NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 March 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Berlinski's Dismantlement of Darwinism "A Virtuoso Recital"


Anika Smith

David Berlinski's collection of essays, The Deniable Darwin, garnered a favorable review over at Hot Air, where CK Macleod had this to say:

The Deniable Darwin collects essays written from 1996 to 2009 mostly on the same general theme: That the insufferable pretensions and aggressive self-certainty of science ideologues prevent us from justly appreciating how much we actually have learned about the natural world, and how wonderfully little that is. He applies his dauntingly well-informed, remorselessly cogent skepticism to several fields of study – theoretical physics, mathematics, linguistics, molecular biology – but it's his dismantlement of Darwinism that he takes to center stage for a virtuoso recital.

Macleod understands that critics of Berlinski are wrong to accuse him "of the thought-crime of religious faith":

The most you can say about Berlinski's argument on this score – the argument he actually makes as opposed to the one he's frequently assumed to be making – is that it points, insistently, to obviously "design-like" aspects of the natural world that no biologist has been able to explain except by childlike inferences, circular reasoning, and "just-so" stories – how this, that, or the other biological peculiarity might/must have served a survival purpose – and by scandalously oversold pseudo-experiments.

Read the review here, and pick up your copy of The Deniable Darwin if you haven't already.

Posted by Anika Smith at 4:12 PM | Permalink

Changes question theory of evolution



The Texas Board of Education has re-written history for their children's education. The social studies, history and economics textbooks will present the Republican/ conservative/Christian perspective on these subjects. TheNew York Timesof March 12, 2010, reported the changes (Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change).

As this board of education is the largest buyer of textbooks in America, the publishers take their lead regarding the content of the books for the other states as well.

The changes include questioning the theory of evolution, the teaching of Creationism and the American founding fathers will be shown as true Christians who did not endorse the separation of church and state.

President Thomas Jefferson, who coined the term "separation between church and state," has been eliminated from the list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Others have been added such as Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. One member, Cynthia Dunbar, stated, "the Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which revolutions were based."

They have added to the "conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s" by including the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association. Besides the non-violence of Martin Luther King, students will learn about the violence of the Black Panthers. Frighteningly, the history of McCarthyism will be tempered down by the inclusion of the "real" threat of communism in the United States.

The two historians in my life, my husband Murray, and a friend, tell me that my belief in one of the purposes of history to present a balanced and impartial understanding of the past is naive and not totally accurate. At the university level, historians try to provide a balanced understanding, but this is not always true at the school education level.

Through the teaching of history and social studies, most states/provinces do try to inculcate what they consider to be national values, such as our Canadian sense of what is good citizenship or even nationalism. In schools, we likely emphasize the Charter values of democracy, equality of all, freedom of religion and multiculturalism.

However, the Texas curriculum of history and social studies seems designed to promote their version of Christian religious values and concept of how society should be guided by the Biblical God. Their interpretation of God's will for a society appears to be based on one interpretation of Christianity -- a literal understanding of a sacred text -- and on a right-wing agenda rather than a balanced perspective.

Much criticism has been levied against what is being taught to Muslim children in extremist Muslim madrasahs [schools] as brainwashing and dangerous to the West.

Fair enough, but the Texas curriculum seems little different to me if they also provide a narrow understanding of religion and the world. Both promote their specific religious values and conception of society, which contrasts with our values of tolerance, openness, equality and pluralism.

As a believing woman, my concerns are that these two examples are part of the "religious fundamentalist" movements. It is a term I have abhorred, but reluctantly accept as a phenomenon. Because of this specific Christian movement, Muslims have objected to fundamentalism being used for Muslims. However, the term is now used more broadly to describe the phenomena.

"Fundamentalism" was the name given to a movement that started in early 20th century by a group of North American Christian Evangelicals. They were fighting for the "fundamentals of faith" against the modernization of other Christian groups.

The research by the international networks, Women Living Under Muslim Laws [WLUML] and the Association of Women in Development [AWID], concludes that there are versions of religious fundamentalisms, but they share some common characteristics.

These are the political use of religion; fighting for power in the political arena to ensure that society reflects their interpretation of God's will; and the creation of a single version of a collective identity as authentic and valid. This version ends up being absolute -- based on sacred texts; on patriarchy and intolerant of diversity.

Teaching of the young is integral to their vision of a theocracy -- society based on religion. As AWID states, "Given its crucial role in shaping the minds of young people, as well as training them for particular social and economic roles, this is a particular focus for fundamentalist organizations. Struggles over curricula are common, whether fundamentalist Christian campaigners against the teaching of evolution in the U.S.A., or over sex education."

These revisions of history and the teaching of ideologically based social studies should be of concern to all of us, whether this be in the United States or in other parts of the world. I worry that this suppresses diversity and pluralism and can lead to a limited view of society, religions and others who do not agree with this view.

Surely one of the purposes of education is to learn about others; to create understanding between peoples and to communicate across boundaries.

Alia Hogben is the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and a social worker.

Practitioners show gamut of alternative medicines


By Thatcher Moats Staff Writer - Published: March 28, 2010

MONTPELIER – What do a psychic, a hula hooper, an herbalist and a masseuse have in common? They're capable of curing what ails you, according to several people who attended the first ever VermontHealers.org 2010 Expo in Montpelier on Saturday.

People with a wide range of expertise who are all focused on making people physically, mentally and spiritually healthier comprise VermontHealers.org. The organization formed about two-and-a-half years ago when the Web site was launched and now has about 100 members.

Saturday's expo at the Vermont College of Fine Arts gymnasium, which the organization hopes to turn into an annual event, was a chance for this disparate group of practitioners to network in the non-virtual world and show people what they offer.

VermontHealers.org board members say there's a growing demand for – and acceptance of – alternative health care practitioners, such as yoga instructors, herbalists and health counselors.

According to Lisa Mase, who is a board member, an example of the growing demand is that the Montpelier Health Center now includes an acupuncturist.

"It's not just one healer who can do it on their own," said Mase.

Mase and others insist they don't view alternative medicine as a replacement for traditional Western medicine, but simply as a different solution.

For this reason, Mase refers to what the various healers offer as "complementary alternative medicine."

Alternative solutions, such as focusing on the food a person eats, tend not to offer a magic cure-all, but require a more sustained approach, said Marie Frohlich, a health counselor who is on the board of VermontHealers.org.

"These are not quick fixes, these practices," said Frohlich. "They require lifestyle changes."

At the expo Saturday there were workshops where attendees could learn about Bach Flower Remedies for stress reduction; Reiki, a spiritual healing practice; and a technique called Nutrition Response Testing that addresses nutrition deficiencies.

There was also something that many people consider pure fun: hula hooping.

Lizzie Brood, who is new to the area after bouncing around New England, led a workshop on Hoop Dance, which includes hula-hooping while wearing a blindfold and listening to music.

Hula-hooping is good exercise and gets the body moving, which is therapeutic, Brood said, but she struggled to put into words the healing properties of twirling a hoop around one's body. But Susi Wahlrab, a yoga instructor from Calais, did not.

"It's, like, totally back to being a child and raw delight," she said. "It makes you feel so happy. It's a feeling of freedom."

Doris Sater, who is from Danby, was buying a colorful hoop from Brood. She said hula hooping makes you feel "great."

"It's very freeing," she said. "You can breath right. You feel so much better."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Bad News of Intelligent Design


Regis Nicoll
Freelance Writer, Speaker, Worldview Teacher, Men's Ministry Leader

Darwinian evolution is the creation story of atheism. It is the tale of nothing becoming everything through an incremental, unguided process of random change and adaptation.

Yet despite its many logical and technical difficulties—not the least of which is explaining how nothing became a "something" to get the whole process started—the narrative has captured the imaginations of a wide spectrum of individuals, religious and non-religious alike.

Today nearly any article or television program, covering any aspect of the natural world, from the eating habits of chimpanzees to the dreams of humans, is sure to make mention of "our evolutionary heritage." What's more, phenomena as counterproductive to Darwinian fitness as homosexuality and altruism are increasingly being traced to some evolutionary advantage. It is as if to be taken seriously as a researcher, writer or thinker, one must pay homage to Darwin, no matter how tenuous the connection to the subject matter, or fatuous.

The charm of the tale comes not only in what it has to say about history, but in what it has to say about the future—the eternal struggle for survival will lead to change; change will lead to progress, and progress to perfection.

As the story gained currency, faith in a caring Superintendent began to be displaced by hope in an indifferent, impersonal mechanism of change—"Change we can believe in," change we must believe in, if we reject the antediluvian myth and its Author.

