NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 April 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ida's Bust Maroons Retroactive Confessions of Ignorance about Primate Evolution


As I've discussed before, it's often only when evolutionists think they have found some "missing link" that they feel safe enough to admit how little they actually knew about the alleged evolutionary transition in question. What happens when the link goes bust—as we've recently discussed is the case with Ida? We're left with lots of admissions of ignorance about evolution and no links to fill the now-exposed gap.

This is why Colin Tudge's book about Ida, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor (Little Brown & Co, 2009), is so intriguing. He thought he had a missing link to explain the early evolution of primates on the line that supposedly led to humans, so the book is filled with would-be retroactive confessions of evolutionist ignorance about primate evolution. For example:

Although, because of gaps in the fossil record, paleontologists have had to hypothesize about what happened after the primitive primate, they have determined that by 40 million years ago, there were, as we know, two distinct primate groups: those with wet noses—lemurs and lorises; and those with dry noses—tarsiers and apes and monkeys. At some point during the Eocene, this important split in primate evolution occurred; without it, humankind as we know it would not exist. Until the fossil in the photograph was found [Ida], no complete skeleton had ever been discovered of an "in-between" species to prove this split. Hurum was fast concluding that the specimen he was looking at could be one of the holy grails of science—the "missing link" from the crucial time period.
(Colin Tudge, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, p. 13 (Little Brown & Co, 2009).)

Except, of course, it now is becoming clear that Jørn Hurum (the Norwegian paleontologist who works at the Geological museum of the University of Oslo, who wrote the foreword to The Link) was a little too fast concluding that he'd found a "missing link," meaning that apparently we don't necessarily have "an 'in-between' species to prove this split."

Tudge continues to admit the lack of fossils evidence for primate evolution during the Eocene:

Radical transitions in primate evolution occurred throughout the Eocene, from 56 million to 34 million years ago. Many scientists argue that the primates that were in the direct line of humans must have lived during the Eocene in sub-Saharan Africa, but exactly what kind of primates those would have been is not known because there are huge gaps in the fossil record. This is where studying Ida in her entirety and with a view forward opens up a new chapter in primate evolution. Just as Ida complicates primate history, she gives us hints of where a transition occurred in the great story line of primates, because she allows us to see a combination of complex primate traits all in one skeleton.

(Colin Tudge,
, pp. 101-102 (Little Brown & Co, 2009).)

Except now, critics are saying things like, "Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution," and, "What's amazing about Darwinius is, despite the fact that it's nearly complete, it tells us very little that we didn't already know from fossils of closely related species."

And what comes after the Eocene? The Link asks "what do we actually know about the post-Eocene primates?" and admits in its answer: "The short answer to this question, What do we know? Is, as ever, Not much." (p. 173) More specifically, The Link admits the paucity of fossil evidence documenting primate evolution from the past 5 million years:

The primate fossil record is so sparse that only around fifty significant specimens exist from the past 5 million years. The most famous is Lucy, the 3.2 million year old australopithecine discovered by Donald Johanson in November 1974. Lucy revolutionized science by providing the first evidence of a primate that walked upright--a crucial link in our own evolution that distinguishes us from all other primates. But even Lucy, considered a remarkable specimen, was only 40 percent complete.

(Colin Tudge, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, pp. 16-17 (Little Brown & Co, 2009).)

These sorts of admissions come readily when you think you have, as The Link quotes Jørn Hurum saying about Ida, "the icon for the early evolution of primates," (p. 243) which will "be the image of our early evolution for generations to come." (p. 229)

Ida's Theological / Environmental Punchline

Tudge's book The Link appears to be aimed at high school or college students, to excite them about science and paleontology. There's nothing wrong with that. But the book also has a not-so-hidden agenda to convert students to accept Darwin, using all the hype we've grown accustomed to seeing alongside the promotion of Ida. It even tries to convince students that their religious beliefs should perhaps be modified to accept Darwin. Consider these interesting passages:

Furthermore, said [Richard] Owen, if one kind of creature (like a bear) could turn by a succession of gradual changes into something quite different (like a whale), then the fossil record should contain the intermediate types. But it does not. The intermediates are missing. There are, in short, missing links. Owen said that the fossil record left Darwin's idea in tatters. We may choose to believe for all kinds of reasons that Darwin was right—if not always in detail, then certainly in principle. Living creatures have evolved over time usually from simpler beginnings. There have been no interruptions. In general the changes has been slow. But Owen's criticisms were and are valid too. If all we had to go on was the fossil record, we might be just inclined to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. So how do we cope with this discrepancy? And what has all this got to do with Ida?

(Colin Tudge, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, pp. 16-17 (Little Brown & Co, 2009).)

There will be readers who will find it somewhat strange that the author refers to the apes and ourselves collectively as we, as if Homo sapiens were simply another ape. Is it not strange indeed to see Ida, a 47-milliony-year-old creature who was scarcely even an anthropoid, as an ancestor, worthy to take her place in the family album, at least among the great-aunts? Surely we are above these creatures. Surely it is blasphemy to pretend otherwise. Many have thought so. Many a philosopher and cleric have condemned biologists for daring to emphasize our affinity with other creatures. … But many a philosopher and cleric, and of course many a biologist, have not been ashamed to be associated with the other beasts. St. Francis of Assisi, felt by many to be the most Christlike of the Christian saints, declared that the animals and plants were his brothers and sisters. Charles Darwin, who suggested that all creatures must have arisen in the deep past from a common ancestor, said in effect that this is literally the case. If everything is God's Creation, why would we want to be aloof from it? Who are we to be so superior?

(Colin Tudge, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, pp. 245-246 (Little Brown & Co, 2009).)

After pushing theistic evolutionary religious views on its likely student-readers, The Link then closes with the customary epilogue emphasizing the importance of protecting the environment. Again, there's nothing wrong with emphasizing the importance of protecting the environment, but there's a deep fallacy here: Tudge assumes that if you don't endorse Darwinian evolution, you won't support environmental protection. But in my experience many Christians of all stripes – theistic evolutionists and Darwin-doubters – have recognized the importance of protecting the environment.

One most certainly does need not to believe one is related to Ida to recognize the specialness of our world and the importance of protecting and preserving it. And Tudge is wrong to think he must denigrate human exceptionalism in order to motivate environmentalism.

Posted by Casey Luskin on April 10, 2010 10:00 AM | Permalink

Poor Results on Evolution and Big Bang Questions Omitted From NSF Report


Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog | Saturday, April 10, 2010

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, "The universe began with a big explosion," with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The USA continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in this basic science understanding. Similar to how we lag in other science and mathematical education. Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don't Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sun.

Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. "Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs."

I completely agree. People have the right to their opinions. But those opinions which are related to scientific knowledge (whether it is about evolution, the origin of the universe, cancer, the speed of light, polio vaccinations, multi-factorial designed experiments, magnetic fields, chemical catalysts, the effectiveness of antibiotics against viral infections, electricity, optics, bioaccumulation, etc.) are part of their scientific literacy. You can certainly believe antibiotics are affective against viral infections but that is an indication you are scientifically illiterate on that topic.

