NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 April 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Roosevelts down, McCarthy up as conservatives spin history to right


Posted: April 4, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The right is rewriting history.

The most ballyhooed effort is in Texas, where conservatives have pushed the state school board to rewrite guidelines, downplaying Thomas Jefferson, playing up conservatives and challenging the idea that the Founding Fathers wanted to separate church and state.

The effort reaches far beyond one state, however.

In articles and speeches, on radio and TV, conservatives are working to redefine major turning points and figures in American history, often to slam liberals, promote Republicans and reinforce their positions in today's politics.

The Jamestown settlers? Socialists. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton? Liberal professors made up all that bunk about him advocating a strong central government.

"We are adding balance," Texas school board member Don McLeroy said. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."

Although even some conservatives say that some of the revisionist history is simply wrong, the effort reflects the ever-changing view of history.

Some of the new conservative versions of history:

THEODORE ROOSEVELT: He was long an icon of the Republican Party, a dynamic leader who ushered in the Progressive era, busting trusts, regulating robber barons, building the Panama Canal and sending the U.S. fleet around the world announcing American power.

Fox TV commentator Glenn Beck, however, says Roosevelt was a socialist whose legacy is destroying America. It started, Beck said, with Roosevelt's admonition to the wealthy of his day to spend their riches for the good of society.

In his autobiography, Roosevelt dismissed socialism as taught by Karl Marx as "an exploded theory ... shown to possess not one shred of value."

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: It's long been debated how well Roosevelt's New Deal government programs countered the Great Depression, but now a conservative contends Roosevelt actually caused it.

"FDR took office in the midst of a recession," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. "He decided to choose massive government spending and the creation of monstrous bureaucracies. Do we detect a Democrat pattern here in all of this? He took what was a manageable recession and turned it into a 10-year depression."

The facts show that the country was in something far worse than a "manageable recession" in March 1933, when Roosevelt took office. Stocks had lost 90% of their value since the crash of 1929. Thousands of banks had failed. Unemployment reached an all-time high of 24.9% just before Roosevelt was inaugurated.

JOE MCCARTHY: The Republican senator from Wisconsin burst onto the national stage in the early 1950s, saying that he had a list of names of known communists in the federal government. He didn't name them and eventually was censured by the Senate. His name became synonymous with witch hunts -- McCarthyism.

Now, the end of the Cold War has opened up spy files and identified communist spies who operated inside the government during the era. Some conservatives argue that this proves McCarthy was a hero who was right -- and smeared by liberals, the news media and historians.

Simon Singh wins key battle in alternative medicine libel case


A respected science writer has won a key victory in a landmark libel battle which could make it easier for people to criticise contentious scientific claims.

By Stephen Adams
Published: 8:00AM BST 02 Apr 2010

Three Appeal Court judges yesterday overturned an earlier ruling that his claims were allegations of fact – rather than comment – which would have required him to prove they were true.

It is a crucial victory for Dr Singh in what has come to be seen as a key test case for the future of England's libel laws.

In the article, written in April 2008, Dr Singh alleged the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) promoted "bogus treatments" for certain infant conditions like asthma, colic and earache.

When he refused to make a retraction or apologise, the BCA launched legal action against him.

Last May, Mr Justice Eady made a preliminary judgement in BCA's favour in the High Court, ruling that Dr Singh's article "contained the plainest allegation of dishonesty", in that it accused the BCA of "thoroughly disreputable conduct".

The judge also decided that Dr Singh's claims amounted to allegations of fact rather than comment – despite the article being in the newspaper's comment pages – forcing him to prove they were true.

However, despite his legal costs topping £100,000, the author decided to fight on. He subsequently became a cause célèbre for those who believe Britain's libel laws are stifling free speech, attracting the support of scientists, comedians and playwrights including Prof Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and Sir David Hare.

On Thursday the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge; the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger; and Lord Justice Sedley overturned Mr Justice Eady's High Court ruling.

In a judgement that was highly critical of both the BCA and Mr Justice Eady, they said: "This litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic."

By rejecting the newspaper's offer to print a reply from the association, and by suing Dr Singh personally, the Appeal Court judges said "the unhappy impression has been created that this is an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics".

They were scathing of the ruling by Mr Justice Eady, who has previously been accused of trying to single-handedly bring in a privacy law by the back door.

They said: "His approach marginalised or underrated the value now placed by the law on public debate on issues of public concern."

In treating Dr Singh's words as an assertion of fact rather than comment, he had "erred in his approach", they said.

"However one represents or paraphrases their meaning," they said of Dr Singh's words, they "are in our judgement expressions of opinion."

If the case were allowed to continue on the track Mr Justice Eady's decision had set in motion – with the BCA attempting to prove its treatments worked for those ailments named, and Dr Singh attempting to prove such evidence was flawed – that would "invite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth", they said.

The judges called for scientific debates to be resolved using science, not libel writs.

They also recommended that fair comment be renamed "honest opinion" as this "would lend greater emphasis to its importance as an essential ingredient of the right to free expression".

Dr Singh, the author of best selling books including Fermat's Last Theorem and Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, described the ruling as "brilliant", but added: "It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words."

Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who has led a cross-party Parliamentary campaign to reform libel law, said: "This sensible judgement is no substitute for fundamental law reform. It is no kind of justice for a scientist to spend £200,000 and two years of his life just to get halfway through a case."

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, added: "This decision is a very significant step in the efforts to prevent the British libel laws being used to stifle legitimate criticism of unjustified claims about science and technology."

The BCA said it was "considering its position".

Richard Brown, its president, said: "We are of course disappointed to lose the appeal, but this is not the end of the road and we are considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial.

"Our original argument remains that our reputation has been damaged. To reiterate, the BCA brought this claim only to uphold its good name and protect its reputation, honesty and integrity."

21st century global cooling trend debunks United Nations computer climate models



Computer models that have figured prominently into the climate studies organized through the United Nations show that the warming trend evident in the latter half of the 20th century would continue and even accelerate into the new millennium. But the climate has not cooperated and in fact the newest research shows that a cooling trend has taken hold that could persist for decades.

Dr. Don Easterbook, a geologist and professor emeritus at Western Washington University, has concluded that sea surface temperatures will experience a drop that could last for the next 25 to 30 years based on his observations of the Pacific Decadal Oscilliation or PDO, a weather phenomenon that reverts between warm and cool modes. He's not alone.

Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics with the National Autonomous University of Mexico sees evidence that points to the onset of a "little ice age" in about 10 years that could last for much of the 21st Century. The U.N. computer models are not correct because they do not take into account natural factors like solar activity, he said in a lecture.

This view is also advanced in a paper published by the Astronomical Society of Australia. The authors anticipate that sun's activity will diminish significantly over the next few decades.

In reality, the main arguments underpinning man-made global warming have been unraveling for quite some time Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), has observed.

"The alarmists have a problem," Cohen explained. "The climate isn't doing what they theory says it should be doing. The temperature is not rising in a linear fashion, which the man-made global warming theory says it should be doing. Instead there has been virtually no warming over the past 10 years, which is insignificant in geological terms, but very significant when you consider the alarmist theory."

"Even though man-made greenhouse gases are going up, there is no evidence that these emissions are in fact driving temperature upward," he continued. "Of course, historically warmer temperatures have lead to higher Co2 levels, not the other way around. The lesson here is that association is not causation."

When warming and cooling trends are placed within a larger geological context the "alarmist position" becomes unsustainable, he added. The history is deliberately ignored and dismissed by the U.N. because it would undermine the political agenda attached to global warming alarmism, Cohen has argued.

Researchers who have long questioned the premise of man-made global warming theories point out that alarmist claims are driven more by computer models that omit key variables than they are by actual observations. The growing "climategate" scandal goes a long way toward vindicating the scientific skeptics who have been ostracized in the media and the academic community. Emails that have been leaked to the Internet from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia show that researchers have deliberately fudged and manipulated data in an effort to account for predicted catastrophic warming that has not materialized.

"We've had no warming for the past 10-15 years, even though carbon dioxide emissions have increased," notes Steve Milloy, editor and founder of JunkScience.com. "The upper atmosphere should be warming at a much greater rate than the lower atmosphere but this is not happening. It means that we don't understand energy flows, and if you don't understand how something works it cannot be modeled. It's insanity to go forward with regulations that are not based on something we understand, but that's what is being proposed."

Sen. Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska) has introduced a resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases without congressional approval. She has been joined by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Moreover, opinion polls show that the public become more dismissive of alarmist claims.

Does the mean the global warming industry has reached its Berlin Wall moment?

David Berlinski, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, views "climategate" as an "unexpected gift" to skeptics that shows "Big Science in its natural state." Climategate follows on the heels of other scientific scams that reach back to the Club of Rome in the 1970s that warned pending doom.

"The overwhelming consensus is, as it always is, utter nonsense because it is in the first place an illusion," he wrote in an email. "There are very many scientists who dissent from global warming. And it is utter nonsense because it is based on nothing more than a trend line. No one has the faintest idea what the trend represents or whether it will continue or whether even the trend itself was based on data so fudged as to be meaningless. The latter, I think."

"What is at work deep down is a delusion as striking as various Zulu beliefs and no more credible," he continued. "To wit, that because there is something that might for the sake of convenience be designated as the global atmosphere, there is as well a science of the global atmosphere, one in which for various initial conditions of the GA, laws of its evolution might be adduced from which explanations and predictions would flow. There is no such science; there are no such laws. To be sure one can say with easy confidence that the GA is determined by fundamental physics."