It is no wonder that few phrases in recent memory have provoked as much comment, criticism and derision as "intelligent design."

The Fear

Since its introduction into modern lexicons, intelligent design (ID) has been called everything from "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" to a "Trojan horse" to a "sham." And those are some of the kinder put-downs.

And ID opprobrium has not been restricted to the fever swamps of atheism. Educators, judges, politicians, scientists, journalists, and even Christians have logged withering comments about the science of design. But why the invectives over a non-sectarian enterprise that makes no claims about the identity of the Designer?Continue reading here.

Find this article at: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/rnicoll/11628070/

Friday, March 26, 2010

What'll It Be, George Clayton? A Further Look at Education Board's "Wild Card."


By Robert Wilonsky, Thursday, Mar. 25 2010 @ 1:02PM It took a while for Patrick "Buzz" Williams to get State Board of Education candidate George Clayton on the phone before the GOP primary earlier this month, but he finally did -- long enough to ask the North Dallas High School teacher, then considered a long shot to beat incumbent Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, what, exactly, he stood for. In short: No more teaching to the test, no more politics getting in the way of the kiddos' edumication -- oh, and "it's an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism." On March 2, Tincy was out, and Clayton was in -- since he faces no Democratic opposition in the general election.

Which is why today The Texas Tribune takes its own look at "The Wild Card" on the State Board of Education. Will he stand with those on the far right who fought to include creationism in the science curriculum and are leading the charge to rewrite history, or will he indeed bring a veteran educator's perspective to a laughingstock panel that resulted in this Stephen Colbert segment last week? For now, at least, he's backed off what he told Patrick and instead presents himself as The Voice of Reason:

Clayton has no patience for what he calls "all of the nonsense." He says he has no problem with the teaching of evolution in school, and that he would have pushed for the inclusion of Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall in the history curriculum. (Two board-appointed curriculum "expert reviewers," both Christian conservative evangelists, recommend cutting Chavez and Marshall; social conservatives have since assured they will include them.)

"I was taught evolution, and it didn't shake my faith in the Almighty whatsoever," he says. "Should creationism be taught as a counter to evolution? ... No, I don't think so. I think evolution is in the science book -- it should be taught as a science."

"If the members of the board are that politically inclined," Clayton says, "then they need to be in the Legislature, which is the proper forum for that."

Texas textbooks make right-wing bias standard


Sarah Townsend
Issue date: 3/26/10 Section: Opinion

You may have seen on the news that the state of Texas is proposing a change in social studies textbooks.

Lawmakers want the textbooks to be more politically correct, but Texas school board officials are more concerned with injecting their own Christian ideals. In a public school system, textbooks should be politically correct.

These new text books will reflect the views of Christian conservatives who are trying to impose their personal biases. Not only evolution in science books will be affected, but these people want to re-write history with a more conservative twist.

According to Don McLeroy, a Texas school board member who helps write the public school curriculum, liberals have filled textbooks with biases and Texas is simply evening the score.

"To me it is just providing accurate history, and my observation is the left doesn't even know they have biased it. They just think that is what it is," McLeroy said.

In an interview, he also implied that minority groups, blacks and women, gaining the right to vote happened because white men made it happen for them.

Basically, some Texan fundamentalist Christians are controlling what goes into textbooks throughout the country.

According to a "Nightline" piece about this, most textbook publishing companies make their products to suit their buyers, and because Texas is such a large state, it purchases more books than any other state. Whatever passes in Texas will be what public school children will be subjected to throughout America.

Things we know as scientific evidence will be pushed to the side, Creationism will be taught in school, and the acts of Joseph McCarthy will be justified in your future children's textbooks.

If you paid attention in history class (real history class where they teach what actually happened), you know he was the precious Republican senator from Wisconsin who accused more than 200 fellow politicians, actors and regular citizens of being communists.

Somehow, this is okay to the Texas Board of Education, and it should be written in textbooks as a reasonable act. In my opinion, justifying McCarthyism is as bad as justifying Communism.

And it only gets better from there. They also require that the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, be mentioned alongside Abraham Lincoln, the actual U.S. president at the time of the Civil War.

He says they're just trying to reflect what has actually happened in U.S. history. Because there are enough witnesses left from the '60s who accurately remember the events of that decade, they can't make anything up about the '60s until at least 2030. Oh wait. They tried removing Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court judge, and any mention of Ceaser Chavez, the famous labor organizer.

Milestones in American history would be discounted. And what is that they always say about history? If you don't learn about your history, it will repeat itself?

They did successfully remove the author of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?" because his name is Bill Martin Jr. which also happens to be the name of another author who wrote a book critical of capitalism. They got them confused apparently. Nice example of how intelligent these people are.

If you have a biblical world view, that's great. But I can have morals and teach my future children morals at home. I will probably take my kids to church when I have them in the distant future, but school and church should not be related. Not only is it wrong to create a bias, half of the things Texas Board members want to include are simply not true. Being exposed to religious teachings of any kind should be up to the parent, not the school board.

You can teach your kids whatever inaccurate garbage you want to in your own home. However, I'd like to know that when I have kids and send them to school in the distant future, they're learning true facts.

Elementary school should not be linked to Sunday school in America. Whatever happened to separation of church and state? Young minds are being molded by people who base their lives on making laws pass based on ignorance.

The whole issue should be embarrassing to conservatives. It makes them appear brainless as a whole, which occasionally isn't the case.

Thankfully McLeroy has been voted out of office. Unfortunately, he has his seat on the board for the rest of this year, and by the time he finally leaves office, the social studies rules will already be in place and will be here stay for the next ten years in every U.S. public school.

I encourage you to watch the "Nightline" special on this topic on YouTube.

Latest Prize Bolsters Templeton's Shift to Mainstream


Science 26 March 2010:
Vol. 327. no. 5973, p. 1565
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5973.1565

News of the Week
Science and Religion:
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

In 2005, molecular biologist Matthew Gibson wondered whether to accept a grant he had received from the John Templeton Foundation to study how the apparently random process of cell division leads to a predictable honeycombed pattern in the epithelium of many organisms. Gibson, then a postdoc at Harvard Medical School in Boston, knew that the foundation was interested in how order emerges from randomness, a pet theme for proponents of intelligent design (ID). If he took the grant, Gibson wondered, would he be playing into a religious agenda?

Gibson was not the only scientist to harbor such doubts about the foundation, which seeks to promote a dialogue between science and religion. In the past, Templeton has supported conferences and projects linked to the Discovery Institute, an ID think tank. But it subsequently disavowed support for the ID movement, allaying the fears of many critics. This week, the foundation took another step in that direction by awarding its annual $1.5 million Templeton Prize to Francisco Ayala, a priest-turned-biologist who for decades has campaigned against the teaching of creationism and ID in the science classroom.

The 76-year-old Ayala, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, has sought to foster mutual respect between science and religion through lectures and writings on topics such as morality. "If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters," says Ayala, a former president of AAAS (publisher of Science). He says the conflict has grown less intense since Templeton funds helped to launch a program in the mid-1990s called Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion at AAAS, which continues to be supported by the foundation. Some scientists objected at the time, he recalls. "They said, 'What business does science have talking to religion?' I don't think there are many thoughtful scientists who would make that point today."

However, some remain staunchly opposed to Templeton's mission. "They are using the prestige and authority of science to improve the prestige and credibility of theology," says Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. In his opinion, Templeton-funded discussions between scientists and religious figures do for religion what debates between ID proponents and evolutionary biologists would do for ID: "They create the perception that scientists and theologians are academic co-equals, which they are not."

One program that Dennett worried has a religious slant is the Science of Generosity initiative at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, begun last year with $5 million from the foundation. The program has awarded a handful of research grants, including $250,000 to study how empathy affects charitable donation and $400,000 to explore how generosity spreads through social networks. "What they are trying to do is to paint certain topics with a holy glow," says Dennett.

Not so, says the program's director, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. He says the initiative in no way presumes that generosity "is somehow God-given." The choice of the term "generosity," he explains, was to create an umbrella theme for different but related topics such as altruism and voluntary blood donation. "Most projects that we're going to fund will be about operations of the mind, social psychology, and related concepts," he says. Joseph Henrich, an anthropologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, does not see a religious taint. "There may be a little bit of marketing" in how the program has been framed, he says, "but it's perfectly legitimate."

Even those who are put off by Templeton's mission agree that the foundation does not attempt to influence the outcomes of the research and discussions it sponsors. "I am not enthusiastic about the message they seem to be selling to the public—that science and religion are not incompatible; I think there is real tension between the two," says Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize–winning physicist at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been an outspoken critic of religion. "But for an organization with a message, they are pretty good at not being intrusive in the activities they fund. I don't wish them well, but I don't think they are particularly insidious or dangerous."