2006 NSF chapter that included the results

Americans were less likely than residents of other countries to answer "true" to the following scientific knowledge questions: "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" and "the universe began with a huge explosion." In the United States, 44% of the respondents in an NSF-sponsored survey answered "true" to the first question in 2004, about the same level recorded in every year (except one) that the question has been asked. In contrast, 78% of Japanese respondents answered "true," as did 70% of the Chinese and European respondents and more than 60% of the South Korean and Malaysian respondents. Only in Russia did less than half (44%) of respondents answer "true."

A recent study of 20 years of survey data collected by NSF concluded that "many Americans accept pseudoscientific beliefs," such as astrology, lucky numbers, the existence of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), extrasensory perception (ESP), and magnetic therapy (Losh et al. 2003). Such beliefs indicate a lack of understanding of how science works and how evidence is investigated and subsequently determined to be either valid or not. Scientists, educators, and others are concerned that people have not acquired the critical thinking skills they need to distinguish fact from fiction. The science community and those whose job it is to communicate information about science to the public have been particularly concerned about the public's susceptibility to unproven claims that could adversely affect their health, safety, and pocketbooks.

More Than a Century After Darwin, Evolution Still Under Attack in Science Classrooms

In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education decided to delete evolution from the state's science standards. The action received widespread press coverage and sparked an outcry in the science community. Most of the public also disagreed with the decision, which was reversed after board members who had voted for the change were defeated in the next election.

Thus began another round of attacks on the teaching of evolution in public school classrooms. Similar eruptions have been occurring since the landmark 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial. Although Tennessee teacher John Scopes was convicted, science ended up being the true victor, according to the history books and thanks to the play Inherit the Wind. The next milestone occurred in 1987 when the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution unless equal time was given to creationism.

Evolution is fundamental to understanding life. Ignorance about this fundamental principle makes understanding biology, nature, health care, medicine… possible. Without an appreciation of evolution it is next to impossible to make sensible scientific decisions about anything related to life and science. Science requires the open discussion of topics and criticism of faulty thinking. People are entitled to their beliefs. They are not entitled to having their beliefs put blinders on science discussion and science education on critical fundamental topics.

If a huge percentage of people really didn't like string theory, given our current understanding, I could go along with saying we just avoid teaching about it in school – I would rather us teach science, but it is true we exist in a society and avoiding some topics could be acceptable to spare some people's feelings. But some topics (evolution, atoms, photosynthesis, molecules, infectious disease, gravity, organic chemistry, human nutrition, correlation and causation, weather, genetics, the scientific method, cell theory, algebra, entropy, …) are too fundamental to avoid. People are free to decide they don't believe in science in whatever areas they choose. That is their right. But condemning a society to scientific ignorance on fundamental scientific topics is a bad idea. That ignorance will not remain segmented and will damage the scientific literacy overall of any such society. Any society that does so will suffer due to limiting the understanding of scientific knowledge.

I don't really think many would argue that ignorance on fundamental scientific topics will result in scientific illiteracy. So I would think the debate would come down to if evolution is actually a fundamental scientific concept. To me it is absolutely so. But I could be wrong.

Prince Charles: promoting woo again


by John Street
Sunday, April 11th, 2010

It would be unconstitutional for the heir to the throne to have a say in government policy-making, wouldn't it? Up to a point. Officials at the Department of Health are still seething over the pressure discreetly but effectively brought by Prince Charles which led Health Secretary Andy Burnham to announce a pilot scheme for treating back pain with complementary and alternative medicine in the National Health Service. Patients will be invited to discuss alternative therapies with their GPs as part of what Charles sees as a long-term solution to freeing up NHS beds. No constitutional improprieties were involved in the making of this policy since Charles' views were conveyed under the guise of one of his pet charities.

Evaluating homeopathic approaches to tinnitus


Studies suggest that ginkgo biloba may offer some relief, but more widely, no evidence confirms reduction or elimination of constant ringing in the ears.

By Chris Woolston

Special to the Los Angeles Times

April 12, 2010

For millions of people, the quietest room is never quiet enough. Even when surrounded by silence, they can hear a ringing or buzzing in their ears that drives them to distraction. The sound is called tinnitus, and sufferers — often people with hearing trouble thanks to advanced age or loud sounds — are willing to go to great lengths to stop the noise.

Some plead with their doctors to cut their hearing nerves completely, but even this drastic measure won't help. The few patients who have had the procedure could still hear their tinnitus — and nothing else.

Tinnitus can sometimes be treated with electronic masking devices that help obscure the sound. And some patients find relief from cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of counseling that can encourage people to think about things other than their tinnitus.

These approaches don't work for everyone, and they can be expensive, so it's no wonder that many people end up looking for tinnitus relief in a pill. Options include Quietus, a homeopathic supplement advertised on radio and television. (Not to be confused with Quietus, the fictional suicide pill in the 2006 science fiction film "Children of Men.") A bottle of 60 tablets, a one-month supply if taken twice daily as directed, costs $99. The website doesn't list any ingredients, and Preval Group, the PR firm that represents Quietus, didn't respond to requests for information. A man who answered the phone for the Quietus customer service hotline would say only that the product contains a "powerful lineup of ingredients."

Another option is Tinnitus Relief Formula from Arches Health Products. Each capsule contains 120 milligrams of ginkgo biloba along with zinc and garlic extract. Users are instructed to take two capsules twice daily. If you order from the company website, you can buy a bottle of 100 capsules for $35. Arches also sells a "combo pack," which includes four bottles of Tinnitus Relief Formula, a bottle of a "high potency B vitamin complex" and a bottle of vitamin B-12. The pack, good for a three-month supply when taken as directed, costs about $150.

Claims: The TV ad for Quietus says that the product "has helped thousands of people with tinnitus" and will "stop the ringing fast." The ad doesn't explain how Quietus is supposed to work, although the website does clarify that it was "created by a rock drummer" to treat his tinnitus.

The website for Tinnitus Relief Formula says "if you do only one thing for your tinnitus … this is it!" The site also says that "many individuals will experience a reduction in symptoms in four weeks."

The bottom line: A lot of patients ask if Quietus or other tinnitus supplements are worth a try, says audiologist Jeff Carroll, director of the Tinnitus Treatment Center at UC Irvine. "If I thought that these products worked, I would offer them in my clinic in a heartbeat," he says. But to his mind, there's no solid evidence that the supplements are of use. "We don't recommend them."

Quietus is a homeopathic treatment, which means the tablets will contain only the slightest trace of active ingredients, whatever they are. Homeopathy has never been carefully studied for tinnitus, but the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that the homeopathic approach to medicine is "controversial" because its "key concepts are not consistent with established laws of science."