In reality, science has never operated by consensus. Over time, prevailing views are either substantiated or dismissed as new evidence emerges. The momentum is now very much with researchers who have identified natural forces as opposed to human activity as the primary driving force behind warming and cooling trends. Ideally, they should find greater expression.

Kevin Mooney is the Editor of Timescheck.com and a contributing editor of ALG News.

Lebanese Psychic not to be Beheaded Friday for Witchcraft


By ZEINA KARAM (AP) - 4-2-2010

Sibat, a 49-year-old father of five, made predictions on an Arab satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut.

BEIRUT - A Lebanese man condemned to death for witchcraft by a Saudi court will not be beheaded Friday as had been expected, his lawyer said. Attorney May al-Khansa said Lebanon's justice minister told her that her client, Ali Sibat, will not be executed in Saudi Arabia on Friday - the day executions are typically carried out in the kingdom after noon prayers.

She said it is still unclear whether the beheading had been waived or only postponed.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials, and Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar was not available for comment

"Ali Sibat will stay alive this Friday but we don't know what is going to happen the next day, Saturday, Monday, any other day," al-Khansa told The Associated Press. "What the (justice) minister told us was not enough for the family, it is not enough for me, because we really need Ali Sibat to be released."

Sibat, a 49-year-old father of five, made predictions on an Arab satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut. He was arrested by the Saudi religious police during his pilgrimage to the holy city of Medina in May 2008 and sentenced to death last November for witchcraft.

The Saudi justice system, which is based on Islamic law, does not clearly define the charge of witchcraft. Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortunetelling. The deeply religious authorities in Saudi consider these practices polytheism.

Sibat's wife, Samira, appealed to Saudi authorities to release her husband. "He didn't do anything wrong ... he did not harm anyone," she said tearfully. "If they want to do a humanitarian thing they will return him to his country." The lawyer added she is slightly optimistic the postponement of the execution meant Sibat would be released.

On Thursday, a dozen people rallied near the Saudi embassy in Beirut to protest the impeding execution.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said last year Sibat's death sentence should be overturned and called on the Saudi government to halt its "increasing use of charges of 'witchcraft,' crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used."

The Chupacabra is here!

We received the following:

Thursday, April 1, 2010 4:09 PM
From: "MtBlanco1@aol.com" [Joe Taylor]

Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum
124 W. Main ( Main and Hwy 82 are the same in Crosbyton)
Crosbyton, Texas 79322

We have new displays in the museum.

OK, Joe didn't get quite right. For true students of the phenomenon the correct spelling is "chupacabras." It means "sucks goats," and the word goats (cabras) is plural.

Otherwise, check it out.

Evolution education update: April 2, 2010

A Vannevar Bush Award for NCSE Supporter Bruce Alberts. Plus NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott is interviewed on the University of California Press's blog, and NCSE adds three new videos to its YouTube channel.


NCSE congratulates Bruce Alberts on winning the Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Board. The award is bestowed upon truly exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy. In a press release issued on April 1, 2010, Steven Beering, the chair of the National Science Board, commented, "We are pleased to recognize Bruce for his dedication to the creativity, openness and tolerance that define science, passion for improving the human condition and transformational and inspirational leadership in science education, international capacity building and the tireless pursuit of a 'scientific temperament' for the world."

"Many of my personal heroes of science have previously received the Vannevar Bush Award and it is, of course, an enormous privilege for me to join them," said Alberts in the same press release. "In this era of instantaneous, infinite information everywhere, it has become critical to our survival that a scientific way of analyzing problems, based on evidence and logic, become much more dominant around the globe. Those of us who are scientists thus have enormous challenges before us: challenges that will require that we expand our view of science and its role in society." He called upon scientists all around the world "to help create more rational, scientifically-based societies that find dogmatism intolerable." Alberts will receive the award at the National Science Board's Annual Awards Dinner in Washington DC on May 4, 2010.

Alberts is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, and the editor-in-chief of the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A Supporter of NCSE, Alberts received its Friend of Darwin award in 2004, in recognition of his support of and advocacy for the integrity of science education while at the National Academy of Sciences, when it published both Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science (1998) and the second edition of Science and Creationism (1999). He also received the AIBS Education Award from the American Institute for Biological Sciences in 2009.

For the NSB's press release, visit:

For the publications from the National Academy of Sciences, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was recently interviewed by Chuck Crumly for the University of California Press's blog, discussing the evidence for evolution and the sources of resistance to its acceptance. Asked "What do you hope to accomplish through your work," she replied that her goal "is to help people understand the nature of science, and the science of evolution." She added, "I would like people to learn that evolution is an exciting science that their children should be taught in school. When I am reading evolutionary biology or geology, or cosmology, I often think to myself, 'wouldn't it be great if school kids could hear about this!'" The University of California Press is the publisher of the paperback edition of Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction.

For the blog post, visit:

For information on Evolution vs. Creationism, visit:


Three videos have just been added to NCSE's YouTube channel. First, a Netroots Nation panel on science denial from August 2009, organized by NCSE's Joshua Rosenau and featuring Rosenau, Bryan Rehm, Michael Stebbins, Mark Sumner, and Susan Wood. And two blasts from the past with NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott: talking with Arie Korporaal about "Controversial Issues in Science Teaching" on Los Angeles County's Educational Telecommunications Network in 1991, and appearing on WRC-TV's "Headlines on Trial," hosted by Arthur Miller, in 1987. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, 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!

Turin debate shrouds faith


Updated: 04/04/2010 10:51:23 AM EDT

Find more news about faith, values and belief locally and nationwide in our "Faith Life" sectionEvery now and then, a news story appears that raises the question: Is nothing sacred?

And the answer ia always, nothing is.

The most recent of these moments come courtesy of the Times of London. The paper reports that a group of entrepreneurial monks are planning to sell 3-D glasses to pilgrims viewing the Shroud of Turin when it goes on public display for the first time in a decade in the cathedral of Turin, turning what for many would be a profound religious experience into a cheesy James Cameron-like special effect.

It's not exactly clear what pilgrims will see using the glasses. Will the shroud levitate and circle the room? Will the image of Jesus lunge at viewers? Will Jesus appear to be jamming with the Jonas Brothers, whose 3-D concert is now available on Blue-Ray and DVD?

What can 3-D glasses do to enhance the experience of seeing the shroud?

And, entrepreneurial monks?

The sellers claim, in the Telegraph story, that the glasses will enable viewers to see details that are invisible to the naked eye, which seems odd considering that those details have previously only been enhanced with X-rays and other methods employed by scientists studying the shroud. Perhaps these glasses aren't 3-D glasses, but X-ray specs, like those that used to be sold in the back pages of comic books eons ago.

The move by the entrepreneurial monks has been met with derision. Maybe they should have stuck to brewing beer.

The Times reports, "The commission in charge of the shroud, comprising church and Turin officials, said in a statement that 'the sale of special glasses for the three-dimensional viewing of details on the shroud' was 'an exclusively commercial initiative' that it did not support or promote in any way."

This all comes as the shroud is making news in another way. It is the star of a new show on The History Channel, which is apparently taking a break from World War II. And no, the shroud won't be dancing with that Kate woman or the guy who walked on the moon.

The show -- subtly titled, "The Real Face of Jesus" -- traces the history of the shroud, as much of it that is known, and follows some scientists who recreate an image of Jesus based on the markings on the cloth. It turns out that Jesus wasn't the fair-haired equine man depicted in Renaissance paintings. It turns out that, according to these scientists, Jesus was about 5-8 and swarthy. In other words, if the shroud is Jesus' image, the savior looked more like Ben Stiller than James Caviezel, who portrayed Christ in Mel Gibson's hyper-violent "The Passion of the Christ." (Ben Stiller is Jewish, as was Jesus. Hmmmmm.)

This is merely the latest scientific scrutiny that the shroud has endured. It is probably the most studied piece of cloth in history, just edging out that dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to the Grammys a few years back.

It first surfaced in historical record in the 14th century. The image on the cloth -- a herringbone twill, in case you were wondering -- was discovered in 1898, when an Italian lawyer and amateur photographer Secondo Pia took a picture of it and the image was visible on his negative.

Since then, scientists have studied it with chemicals and radiation and X-rays. They have prodded and measured and studied under microscopes. Carbon-dating tests done in 1988 by three different groups of scientists dated the cloth to sometime between 1260 and 1390, meaning it was a fake, a medieval religious gimcrack.

Other scientists have disputed that, claiming that centuries of contamination distorted the test results. The shroud has been tested for pigments. Stains believed to be blood have been studied. The fibers of the cloth and the pollen grains found trapped in them have been examined.

There is scientific evidence to support just about any assertion.

In a way, this reminds me of the Dover Panda Trial and the battle over evolution. I know, it seems like a leap, but bear with me.

There were those variety of Christians who didn't want to believe any scientific evidence for evolution, saying it contradicts their belief that the Bible is a literal record of history. They tried to dispute the science and the facts and the evidence simply because it conflicted with their literal reading of scripture.

They tried to devise a science to match their beliefs -- creationism, creation science, intelligent design, whatever you want to call it.

It just seems to me that if you try to prove or disprove any article of faith based on science, you debase both faith and science.

They are two separate things. If your faith is such that you require proof to believe, or you can be convinced otherwise by scientific evidence, perhaps you need to question the basis of your faith. Accepting evolution as scientific fact or believing the Shroud of Turin is a religious relic from the Middle Ages shouldn't be enough to convince you otherwise.

Sometimes, though, that's difficult for a lot of people to see.

Even with 3-D glasses.

Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints. Reach him at mike@ydr.com or 771-2046. Read more Argento columns at www.ydr.com/mike or visit his blog at www.mikeargento.com.