The foundation has also recognized the pitfalls of associating with the ID community after being criticized by scientists for giving a grant in 1999 to ID proponent William Dembski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, and later to Guillermo Gonzales, an astronomer at Iowa State University who used the funds to research a book arguing in favor of ID. In a 2007 letter to the Los Angeles Times, Templeton's former vice president for communications explained that "[i]n the past, we have given grants to scientists who have gone on to identify themselves as members of the intelligent-design community. We understand that this could be misconstrued by some to suggest that we implicitly support the movement, but this was not our intention at the time, nor is it today."

Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, says that "Templeton realized that the relationship was a liability to their mission."

Gibson says he decided to accept the foundation's money "after poking around and finding nothing fishy." Now a researcher at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, Gibson admits that he may have been influenced by need. "At the time, I don't think anybody else would have funded what we were doing." But he's pleased with how things turned out, including a paper in Nature. "The fact that the [foundation] appreciated a philosophical element of the research—which I was neutral about—is fine with me," he says.

Science. ISSN 0036-8075 (print), 1095-9203 (online)

Evolution education update: March 26, 2010

A Templeton Prize for NCSE Supporter Francisco J. Ayala. Plus a new resource on NCSE's website provides information about polls and surveys relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy, while congratulations are in order for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).


NCSE congratulates Francisco J. Ayala on winning the Templeton Prize. The prize, worth about $1.5 million, is awarded annually by the John Templeton Foundation to "a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension." A March 25, 2010, press release from the Foundation highlighted Ayala's vigorous opposition to "the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two," saying, "Even as he has warned against religion's intrusion into science, Ayala, a former Dominican priest, also champions faith as a unique and important window to understanding matters of purpose, values and the meaning of life." Ayala told the Los Angeles Times (March 25, 2010) that he regarded the award as honoring his scientific work and its "very important consequence of making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular."

In his essay "Science and religion: Conflict or dialogue?" posted on the Washington Post's On Faith blog (March 25, 2010), Ayala sketched his views on science and religion, writing, "Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction, because science and religion concern different matters. ... The proper relationship between science and religion can be, for people of faith, mutually motivating and inspiring. ... As I see it, scientific knowledge is consistent with a religious belief in God. More so than the 'creationists[']' assertion that everything in the world has been precisely designed by the Creator. Because, then, how to account for human crimes and sins (including the Biblical Fall) and for all the catastrophes that pervade the natural world?" His Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press, 2009) presents his views in greater detail.

A Supporter of NCSE since its founding, Ayala is University Professor, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine; he received the National Medal for Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research, in 2002. Among his contributions to the defense of the integrity of science education was his testimony for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas and his coordination of support for evolution education at the National Academy of Sciences, including his lead authorship of the publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism (National Academies Press, 2008). NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "Ayala's contributions to NCSE and its goal of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools are comparable to his contributions to biology in general: immense."

For the Templeton Foundation's press release, visit:

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:

For Ayala's essay in the Washington Post's On Faith blog, visit:

For information about Darwin's Gift, visit:

For information about Science, Creationism, and Evolution, visit:


NCSE is pleased to announce a new section of its website that provides information on polls and surveys relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy. You've seen the alarming statistics:

* Evolution is accepted by 97% of scientists in the United States, but by only 61% of the public.
* Among thirty-two countries surveyed, the United States was next-to-last for its public acceptance of evolution.
* One out of eight high school biology teachers in the United States presents creationism as scientifically credible.

Now you can find it all in a single spot -- NCSE's coverage and links to external resources -- organized in the categories of general polls, international polls, polls on creationism, polls on evolution, polls on religion, and scientist, student, and teacher polls.

For the polls and surveys section of NCSE's website, visit:

For reports on the cited statistics, visit:


NCSE is happy to congratulate the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) on the renewal of its grant from the National Science Foundation. According to a March 2, 2010, press release, NESCent was awarded a five-year grant renewal in the amount of $25 million, to continue its core programs in evolution research, informatics, and education through 2014. NESCent plans to expand its most successful programs and add a number of new initiatives, including graduate fellowships, international research partnerships, and targeted calls for proposals on specific themes.

A collaborative effort of Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, NESCent seeks to facilitate broadly synthetic research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary biology. NESCent's Education and Outreach group communicates the results of evolutionary biology research to the general public and scientific community, provides outreach to groups who are underrepresented in evolutionary biology, and works to improve evolution education.

For the press release, visit:

For information about NESCent, visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

UC Irvine's Francisco Ayala wins Templeton Prize


The biologist and ordained priest espouses the idea that the theory of evolution is consistent with Christianity. The prize honors achievements in affirming spirituality.

By Mitchell Landsberg
March 26, 2010

As a young doctoral student in the 1960s, Francisco J. Ayala was surprised to learn that Darwin's theory of evolution appeared to be less widely accepted in the United States than in his native Spain, then a profoundly conservative and religious country.

Ayala brought a unique sensibility to the topic, because he had been ordained as a Catholic priest before undertaking graduate studies in evolution and genetics. What he believed then, and has spent his career espousing, is that evolution is consistent with the Christian faith.

On Thursday, Ayala, an acclaimed researcher at UC Irvine, won the 2010 Templeton Prize, awarded annually in recognition of achievements in affirming spirituality. The prize is worth $1.6 million, which Ayala said he would give to charity.

In announcing the award, Dr. John M. Templeton Jr., president of the John Templeton Foundation, praised Ayala's research, which has focused on evolutionary genetics, as well as his inquiries into fundamental questions of life.

"Ayala's clear voice in matters of science and faith echoes the foundation's belief that evolution of the mind and truly open-minded inquiry can lead to real spiritual progress in the world," Templeton said.

In a telephone interview from Washington, where he was accepting the award, Ayala said he believed he was receiving it for his scientific work and for the "very important consequence of making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular."

Ayala, 76, has been at the forefront of efforts to defend Darwin's theory from attacks by Christian fundamentalists, many of whom favor the notion of intelligent design, which is consistent with a literal reading of the biblical creation story and holds that the world is too complex to have evolved without oversight by a supreme being.

He was the primary author of "Science, Evolution and Creationism," a publication of the National Academy of Science that attempted to boil down the argument in favor of Darwin.

He also is the author of numerous other publications, including the book "Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion," which expands on his pro-evolution argument and attempts to knock down intelligent design, which he says is either "bad science or not science at all."

In the book, he says it "is possible to believe that God created the world while also accepting that the planets, mountains, plants and animals came about, after the initial creation, by natural processes."

Evolution "is consistent with a religious belief in God, whereas creationism and intelligent design are not." This, he said, is because intelligent design suggests that the deformities of the world are God's design, whereas science shows them to be "a consequence of the clumsy ways of the evolutionary process."

Ayala served as an expert witness in a landmark 1981 legal case that successfully challenged an Arkansas law requiring the "balanced" teaching of creationism alongside evolution in schools.

He also has called for greater understanding of religion by scientists.

Last fall, Ayala debated a prominent advocate for intelligent design, William Lane Craig, at Indiana University.

Various Internet accounts suggested that the evening was less than a triumph for Ayala. ("He got womped," wrote one Ayala sympathizer.) Ayala said he hadn't understood he would be debating and didn't believe a debate was the proper way to resolve the dispute anyway.

In the interview with The Times, Ayala said he was taught evolution in Catholic schools in Francisco Franco's Spain. Later, during study for the priesthood at a Dominican seminary, he learned Christian concepts dating to St. Augustine about interpreting the Bible metaphorically.

"The Bible is a book about religious truths; it is not how the Earth was made," he said. He added that he rejects the idea that one can read the Bible "as if it were an elementary textbook of biology or physics."

Ayala was ordained a priest in 1960 but chose to leave the priesthood to study genetics.

He has spent most of his scientific career at the University of California, first at Davis and since 1989 at Irvine, where he is a professor of both biology and philosophy. His research in recent years has focused on reconstructing the evolution of the parasitic protozoa responsible for malaria, with the hope of eventually laying the groundwork for a cure.

"He's a major figure in the field," said UC Irvine colleague John Avise, who was Ayala's student during his own doctoral studies in the 1970s. "He was one of the early pioneers of molecular methods in population biology, so he got in sort of on the ground floor of the molecular revolution that took place back in the 1960s and early 1970s."

Colleagues invariably describe Ayala as a Renaissance man, who not only excels at biology and theology but is also an avid opera lover and the owner of a large vineyard in Northern California, a remnant from his days at UC Davis. He continues to grow grapes for numerous wineries, as well as for his own small private label.