Unlike homeopathy, ginkgo really has been put to the scientific test — with mixed results. Some clinical trials have found that the herb, believed to improve circulation to the inner ear, can quiet the noise in some patients. For example, a 1986 French study of 103 patients who had recently developed tinnitus found that half of the subjects reported relief after taking a ginkgo supplement for 70 days. Other studies, including a 2001study of more than 1,100 tinnitus sufferers in England, have found that ginkgo didn't work any better than a placebo or sugar pill. The German Commission E, a generally respected source on herbal remedies, has concluded that taking 240 mg of ginkgo twice a day can be helpful for tinnitus.

Even believers in ginkgo don't claim that it works for everyone. "We know that there are no cures," says Dr. Michael Seidman, director of the Division of Otologic-Neurotolgic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Seidman, who is the chair-elect of the board of governors for the American Assn. of Otolaryngology, owns a small stake — less than 5% — in Arches Natural Products, the company that produces Tinnitus Relief Formula.

Seidman says he recommended Tinnitus Relief Formula to his patients long before he had any connection with the company. By his estimation, about four or five patients out of 100 who try the product say that their ringing disappears completely. More than half want to keep taking the formula even though they aren't sure how well it's working, if at all. He advises a four-month trial of the tinnitus combo pack. "If it isn't helping by then, you should stop spending your money. It's probably not going to work."

William Martin, professor of otolaryngology-head neck surgery and director of the Tinnitus Clinic at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, says that there are still huge gaps in the science surrounding tinnitus. But for now, he says, there's no good evidence that any supplement helps. Martin notes that tinnitus supplements tend to come with the disclaimer that they are "not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

"I think that says it all," Martin says.

Curious about a consumer health product? Send an e-mail to health@latimes.com. Read more at latimes.com/skeptic.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Inside Medicine: Homeopathic medicine


By Dr. Michael Wilkes

Published: Sunday, Apr. 11, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 17I

Peggy, 54, has been having stomach problems for six months, problems that could be serious. She's seeing a homeopathic provider who thinks he has the answer to her problems, but he clearly doesn't. The treatment Peggy is getting is not working; she is getting worse.

In medicine, I find that sometimes it's hard to let an old dog die. In American health care, we have lots of surgeries and treatments that play a prominent role despite evidence that they just don't work. The reasons we don't stop are complex and involve financial incentives, doctors who don't keep up with advances in medicine and, of course, patients who demand certain treatments even when the doctor explains that they don't work.

A major case in point – and one that will get me in lots of hot water with readers – involves homeopathy. "Homeopathy" is derived from the Greek words "homeo" (similar) and "pathos" (suffering or disease).

The underlying principles were formulated by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. Homeopathy is based on the belief that disease symptoms can be cured by infinitesimally low doses of medicines that produce similar symptoms in healthy people. So if a person feels nauseous, he or she is treated with low doses of medicine that causes nausea.

Many high-quality studies show that these treatments don't work any better than placebos. One excellent report looked at 110 high-quality research studies comparing the benefits of homeopathy with conventional medicine. The researchers concluded there was no evidence that homeopathy was superior to a placebo.

Even the supposed science behind homeopathic drugs does not seem to make any sense. It suggests that homeopathic remedies become more powerful the more they're diluted. These remedies ultimately become so diluted that you could consume gallons without getting a single molecule of the original chemical.

Peggy felt better for a short time, then started getting worse. She came to see her medical doctor and, at the moment, what I know is that she has a stomach ulcer but could also have something more serious. She waited six months to come in because the homeopathic provider was telling her she was getting better.

Given that they are essentially just water, most experts believe these chemicals are safe. The controversy surrounds their effectiveness. The FDA allows the sales of most homeopathic drugs without requiring the usual proof of effectiveness.

The doctors I spoke with who use homeopathy insist that these medicines make people feel better. I have no doubt they do – through the placebo effect, wherein the patient believes he or she is being given an effective chemical.

Most medicines, homeopathic and traditional, have at least some placebo effect.

If patients like Peggy believe they are benefiting from homeopathic remedies, even if it is the placebo effect, what's the problem?

One problem is that Peggy was attracted to homeopathic remedies instead of traditional medicines, which are often scientifically based. For Peggy, this resulted in greater pain and a delayed diagnosis. If it turns out she has stomach cancer, seeking homeopathic care and delaying medical treatment could be deadly.

This is one reason the World Health Organization warns against homeopathic remedies for serious illness.

It's also dishonest to allow these medicines to be marketed to the public when most of the data suggest they don't work.

I suspect many of you will write in and say that this is the classic example of a medical doctor slamming alternative medicine. Perhaps that's true, but when there's something that just simply does not work, whether it be homeopathy or conventional medicines, our government shouldn't be afraid to take it off the market.

That's why we have an FDA that requires that medicines be both safe and effective.

What are they waiting for to remove homeopathic medicines?

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/04/11/2665530/inside-medicine-by-dr-michael.html#ixzz0kpY5V4qZ

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Nonscience Of The Scientific Arguments Against Evolution


The Discovery Institute (DI) isn't impressed with what I've been writing for The Huffington Post.

On 3 April 2010, DI posted a piece on their website that claimed that "Michael Zimmerman ignores the science that challenges evolution." Written by attorney Casey Luskin, the article was an attack on my essay saying that the evolution/creation controversy was not a battle between religion and science but between various religious perspectives.

Despite there being more fundamentalist ministers than you can shake a stick at who repeatedly claim that people must choose between religion and evolution, Luskin makes the preposterous argument that the "controversy" should be seen solely as a scientific one! Religion, he claims, has nothing to do with the ever-present attacks on evolution.

Let's look at both of his absurd claims, and then let's look a bit more closely at the Discovery Institute itself. You may remember Pat Robertson warning the good people of Dover, Pennsylvania, when they threw out the school board members who required that intelligent design be taught in their schools, "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city."

Or you may remember Robertson saying that "the evolutionists worship atheism. I mean, that's their religion."

Or perhaps Albert Mohler's comments in Time, will come to mind: "You cannot coherently affirm the Christian-truth claim and the dominant model of evolutionary theory at the same time." In case you don't remember, let me remind you that Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I could go on ad nauseam, providing you with similar quotes from high-profile fundamentalist clergy members, but I see no need to do so; clearly these folks regularly claim that they cannot accept evolutionary theory on religious grounds. I have no problem with these people saying what they believe, but I am completely opposed to them implying that all who are religious must agree with them. As I've said so often, the very existence of The Clergy Letter Project and the more than 13,000 clergy members who have affirmed that they are fully comfortable with both their faith and evolution makes a mockery of such ridiculous claims.

Despite what Luskin asserts, those promoting one narrow religious perspective are entirely responsible for the ongoing evolution/creation controversy.

What about his contention that I've ignored "the science that challenges evolution?" I'm sorry to be so blunt, but there's simply no way to be polite about this: his claim is utter garbage. And he must know it because he doesn't direct his readers to a single piece of scientific evidence supporting his charge.

Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts extending, testing, and refining evolutionary theory are published each and every year, but there aren't any calling the basic premise of the theory into question. And yet Luskin has the nerve to say that there is "overwhelming evidence" of a "scientific controversy about the importance of evolutionary theory."