ID's legal status considered


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: April 2, 2010 5:22 PM, by Josh Rosenau

I've never written a law review article, and my first stab at the genre turned into a bit of a beast to wrangle. While most of the papers in the journal ran to perhaps a dozen pages, mine weighs in at 68, in which I offer a brief exploration of evolution for the lawerly set, a review of creationism's legal and social history, a short defense of the Kitzmiller decision striking down ID in public schools, and a review of current anti-evolution efforts, especially so-called academic freedom laws. For all that, I think it hangs together nicely, a tribute to the students at the University of St. Thomas who helped edit this paper and organize the symposium over all.

The paper's title, "Leap of Faith: Intelligent Design after Dover" is a reference both to the chalky cliffs of the English Channel, to the town in which ID itself took a fall, and to the politically and economically suicidal effects of pushing creationism into public schools. Along the way, I was able to work in some other subtle digs at ID, including this summary of the recent history of the ID movement:

Intelligent Design advocates have struggled without success to achieve academic acceptance as scientists. For example, some attempts have been made to create ID-specific journals comparable to those of creation scientists, but they have all become moribund, and an academic society dedicated to ID is similarly defunct. Major academic ID goals set in a fundraising document in 1998 have gone unachieved, such as the promise of a major monograph by Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson, which has been reported as nearly ready to print for over a decade. The proceedings of a Discovery Institute conference held in the summer of 2007, supposedly highlighting "the very kind of research our critics say we don't sponsor," remain unpublished. William Dembski, once heralded on a book jacket as "the Isaac Newton of Information Theory," has been reduced to rewriting and analyzing toy computer programs originally written for a TV series and popular books in the 1980s by biologist Richard Dawkins as trivial demonstrations of the power of selection. Dembski explained his poor record of publication in peer-reviewed scientific literature by saying, "I've just gotten kind of blase´ about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print. And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well." Alas, they don't convince mathematicians of his mathematical arguments, prompting Dembski to reply to one critic: "I'm not and never have been in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity." This, despite his claim to have developed a "Law of Conservation of Information" about which he states in one book: "The crucial point of the Law of Conservation of Information is that natural causes can at best preserve CSI…, may degrade it, but cannot generate it."

In 1998, the Discovery Institute explained to its donors that research was crucial stating, "Phase I [described as 'Research, Writing and Publication'] is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade." Judges and others seeking to assess the merits of ID going forward need issue no harsher judgment than the Discovery Institute has presented here. By its own standards, ID is intellectually stagnant, and must be regarded as "just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade," in line with previous creationist movements.

The Kitzmiller ruling cited as "[a] final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant… the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory." The movement, however, did not take this as a call to return to the labs and produce novel results in readiness for future legal challenges [fn: Discovery Institute did create what amounts to a Potemkin laboratory – the Biologic Institute. … Attempts to view the lab spaces or examine their research have been blocked. See Celeste Biever, Intelligent design: The God Lab, THE NEW SCIENTIST, Dec. 15 2006, at 8-11. According to one report, the only research finding offered by Biologic actually contradicts a central claim of ID. …"We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information").]. Instead, the movement has produced a the third edition of Pandas (renamed Design of Life and no longer aimed at high schools) and a successor to Pandas, called Explore Evolution, which contains even less substance and scientific accuracy than its predecessor. The Intelligent Design documentary, Expelled!: No intelligence Allowed mangled interviews and the history of the Holocaust, and has been called "one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time." In addition, Michael Behe published a successor to Darwin's Black Box, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, while still failing to address criticism leveled at the earlier work, even those he himself acknowledged.

Later, I consider ID's claims to peer reviewed scientific papers and contrast that with the wide acceptance of evolution in relevant scientific communities:

To understand a theory's impact and scientific validity, it is necessary to review how it fares when later researchers examine its claims, and how much new research is generated by insights from a given line of thinking. In the case of those few papers claimed as peer-reviewed defenses of ID, none has met any favorable response, or been cited as generating successful predictions for future researchers.* By contrast, the number of papers building on evolutionary theory and deepening our knowledge of the field has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to the theory's ability to generate new insights into the burgeoning fields of molecular biology, genomics, and developmental genetics. This reflects a community-wide consensus among relevant scientists on the merits of evolution, a consensus further strengthened by assessments of scientific bodies. Groups including the National Academy of Sciences and its international counterparts, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and professional societies representing groups with special knowledge of evolution, including biologists of many sorts, geologists, physicists, historians, philosophers, and many others, have issued statements representing their members' agreement that evolution is foundational to modern biology, is well-supported, and belongs in science classes.

* DISCOVERY INST. THE COLLEGE STUDENT'S BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN (2009), available at http://www.evolutionnews.org/BacktoSchoolGuide_Sept2009 _FN.pdf. The pamphlet states, "Criticss [sic] often claim that intelligent design proponents do not publish peer-reviewed scientific papers or that they do not do scientific research." To rebut this claim, 6 papers are cited, none from later than 2004. One of those was discussed at length in testimony by Kitzmiller defense witnesses, with the court describing that paper as "The one article referenced [by defense's scientific witnesses]... as supporting ID .... A review of the article indicates that it does not mention ... ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used." Another proffered article was repudiated by the journal which published it, with the editors noting that it "represents a significant departure from the nearly purely taxonomic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 124-year history. ... We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings." A review of the other papers listed by the Discovery Institute in Science Citation Index finds two of the papers have no citations at all, and the few citations garnered by the remainder are either self-citation by the same ideologically driven group of authors, or are citations rejecting the paper's findings. For context, the 254 papers turned up in a search for the narrow topic "evolutionary developmental biology" published in 2004 have been cited an average of 13 times, compared to an average 7 citations for ID's top papers, some of which have had many more years to accumulate citations. The marketplace of ideas has spoken.

The community of jurists has spoke as well, issuing ruling after ruling blocking creationism from public school science classes. I conclude the paper by noting that this trend is unlikely to change:

Even before Intelligent Design was ruled unconstitutional in science classes, a new strategy to advance creationism had been formulated. This strategy consists of state laws which radically reshape the concept of ?academic freedom? to allow public secondary school teachers and students unprecedented leeway in their presentation of science (and only science), and encouraging science teachers to present creationist-inspired "evidence against evolution" rather than advocating teaching creationism by name. These strategies have yet to be directly tested in court, but it would be an error to regard this absence of evidence as evidence for the constitutionality of the new approach. Courts are rightly skeptical of claimed "academic freedom" to present creationism as no statutory claim of academic freedom could justify an abuse of the First Amendment rights of students. The rhetoric used to promote these new laws, policies, and educational supplements produced to support them, shows many of the same constitutional flaws which courts found in earlier creationist tactics. Given the extensive similarities between these and earlier creationist strategies, school districts and courts are wise to be as cautious about this latest version of creationism as they were of creationism's previous incarnations.

Check it out and have fun with it.

Alternative Medicine to be Regulated


Andy Burnham, the Secretary of Health, has revealed that he was determined to regulate high-street herbal remedies, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He said that he wishes to ensure that all suppliers of unlicensed medicines would register themselves with a regulator.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council will ascertain that those who practice alternative medicine are appropriately trained. They will also guarantee that their practices are safe for the health of the patients.

It has been reported that health authorities are making endeavors to analyze the utility and benefit of acupuncture within the NHS to help alleviate conditions such as lower back pain.

However, critics are of the opinion that the proposals which are slated for implementation later this year are not all encompassing.

It has been reported that the council will grant approval to those providing unlicensed herbal medicines if they are successful in convincing the council that they have the right training and experience, are willing to abide by a code of conduct and have insurance.

Andy Burnham stated, "Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that the public needs better protection, but in a way that does not place unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners".

A Scientific Defense of the Templeton Foundation


Michael Ruse.Posted: April 2, 2010 02:46 PM

Last week, the Templeton Foundation announced this year's winner of its prize honoring "a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension." In the early years, the award went to a range of figures in the religious world, including Mother Teresa and Chuck Colson, the Watergate burglar who later became a born-again Christian and a big figure in prison ministry. More recently, the award has been given to academics working on the science-religion interface. It was therefore appropriate that this year the Prize went to Francisco Ayala, a Spanish-born population geneticist at the University of California at Irvine. Ayala (a former Catholic priest) has long been interested in the science-religion relationship, and he has been prominent in the fight against the encroachment of Creationism into state-supported biology classes.

However, the announcement has not been without controversy. The Templeton Foundation was begun by the late Sir John Templeton, who made a great deal of money by starting mutual funds, and is essentially devoted to the promotion of the interaction and harmony between science and religion. It is hardly too strong a term to say that it is an object of derision by many of today's scientists, including my own colleague here at Florida State University, Sir Harry Kroto who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry (for discovering the structure of complex carbon molecules, "buckyballs"). Richard Dawkins has characterized the president of the Royal Society (of London), Sir Martin Rees, as a "Quisling" (after the war-time Nazi ruler of Norway) for his friendliness to the Foundation. Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago biologist and a deservedly respected scientist for his work on problems of speciation, runs a blog (Why Evolution is True) where he writes of the foundation's "history of intellectual dishonesty." When it was announced that the National Academy of Science's premises would be used to introduce this year's prize winner he called it an "outrage." And then there is Minnesota biologist P. Z. Myers, who runs the blog Pharyngula, and whose splenetic keyboard surely qualifies him for the title of evolution's answer to Rush Limbaugh. It is not only the Foundation that sends up his blood pressure, but Ayala now also is in his line of fire. He is accused of "intellectual cowardice" and is characterized as "the master of non-committal waffle." Apparently Ayala received the award purely for "religious apologetics," even though somewhat inconsistently Ayala is also faulted for not making clear his own position on the God question.