Whenever wine is served at a biology department function, said colleague Brandon Gaut, "his expertise comes into play."

The Templeton Prize was founded by John Templeton Jr.'s father, John Templeton, a pioneer of the mutual fund industry who died in July 2008. The first prize was awarded to Mother Teresa in 1973, and later recipients have included the Rev. Billy Graham, Soviet dissident and writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and a number of prominent scientists.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Health Reform Law Provides Acupuncture


The terms acupuncture and acupuncturist do not directly appear in The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was signed into law by President Obama. However, the health reform law cites three indirect instances inclusive of acupuncturist services. The term 'licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners' appears in the law and pertains to licensed acupuncturists.

The first mention is in section 3502 of the 2,393 page healthcare law. Section 3502 charges the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the responsibility of establishing "a program to provide grants to or enter into contracts with eligible entities to establish community-based interdisciplinary, interprofessional teams (referred to in this section as 'health teams') to support primary care practices." Acupuncturists are "eligible entities" as "licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners" meaning that they may receive funds from the government in the form of a grant or contract to meet healthcare needs of communities and individuals. These grants and contracts "establish health teams to provide support services to primary care providers" and "provide capitated payments to primary care providers." As written in the new health reform law, this provision provides support for local primary care providers to "provide coordination of the appropriate use of complementary and alternative (CAM) services to those who request such services." Overall, the thrust of this section is to promote integrated healthcare provisions across multiple medical disciplines in order to improve patient outcomes.

Section 5101 is entitled the National Health Care Workforce Commission. The Workforce Commission is charged with the responsibility of serving as "a national resource for Congress, the President, State, and localities" on the subject of healthcare. The commission is composed of 15 members appointed by the Comptroller General. Members are chosen on the basis of their expertise in healthcare. "Licensed complementary and alternative medicine providers" are defined as both health professionals and separately as members of the healthcare workforce in this section. Therefore, the responsibility of government recommendations regarding acupuncturist services are under the purview of this commission.

The Workforce Commission must coordinate with the "Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and Education." A major goal of the commission is to determine whether or not the needs of healthcare workers are met. The commission must also recommend ways to remove barriers to Federal, State, and local cooperation regarding healthcare. Finally, the commission is charged with providing "innovations to address population needs, constant changes in technology, and other environmental factors."

The language is broad regarding the relationship between government programs and acupuncturists. As programs are enacted, expect to see integrated medical models emerge that include the services of acupuncturists. Perhaps this new federal mandate to include "complementary and alternative (CAM) services to those who request such services" by "licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners" will result in the inclusion of acupuncturists in the Medicare system or other government sponsored programs.

Dispatch: Dr. Henry Miller on Alternative Medicine


March 25, 2010
By Curtis Porter

ACSH Trustee and Hoover Institution Fellow Dr. Henry Miller, a former FDA official, argues on Forbes.com that many dietary supplements are "complex, highly variable, and impure," and that they should be more closely scrutinized."

"Most people are simply unaware that supplements have their own law guaranteeing that they do not need to be tested for safety and efficacy," says Dr. Whelan. "Supplement manufacturers are allowed to make unrealistic claims, and their products can cause harm by interacting with real drugs. Dr. Miller makes the point that it's time for this special treatment to end."

Stier explains, "When a pharmaceutical company makes a new drug, they have the burden of proof to show that it is safe and effective. With these supplements, the government has burden of proof to show that they are dangerous before they can be pulled from the shelves."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hostility towards a scientific consensus: A sign of a crank


Category: Antivaccination lunacy • Autism • Evolution • Medicine • Physics • Science • Skepticism/critical thinking
Posted on: March 24, 2010 8:00 AM, by Orac

It has often been written on this blog and elsewhere that the mark of a true crank is hatred of the scientific consensus, be it consensus regarding the theory of evolution, the science that says homeopathy is impossible, anthropogenic global warming; various areas of science-based medicine; or the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Perhaps the most famous expression of distrust of a scientific consensus is the famous speech by Michael Crichton, in which he famously said:

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

To which I (and many others) responded, "Bullshit! Period."

In fact science is all about coming to a consensus, but it's about coming to a consensus based on data, experimentation, and evidence, a consensus that has reproducible results that are, as Crichton put it, verifiable by reference to the real world. After all, what is a scientific theory like the theory of evolution or Einstein's theory of relativity but a statement of the current scientific consensus regarding a major scientific topic? What is peer review but quality control (making sure the scientific methodology is sound) coupled with testing new science against the current consensus to see where it fits in or where it exposes weaknesses? What is science but attempting to forge a consensus regarding theories and statements that most accurately describe the universe in a useful and predictable way?

Of course, questioning the consensus is often necessary in science. Indeed, it is critical to scientific advancement. However, there is a huge difference between questioning a current consensus and producing the data and experimental evidence to show that there is a real scientific question and JAQing off about science. The latter, raising spurious or already answered questions about a scientific finding or theory one doesn't like, belongs to the province of cranks and denialists, and it is what they are very good at. The problem is that they aren't very good at realizing why their questions are not worthy of the attention that they think they are. A lovely example of this showed up on the Discovery Institute's propaganda arm, its version of Age of Autism, so to speak, namely Evolution News and Views. In it, the Kent Heckenlively of the creationist set, the ever excitable Casey Luskin, penned a typical bit of silliness in which he asks the question, When Is it Appropriate to Challenge the "Consensus"?

If Casey had two neurons to rub together, he could answer the question in two sentences and echo how scientists would answer the question: When you have an actual scientifically valid reason, based on science, evidence, experimentation, and observational evidence, to think that the current scientific consensus about something is in error, then it is appropriate to challenge the scientific consensus. When you don't, then it isn't. Unfortunately, Casey doesn't; so he can't. Instead, we're treated to a potpourri of pseudoscientific and denialist claptrap that was apparently based on an article in The American by Jay Richards entitled When to Doubt a Scientific 'Consensus'. In the article, Richards postulates twelve "signs" that should lead one to doubt a scientific consensus, any scientific consensus (although he seems most concerned with anthropogenic global warming in this particular article, while Luskin is, of course, concerned mostly with "intelligent design" creationism versus the hated (by Luskin) "Darwinism." There's just one problem. Not a single one of these "signs" has anything to do with a scientific argument. Richards starts out with a reasonable enough introduction:

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd. Many false ideas enjoyed consensus opinion at one time. Indeed, the "power of the paradigm" often shapes the thinking of scientists so strongly that they become unable to accurately summarize, let alone evaluate, radical alternatives. Question the paradigm, and some respond with dogmatic fanaticism.

We shouldn't, of course, forget the other side of the coin. There are always cranks and conspiracy theorists. No matter how well founded a scientific consensus, there's someone somewhere--easily accessible online--that thinks it's all hokum. Sometimes these folks turn out to be right. But often, they're just cranks whose counsel is best disregarded.

So what's a non-scientist citizen, without the time to study the scientific details, to do? How is the ordinary citizen to distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, "between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? Conversely, how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?" Are we obligated to trust whatever we're told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, maintains, and communicates the ostensible consensus. I don't know of any exhaustive list of signs of suspicion, but, using climate change as a test study, I propose this checklist as a rough-and-ready list of signs for when to consider doubting a scientific "consensus," whatever the subject. One of these signs may be enough to give pause. If they start to pile up, then it's wise to be suspicious.

So far, there isn't much here to disagree with. Scientists are human beings; scientific fads come and go. Some scientific consensuses ultimately turn out to be wrong. Virtually all of them undergo significant revisions as new evidence comes in. Moreover, not all consensuses are created equal. Depending upon the field, the strength of any one scientific consensus can vary quite markedly compared to others, depending upon the science, the topic within that science, or even the subtopic within the topic. For example, the scientific consensus supporting the theory of evolution, particularly common descent, is exceedingly strong. Based on multiple lines of converging evidence from many different disciplines, evolution one of the strongest of all scientific consensuses. Similarly, the consensus that natural selection is one major driving force behind much of evolution is nearly as strong. However, as the discussion devolves into more detailed areas, inevitably the consensus weakens. Eventually, subsidiary areas of a discipline are reached where the consensus is weak or where there is no consensus. Often these questions are at the frontiers of the science and, because there is not yet a consensus, the most heavily researched and hotly contested areas of the science. Denialists often attack science at the very edges of a field as a proxy for attacking the much more strongly supported core theory. Creationists like Casey Luskin are actually notorious for this, jumping on new findings about, for example, "junk DNA," whether it has a function, whether it is subject to natural selection, and, if so, how much, as a bit of logical prestidigitation to hide the fact that the core theory of evolution is supported by mountains of evidence and not in doubt by scientists.