Luskin does go out of his way to praise the Texas State Board of Education for their recent stance on evolution, a stance that was in conflict with the recommendations offered by their own experts and which has been widely criticized by scientific and educational groups.

What's going on here? Why is Luskin, on behalf of the Discovery Institute, so eager to publish such absurd statements? Not surprisingly, it all comes down to religion and money. The Discovery Institute and its main supporters, supporters who have pumped millions of dollars into their efforts, want to remake both science and the United States into their religious image.

As both Steve Benen and Max Blumenthal have shown, Howard Ahmanson, Jr., one of DI's biggest donors, has expressed extreme views about the role religion should play in America. And that's putting it mildly, since he's said, "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives." He's also helped bankroll the Christian Reconstructionism movement, a group that, according to Benen, "seeks to replace American democracy with a harsh fundamentalist theocracy."

As frightening as all of this might be, it is fully consistent with the reason the Discovery Institute gives for attacking evolution and promoting "intelligent design": "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Luskin and his DI colleagues have created a well-funded public relations machine which they use relentlessly to mislead the public about evolution and to encourage school boards and state legislatures to take steps to destroy high-quality science education. They get what seems to be unlimited air time on Fox to promote their dangerous message.

Interestingly, for a group that pretends to be about openness and professes to want to look at all sides of the issue, the pieces they post on their site permit no comments. Instead, they attack me and expect that theirs will be the last words -- as incorrect as they are. But here on The Huffington Post, readers who form a robust community will have the last words. Those words may well demonstrate exactly what the Discovery Institute is all about and how offensive most people find their actions.

Evolution education update: April 9, 2010

Twofold congratulations are in order for NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll. Plus more video and audio featuring NCSE staff, and a sample from Douglas Palmer's Evolution: The Story of Life.


NCSE congratulates Sean B. Carroll for winning the 2010 Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution (to be awarded at the SSE meeting in Portland, Oregon, in June 2010) and for becoming the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's vice president for science education (beginning in September 2010).

In announcing the award, the Society for the Study of Evolution cited Carroll's "distinguished career both advancing the science of evolution and in conveying that knowledge to the general public," noting that he is "a leading spokesperson in the public sphere for evolutionary biology" and listing his numerous honors for scientific and educational achievements.

The Stephen Jay Gould Prize is awarded annually by the Society for the Study of Evolution to recognize individuals whose sustained and exemplary efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science and its importance in biology, education, and everyday life in the spirit of Stephen Jay Gould; its first recipient was NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott.

Carroll will also become the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's vice president for science education, according to a press release issued on April 7, 2010, which described him as "a gifted scientist who also displays an extraordinary talent for translating complicated scientific ideas in compelling, understandable ways to members of the public of all ages."

In the same press release, Carroll explained, "I want to help other people have as much fun as I have. ... We all need inspiration, but how do we nourish curiosity and inspire an interest in science, particularly among young people? These are crucial challenges and I hope to promote the very positive role that science can play in our culture."

A Supporter of NCSE, Carroll is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Professor of Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of, most recently, Remarkable Creatures (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), and a monthly column published in The New York Times Science Times.

For the SSE's announcement, visit:

For the HHMI's press release, visit:

For information about Remarkable Creatures, visit:

For Carroll's column in The New York Times, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was interviewed at the University of Notre Dame in September 2009 about ways of teaching evolution effectively -- and now a video of the interview is available on NCSE's YouTube channel. Plus NCSE's Steven Newton and Chris Mooney (the author of The Republican War on Science and the coauthor of Unscientific America) were interviewed on KPFA radio's The Sunday Show with Philip Maldari about Texas's state science education standards on April 4, 2010; audio of the show is available until April 16, 2010. And NCSE's Scott discussed evolution education on the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast -- produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation -- on March 31, 2010 (look for podcast #246). Tune in and enjoy!

For the interview with Scott, visit:

For the interview with Newton, visit:

For the podcast with Scott, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Douglas Palmer's Evolution: The Story of Life (University of California Press, 2009). Included are lavishly illustrated spreads on Darwin's Origin, the pattern of life, the variety of fossils, reconstructing the past, Snowball Earth, sea scorpions and jawless fish, greening the land, the diversification of marine reptiles, and synapsida. The reviewer for Natural History comments, "If time machines were real, this would be the book to carry on nature hikes into the distant past," and Kevin Padian writes, "Palmer's scholarship is up to date and the text passages are highly appropriate. He has a sense for a good story and good science as well. This book is a prodigious effort, not least in the artwork, but also in the assembly of photos and illustrations, and of course the text."

For the preview of Evolution (PDF), visit:

For information from the publisher, 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:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

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

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report


by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on April 8, 2010 4:16 PM

In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.

They're not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.

"Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice" that "downplays the controversy" over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week's issue of Science.

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were "flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs," says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB's Science and Engineering Indicators Committee.

The explanation doesn't appear to have soothed White House officials, who say that the edit—made after the White House had reviewed a draft—left them surprised and dismayed. "The Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track," says Rick Weiss, a spokesperson and analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, "The universe began with a big explosion," with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions "very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding" of the two topics.

"I think that is a nonsensical response" that reflects "the religious right's point of view," says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. "Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs."

When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: "There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution," adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer "false" to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: "On that particular point, no."

Lanzerotti told Science that even though the board had been aware of concerns about the two questions since before the 2008 survey was conducted, officials had not had a chance to alter the questions because the volume of work that goes into producing the Indicators is "vast," unlike "writing a 2000-word news article." However, both Lanzerotti and Lynda Carlson, director of NSF's statistical office that manages the survey and produces Indicators, say that it is time to take a fresh look at the survey. Last week, less than 48 hours after his interview with Science, Lanzerotti asked the head of NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate to conduct a "thorough examination" of the questions through "workshops with experts."

Miller, the scientific literacy researcher, believes that removing the entire section was a clumsy attempt to hide a national embarrassment. "Nobody likes our infant death rate," he says by way of comparison, "but it doesn't go away if you quit talking about it."

Libel laws: a pain in the back(side)


The Simon Singh libel case shows what happens when courtrooms end up deciding scientific controversies

by Oli Usher
Friday, April 9th, 2010

Two years in court and £200,000 later, science writer Simon Singh has won the right to assert that an article he wrote in The Guardian's comment section was indeed comment. After perhaps another two years, we might finally know whether we can repeat the handful of contentious sentences about chiropractic that landed him in this mess in the first place.

But unless there is an unexpected change of heart in government, it will take a lot longer than that to reverse the massive injustice perpetrated each time a scientific controversy gets decided in the libel courts.

On May 19 2008, Singh, co-author of Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial wrote an article in The Guardian to mark chiropractic awareness week. He argued that the practice – which involves manipulating the spine to treat a whole host of medical conditions – was "bogus". He also – and this is why he is in trouble now – said uncharitable things about the British Chiropractic Association.