I am a good friend of Francisco Ayala, a bond which goes back even before we together (along with others, including the late Stephen Jay Gould) appeared as expert witnesses in a trial in the State of Arkansas, where on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union we testified (successfully) against a law intended to bring Creationism into the state's biology classes. However, I know full well that Ayala is fully capable of defending himself, so I will say no more about him. But I would like to say a few words about the Foundation itself.

I should say as a preliminary that not only is it hard these days to go to any conference on science and religion without at least some Foundation support behind it, but that ten years ago I won an award of $100K to write a book on teleology. It was an open competition and I know for a fact that one of the Foundation's most prominent critics today also applied. So I see nothing dishonorable about that. Moreover, I was then as I am now an open non-believer. No pressure was put on me at all in that respect. I was not even asked to acknowledge the foundation in the preface of the book I wrote - Darwin and Design: Does Evolution have a Purpose? (Harvard UP, 2003). (I did acknowledge it and would have been ashamed not to do so.) I should say also that in recent years I have rather fallen out with the Foundation - at least with the recently fired chief operating officer. I felt, among other things, that it was funding some stupid proposals - for instance one on whether the subjects of prayerful pleas actually heal faster than those who are not - and I also disliked what I saw as an underlying snobbery. Success in grant applications was less a function of merit and too much a function of the prestige of the applicant's institution. This may seem a bit like sour grapes and perhaps it is. I am also capable of being sufficiently rude about everyone and everything that I am not sure that I would fund me.

Having said this, it seems to me that it was perfectly open to Sir John Templeton to have put his money into a foundation that seeks to reconcile science and religion. The money was earned honorably, even though one might have some questions about Sir John's decampment to the Bahamas and its tax-free economy. But so long as America is daft enough to let people get away with this, who am I to object? Speaking as one who has probably no more religious beliefs than Richard Dawkins, I don't see anything morally wrong with someone trying to reconcile science and religion. Clarifying that a little, I don't see anything morally wrong with religion as such. These days I don't much care for the Catholic Church, whether it be abusing small children, covering up the crimes of the priests involved, or leading the charge against universal health care because the restrictions on abortion were not sufficiently stringent. But I care for the work that the Church does among the poor and the sick, and I care also about the work that many Evangelicals are doing in Africa.

What I do dislike is the suggestion that those of us who are prepared to defend the Foundation and treat it like a genuine organization, rather than little better than Scientology, are therefore dupes and knaves. God knows - perhaps He does! - there are enough tensions in America between science and religion. Speaking now as one who has spent over thirty years fighting Creationism and its more recently manifestation, Intelligent Design Theory, I don't have to be lectured on that score. Nor do I have to accept that the only way forward is by eliminating religion - all religion. It's not going to happen, and even if one could eliminate all religion, I think there would be a loss and I am not sure that morally one has the right to do so. (Of course, one has the moral right to argue with believers, but not to force them to your position.)

So while I am a bit wary about the Foundation and shall be watching its future developments - especially now that Sir John is gone and his far-more-evangelical son has taken the reins - I shall continue to defend its existence and its purpose. I don't want to reconcile science and religion if this implies that religion must be true. At most, I want to show that science does not preclude being religious. But I don't see that what I want and what others want means that we necessarily have to be bad friends and despise each other.

Books & More From Michael Ruse

Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science

Religion and Science

The "Origin" Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the "Origin of Species"

Evolution: The First Four Billion Years

At odds with the Bible


Category: Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: April 2, 2010 4:49 PM, by Josh Rosenau

The Discovery Institute Media Complaints Department issues a missive about a University of Arizona panel on creationism. Amidst the usual whinging about the failure to include the mainstream scientists and historians who totally support ID, we get Disco. hanger-on David Klinghoffer's insistence that:

whatever else may be said for or against ID, it's clearly at odds with a literal reading of the Bible.

This is interesting. Bill Dembski has insisted that ID is simply "the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated," after all, and Dembski is purported to know something about ID.

I'll also note that there were audible gasps at a symposium I attended last fall along with NCSE's Faith Project Director Peter Hess, when Hess stated that ID was "blasphemous." The Disco. 'Tute's Casey Luskin, also present at the symposium, did not approve of that sentiment.

You can now review Hess's full paper "Creation, Design and Evolution: Can Science Discover or Eliminate God?" at the website of the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy. I think that Peter makes a strong case for ID being blasphemous. I especially enjoy this passage:

If intelligent design theory is correct, it is understandable why Richard Dawkins should describe God as being (among other things) a "sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully). To a theist, of course, such a description of God constitute's blasphemy, but this is the logical descriptor of the God of "intelligent design," who ultimately is directly responsible for all the suffering built into a universe with which God interminably tinkers.

I'd quibble with the claim that all theists regard Dawkins' description as blasphemous, though. I think a fair reading of Job (the earliest of the Biblical books to be written), suggests that this is exactly how the ancient Hebrews saw their deity. It opens, after all, with God capriciously and malevolently allowing intense sufferings to be heaped on Job, as nothing more than a small bet to while away the hours. In a college essay I wrote on Job, I recall trying what I thought was a very sharp maneuver by setting up a dichotomy in the Job could either be explained by an omnibenevolent God or by a capricious and occasionally cruel God. Since, I argued at the time, the ancient Hebrews must have believed the former, I never considered the meaning of Job if God were not omnibenevolent. The class's professor gently chided me for this oversight, and I think rightly so. Certainly the contemporary theologies of ancient Greece and the rest of the Middle East are populated by capricious gods with all the foibles we see in humans. Why not the monotheistic God, too?

In any event, Peter's essay is a thoughtful and accessible survey of the theological objections to ID creationism, and the ways that at least some religious groups integrate science and religion. Interested parties take note.

Right for the Wrong Reasons: Michael Zimmerman Ignores the Science that Challenges Evolution


Michael Zimmerman, the biologist who founded the pro-theistic evolution "Clergy Letter Project," has an op-ed at the Huffington Post, "Redefining The Creation/Evolution Controversy," which poses the following question:

What do the following have in common?

A. Sarah Palin's claim that health care reform will lead to "death panels."
B. The birthers' claim that President Obama was born in Kenya.
C. The constant refrain that the evolution/creation controversy is a battle between religion and science.

The simple answer is that there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that each statement is false while proponents of each hope that the frequency and volume of repetition substitutes for truth.

Of course Zimmerman is right to highlight the inaccuracy of saying "the evolution/creation controversy is a battle between religion and science"—just not for the reasons he gives.

Zimmerman claims statement (C) is wrong because in his view, evolution "poses no threat" to faith. Thus, there's no need for any "controversy." Zimmerman appears so eager to endorse to the evolutionary consensus that he forgot to note the important question: What if it's science that challenges neo-Darwinism?

The reality is that controversy does exist—not because of religion, but rather because of science that challenges neo-Darwinism.

Zimmerman thinks the way to end the controversy is for "religion [to] remain religion" and stay out of the allegedly separate sphere of science. But if there's science that challenges neo-Darwinism, then the controversy should continue — on scientific grounds.

And it's worth noting that Zimmerman's world isn't free of controversy. He eagerly picks on those who voice religious objections to evolution, saying they have "bizarre opinions," using a line from postmodern pop-culture to chide those who dare to "think their view of religion is the only one that matters." (Ironic, since he acts like his view on evolution is the "only one that matters.") Zimmerman further attacks former Texas State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy by alleging McLeroy sought to "protect Texas school children from the evils of evolution," and he laments that "the Texas State Board of Education has made it clear that it has serious doubts about [evolution]."

It seems that in his haste to attack Darwin-skeptics, Zimmerman missed the fact that evolution is still being fully taught in Texas. No one was seeking to "protect" Texas students from evolution. The new Texas standards require students to:

These are good standards: evolution is fully taught, but students are allowed to look at "all sides" of the evidence and "analyze and evaluate" core evolutionary claims. Zimmerman apparently doesn't like this, objecting to those who express "serious doubts about [evolution]." His reaction is to appeal to authority and assert that "there simply isn't any scientific controversy about the importance of evolutionary theory." Zimmerman may claim he doesn't want to "protect" students from certain views, but having watched the Texas State Board's actions last year, it's clear that they rejected the position of those who wanted to protect students from any scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinian evolution. In fact, it seems that Zimmerman does want to protect students from certain views--from scientific challenges to neo-Darwinian evolution.

In response to Zimmerman, I'd like to pose my own question:

What do the following have in common?
A. Sarah Palin's claim that health care reform will lead to "death panels."
B. The birthers' claim that President Obama was born in Kenya.
C. The constant refrain that there simply isn't any scientific controversy about the importance of evolutionary theory.

My answer? In Zimmerman's own words: "The simple answer is that there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that each statement is false while proponents of each hope that the frequency and volume of repetition substitutes for truth."

Posted by Casey Luskin on April 3, 2010 12:43 PM | Permalink

Food they crave


Sunday, April 4, 2010 10:45 PM
The Jakarta Post | Sun, 04/04/2010 9:54 AM

One Sunday night, Dicha was watching a show on television when a man in a button-up blue-striped shirt and black pants entered the restaurant where Dicha worked as a cashier.

Coming with his son and daughter, the man, Johannes, told Dicha, "I want a portion of Asian soft-shelled turtle to take away."

"How do you like the meat to be cooked?" Dicha, 26, replied. The restaurant offers soft-shelled turtle in three cooking, soup, fried and satay.

Johannes said he wanted it in a soup.

Around 15 minutes later, a waiter brought a plastic bag of soft-shelled turtle soup. Those who eat turtle meat say it tastes more or less like chicken.