It is also true that peer pressure and groupthink can make persuading scientists that a particular scientific consensus is in error can be a disturbingly slow and messy process at times. However, in the end eventually science does win out. One example (summarized very well by Kimball Atwood IV, MD) is the discovery that most duodenal ulcers are actually caused by a bacterium, H. pylori. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren first reported a curious finding of what they described as "unidentified curved bacilli on gastric epithelium in active chronic gastritis" (not ulcer) in two letters to The Lancet, published on June 4, 1983. They reported that it wasn't seen using traditional staining methods and suggested that they might be associated with gastritis. By 1992, multiple studies had been published establishing the causative role of H. pylori in peptic ulcer disease, and medical practice rapidly changed. That's less than ten years, which, given how long it takes to organize and carry out clinical trials, is amazingly fast. Yet somehow a favorite denialist myth is that "dogmatic," "close-minded" scientists refused to accept Marshall and Warren's findings. It's an example of a scientific consensus that deserved to be questioned, was questioned in the right way, and was overthrown.

In other words, it was nothing like Richard's twelve "signs":

  1. When different claims get bundled together.
  2. When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate.
  3. When scientists are pressured to toe the party line.
  4. When publishing and peer review in the discipline is cliquish.
  5. When dissenting opinions are excluded from the relevant peer-reviewed literature not because of weak evidence or bad arguments but as part of a strategy to marginalize dissent.
  6. When the actual peer-reviewed literature is misrepresented.
  7. When consensus is declared hurriedly or before it even exists.
  8. When the subject matter seems, by its nature, to resist consensus.
  9. When "scientists say" or "science says" is a common locution.
  10. When it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies.
  11. When the "consensus" is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with uncritical and partisan zeal, and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as objectively as possible.
  12. When we keep being told that there's a scientific consensus.

Oddly enough, most, if not all, of these warning signs apply to denialists and cranks. Richards appears to be engaging in a massive case of projection. I'm not going to examine each of the twelve "signs" in detail (that will be left as an exercise for the interested reader), but I will examine a few of the most egregious "signs." For example, when it comes to ad hominem attacks, Richards writes:

Personal attacks are common in any dispute simply because we're human. It's easier to insult than to the follow the thread of an argument. And just because someone makes an ad hominem argument, it doesn't mean that their conclusion is wrong. But when the personal attacks are the first out of the gate, and when they seem to be growing in intensity and frequency, don your skeptic's cap and look more closely at the evidence.

Crank movements, of course, excel at the ad hominem attack. Creationists like Casey Luskin, for instance, spit the term "Darwinist" at evolutionary biologists and frequently try to link evolution (and thus its defenders) Nazi-ism and the Holocaust, eugenics, social Darwinism, and all manner of evils. Above all, evolutionists must be atheists, which to many creationists is the worst thing a person can be, given the vehemence of the invective.

Speaking of invective, one crank in particular, J.B. Handley has made a special study of seeing just how nasty his attacks can be. Generation Rescue and its propaganda arm Age of Autism specialize in "venomous invective," particularly against Paul Offit and anyone else who opposes its anti-vaccine agenda. After all, this is the same man who launched personal attacks on Steve Novella that can only be viewed as more than venomous. This is the same man whose misogynistic attacks on Amy Wallace, a journalist who wrote an excellent article on the anti-vaccine movement, made him infamous throughout the science-based blogosphere. This the same man whose blog posted a Photoshopped picture of Steve Novella, Amy Wallace, Paul Offit, and Trine Tsouderos sitting around the table for a Thanksgiving feast, the main course of which was a baby.

If we look at the "case study" used by Richards, AGW denialists also excel at the same tactics, painting scientists as hopelessly politically motivated, corrupt, and lying. They hack e-mails looking for dirt and try to embarrass scientists by posting them. They attack Al Gore, as the most famous advocate of political action to mitigate the effects of AGW as fat, stupid, and corrupt. The list goes on.

By Richards' criteria, the vaccine, evolution and AGW denialists send up huge red flags, as a major compoenent of their message consists of ad hominem attacks on scientists. As for "misrepresenting the actual peer-reviewed scientific literature," what is The Discovery Institute, Age of Autism, NaturalNews.com, and every other denialist website or blog but veritable fonts of misrepresenting scientific literature? Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that I'm not applying a bit of the ol' not-so-Respectful Insolence to some bit of nonsense or other about a scientific study laid down by the anti-vaccine movement or some quack or other. Back in the day, I used to do the same thing more often with creationist misrepresentations of science, but for whatever reason I don't do that as much anymore. Perhaps I should.

It's also hard not to note a distinct feeling of repetition in Richards' list. For example "When 'scientists say' or 'science says' is a common locution" and "When we keep being told that there's a scientific consensus" are more or less the same thing. Perhaps the silliest part of this whine is this:

A scientific consensus should be based on scientific evidence. But a consensus is not itself the evidence. And with really well-established scientific theories, you never hear about consensus. No one talks about the consensus that the planets orbit the sun, that the hydrogen molecule is lighter than the oxygen molecule, that salt is sodium chloride, that light travels about 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum, that bacteria sometimes cause illness, or that blood carries oxygen to our organs. The very fact that we hear so much about a consensus on catastrophic, human-induced climate change is perhaps enough by itself to justify suspicion.

Now there's some flaming stupid strong enough to increase the planet's temperature by at least 1° C, if not more.

Richards apparently doeesn't know the difference between scientific theory and scientific fact. That salt is sodium chloride is a fact. That light travels 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum is a measurement and a fact. That blood carries oxygen to our organs is a fact. Of course, no one argues about them; they are well-settled facts, not theories. They are trivially obvious. Arguing about them would be as trivial as arguing about what I had for breakfast this morning or whether the above paragraph by Richards represents the essence of scientific ignorance. A theory is a higher level construct supported by facts, experimentation, and evidence.

Casey Luskin's and Jay Richard's tag-team of flaming stupid demonstrate a profound ignorance of science--even an anti-scientific bent. They don't like science because it either doesn't support their political beliefs (Jay Richards and AGW) or their religious beliefs (Casey Luskin and evolution). Sure, scientists can at times be as petty as any human being. They are as prone to groupthink and ideology as any group of people can be. But the wonderful thing about being a scientist is that science is a process. Although it is an activity of people it does not depend on any group of people. Eventually, even when scientists go down wrong alleys or succumb to fads, science wins out. It is self-correcting. The process may not be as fast as we like. It may not be as linear as we like. In fact, sometimes it's damned messy and frustrating. However, it is the best process we have for finding out how our universe works.

Oh, and for building a consensus about how the universe works. It's perfectly acceptable to challenge such a consensus, but if you don't have the goods in the form of evidence, experimentation, and data to show that the consensus is in serious error, there is no reason for scientists to take your challenge seriously.

ADDENDUM: Joshua Rosenau has an excellent takedown of this combined idiocy as well. Key passage:

But moving past those trivialities, Casey and Jay's underlying point is catastrophically wrong. As John Ziman points out in Reliable Knowledge: "the goal of science is a consensus of rational opinion over the widest possible field" (emphasis original). The beauty of science is precisely that it is rooted in our shared reality, and as such it is subject to the formation of consensus on which new work can build.

Yep, that's about right. I'll ask again: What is a scientific theory but a scientific consensus about how one aspect of how the world works?

Creationism lessons in Kamloops school prompts complaint


By Janet Steffenhagen 23 Mar 2010

A Kamloops atheist group has filed a complaint with the B.C. Education Ministry regarding the teaching of creationism in science class, says a story in Kamloops This Week.

The Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought says creationism is equivalent to science fiction and should not be taught in schools that receive public funding. It asked the ministry to intervene.

"There's no way they should be teaching basically science fiction in science class, " director Bill Ligertwood is quoted as saying. "As far as we're concerned, it's no different than teaching the Easter Bunny is true in a science class.

"They can teach all the religion they want to teach, and that's what they'll do because it's a Christian school, but it shouldn't be in science class. It's not science.

"This is an institution that is receiving public money and it's teaching children lies."

A ministry spokesman told the newspaper that independent schools have a right to teach any course, as long as students meet provincial learning requirements.

Senate healthcare bill may influence alternative therapies


March 23, 8:34 PM

It's anyone's guess as to how the Federal Healthcare Reform Bill, signed in to legislation by President Obama today, will affect medical care in this country. After months of wrangling, the Senate version, originally passed on Christmas Eve of 2008 and narrowly making it through the House of Representatives within the last week, has been a hot button issue since the Senate's passage, and likely to continue into the future.