What things he said I'm not going to risk repeating: the BCA is suing for libel, and no less than the Lord Chief Justice has stated that it is "unlikely that anyone would dare repeat the opinions expressed by Dr Singh for fear of a writ".

That's not the kind of legal advice to ignore.

The association demanded a full retraction, which Singh refused to give, and turned down an opportunity for a right to reply in the paper. Instead, the BCA began legal action for libel against Singh personally – not against the newspaper.

Singh claims that he was making a "fair comment" about the BCA and chiropractic, a legal defence which basically asserts that the statement was a legitimate and justifiable opinion. The BCA argued that Singh's article amounted to a statement of fact – and that he should therefore have to prove it.

Singh's position as an individual facing the skewed English libel courts was difficult enough, but to make things worse, the preliminary hearing over whether Singh could present a defence of fair comment was presided over by Mr Justice Eady, widely seen in media circles as a "hanging judge" on such cases.

Eady ruled in the chiropractors' favour – which meant that any defence in court would have to rely on proving that the BCA were actively dishonest: even if he were to prove they were reckless, ignorant, incompetent or stupid, that would not be enough to see off the case. Apart from being an impossible burden of proof, it would have meant Singh had to prove in court a much more serious allegation than he claims he made in the first place.

Last Thursday's judgement from the Court of Appeal, a welcome piece of sanity on April Fools' Day, overturned Eady's arguments.

The relationship between facts and inferences in science, the court ruled, is a matter which is "legitimately contested", and that therefore Singh's defence that he was expressing a legitimate opinion about the BCA was permissible.

That something so obvious needed two years of legal wrangling to settle is rather worrying. One wonders how many more years it might take to come to the equally obvious conclusion that the facts themselves are also a matter of legitimate debate in science. (That's what experiments are for.) But before we get there, Singh still needs to clear his name – incredibly, the past two years have not been spent deciding whether or not he libelled the BCA, they have been wasted determining what defence he can use when this case eventually gets heard.

Tempting as it is to attack Eady – and the Court of Appeal's judgement makes for a devastating indictment of his judgement (both in the legal and colloquial senses of the word) – the real issue here is the state of libel law in this country, which is widely used to bully and to stifle, rather than to defend and to protect. Pointing out that the BCA chose to sue Singh directly, and not the newspaper which published his words, the judgement notes that "the unhappy impression has been created that this is an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics".

Regardless of the BCA's motivations in the case (and not having £200,000 to spare, I don't want to risk guessing what they might be), the outcome of using libel laws to determine what opinions are and are not permissible on matters of science and medicine is deeply worrying. It pushes science towards being less open when it needs to be more so.

What if the scientists who discovered that thalidomide caused birth defects had thought twice before releasing their theories in case they were sued by the manufacturers? What if Rachel Carson had held back from publishing Silent Spring in case the pesticide companies objected to what she said about DDT? What if the tobacco companies had silenced the authors of the British Doctors' Study, which proved the link between smoking and cancer?

There is a widespread and mistaken view that science is definite and unimpeachable, and that only "bad" science is subject to controversy and dispute. Nothing could be further from the truth. Science is full of argument, sometimes surprisingly vicious and personal.

But the correct institution for ruling on those disputes is not the court of appeal. It is the court of peer-reviewed science. Like the legal system, it isn't beyond getting things wrong sometimes – but unlike English libel law, it isn't an absolute travesty.

Surgeons warn about alternative therapists


By Bernard Orsman 4:00 AM Friday Apr 9, 2010

The case of a women who required extensive surgery for cancer after allegedly being assured by an alternative medical practitioner for 16 months that an infected cyst on her scalp was benign has alarmed surgeons.

The 65-year-old woman sought advice from an alternative medicine practitioner regarding a 3cm ulcerated lesion on her scalp. It was diagnosed as a benign "infected sebaceous cyst". She was told to apply herbal poultice and change the dressing daily.

When the lesion grew to 8cm after six months of treatment, the practitioner allegedly dismissed the concerns of the woman's family, reiterated it was benign and advised against conventional medical advice, according to a report published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

After 16 months, the lesion had grown to 20cm, the woman was in severe pain and housebound. Still the practitioner allegedly dismissed the family's concerns.

In desperation they showed a photograph of the lesion to the family doctor, who immediately referred the woman to hospital. She underwent radical surgery on a tumour and later radiotherapy. Eight months later, the woman's quality of life was greatly improved.

In the report, four Wellington surgeons said the case highlighted the risks of alternative therapy in place of proven medical treatment.

The surgeons said the case emphasised the limitations of current regulations of complementary and alternative medicine in New Zealand.

Mainstream health practitioners were subject to that act and regulated by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, which provides mechanisms to ensure that health practitioners are competent.

The surgeons said self-regulation of alternative practitioners was inadequate.

The New Zealand Charter of Health Practitioners' chief executive Patrick Fahy said it was obvious that in this case the practitioner had been a "maverick", and probably did not not belong to any association or body which would have held them accountable.

"This person was obviously practicing outside their own competency. Practitioners have a code of practice and a responsibility to provide a duty of care. That did not happen here."

Mr Fahy said doctors thought the natural health field was full of "quacks" and this "isolated" incident helped them push that agenda.

By Bernard Orsman

Fox & Friends Validate Creationist Dad Upset With Biology Book – Nuff Said!!!


Reported by Priscilla - April 8, 2010

Fox & Friends is the go to show for persecuted Christians. As such, it's not surprising that they would provide a platform for a persecuted, Christian creationist. This morning they hosted a dad from Tennessee, the state that gave us the "Scopes Monkey Trial," who is upset that his son's science textbook refers to creationism as a biblical myth. If the book isn't fixed to his liking, he wants it banned. While the reality based community would say, d'uhhh, in response to citing the non scientific Genesis story as a myth, the gang at Fox & Friends took it very seriously. The Fox & Friends coverage of the "Texas Textbook War," was, clearly, tilted towards the side of whitewashed (literally!!!) and revisionist history. That they would give any credibility to creationism would indicate that they're anti-science, too. Lest there be any doubt about to whom and for whom Fox & Friends is pushing their propaganda…