"It really does taste like chicken meat only smoother," Johannes, said, adding that he also enjoys snake meat, especially python. "Because it has a lot of meat," he said.

Asian soft-shelled turtle, or bulus, is one of several unusual meats served at the restaurant, Istana Raja Cobra. Located in a row of shops on Jalan Mangga Besar Raya No. 93C, West Jakarta, the restaurant also serves snake, rabbit, bat, crocodile, monkey and monitor lizard meat. All are cooked in the same three recipes as the soft-shelled turtles.

Istana Raja Cobra and other restaurants that offer similar menus usually do not only sell the meat, but also the oil, blood and bile from those animals.

The prices at the restaurant vary from Rp 18,000 (US$1.90) to over than Rp 2 million. One of the most expensive dishes on the menu is king cobra meat. The price is based on the length of the snake. It can cost more than Rp 800,000 per meter.

The menu is not popular among the public in general. Only certain people come to the restaurant for the unique dishes. Those who come to the restaurant usually order dishes as a type of alternative medicine, those treatments are common in Indonesia.

Those who eat snake for its healing properties are told to not drink coffee or tea afterwards. According to Dicha, coffee or tea could impede the effects of the dish.

"Most of our customers who eat here usually have skin problems such as acne," said Dicha, adding that some people come out of curiosity.

Johannes meanwhile said the meat of those animals warms the body. "They will make a person sweat, which is why I think eating them is good for the skin," said the man who hails from Bangka Island.

The restaurant, which opened in 1965, gets its stock delivered frozen from various suppliers. It also has living animals kept in a room inside the restaurant. Boxes and cages are arranged in the room. Each of them has different kinds of snakes such as king cobras, pythons and green snakes.

Inside the room, a young man looked busy with a large snake. He was holding the head of a cobra with a wooden clamp. Swiftly, he chopped the snake's head off. He then skinned the snake and poured out the blood and bile of the snake into different cups.

Almost all parts of the animal are sold to customers, including its skin. The snake skin is used to make wallets, bags and other accessories sold to visitors.

Not far from the restaurant, a small kiosk also offers a variety of snake meats. Inside the food stall was Ricky, 29, who was busy serving a customer. His customer had ordered a combination of cobra blood, bile and marrow.

Ricky mixed and stirred together the three ingredients in a small white ceramic mug. For this recipe, customers pay Rp 60,000 with 10 sticks of snake satay or abon (shredded meat that has been boiled and fried) for an extra Rp 15,000.

"I inherited this stall from my father-in-law three years ago," Ricky said, adding that has never been bitten by one of his dishes.

According to him, there are scores of food stalls that offer similar menus around Mangga Besar. "Beside that big restaurant at the end of this complex, there are about 20 other stalls," he added.

Aside from reptiles, there are also some restaurants in Jakarta that serve dog meat and pork in their menus.

In the food court at Mal Kelapa Gading 5, a shopping mall in North Jakarta, there is a kiosk that offers various pork dishes, including the animal's internal organs.

According to Bambang, a helper at the booth, sam-sam is the most popular dish on the menu.

Sam-sam is two layers of pork meat and fat. "Customers also often order large intestine," he said, adding that prices at the restaurant vary from Rp 5,000 to Rp 9,500.

A driver who declined to be named said, "I often buy dishes here for my boss." He was busy filling a green bowl with sam-sam, large intestine and a tongue.

Bambang cut the pork and its internal organs and then poured a dark brown broth called sekbah over the meat. The broth had a fragrant aroma, and when it touched the tongue there was a hint of Chinese herbal medicine that gave a fresh sensation after eating it.

Then there is a North Sumatran cuisine kiosk called Lapo on Jalan Gelora, Senayan, right behind the House of Representatives building. It serves roast pork and saksang.

Saksang is a way of cooking dog meat. The meat is sauté with grated coconut and spices. Then, it is boiled with water until dry.

"We usually sell dog meat dishes for Rp 15,000 each," said Firman who runs the family business. He added, "Suppliers provide us with dog carcasses."

"Many of our customers are of Batak or Chinese descent," he said, adding that it was not uncommon for customers to order entire roast pigs. "They usually order it for a Batak wedding."

Firman said that whole pigs must be ordered two or three days beforehand.

Next to Lapo is a Manadonese restaurant called Marsam. It serves dog meat as its signature dish. The restaurant's owner, Majid, said he has been in business since 1992.

The mustached man explained that dog meat dishes are familiar to Manadonese people. "There has to be RW (dog meat) on the menu of the Manadonese. I used to cook it with Manado liquor. Since no one sells that kind of liquor anymore, I just made saksang," he said.

Majid used to kill the dogs himself but now he buys dog carcasses from suppliers. He said the dogs from his supplier are usually "free-range" strays the supplier catches in fields in greater Jakarta. Pet dogs are usually too fat and are not good enough to be eaten."

According to Majid, there were at least three ways to butcher a dog.

He used to kill the dogs by hitting them on the neck with a club, causing the blood to run out.

"Meanwhile Batak and Chinese people usually cover the dogs' heads with a sack and hit them repeatedly with a club," he said calmly, adding that, "there is also another way where people just stab the dogs through the chest."

Majid sells dog dishes for Rp 25,000 and he usually sells about 20 kilograms of dog's meat a day.

"There is a Muslim lady who came and bought a plate of RW," he said. According to Majid, the lady's excuse was that it was for medicinal purposes. "But I think she comes here often."

Britain To Tighten Laws On Herbal Medicine


Sunday, April 04, 2010 at 9:24:39 AM

Britain is likely to crack down on shops and clinics selling herbal and Chinese medicine.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham has indicated that practitioners supplying unlicensed medicines may have to register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

He stated - 'Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that the public needs better protection, but in a way that is measured and does not place unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners.

'I am therefore minded to legislate to ensure that all practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines to members of the public in England must be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

'I believe that the introduction of such a register will increase public protection, but without the full trappings of professional recognition which are applied to practitioners of orthodox healthcare.

'I will be considering the similar measures we need to put in place to afford an appropriate level of protection for people using acupuncture treatments.

'I will be discussing this with Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the regulation of these groups is devolved and they are currently considering the consultation responses. A full joint response will be published in due course.'

The Health Secretary also called on the NHS in England to take part in a pilot scheme to assess the feasibility and benefits of providing access to patients for certain forms of complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of chronic low back pain.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Two Articles Defending Stephen Meyer and Signature in the Cell in Salvo Magazine


We've recently seen a lot of dialogue between proponents of intelligent design and critics of Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell. For example, Richard Sternberg has a fascinating series that uncovers some hints at function in SINE elements through unexpectedly conserved patterns that contradict the standard phylogeny (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). Or, there's Paul Nelson's rejoinder to Jeffrey Shallit on whether the weather provides an example of natural processes producing specified and complex information. There's also Stephen Meyer's response to Francisco Ayala, as well as responses to Ayala from Jay Richards and David Klinghoffer.

I recently decided to jump into this fray, publishing two articles in the latest issue of Salvo Magazine defending Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell against critics. The main article, Signs of Desperation? Early Responses to Signature in the Cell Are Easily Dismissed," responds to some of the initial responses to Meyer from critics such as P.Z. Myers, Jerry Coyne, Francisco Ayala, and others.

The article offers five tips to reviewers, which include (1) know the man you're attacking; (2) read the book before reviewing it; (3) avoid misframing Meyer's argument as a mere negative critique of evolution; (4) remain civil; and (5) stick to the science and avoid theological rebuttals. As the article reads:

After debating Stephen Meyer on the Michael Medved radio program last November, science journalist Chris Mooney apparently felt he couldn't find sufficient ammo to rebut the Cambridge-trained philosopher of science. Thus, Mooney subsequently posted a piece on his Discover Magazine blog, titled "Time to Refute Stephen Meyer?", in which he lamented that "Meyer's book is clearly drawing a lot of attention and is scarcely being refuted so far as I can see."

Mooney was correct that Meyer's book was garnering much interest—though not from critics. In November 2009, an endorsement from the leading political philosopher (and atheist) Thomas Nagel led to its being named one of the "Books of the Year" by the prestigious Times Literary Supplement in London. The following month, Meyer was named "Daniel of the Year" by World Magazine for the "courage" and "perseverance" that led to Signature in the Cell.

Around this time, the anti-ID internet community decided they could not afford to continue ignoring Meyer's book, and critical reviews began trickling in. In the spirit of respectful scholarly debate, I will assess some of the counter-arguments and give five friendly tips to critics of Stephen Meyer.

(Read the rest at: "Signs of Desperation? Early Responses to Signature in the Cell Are Easily Dismissed")

One critic who didn't heed my second or fourth tips is Mark Chu Carroll. My second piece, "Every Bit Digital: DNA's Programming Really Bugs Some ID Critics," critiques Carroll's arguments and defends Meyer against the charge that DNA is not a digital code which bears striking resemblance to computer programming:

Google's corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil," but unfortunately, not all who work at the search engine behemoth seem to practice the slogan. Mark Chu Carroll, a mathematician and Google software engineer, called Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell "a rehash of the same old s**t," even though he admitted, "I have not read any part of Meyer's book." Chu Carroll further decried the "dishonesty" of Meyer, whom he called a "bozo" for merely claiming that DNA contains "digital code" that functions like a "computer."

It seems that Meyer's book isn't the only relevant literature that Chu Carroll hasn't read.