Proponents of the Bill exclaim that it will reduce insurance costs, increase access to care and reduce the federal deficit. Opponents challenge these claims citing that the numbers used by the CBO to score the Bill were double counted and will, in effect, raise the costs of insurance premiums/federal deficit, decrease the payments to medical caregivers and likely create a shortage of medical caregivers willing to put up with the whole thing.

One thing for certain is that none of its ramifications are for certain.

A recent Rasmussen Poll states that 54% of Americans are opposed to the Health Care Reform, now law. One such critic, a local massage therapist, Jane (she declined to use her real name), is questioning whether all of wrangling is going to be worth it. Jane, who worked in the insurance industry for 15 years prior to becoming a massage therapist, knows firsthand how changes in the insurance industry have a ripple effect.

"Just because there are going to be more people on the insurance companies' books, doesn't mean that the costs are going to come down in premiums. There will be costs associated with adding these people on, servicing the accounts and trying to collect on payments of premiums from people who either don't want to pay, or can't pay. We would all like to pretend that this will bring in more money (to the insurance companies) and drive down costs, but in reality, judging from what I've seen in insurance, the only people likely to see a decrease in revenue are the doctors", says Jane. She adds, "I take insurance claims (no-fault & WC) as a massage therapist and I'm not certain how to predict my future income. As it is now, I am only paid a set amount, determined by the insurance companies, for the work that I do, no matter how much I bill them, or how much time I spend on the client. I either have to try to collect any additional from my client, or forget about it. If they reduce the payouts even more, I may not have a choice to forget about it, I will be forced to collect from the clients. "

Other therapists are not so sure that there will be any changes to their businesses directly related to the Health Reform Law. One therapist cites changing seasons and discretionary spending as large contributors to fluctuations in her client bookings. "I don't deal with insurance, so I'm not thinking this will necessarily affect me", she states.

On the flipside, if there are long lines in the waiting rooms of primary care doctors and specialists, the general public might be more willing to seek out what is traditionally considered "alternative medicine" as a more viable option to managing medical issues. Massage therapy, particularly medical massage, may be a beneficiary to this shift.

Children with cancer often use alternative medicine


Amy Norton, Reuters
Published: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Many children undergoing treatment for cancer use herbal remedies, vitamins or other types of alternative therapies, a new research review suggests.

The review, of 28 studies involving 3,500 children, found that anywhere from 6 percent to 91 percent of study participants used some form of alternative or complementary medicine at some point during their cancer treatment. In half of the studies, the rate ranged between 20 percent and 60 percent.

It is not clear from the studies whether some children were receiving alternative therapies instead of a particular standard cancer treatment, or whether they were only being used in addition to conventional medicine, according to lead researcher Dr. Felicity Bishop, of the University of Southampton School of Medicine in the UK.

What the studies do indicate, she told Reuters Health by email, is that "a substantial proportion of pediatric cancer patients use complementary and alternative medicine at some point in their treatment."

The bottom line for parents, according to Bishop, is that they should discuss any use of such therapies with their child's doctor.

She and her colleagues report their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

The public often perceives alternative therapies as "natural" and safe. But while some approaches are unlikely to cause harm -- like relaxation therapies to reduce stress -- other alternative treatments may present a risk to cancer patients. Research has found, for example, that high-dose vitamin C, St. John's wort and green tea compounds may interact with certain cancer drugs and lessen their effectiveness.

And few alternative therapies promoted for cancer patients have been subject to rigorous clinical trials to test their effectiveness.

Some recent studies have had promising results; for example, a clinical trial last year found that the herb milk thistle may help limit liver inflammation as a side effect of chemotherapy in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Another found that adding flaxseed to the diets of men scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer seemed to slow the cancer's growth in some patients.

However, researchers caution that these are the first well-controlled clinical trials to evaluate those therapies, and more studies are needed before recommendations can be made.

In their review, Bishop and her colleagues found that herbal remedies were the most commonly reported alternative therapies, though use varied widely across the studies -- with anywhere from 2 percent to 48 percent of children using herbs.

Between 3 percent and 47 percent of children used special diets or other nutritional therapies, while 3 percent to 30 percent used prayer or other forms of "faith-healing." Other forms of alternative therapy included high-dose vitamins, mind-body therapies like meditation and relaxation techniques, and homeopathy.

In studies that asked parents why they had turned to alternative therapies, the most common reasons were "to cure or help fight the child's cancer," to help ease symptoms and to counter the side effects of conventional cancer treatment.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, patients considering alternative therapy should speak with their doctors first to make sure it fits safely into their overall care. Doctors or staff at a patient's cancer center may also be able to recommend an alternative-medicine practitioner. Some cancer centers now offer alternative- and complementary-medicine programs that can be integrated into standard care.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will Tomorrow's Academic Freedom Story in The New York Times Accurately Reflect Discovery's Science Education Policy on Teaching Evolution?


UPDATE: A sentence in the original post has been corrected to read: I stopped her right there and explained that we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design — as is so often misreported — but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it.

http://www.academicfreedompetition.com Tomorrow The New York Times will publish an article about academic freedom bills being considered in a few states. We've obviously had some involvement: in 2008 we created the Academic Freedom Petition, which has sample language that legislators could adapt for use in their own states. That led to a very good piece of legislation, the Louisiana Science Education Act, that was finally signed into law last year.

Months ago NYT reporter Leslie Kaufman interviewed CSC associate director John West about academic freedom bills, our views on science education policy, and whether or not we were turning our focus to the global warming issue. As usual, West explained our longstanding science education policy position, which is: "As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community." Bills that don't follow this approach are not ones we're likely to support. When they do, we're glad to lend our seal of approval, for what it's worth.

I greatly appreciate that Leslie had the integrity to call us today and verify the quote she wanted to use from West and to make sure it still reflected our general position. I spoke with her briefly and she told me she also planned to describe Discovery Institute as leading the movement to get intelligent design taught in science classes. I stopped her right there and explained that we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design — as is so often misreported — but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it. She said that was too long to fit in her story (in the New York Times, remember, where they promise to report "All the News That's Fit to Print"; maybe letting people speak for themselves isn't fit to print, we shall see). So I was encouraged when she read back to me a sentence that describes the Institute as endorsing the teaching of critiques of modern evolution. I agreed to that. Upon reflection I probably should have insisted on finding out how she plans to define both "critiques" and "evolution." Again, we shall see what sort of meanings are implied and what perceptions readers are likely to take away from the story. I hope her context is as accurate as the sentence she read back.

She might just as well call it what it is, the teach the controversy approach. As I've explained it previously:

One of the reasons CSC has advocated for the teach the controversy approach is because it is a good way to teach critical thinking to students who all too often are not learning to analyze things and think critically about the arguments for and against.

Darwinian evolution is mostly taught as if it were a done deal, as if there were no unsolved problems, as if the theory had been proven. Such is not the case. Telling students about the debate amongst scientists over certain evidences for Darwin's theory is not only necessary for good science, it is a pedagogically sound way of teaching a controversial subject.

See here for some other good reasons this is a good approach.

The important point of cou[r]se is exactly what West told her, and what I reiterated: that our main focus is making sure that when Darwinian evolution comes up, teachers have the academic freedom to present both the evidence that supports it, as well as the evidence (right out of the mainstream scientific literature) that challenges it. It will be interesting to see if the NYT editors let Leslie leave in her story these key distinctions, or whether readers will walk away from the story believing — as Leslie apparently did at first — that Discovery is leading the charge to get intelligent design taugh in science classes. We're not. I've seen NYT, AP and other major media editors change reporters' descriptions of things to the news they want to fit their print.

As for Academic Freedom Acts, they're coming in somewhere new every year. This year there are apparently a few, and the only serious one that I've perused is in Kentucky. I'm no attorney so I'll leave serious analysis to legal eagles (hint, hint Casey Luskin and David DeWolf), but it seems to me they've followed Louisiana's lead and crafted legislation in the academic freedom spirit which we've always intended.

We have a small staff and few resources, so we usually find out about these various state-based bills the same way everyone else does, through Google News. It is rare that we are asked to advise on such pieces of legislation. But when we do, and when they take our recommendations, the end result is good legislation like the Louisiana Science Education Act that was passed and signed into law last year. or the stronger Texas science standards adopted in that state last year. Again, we have a perfectly good model piece of legislation that people can review and use if they so desire on the Academic Freedom Petition page. And while you're there, considering joining the more than 40,000 people who have signed the petition and show your support for academic freedom on evolution.