Gretchen Carlson, showing some tanned and toned "gams," introduced the segment about a high school book "at the center of a controversy because" (she looked intensely into the camera) "it describes creationism" (she enunciated the following very slowly) "as a biblical myth." She tossed to Brian Kilmeade who reported that a parent is demanding that the Knoxville school board ban the book. Brian (looking very serious) then asked Kurt Zimmerman, "what alerted you to this where you thought I gotta take action." The chyron: "Parent Fights To Ban Book, Claims Bias Against Christianity." Zimmerman, a Sunday school teacher, said that his son, who was offended, brought this blasphemous tome to his attention. His son felt it wasn't necessary to discuss this in a high school biology text. He described the process that he is going through to challenge the book. Previously, the school board approved the book but allowed Zimmerman to appeal the decision. At last night's school board meeting, the issue was "tabled for another 30 days." Former Miss America and good Christian Gretchen Carlson, looking super intense, said that "it's one thing to take religion out of the schools; but to be offensive to a religion, that's your problem with this statement, to call creationism a myth." The chyron, under the book's quote, "Creationism: the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 Days," read "Bias Against Christianity? School Text, Creationism Is A Myth." Zimmerman said that they could "modify the book or fix that statement." (Right, a major publishing house would go to the time and expense of "fixing" a statement because a fundamentalist Christian objects to it. I don't think so). He added that since he brought this up, lots of other parents have come forth with objections to other things in the book that are "technically inaccurate." Kilmeade did the Fox "reach around" (response to guest's comments which allow guest to reinforce the message) when he read the quote (emphasizing "myth") from the book, in case "somebody wasn't looking at the screen," and said "when you read that you said forget it, I gotta do something about it." When Zimmerman said that "he did this for the kids," Carlson shook her pretty head in obvious disgust about how evil, librul textbook publishers hate Christianity. Kilmeade validated Zimmerman's point when he said "you're taking action and that's a great example for your kid." Zimmerman reiterated that "it's not about me." (Yeah, right). Gretchen said that "it sounds like a lot of work" and told Zimmerman to keep them posted.

Comment: If the morning jokers had any pretense toward objectivity, they could have mentioned that the book is in an advanced placement class and the textbook committee said that the book was appropriate. They could have mentioned that a student and a parent assisted with the book review. They could have mentioned that one of the reviewers wrote "that in context, the word myth was appropriately used to 'describe a traditional or legendary story with or without a natural explanation'."They could have interviewed the woman who, at last night's meeting, said that "It's not just about this one word, but about the greater issue of censorship and setting that precedence for intellectual freedom." Lordy, I went to a Catholic high school and one of my history assignments (from a progressive nun who must have been a Marxist) was to compare the Egyptian, Greek, and Hebrew creation "myths." We were taught that the Genesis story was a way for the Hebrew people to understand the how's and why's of their existence and that it's being a myth, in no way challenged the idea of God is the "prime mover." But does Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford grad, actually think that biology books should be changed to accommodate Christian creationism? Would she be as concerned about a book that cited Hindu or native American creation myths? Does she think that public schools should discard science and include fundamentalist Christian beliefs as "alternatives?" Really? If so, then she does need to answer Jon Stewart's question of why Gretchen has checked her IQ at the door!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Evolution controversy stirs U.S. Adventist campus


California's La Sierra reaffirms church's teachings; student critic placed on probation 31 Mar 2010, Riverside, California, United States

Mark A. Kellner, Adventist Review/ANN

La Sierra University in Riverside, California, United States has been the focus of denominational controversy over science education and faith development. The school serves some 1,850 students. [photo courtesy La Sierra]

To a visitor, the 100-acre campus of La Sierra University, an 88-year-old Seventh-day Adventist tertiary institution, seems a tranquil retreat amidst the gritty hustle of southern California's "Inland Empire," a place where local commerce intersects with trucks headed from the ports of Long Beach and San Diego to Las Vegas and beyond.

But beneath that calm exterior, contention is brewing over how La Sierra, owned by the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, presents its 1,850 students with information on how the Earth, and life on the planet, came into existence.

The stark question being asked by some alumni, parents, and church leaders: Is the Adventist Church's fundamental belief -- "God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity" -- being taught, or are some of La Sierra's biology instructors presenting evolution as an explanation of origins?

In a letter to trustees and the university community last May, La Sierra president Randal Wisbey refuted the charge: "Every one of our science faculty share the goal of students experiencing a vibrant Adventist Christian faith while pursuing their education in the sciences. ... At La Sierra University, we take seriously the challenge of how to best integrate science education and faith development. Ultimately, our goal is to help students develop a personal relationship with their Creator."

That affirmation hasn't silenced some critics. Last year, a Web site called "Educate Truth" posted a collection of articles and documents which its editor, Shane Hilde, a 2005 English graduate of La Sierra, says allow "students and parents to make informed decisions, and also creates awareness in the [Adventist] church."

On the Web site, Hilde notes, "There are biology professors at La Sierra University who believe and teach evolution as the preferred scientific worldview."

In an interview with Adventist Review, Hilde said of La Sierra, "we have employees misrepresenting their employer. We have professors who are misrepresenting the Adventist Church's position on creation."

Public reaction has come in the form of a widely circulated "open letter" to Adventist Church leadership from David Asscherick, an Adventist pastor and evangelist. Additional reporting appeared in the town of Riverside's Press-Enterprise newspaper, and Inside Higher Education, a trade journal covering colleges and universities.

In the latter journal, La Sierra biology professor Gary Bradley was quoted as saying, "It's very, very clear that what I'm skeptical of is the absolute necessity of believing that the only way a creator God could do things is by speaking them into existence a few thousand years ago." Bradley further noted, "That's where my skepticism lies. That's the religious philosophical basis for what I call the lunatic fringe."

Bradley is "semi-retired" but remains on the biology faculty and is teaching classes, La Sierra's executive director of university relations Larry Becker told the Review in a March 30 telephone interview.

One member of the La Sierra board of trustees, Dr. Carla Lidner-Baum, is concerned about the potential direction an evolutionary view could take the Adventist Church.

"This is a real time of threat to the historically held Adventist beliefs. ... Either we are accepting this change or we are not," Dr. Lidner-Baum said in a telephone interview, referring to those supporting a move away from the traditional view of creation.

In November of 2009, La Sierra's trustees voted a statement in which they affirmed that school leaders have "heard and taken to heart the concern that Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and teachings have not been given appropriate priority in biology curriculum and instruction. Specifically, the Board is committed to assuring that the teaching of the theory of evolution takes place within the context of the Adventist belief regarding creation."

Trustees also said the school is bound to provide "whole-hearted support for the doctrines and teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church," including the belief in creation. At a trustees meeting in February, trustees "reaffirmed their previous action from November 2009 upholding the Adventist Church's doctrine of creation," a news release from the school said.

Caught in the crossfire is La Sierra student Louie Bishop. He said he was placed on "citizenship probation" by the school for circulating letters opposing the teaching of evolutionary concepts and for posting notes of a professor's lecture online, despite a verbal agreement that Bishop would not do so without consulting the teacher.

In a January 25 interview, Bishop said he "thought a lot about that before I did that and I talked to a lot of people because I was wrestling with certain things and the administration issued me this status of citizenship probation. From U.S. copyright law I understand the university doesn't have the right to do anything if I am posting a lecture online for academic critique. There is nothing wrong with reproducing that."

Despite Bishop's individual case, about which the school is reluctant to comment citing federal student privacy laws, La Sierra's Becker said the school is trying to move beyond the Web-fueled controversy.

Said Ricardo Graham, president of the church's Pacific Union, "We believe the Bible is the inspired book and is authoritative. We are in trouble if the first 11 chapters [of Genesis] are not to be considered inspired or factual, then the significant positioning of Christianity is called into question." Graham is also chairman of the La Sierra trustee board.