(Read the rest at: "Every Bit Digital: DNA's Programming Really Bugs Some ID Critics")

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 30, 2010 8:32 AM | Permalink

Creation Hall Museum dedicated in DeMoss


March 31, 2010 : Elizabeth Mayhew

Today Liberty University students and faculty dedicated the Creation Hall Museum, located in the back hallway of the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center, Liberty's main academic building. The unveiling of the museum coincides with the 25th anniversary of Liberty's Center for Creation Studies and displays relics that had long been in storage due to lack of space on campus.

Although the DeMoss hallway may seem like an unlikely location for a museum, it gives students a live format for the subject matter being taught in the classroom. Students can now view fossils and artifacts up close while learning how to defend their belief system.

"The Creation Hall Museum is an excellent addition to Liberty University. Our students will be able to get a firsthand look at fossils and some of the evidences for Biblical Creation," said Dr. David DeWitt, director of Liberty's Center for Creation Studies. "In class, the students see slides and pictures, but now they can see the fossils and models in 3-D. It will help the material to come alive."

DeWitt, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. and the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, spoke about what it means for students and the LU community to maintain and uphold our beliefs in creation.

"This is something that is part of Liberty University's core values," Jerry Falwell, Jr. said, personally thanking DeWitt for his commitment to constructing the museum.

Jerry Falwell, Jr., Jonathan Falwell, LU co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns, DeWitt and Dr. Paul Sattler, chair of Biology/Chemistry, concluded the event with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Beyond the artifacts, the public museum proudly displays Liberty's stance on creationism.

"Let this be another opportunity to stand up for the truth," Jonathan Falwell said, "[Liberty University] will always hold to the truth accounted in Genesis."

The Texas School Book Repository


By Roger Ebert on April 1, 2010 1:13 AM

Do the schoolbook publishers of America have standards? Courage? Ethics? In what sense do they stand behind their product? For "product" they sometimes produce, and not textbooks in the traditional sense. I ask these questions for a reason.

Right-wingers from Texas will be deciding what will be added and taken out of the textbooks of America's school children. They form the majority of the 15-member Texas State Board of Education. They believe current textbooks are slanted toward a liberal viewpoint, and that discussion of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, which one member describes as "hooey," wrongly excludes a consideration of Creationism.

"Teaching the controversy" about Evolution versus Creationism is of course the Wedge Strategy of the Discovery Institute, a fundamentalist think tank in Dallas. Having failed in the courts to get Creationism into schools as a legitimate area of science, they created a "controversy" about the most thoroughly confirmed theory in the history of science. Now the Texas Schoolbookers are using the strategy to make openings for other political beliefs dear to the Right.

Well, what's wrong with that? Left and Right work together to create American history, after all, in the open marketplace of ideas. True. But how do you feel about Ralph Nader being taken out history books and Newt Gingrich being added? The Confederacy seen in more positive terms? Or that the Texas board's review panel doubts that such "minority figures" as Cesar Chavez, Justice Thurgood Marshall and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. need to be included.

Are they indeed, "minority figures" at all? In 2009, the U. S. Census Bureau noted, 47.4% of Texans were white. The majority consists of Hispanics, blacks and Asians. Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., might have more significance for students than two figures the rightists would like to include, Phyliss Schlafey and the "vindicated" Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

These people, chosen by an inattentive electorate, could decide on the schoolbooks in Texas. What are their credentials? They need only to have been elected to the board. For the Washington Monthly, Mariah Blake journeyed to a suburb of Bryan, Texas, to interview Don McLeroy, a leader of the ring-wing bloc on the Board of Education. She wrote:

When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. We sat down at his dining table, which was piled high with three-ring binders, and his wife, Nancy, brought us ice water in cut-crystal glasses with matching coasters.

Then McLeroy cracked the book open. The margins were littered with stars, exclamation points, and hundreds of yellow Post-its that were brimming with notes scrawled in a microscopic hand. With childlike glee, McLeroy flipped through the pages and explained what he saw as the gaping holes in Darwin's theory. "I don't care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say," he declared at one point. "Evolution is hooey."

This bled into a rant about American history. "The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation," McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. "But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan--he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes."

One of the changes McLeroy would like to see is an upgrade of Ronald Reagan in the textbooks, and a downgrade of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And while they're at it, studying the inaugural speech of Jefferson Davis alongside that of Abraham Lincoln. Also, less emphasis on the melting pot. Of the current textbooks, McLeroy says: "Instead of the American way they want multiculturalism."

He and his allies proposed a series of amendments to the Texas curriculum standards that "require science textbooks to address the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including evolution." Fair enough? Of course the presumption is that the weaknesses are with evolution, which can't stand up to a literal interpretation of the Bible. "Whoo-eey!" he told Mariah Blake, "We won the Grand Slam, and the Super Bowl, and the World Cup! Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution!"

As goes Texas, so goes the nation. The Texas State Board of Education influences the content of textbooks used in the state, and Texas is the second largest state market for textbooks in America. First is California, but the California fiscal crisis has led to a decision to put off textbook purchases until 2014. Therefore, major American textbook publishers must follow the Texas standards or lose their most important market.

Many of us may naively believe that textbooks are written by teachers and authors with a sound knowledge of their fields, and vetted by conscientious publishers. That's not necessarily true. On Edutopia.org, the site of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a San Francisco writer named Tamim Ansary wrote that soon after he went to work as an editor of a major educational publisher:

I got a hint of things to come when I overheard my boss lamenting, "The books are done and we still don't have an author! I must sign someone today!" Every time a friend with kids in school tells me textbooks are too generic, I think back to that moment. "Who writes these things?" people ask me. I have to tell them, without a hint of irony, "No one."

In fact most of these books fall far short of their important role in the educational scheme of things. They are processed into existence using the pulp of what already exists, rising like swamp things from the compost of the past. The mulch is turned and tended by many layers of editors who scrub it of anything possibly objectionable before it is fed into a government-run "adoption" system that provides mediocre material to students of all ages.

Do publishers play along with this? By all reports, apparently so. There are 4.5 billion dollars in play in the schoolbook market, and executives cannot refuse to maximize their share. Their own standards, if any, seem irrelevant. If it means more sales, they are perfectly willing to publish books pleasing to Don McLeroy.

Why must this be so? Certainly most parents expect their children to be taught from textbooks reflecting the current state of knowledge in each subject. They have no interest in religious beliefs such as Creationism being introduced into the curriculum. If they did, they might choose to send their children to church schools. The separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution. But in Texas, not everybody is so sure about that. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, who first wrote the phrase "separation of church and state" in 1802, has fallen into disfavor.

Look what happened just two weeks ago. The New York Times reported that the Christian right bloc "managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term "separation between church and state.")" The Board also turned back an attempt to require "students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others."

I have a simple proposal. More enlightened states should refuse to play along. Their State Boards could require generally-accepted educational standards, and vote against purchasing the corrupted Texas texts. This would have the result of limiting the influence of the Texas religious right over the rest of the country. And it would allow publishers to cling to a certain degree of self-respect.

Does it make me a liberal if I believe Jefferson has been more central to American history than Calvin? That Lincoln was our greatest president, and Davis not our President at all? That the Theory of Evolution towers with majesty above those who, in some cases, believe the earth may be 10,000 years old, and that men walked the earth with dinosaurs? No, it doesn't make me a liberal. It makes me an educated, rational being. Unfortunately, in some precincts of Texas that may appear to be nearly as bad.

Alternative remedy use common among infertile


Lynne Peeples
Wed Mar 31, 2010 1:30pm EDT NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A substantial number of American couples are looking beyond just state-of-the-art fertility treatments to therapies dating back centuries in hopes of improving their chances of conceiving a baby, according to new research.

More than a quarter of northern California couples followed in a study sought help from acupuncture, herbal therapy and massage-often as a complement to conventional conception strategies such as in vitro fertilization. Rates were especially high among wealthy, older couples.

"We suggest that couples struggling to achieve pregnancy are more likely to seek out any treatment that offers hope," Dr. James Smith of the University of California, San Francisco, who led the study, told Reuters Health in an email.

The research is the first in the U.S. to quantify the use of complementary and alternative medicine for infertility-a problem that afflicts 7 to 17 percent of American couples, note the researchers in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Overall, studies have shown that up to 40 percent of Americans use such remedies for all conditions.

As a first step toward understanding what motivates a couple's decision to pursue alternative remedies, Smith and his team recruited 428 couples from eight reproductive clinics and followed them via questionnaires and interviews over the next 18 months.

During this period, 29 percent of the couples reported using some form of complementary and alternative medicine: 22 percent underwent acupuncture, 17 percent took herbal therapy, 5 percent had body work such as chiropractic or massage, and 1 percent tried meditation.

With every five-year increase in the woman's age, the chances of her and her partner pursuing at least one of these strategies rose by about 29 percent, even after accounting for factors such as having previous children and the use of other infertility treatments.

Couples earning more than $200,000 were nearly three times more likely to seek alternative remedies than were those with combined incomes less than $100,000.

In another study, not yet published, Smith and his colleagues calculated the total out-of-pocket infertility costs for couples using in vitro fertilization at $16,550. A visit to the acupuncturist runs about $100, added Smith.

"Couples with higher incomes were more likely to have the financial resources to seek out" complementary and alternative remedies, said Smith, emphasizing the relevance of "complementary" over "alternative" in this case.

Perhaps less surprising, couples failing to achieve pregnancy had a nearly two and a half-fold increased chance of using such remedies compared to those successfully conceiving, and partners that had a positive attitude about the effectiveness of alternative treatments were 85 percent more likely to try it.

The authors say the study's design may limit whether their findings can be generalized to the larger population, because the couples were self-selected and there were low numbers of certain racial and ethnic groups. And, Smith said, the study was not designed to test whether such treatments are effective.

SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, online March 24, 2010.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Russian doctor embarks on Ayurveda journey


CJ: K GOVINDAN.. Tue, Mar 30, 2010 12:03:26 IST

BOWLED OVER by Ayurveda and its valuable principles, Dr Grigoriy, an allopath from Russia, recently visited the Arya Vaidya Nilayam Arogya Ayurvedic Centre, Kochi, to experience the bliss. And he promised that he would come again and again to God's Own Country…Kudos to authentic practice.

Real science

With a delightful smile, Dr Grigoriy Gridor'evich, 46, explained the reason behind his passion for Ayurveda. "I got a chance to read a book on Ayurveda written by Dr Deepak Chopra and I was enlightened. Ayurveda sticks to the basics and it is beneficial for the common man to prevent diseases, in simple way. And the principles, which attracted me more, were - how to take food, when we should sleep, significance of doing exercise etc. In short, how to live a joyful life concept encouraged and motivated me to learn more about this real science."

Dr Grigoriy had his basic education in Ayurveda from Hyderabad. In that intensive course he studied basic principles of ayurveda, pharmacology, and a few panchakarma therapies like nasyam and vasti.

East meets West…

May be it is hard to believe. Nine years ago, when tourism industry was not active that much, Dr Grigoriy with a mission to promote authentic Ayurveda, added Ayurveda treatment centre in addition to acupuncture, yoga and modern medicine in his East West Clinic at St Petersburg.

The challenge

Dr Grigoriy, however, shares the concern in doing ayurveda practice abroad. "Getting genuine ayurveda medications and oils, has become a tough task. If it is not original, efficacy will be less. What gives confidence is the fact that recently the Russian Government slightly revised the rules and regulations in importing ayurveda medicines hoping that it will meet the requirements."

Immense scope

He adds that in Russia there is a growing interest for alternative medicine such as Ayurveda, Naturopathy and Unani. "There more people are prone to psoriasis, spondylosis, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other auto immune diseases etc. However, the main villain is stress. All these can be managed and controlled well by alternative medicine system with an integrated approach. For example, Ayurveda therapies with Yoga can bring wonders in managing stress."

AVN experience

It was through Mr Nibin, 25, who was in Russia before, hailing from Perumbavoor, Dr Grigoriy heard about AVN Centre. He came to Kochi on 12th March with his friend, Mr Shianov Alexander for exploring Ayurveda.

Dr Grigoriy said he is overwhelmed by the hospitality and authentic rejuvenation treatment of AVN Centre.

Future plans

After his visit to head office of AVN, Dr Grigoriy is planning to have a tie up with this leading Ayurveda institution. " I will be extremely happy, if I can associate with them."

Before boarding the plane to Russia on March 27, Dr Grigoriy assured - will be in Kerala next year.

Yes, he has started the (Ayurveda) journey…

The power of prayer


AN APPLE A DAY By Tyrone M. Reyes, M.D. (The Philippine Star) Updated March 30, 2010 12:00 AM

Children kneel at their bedside and recite a familiar blessing ("Now I lay me down to sleep…"). Manny Pacquiao crosses himself before all his boxing bouts. A priest prays for peace on earth, and the congregation in one voice answers, "Amen."

Prayer is woven into the daily rhythms of life, its ethos embedded in the public and private experiences of millions of Filipinos. Over the centuries, people of every creed and culture and every station in life, whether out of pious faith or primal fear, have reached out to a reality greater than themselves. It has been called "the native language" of the soul — the universal expression of an innate human desire to make contact with the divine. The 16th-century Christian mystic St. Teresa of Avila described prayer in its sublimity as "an intimate friendship, a frequent conversation held alone with the Beloved." An Islamic proverb states that to pray and to be Muslim is synonymous. And in Hinduism, devotion to prayer is seen as a route to ecstasy.

And yet, while religious traditions throughout history have sought to define it, prayer is hardly the private domain or even the product of organized religion. As James P. Moore observes in his book One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America: "Long before Moses parted the Red Sea, before Buddha described the path toward Nirvana, before Christ died on the cross, and before Mohammed revealed the message of the Koran, there was prayer."

Intimate Dialogues

Whatever the precise nature of its origins, prayer has long been an irreducible feature of virtually every living religion. In Judaism and Christianity, prayer is rooted in a biblical understanding of God as a personal being who hears and responds to His people. In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as a teacher and an exemplar of prayer. While He observes the traditional Jewish custom of praying at the Temple and the synagogue, He prays intimately and often at other important occasions: at His baptism, at the calling of His disciples, in the garden of Gethsemane, and at His crucifixion. He instructs his followers to avoid ostentatious prayer ("Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them"), to pray confidently ("Ask, and it will be given to you"), and to desire God's will ahead of their own ("The kingdom come, thy will be done").

In Islam, prayer is considered foremost an act of adoration to be incorporated into the daily routine of life through the salat, a ritual prayer recited five times a day while facing Mecca. Prayers of personal supplication, called du'a, are deemed secondary. Likewise, in Hinduism, daily liturgical prayers are emphasized over personal petition and are spelled out in the Vedas, a collection of ancient hymns. And in some forms of Buddhism, monastic prayers are practiced morning, noon, and night to the sound of a small bell.

Prayer And Health

But with all these prayers, the obvious question is rarely asked: What do people actually pray about when they bow their heads, close their eyes, and begin to share their thoughts, worries, desires, yearnings, adoration, and gratitude? The short answer, it seems, is that they pray about nearly everything. A cancer cure. A lotto win. A safe travel. A healthy long life. To seek God's guidance. To express gratitude for a wish granted. To pass an exam.

A recent survey by the US National Center for Health Statistics found that 43 percent of the adult population had prayed specifically for their own health in the previous year and more than half of those surveyed had at one point in their lives prayed for their own health. And cardiologists say that 97 percent of patients prayed the night before they had heart surgery. In another survey, 40 percent said that they prayed for their health "all the time." And of those who prayed for their health, 71.1 percent said they prayed about specific diseases like cancer, or chronic pain, and 65.1 percent said that they prayed because of emotional disorders or mental illness. That is why the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the US National Institutes of Health is spending $6.2 million over two years to study the link between prayer and health.

And yet, somehow quantifying and analyzing the effects of prayer on health has become a burgeoning field of scientific — some critics would say pseudoscientific — inquiry. Researchers have attempted to see if the efficacy of prayer can be evaluated in the same way as any other treatment, such as doing studies in which some people who were ill were given a dose of prayer with their medicine and others with the same illness received standard treatment only.

Indeed, for most believers, the element of religious life that intersects most naturally with health is prayer. Very serious theologians believe in the power of so-called intercessory prayer to heal the sick, and some very serious scientists have looked at it, too, with more than 6,000 published studies on the topic just since 2000. Some of them have been funded by groups like the John Templeton Foundation — part of whose mission is to search for overlap of religion and science — but others have come from more dispassionate investigators.

As long ago as 1872, Francis Galton, the man behind eugenics and fingerprinting, reckoned that monarchs should live longer than the rest of us, since millions of people pray for the health of their King or Queen every day. His research showed just the opposite — no surprise, perhaps, given the rich diet and extensive leisure that royal families enjoy.

One of the first formal studies on intercessory prayer took place in the coronary unit at the San Francisco General Hospital in 1988. Researchers found that patients who had been prayed for by others tended to recover with fewer complications than those who received standard treatment without prayer. Their need for antibiotics was one fifth that of other recovering patients, and they were one third as likely to develop pulmonary swelling.

Another highly publicized study, which appeared in 2001, is representative of the controversy that attends all attempts to study the power of prayer. In that study, researchers claimed that women in South Korea undergoing in vitro fertilization achieved astonishing results when strangers prayed for them. They were twice as likely to conceive, even though they didn't know that they were being prayed for. Questions were immediately raised about the study's methodology, despite the fact that it appeared in a respected journal, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and a distinguished physician was the lead author. But in 2004, the New York Times reported that the lead researcher had suddenly withdrawn his name from the study.

Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and an ardent critic of all the prayer studies, says, "Almost all the studies have such serious methodological flaws as to be inconclusive." There might simply be a basic contradiction inherent in all these studies. "If they could establish that intercessory prayer works in some objective, measurable way, they would be taking it out of the realm of prayer and into the not-so-well-known realm of some natural phenomenon," says Carol Zalesky, professor of religion at Smith College. "It no longer would have the spiritual meaning people think that it has. Then, would it still be prayer?" As one survey respondent explained, "I pray mostly for things that can't be measured." Sloan adds that even attempting to find a scientific basis for a link between prayer and healing is a "fool's errand" — and for the most basic methodological reason. "It's impossible to know how prayer is received," he says, "and since you don't know that, you can't determine the dose." Indeed, such is the difficulty in scientifically studying matters that relate to religion, faith, and spirituality.

Such exactitude, however, does not dissuade believers. For in the end, prayer is ultimately about realms of consciousness as yet unexplored — about what believers call the soul, or the spirit, or some transcendent part of being. Some believe that all prayers are actually answered — somehow, some place, sometime. But it does not really matter: For those who believe, the true power of prayer resides in the fact that it is what establishes the deep personal relationship that a person has with his/her God.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The View From Planet Ayala


Francisco J. Ayala, a biologist at U.C. Irvine who has won the 2010 Templeton Prize, is known for his attacks on intelligent design. He even tars it as a kind of "blasphemy" because ID would allow the attribution of intent and purpose to a designer guiding the development of life. What an odd thing to say. That would make most mainstream theology in Christianity and Judaism "blasphemous" too. You would expect that before using such a hyper-charged word, a distinguished guy like Dr. Ayala would take the time to think a little more carefully.

