and seize back the initiative from creationists like Yahya."

For Hameed's article (subscription required), visit:

For NCSE's story about Miller, Scott, and Okamoto's article, visit:

For the Inter-Academy Panel statement and Voices for Evolution, visit:

For Hameed's interview with New Scientist, visit: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16258-how-to-stop-creationism-gaining-a-hold-in-islam.html

For Hameed's blog post at the Guardian, visit:

For Taner Edis's article from Reports of the NCSE, visit:


Amid the hoopla as the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species approach, it is good to be reminded of the contributions of Alfred Russel Wallace, who also formulated the idea of evolution by natural selection. "Wallace's story is complicated, heroic, and perplexing," as David Quammen writes in "The Man Who Wasn't Darwin" (published in the December 2008 issue of National Geographic). "[M]ost people who know of Alfred Russel Wallace know him only as Charles Darwin's secret sharer, the man who co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection but failed to get an equal share of the credit," Quammen explains.

But Wallace is worthy of attention in his own right: "Besides being one of the greatest field biologists of the 19th century, he was a man of crotchety independence and lurching enthusiasms, a restless soul never quite satisfied with the place in which he lived," Quammen adds. In addition to the article, Quammen recently discussed Wallace in a November 5, 2008, lecture at Montana State University, which is now available as a podcast.

A prolific science writer, Quammen's previous work includes "Was Darwin Wrong?" (the cover story of the November 2004 issue of National Geographic -- the answer was a resounding no) and The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (W. W. Norton, 2006), which Kevin Padian, president of NCSE's board of directors, described as "a fresh and original look at one of history's greatest scientists, written by one of our very best science writers."

For Quammen's article, visit:

For the podcast of Quammen's lecture, visit:

For Quammen's "Was Darwin Wrong?" visit:

To buy The Reluctant Mr. Darwin from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE), visit:

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

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

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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