"Seventh-day Adventists across North America are appropriately concerned that students at Adventist colleges and universities emerge from higher education with a strong confidence in the Genesis account of origins," said Larry Blackmer, Education director for the church in North America.

"This issue is larger than any one campus in our system, and goes to the heart of what it means to operate an academically-credible and faith-based school," Blackmer said. "Parents and alumni have the right to expect our schools and educators to teach the standards and philosophies of the Adventist Church. But we must also remember that the discussion itself should be conducted with Christian civility and a respect for fairness in all that's said or written."

The next major administrative event for the school is a May 12 constituency meeting. According to a 2008 "Campus News Feature" from La Sierra, "The constituents elect board trustees, approve changes to university bylaws and conduct other business matters involving the university. Constituents meet every two years to vote on bylaws, trustee nominations and other matters."

At the Review's deadline at the end of March, Becker said he had not seen an agenda, which is expected to be sent to constituency members "some time in April."

ANN World News Bulletin is a review of news issued by the Communication department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. For reproduction requirements, click here. The opinions expressed by Commentary authors and sources in ANN news stories do not necessarily reflect those of Adventist News Network© and/or the Seventh-day Adventist© Church.Read more.

What Evolution Is


By Josephus

As I read all these letters to the editors and sometimes addresses by board members to school boards and speeches by political candidates, I notice two things. The subject is very important; and the people that are most passionate about it don't seem to know what it is. I believe this may help them achieve their political goals. Armed with the following information, no one will ever be able to say to you "You don't even know what evolution is!"

The Theory of Evolution is a scientific explanatory model that describes how the relative frequency of alleles change in subsequent generations of a population of organisms. "Evolution" is a description of these changes. Alleles are forms of DNA found at genetic loci. What that means is, if you were looking at the DNA of a particular organism in a specific spot in its genome, you are looking at an allele. Evolution occurs through four known mechanisms. Recent research in genetics means that a few more may soon be added to the list, but for now, we should talk about the following four; Natural Selection, Mutation, Genetic Drift, and Gene Flow.

The name Darwin and the term "Darwinism" are associated with Natural Selection. The researcher Charles Darwin noticed physical differences in otherwise closely related populations. After making observations in the field, collecting specimens, examining fossils, and doing some experiments in the backyard, he eventually got around to publishing the book we call On the Origin of Species which describes how Natural Selection works to change the physical appearance of organisms over time. One of the things he contemplated in doing this was how Artificial Selection or Breeding, changes the physical appearance or organisms over time. In breeding, a breeder picks a trait they like and keeps the animals that posses it while getting rid of the rest. Over generations, by picking the trait or traits they want, the breeder can change their stock. Mr. Darwin asked himself this question; what if there were no breeder? What of wild animals that are not bred by humans? What are the factors that determine which of those animals has more offspring and which traits show up more prevalent in the next generation? The answer to his question was this; the environment (behavior, access to food, weather, presence or absence of predators, access to mates, and so on) takes on the role of the breeder in determining what traits make it into the next generation of wild animals not manipulated by humans. Unfortunately for Mr. Darwin, doing his best stuff around the time of the Civil War, he was never able to figure out what it was that was being passed from generation to generation, due to technological limitations and the mistake of the scientists of that day not realizing the importance of the research conducted by a man named Gregor Mendel.

The above is Natural Selection or "Darwinism." The below is the three other mechanisms of evolution which were added to our list of four after Scientists discovered Genetics. The complete list of all four is known as "The New Synthesis" or "Neo Darwinism" or simply as the Theory of Evolution. We can't really talk about them without pointing out something Mendel discovered; some traits are dominant and some recessive. Because of Meiosis, Genetic Recombination gives us two things to keep track of; Genotype and Phenotype. Genotype is a term that refers to all genetic information in an organism. Phenotype is a term that refers to the genetic information that is expressed on the outside where we can observe it, such as physical appearance, body size, function, behavior, sexual dimorphism, and so on. As it happens, lots of genetic information is conserved in the Genotype where Natural Selection can't get at it. Because of this, currently unfit traits can linger in a population in the Genotype to be expressed later in the Phenotype if the environmental conditions change.

Mutation is the source of genetic diversity. While a population can conserve diversity and even experience speciation without new mutations, mutation is the source of new genetic information. Much of the language describing mutation seems laden with judgment, for example "mistake" or "error." This is because what is supposed to happen, when a cell copies its DNA during replication, is a copy. If that doesn't happen, it's probably fair to say mistake or error. If the slightly different copy isn't repaired, we have a mutation. For the purposes of evolution, we need to look at mutations that happen in a very specific place, the Germ Cells. Mutations that happen anywhere else other than in the Germ Cells are not passed on to the next generation. Mutations are harmful, beneficial, or neutral. Those terms are not as self-explanatory as they would seem. What is being described by those terms is the fitness value the changes have on the organism, which means how the changes affect the number of viable offspring the organism produces. Most mutations are neutral, but what is harmful one day can be beneficial the next day, if the environmental conditions change. Natural Selection works to eliminate currently harmful mutations expressed in the Phenotype.

Genetic Drift is much simpler then the other four mechanisms to talk about. Sometimes even an organism ideally suited to the current environmental conditions just doesn't leave behind as many offspring as a member of their population less suited to the environment. "Accidents Happen." The effect that "accidents" have on a population depends on the size of the population. Genetic Drift plays a large role in a small population and a small role in a large population.

Gene Flow is the migration of genetic material from place to place. If you have a huge population of organisms occupying a large geographic space, you can see that the organisms on one side will have little contact with organisms on the other side (especially if those organisms are behaviorally territorial). Restriction of Flow can cause Ring Species. This is where, over time, local populations within the larger population have changed so much in their isolation that, while they can still mate with members in the center of the larger population, they cannot mate with members on the other side and produce viable offspring. Further restrictions lead to speciation.

All of the above have been observed and measured in the field and in the lab. The above is the Theory of Evolution and what evolution is. Evolution has nothing to do with what the universe is doing or where life came from, or whatever all else. The Theory of evolution ONLY describes how the relative frequency of alleles change in subsequent generations of populations of organisms.

Tenn. School Board Considers Ban Against 'Biased' Biology Textbook


By Nathan Black Christian Post Reporter

The Knox County Board of Education in Tennessee is considering an appeal for the removal of a biology book that one parent says is biased against creationism.

Asking About Life, Kurt Zimmermann contends, shows "a clear bias by the authors towards Christianity."

The textbook defines creationism as "the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days."

The school board addressed the appeal during a three-hour work session Monday evening. The panel heard one local resident testify against the textbook.

Richard Dawson, who wrote his master's thesis on the theory of evolution and has two daughters with teaching degrees, said while the question at hand is about whether creationism is a myth, his question is: "Is evolution a myth?"

"There is no good science supporting the theory of evolution," Dawson maintained before the school board. "No one anywhere knows how to create life in a laboratory. There's no proof that spontaneous generation can or ever occurred.

"If the theory of evolution is compared to a baseball game it is like a batter who strikes out at the first plate. He can't get on first base."