With Ayala, that expectation is often doomed to be disappointed. Thus as readers may recall, when he accepted an invitation to critique Stephen Meyer's recent book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, he went ahead and wrote his review as if he had the read the book whereas — it should have been to clear to anyone who had simply glanced at Meyer's Table of Contents — Dr. Ayala had not done even that. The invitation came from the website BioLogos, specializing in Christian cheerleading for Darwin, which Dr. Darrell Falk appears to operate as editor-in-chief. Falk has read Signature in the Cell, and written about it. Presumably he read Ayala's essay before publishing it.

The episode illustrates how hard it is for anyone in the intelligent design community to get a fair hearing. Ayala critiqued Dr. Meyer's book despite having no idea what's in it. Falk published Ayala's attack despite knowing that it distorts Meyer's thesis, while also displaying Ayala's overall ignorance of the sophisticated case for design that has been mounted by philosophers, biologists, physicists, and other scientists over the past decade. Ayala has made his reputation, as a peacemaker in the supposed stand-off between science and religion, based on a presumed ability to bring his own scholarship, discernment, and intelligence to bear on ultimate questions. What kind of a meaningful response can you have to an idea if you haven't taken the time to inform yourself adequately about it?

I mean no disrespect to Dr. Ayala, yet there is a sense in which he seems to be responding not to people and ideas as they are but to a construction in his own mind and of his own imagining. Maybe that's why he got creamed in a recent debate on ID, as even the Los Angeles Times notes in its coverage of the Templeton Prize winner:

Last fall, Ayala debated a prominent advocate for intelligent design, William Lane Craig, at the University of Indiana. Various Internet accounts suggested 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.

It's funny, a few years ago I wrote a piece for Townhall magazine about the suppression of intelligent design advocates in university and other academic settings. At the time I was writing it, I sent an email to several prominent theistic evolutionists and other Darwin defenders, including Francisco Ayala. I asked:

Critics of ID argue that one failing of ID theory, among others, is that it hasn't been backed up by research. If you were to imagine a university-employed scientist who wanted to do such research, would he be completely free to do so? Or, as ID advocates say, would he more likely be dissuaded by pressure from peers or supervisors?

Ayala replied:

He would be free to do so. I cannot imagine any serious scientist or academic administrator trying to dissuade anybody else from carrying out any well-designed research project (or, in fact, almost any research project). Our academic freedom to pursue any research we wish is something precious that we value as much as any other academic value.

What planet does this man live on? After the experiences of Sternberg, Gonzalez, Crocker, Marks, Minnich, Dembski — chronicled here and elsewhere, along with others yet to be named and still others too worried about reprisals to let themselves to be identified — it should be obvious that Ayala's statement is utterly, completely, and entirely false. When it comes to doubting Darwin, serious scientists would be justified in feeling intimidated. In part, the fear of speaking out is maintained by the realization that if you raise your voice, your view will not merely be criticized. It will be distorted so as to prejudice public and professional opinion against you.

What we have in Dr. Ayala's review of Steve Meyer's book is a telling illustration, in miniature, of how that works.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on March 26, 2010 12:06 AM | Permalink

A healing energy? Now in hospitals, Reiki musters critics and fans


By James T. Mulder / The Post-Standard
March 23, 2010, 6:00AM

Syracuse, NY -- A controversial healing therapy touted by some as an almost magical stress reliever and dismissed by others as quackery is going mainstream at some Syracuse hospitals.

Reiki, a form of energy healing, is being offered by a growing number of nurses, chaplains and other staffers at Crouse, Upstate University and the VA Medical Center. About 15 percent of hospitals nationwide -- including the Cleveland Clinic, Children's Hospital in Boston and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore -- provide Reiki.

Developed in Japan, Reiki is based on the idea that there is a universal life energy that supports the body's healing abilities. A Reiki practitioner supposedly becomes a conduit for this energy. During a treatment, a practitioner puts his or her hands on, or just above, several parts of a fully-clothed patient's body.

"That energy is going through me to the patient," said Joyce Appel, a registered nurse and Reiki practitioner at Crouse. "I know it sounds strange."

Reiki is considered a spiritual practice not linked to any specific religion.

There's no conclusive scientific evidence Reiki works. But Reiki proponents point to anecdotal evidence that suggests it eases stress, relieves pain and can improve a person's overall sense of well-being. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, says Reiki appears to be generally safe and no serious side effects have been reported. It also says more than 2.2 million U.S. adults have used it.

Among Reiki's fans are cardiac surgeon and TV show host Dr. Mehmet Oz, who recently urged viewers to try it. "This alternative medicine treatment can manipulate your energy and cure what ails you," he said on his program. (See clip, below.)

Critics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, say Reiki is bunk. The bishops issued guidelines last year saying Catholic hospitals and other facilities should not offer it.

" ... a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man's-land that is neither faith nor science," the bishops said in a statement.

St. Joseph's Hospital Health Care Center in Syracuse, a Catholic hospital, used to offer Reiki in its palliative care unit for dying patients. It stopped providing it after an employee trained in Reiki left the hospital, according to Denise Robertson, a hospital spokeswoman. The discontinuation of Reiki was unrelated to the bishops' statement, she said.

"I think it's wrong to leverage your brand and trust to offer therapies that are not scientific," Jones said. "Having it available in the hospital makes it seem to the patient who is not educated that this is a legitimate therapy that will do them some good."

Local hospitals say they don't use Reiki as a substitute for conventional medical treatments, but offer it as a complementary service. Health insurance does not pay for Reiki so Crouse and Upstate offer it free. The VA provides Reiki to some patients in its pain clinic and includes it as part of a regular exam.

Dr. Scott Treatman, Crouse's director of employee health, said Crouse's patient surveys suggest Reiki helps patients.

Crouse surveyed 390 patients who received Reiki between January, 2008, and December, 2009. Patients were asked to rank their stress levels before and after treatments on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being no stress and 5 being high stress. They also ranked their pain before and after treatments. The average patient's stress score was 2.77 before Reiki and .97 after Reiki. The average patient's pain score was .99 before Reiki and .78 after.

"The evidence, although it's not in peer-reviewed journals, speaks for itself," Treatman said. "We're not only in the business of yanking out gallbladders, but also making the patients' experience here more comfortable."

Michael North, a chronic pain patient at the VA Medical Center, swears by Reiki.

North, 54, of Tully, suffers from pain related to lower back and neck problems. The U.S. Coast Guard veteran has had three surgeries over the past 24 years.

North has tried painkillers, but they don't help. He said he has a hard time relaxing. North said Reiki is the only thing that eases his anxiety. He got his first treatment in 2001 from Nancy J. Barnum, a nurse practitioner in the VA's pain clinic.

"Within a matter of minutes after barely touching my forehead, all of a sudden it felt like every problem just flushed out of me," North said. "I couldn't believe it."

Barnum said learning how to relax is a key strategy for chronic pain patients like North. Medication, behavioral therapy and other relaxation techniques don't work for some patients. For those people, alternatives like Reiki are sometimes more helpful, she said.

"If you can help someone to manage their stress level and induce more of a relaxation response, the pain becomes more bearable," Barnum said.

Reiki, long available in the community from private practitioners and through some medical practices, is gaining more traction in hospitals. A few nurses began offering Reiki at Crouse seven years ago. As patient interest in the alternative therapy increased the hospital formalized the program. "Administration said, 'If patients are benefiting from it, why would we not do it,'" said Bob Allen, a Crouse vice president.

Joyce Appel, an experienced Reiki teacher, or Reiki Master, coordinates the Reiki program at Crouse. She and 16 other Crouse employees trained in Reiki offer it on their own time to maternity, cancer and chemical dependency patients. The hospital hopes to expand the program so it can make the therapy available to even more patients.

Upstate has trained about 30 staff members to offer Reiki to patients.

"We can't handle all the requests we are getting," said Rev. Louise Tallman Shepherd, a pediatric chaplain and Reiki Master at Upstate.

She and Sue Karl, a certified child life specialist and Reiki Master, provide Reiki to hospitalized children.

One of them was a school-age child with a history of psychiatric illness who was awake for three days before she was admitted. At the hospital, the child could not sleep, even though she had been given sedatives.

Shepherd and Karl spoke with the child's parents and received their permission to try Reiki. After treating the child for nearly an hour, the youngster fell asleep for 15 hours and was discharged the next day, according to Shepherd and Karl.

"The parents were very relieved," Shepherd said.

There is no formal regulation of training and certification of Reiki practitioners. That has created a credibility problem for Reiki, according to Pamela Miles, a Reiki Master and author from New York City.

"Practitioners are all over the board, literally from people clicking on a Web site and considering themselves to be Reiki Masters to people who've gone through many years of training," Miles said. "It's really a buyer beware market."

She recommends consumers ask practitioners if they have been trained in person by a Reiki Master. Miles also said consumers should ask practitioners about their clinical experience, their fees and -- most importantly -- whether the provider practices Reiki-self treatment every day.

Crouse and Upstate check out employees' credentials and training before allowing them to provide Reiki to patients.

Barnum of the VA said more hospitals are offering Reiki because patients are demanding alternatives.

"You get sick of people throwing a pill at the problem all the time, especially if they are not helpful and you are dealing with side effects," she said.

Reiki also provides hospitals a way to reestablish a physical connection with patients, something that is vanishing as hospitals become more high tech, she said.

"It's easy for people to feel like the last four digits of their Social Security number or the liver in room 538," Barnum said. "Things like Reiki can make it less impersonal."

--James T. Mulder can be reached at 470-2245 or jmulder@syracuse.com