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 3, 2010 4:01 PM | Permalink

New York Times Front Page Highlights Movement for Academic Freedom on Evolution, Global Warming and Other Science Issues


The nationwide effort to protect the freedom of teachers to hold balanced classroom discussions of evolution, global warming, and other scientific issues is highlighted on the front page of today's New York Times. The article, "Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets," contains the usual errors and mischaracterizations one expects from the establishment media. But mischaracterizations or not, the article gets one thing right: It reveals how both the public and policymakers are increasingly dissatisfied with the scientific establishment's attempt to misuse science to support various ideological agendas, whether it be Richard Dawkins' scientific atheism or some global warming alarmists' efforts to push us back to the Stone Age. People want genuine education about scientific topics, and that includes being able to study all of the evidence, not just a few data points cherry-picked for their propaganda value.

Of course, the Times' article parrots the standard refrain that there are no legitimate scientific criticisms of things like Darwinian evolution or man-made global warming. Tell that to the more than 800 doctoral scientists who have signed the Dissent from Darwin statement, or to anyone who has read the "Climate Gate" emails. It's a measure of the obtuseness of the Times that an article that discusses concerns about one-sided teaching on global warming doesn't even deign to mention the cascading avalanche of revelations of misconduct by scientists among global warming alarmists. The Times' motto, "All the news that's fit to print," has taken on a new meaning: Hide from the public any "inconvenient truths" that may upset the establishment's ideological apple cart. Fortunately, the Times and the rest of the establishment media are no longer the gatekeepers for what most people learn about the world.

If you'd like support the right of teachers to present all of the scientific evidence, consider signing the Academic Freedom Petition or learning about our model academic freedom legislation.

Posted by John West on March 4, 2010 11:33 AM | Permalink

Connect the Dots Between Scientism and Government Spending: Add up the Human and Financial Costs


Slowly, if in strange fashion, the truth about the fallacies of scientism are being made manifest. You fall for scientism and soon you get censorship, and then you get a halt--of all things--to scientific progress.

Unintentional assistance comes our way today from The New York Times.

On its front page the Times reports that Darwin skeptics have decided on a new strategy--linking doubts about Darwinian evolution to doubts about man-caused global warming. The article by Leslie Kaufman makes the ludicrous assertion that this is some sort of plot hatched by conservative Protestants.

Of course, this is a hoary old Times trope. In the real world, plenty of Catholics, Jews and other people, regardless of religion, question the alarmist view that human beings are largely responsible for global warming (to the extent there is global warming). The same goes for the responsible scientists of various faith backgrounds, and none, who contend that Darwinian science is collapsing in the face of evidence. And even a larger, more diverse crowd worries about the implications of Darwinism for our culture.

But the Times story does at least correctly and helpfully quote John West of Discovery Institute on a way global warming and Darwinism are connected. "'There is a lot of similar dogmatism on this issue,' he said, 'with scientists being persecuted for findings that are not in keeping with the orthodoxy. We think analyzing and evaluating scientific evidence is a good thing, whether that is about global warming or evolution.'"

Right, and you can add to these two issues some other controversies in science, where a left wing elite, using the enormous financial resources and regulatory power of government, such as the EPA, the NIH and the National Science Foundations, seeks to suppress dissent from the reigning ideology. In some states, such as California, even state money is involved.

A leading example is embryonic stem cell research, where billions of dollars are committed to an approach that keeps failing, while other stem cell research is treated like a second class option, even though it shows promising medical test results. Yet opponents of embryonic stem cell research, as our Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith has written, often are either ignored or denigrated in academia and government.

Another Smith topic also applies to a common theme: the supposed scientific case for the philosophic idea that animals have "rights", sometimes rights superior to those of certain human beings (e.g., elderly people in comas, unborn children). If you think that is bizarre, you should read A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy, Smith's book just published by Encounter Books. The implications for medical research, not to mention the food supply, are enormous.

Among other things you'll see the same kind of people--indeed many of the very same people, such as Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins--are prominent in promoting all of these issues. They wield the myth of "settled science" as a club to intimidate critics and to gain economic leverage in the promotion of a left wing ideology that promotes government power, nanny state moralism and, most of all, materialism. Politically, they align with those campaigning for a government takeover of health care.

The problem, therefore, is not (as the Times imagines) that some conservatives have noted such linkages, but that so many other conservatives, neo-conservatives and moderates are unable to connect the dots. Or are afraid to. At a minimum they should be able to defend academic freedom, an issue so vital in the sciences that it almost eclipses all others.

Furthermore, Americans of all philosophical leanings should recognize that the suppression of scientific dissent on what seem like side-issues can turn out to be very costly to the economy and one's own wallet. Mainstream science was supportive, for example, of Paul Ehrlich's claims in The Population Bomb in the 60's and 70's--predicting imminent global famine and economic collapse unless coercive fertility control (forced contraception, abortion) was funded. Critics were treated as heretics. Now we know that Erhlich and company were wrong, but at what human and financial costs meanwhile?

Conservatives and decent liberals had better wise up and realize that a society that stifles debate--especially using the power of the state in universities, museums and laboratories, and state supported media--is a society slowing progress and raising costs to its citizens.

Thanks only to persecuted climate change deniers, huge lacuna in the "official" data have been found and call into question the immensely expensive reordering of the world's economy that the Al Gores want. On social issues, the human costs easily equal the financial ones.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on March 4, 2010 1:01 PM | Permalink

Creationism ban a test of faith for religious schools


Last updated: March 24, 2010
Lauren Zwaans From: The Advertiser March 15, 2010 12:01PM

State association executive director Gary Le Duff said the ban, imposed late last year by the Non-Government Schools Registration Board's guidelines, had been met with disapproval among faith-based schools.

"There was very strong support for concerns about the excessive intrusion of government regulatory bodies into matters relating to the underpinning faith or educational philosophy of schools," he said.

Mr Le Duff said an incident where a poster on creationism had been removed at an SA school had "galvanised schools across the spectrum because it was seen as intrusive".

He said he was seeking legal advice about the board's power to restrict schools.

"I don't think this has been handled very well. Our major issue is now about government regulatory intrusion. We saw the actions around the poster as being excessive, we now question the authority of the registration board to prevent schools from incorporating particular aspects of their faith or educational belief."

Australian Christian Lobby SA/Victorian director Rob Ward said the banning of creationism or intelligent design was turning faith-based schools into "government schools with RE classes". "It's really overriding the wishes of parents," he said. "I've spoken to a few and they're furious."

He said the board had turned into "big brother gone mad" on its level of interference in programming.

Decoding an Ancient Therapy


High-Tech Tools Show How Acupuncture Works in Treating Arthritis, Back Pain, Other Ills


Acupuncture has long baffled medical experts and no wonder: It holds that an invisible life force called qi (pronounced chee) travels up and down the body in 14 meridians. Illness and pain are due to blockages and imbalances in qi. Inserting thin needles into the body at precise points can unblock the meridians, practitioners believe, and treat everything from arthritis and asthma to anxiety, acne and infertility.

As fanciful as that seems, acupuncture does have real effects on the human body, which scientists are documenting using high-tech tools. Neuroimaging studies show that it seems to calm areas of the brain that register pain and activate those involved in rest and recuperation. Doppler ultrasound shows that acupuncture increases blood flow in treated areas. Thermal imaging shows that it can make inflammation subside.

Scientists are also finding parallels between the ancient concepts and modern anatomy. Many of the 365 acupuncture points correspond to nerve bundles or muscle trigger points. Several meridians track major arteries and nerves. "If people have a heart attack, the pain will radiate up across the chest and down the left arm. That's where the heart meridian goes," says Peter Dorsher, a specialist in pain management and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. "Gallbladder pain will radiate to the right upper shoulder, just where the gallbladder meridian goes."

Many medical experts remain deeply skeptical about acupuncture, of course, and studies of its effectiveness have been mixed. "Something measurable is happening when you stick a needle into a patient—that doesn't impress me at all," says Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter in England and co-author of the book, "Trick or Treatment." Acupuncture "clearly has a very strong placebo effect. Whether it does anything else, the jury is still out."

Even so, the use of acupuncture continues to spread—often alongside conventional medicine. U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army doctors are using acupuncture to treat musculoskeletal problems, pain and stress in stateside hospitals and combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Delegations from Acupuncturists Without Borders are holding communal ear-needling sessions to reduce stress among earthquake victims in Haiti. Major medical centers—from M.D. Anderson in Houston to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York—use acupuncture to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy.

In a 2007 survey, 3.2 million Americans had undergone acupuncture in the past year—up from 2.1 million in 2001, according to the government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The most common uses are for chronic pain conditions like arthritis, lower back pain and headaches, as well as fatigue, anxiety and digestive problems, often when conventional medicine fails. At about $50 per session, it's relatively inexpensive and covered by some insurers.

It's also generally safe. About 10% of patients experience some bleeding at the needle sites, although in very rare cases, fatalities have occurred due to infections or injury to vital organs, mostly due to inexperienced practitioners.

Most states require that acupuncturists be licensed, and the Food and Drug Administration requires that needles be new and sterile.

Diagnoses are complicated. An acupuncturist will examine a patient's tongue and take three different pulses on each wrist, as well as asking questions about digestion, sleep and other habits, before determining which meridians may be blocked and where to place the needles. The 14 meridians are thought to be based on the rivers of China, and the 365 points may represent the days of the year. "Invaders" such as wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness factor into illness, so can five phases known as fire, earth, metal, water and wood.

"It's not like there's a Merck Manual for acupuncture," says Joseph M. Helms, who has trained some 4,000 physicians in acupuncture at his institute in Berkeley, Calif. "Every case is evaluated on an individual basis, based on the presentation of the patient and the knowledge of the acupuncturist."

Dr. Helms notes that Western doctors also examine a patient's tongue for signs of illness. As for qi, he says, while the word doesn't exist in Western medicine, there are similar concepts. "We'll say, 'A 27-year-old female appears moribund; she doesn't respond to stimuli. Or an 85-year old woman is exhibiting a vacant stare.' We're talking about the same energy and vitality, we're just not making it a unique category that we quantify."

Studies in the early 1980s found that acupuncture works in part by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals, much like vigorous exercise does.

Now, a growing body of research suggests that it may have several mechanisms of action. Those include stimulating blood flow and tissue repair at the needle sites and sending nerve signals to the brain that regulate the perception of pain and reboot the autonomic nervous system, which governs unconscious functions such as heart beat, respiration and digestion, according to Alejandro Elorriaga, director of the medical acupuncture program at McMaster University in Ontario, which teaches a contemporary version to physicians.

"You can think Western, you can think Eastern. As long as your needle goes to the nerve, you will get some effect," Dr. Elorriaga says.

What's more, an odd phenomenon occurs when acupuncture needles are inserted into the body and rotated: Connective tissue wraps around them like spaghetti around a fork, according to ultrasound studies at the University of Vermont. Neurologist Helene Langevin says this action stretches cells in the connective tissue much like massage and yoga do, and may act like acupuncture meridians to send signals throughout the body. "That's what we're hoping to study next," she says.

Meanwhile, neuroimaging studies at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have shown that acupuncture affects a network of systems in the brain, including decreasing activity in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, and activating it in the parts of the brain that typically light up when the brain is at rest.

Other studies at the Martinos Center have shown that patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful compression of nerves in the wrist, have heightened activity in parts of the brain that regulate sensation and fear, but after acupuncture, their brain patterns more closely resemble those of healthy subjects.

Brain scans of patients with fibromyalgia show that both acupuncture and sham acupuncture (using real needles on random points in the body) cause the release of endorphins. But real acupuncture also increased the number of receptors for pain-reducing neurotransmitters, bringing patients even more relief.

The fact that many patients get some relief and register some brain changes from fake acupuncture has caused controversy in designing clinical trials. Some critics say that proves that what patients think of as benefit from acupuncture is mainly the placebo effect. Acupuncture proponents counter that placebos that too closely mimic the treatment experience may have a real benefit.

"I don't see any disconnect between how acupuncture works and how a placebo works," says radiologist Vitaly Napadow at the Martinos center. "The body knows how to heal itself. That's what a placebo does, too."

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D1

God's rules


By Danielle Fleischman | IDS
POSTED AT 05:42 PM ON Mar. 22, 2010

Nestled near the border between Indiana and Kentucky is a museum unlike any other. It does not appeal to history, logic or reason; instead, the evidence contained within is based on a more profound testimony. The exhibits tell stories not taught in the classroom or textbooks — like tales of a garden where dinosaurs and man coexisted.

Needless to say, this museum takes its inspiration from the Bible and not much else. Espousing a world view of Young Earth creationism, the museum explains away all scientific evidence by what God has to say in the New Testament.

There are no real facts contained inside. Instead dioramas and mockumentaries help guide families as they explore the linear museum. At each exhibit, parents kneeled down to explain to their wide-eyed children how the world was really created.

I found myself at the Creation Museum as a result of a road trip through the South last week. Upon entering I was offered a staff discount (presumably out of hopes I would convert from my heathen ways), and I was encouraged by the man at the ticket counter to let him know all that I had learned upon my exit.

Unfortunately, I am too biased in favor of science to have taken anything they had to say seriously. The same cannot be said for the little kids running around at my feet, delighted to see models of dinosaurs that are fictionally described as being vegetarian before the Fall.

These are the real victims of places like the Creation Museum — children too young to know fact from fiction.

The Texas Board of Education isn't helping matters. Instead of teaching children facts, they are joining in on the trend of fabricating the truth altogether.

If new textbook standards pass, Texas children will be learning a strange, all too conservative history. Their social studies classes will tell of founding fathers and Judeo-Christian concepts, and very little attention will be paid to Thomas Jefferson, the man who advocated for the separation of church and state.

The fact that other areas of study have been stripped from the education standards entirely only makes the situation worse. References to Hispanic players in American history have been negated, while lessons about the influence of hip-hop on modern culture have been replaced with ones on country and western music.

Creationism is already promoted on the Texas school board, and the same concepts found in the Creation Museum are promoted in the classroom. This brand of pseudo-science suggests God created the earth only 6,000 years ago and rejects theories about evolution pioneered by Charles Darwin.

A trained eye needs to be kept on what future generations are being fed as fact — lest they grow up to propagate more fiction.

E-mail: danfleis@indiana.edu

Mess With Texas? Don't Mind If I Do.


In The News Op-Ed
Posted by Julie Marsh on March 22, 2010 at 9:37 AM

Last year, Texas governor Rick Perry made a few offhand references to the possibility of secession. Given the idiocy of the Texas State Board of Education, I'm all for Perry making good on his lighthearted threats. Then maybe the rest of the country can get on with the business of educating our kids without the input of a young-earth creationist dentist.

The Texas Board of Education stirred up discussion last year on the topic of intelligent design; namely, whether it ought to be taught in public schools as an alternative theory to evolution. Under the guise of advocating "critical thinking," the conservative faction of the board argued that high school students should explore the "weaknesses" of evolution.

Considering that the most vocal member of the board, Don McLeroy, "believes that the earth was created in six days, as the book of Genesis has it, less than 10,000 years ago," it's not surprising that he wants students to question evolution. I wonder if he's ever applied any critical thinking to his belief that scripture is more compelling evidence than carbon dating.

Texas didn't manage to excise evolution from the science curriculum last year. But this year, it's another story where it comes to social studies. Among the changes that have been preliminarily approved by the state Board of Education:

* Removing Thomas Jefferson from a section on how Enlightenment philosophy influenced the founders;
* Requiring that students learn about the conservative political groups and figures...such as the Moral Majority and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly -- without having a similar requirement for learning about liberal movements;
* Replacing the term "capitalism" with "free enterprise" in economics and history standards, because...[it has] been tainted by liberal academics;
* Requiring students to learn about the "Judeo-Christian" influences on the nation's founders.

Source: Associated Baptist Press

Did you catch that source? A Baptist news site quotes a Christian organization in Texas that "promotes religious liberty and church-state separation." Disagreement exists even among devout Christians in Texas.

Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd isn't happy either, but she's glad to have company in her misery. She writes:

"It is a comfort to know I have company here in the doghouse, that there are others who share my prickly chagrin over the State Board of Education's painfully well-publicized hatchet attack on accepted scholarship.

Their busy toils have successfully made Texans look like fools, but it's a relief to know a lot of people besides me are mad about it."

Texas-based religious groups and native Texans object to the board's conservative cherry-picking, but why should the rest of the country care? As I explained in another piece:

"Texas' state education fund is $22 billion -- one of the largest in the nation. They were also the first to develop statewide curriculum guidelines, which other states use as a model for their own. Textbook publishers tailor their content accordingly to maximize their markets ... In essence, a fifteen-member board in Texas makes decisions that directly affect what the majority of public school children in the United States are taught."

The bulleted list of changes to the Texas social studies curriculum will most likely find their way into my children's -- and your children's too -- public school textbooks. That's why we should care.

Want your children to learn about creationism and intelligent design and the Moral Majority as a force in American society? Put them in private school. Leave the public schools to those of us who are truly capable of critical thinking.