In December, Zimmermann appealed the findings of a review committee that recommended the continued use of the biology textbook in question. Though the committee said an explanation of the word "myth" and why it was used in that context would be helpful, it concluded that the book was "appropriate" for an honors level biology course.

One member of the committee had the same initial reaction as Zimmermann in feeling that the textbook authors were biased against the Christian view of the world. But "upon further investigation," the committee member realized that the word "myth" was used appropriately in this case and cited dictionary.com in defining myth as "a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a ... natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities."

The textbook was brought to the attention of Zimmermann, whose son attends Farragut High School, from students in his Bible study class. He said the description on creationism (on page 319) misleads, belittles and discourages students from believing in creationism.

"I would not recommend for any age group, the book should be pulled," he wrote in his request to the board. He called for "non-bias textbooks" in its place.

The school board will further discuss and vote on Zimmermann's request on Wednesday.

Are all forms of alternative medicine quackery?


Galway Advertiser, April 08, 2010.

Dear Editor,

My blood slowly began to boil in my veins, with anger, I might say, as I read last week's follow-up article in your paper on alternative medicine and homeopathy. Mr. Owen Flatley, the author of the article, clearly disagrees with all alternative medicine systems (including homeopathy) and with the homeopathic practices of one named homeopath. Of course, in our Western democracy, he is entitled to express his personal opinions.

The arguments, however, which Mr Flatley uses to undermine alternative medicine, including homeopathy, are grossly flawed with inaccuracies in both concept and fact. I would like to provide clarification for your good readers in these matters.

In the first instance, alternative medicine was a term coined some years ago to include all those therapies outside of orthodox (conventional) medicine. In my opinion and those of many other professionals, it is not an ideal classification term, as it can convey the view that these therapies are outside the domain of integrative medical care where the ultimate aim is the achievement of wholistic wellness and health for each patient, in a truly professional manner. The more suitable term of complementary medicine has been coined more recently to include all of those therapies outside of the conventional medicine domain. Overseas, and more recently, in our own medical schools, some of these validated therapies (herbal medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy) are slowly becoming incorporated into the training programs for our future medical doctors, veterinary practitioners, and allied healthcare professionals.

In the second instance, the description, by Mr Flatley, that homeopathic remedies are nothing more than mega dilutions of a particular substance is grossly erroneous and insulting to the homeopathic profession (practitioners and manufacturers of homeopathic medicines). The correct preparation of a homeopathic remedy commences with the selection of a pure form of the material (plant, chemical, mineral, animal tissue) from which is prepared a number of successive 1/10 (denoted X on the remedy medication) or 1/100 (denoted C on the remedy medication) serial dilutions in a liquid matrix. Between each successive dilution, each solution is individually succussed (a form of mechanical vibration); this manipulation is vitally critical for the creation of the homeopathic remedy with its own specific clinical efficacy. To this day, nobody understands scientifically what takes place in the liquid matrix during the vibration procedure in the creation of a unique series of homeopathic remedies. The higher the serial dilution, the greater the potency of the remedy. Very high potencies require a prescription from a professional homeopath before they will be issued to a patient by a homeopathic pharmacy. The present laws of physics and chemistry are unable to currently provide us with answers as to the mechanism of action of homeopathics. I have seen many wonderful clinical outcomes following the use of homeopathic remedies in both humans and domestic animals. The quality of homeopathic medications, the accurate selection of the correct remedies and their respective potencies, is what is generally required to achieve a beneficial clinical outcome.

We are beginning to see the development of an integrative medicine approach in the Western world, where the doctor/allied health professional will provide a wholistic treatment solution, encompassing what is best in modern conventional medicine with the most appropriate, validated complementary medicine therapies.

It is obvious, for quite some time, that there is a serious need for the regulation of the training and subsequent registration of all complementary medicine practitioners. In this way, the integrity of the appropriately qualified professionals will be protected, and of course, the interests of the consumers will also be safeguarded.


Dr. Patrick Walsh

Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry and Pathology

School of Science, Athlone Institute of Technology

Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Should creationism be taught in British classrooms?


Michael Reiss

Published 06 April 2010

Why schools and universities should encourage debate on evolution -- and how this could benefit science.

To some people's incredulity and others' satisfaction, creationism's influence is growing across the globe. Definitions of creationism vary, but roughly 10-15 per cent of people in the UK believe that the earth came into existence exactly as described in the early parts of the Bible or the Quran, and that the most that evolution has done is to change species into other, closely related species.

The more recent theory of intelligent design agrees with creationism, but makes no reference to the scriptures. Instead, it argues that there are many features of the natural world - such as the mammalian eye - that are too intricate to have evolved from non-living matter, as the theory of evolution asserts. Such features are simply said to be "irreducibly complex".

At the same time, the overwhelming majority of biologists consider evolution to be central to the biological sciences, providing a conceptual framework that unifies every disparate aspect of the life sciences into a single, coherent discipline. Most scientists also believe that the universe is about 13-14 billion years old.

The well-known schism between a number of religious world-views - particularly Judaeo-Christian views based on Genesis and mainstream Islamic readings of the Quran - and scientific explanations derived from the theory of evolution is exacerbated by the way people are asked in surveys about their views on the origins of human life. There is a tendency to polarise religion and science: questions focus on the notion that either God created everything, or God had nothing to do with it. The choices erroneously imply that scientific evolution is necessarily atheistic, linking acceptance of evolution with the explicit exclusion of any religious premise.

In fact, people have personal beliefs about religion and science that cover a wide range of possibilities. This has important implications for how biology teachers should present evolution in schools. As John Hedley Brooke, the first holder of the Andreas Idreos Professorship of Science and Religion at Oxford University, has long pointed out, there is no such thing as a fixed relationship between science and religion. The interface between them has shifted over time, as has the meaning of each term.

Most of the literature on creationism (and intelligent design) and evolutionary theory puts them in stark opposition. Evolution is consistently presented in creationist books and articles as illogical, contradicted by scientific evidence such as the fossil record (which they claim does not provide evidence for transitional forms), and as the product of non-scientific reasoning. The early history of life, they say, would require life to arise from inorganic matter - a form of spontaneous generation largely rejected by science in the 19th century. Creationists also accuse evolutionary theory of being the product of those who ridicule the word of God, and a cause of a range of social evils (from eugenics, Marxism, Nazism and racism to juvenile delinquency).

Creationism has received similarly short shrift from evolutionists. In a study published in 1983, the philosopher of science Philip Kitcher concluded that the flat-earth theory, the chemistry of the four elements and medieval astrology were all as valid as creationism (not at all, that is).

Life lessons

Evolutionary biologists attack creationism - especially "scientific creationism" - on the grounds that it isn't a science at all, because its ultimate authority is scriptural and theological, rather than the evidence obtained from the natural world.

After many years of teaching evolution to school and university students, I have come to the view that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception, but as a world-view. A world-view is an entire way of understanding reality: each of us probably has only one.

However, we can have many conceptions and misconceptions. The implications of this for education is that the most a science teacher can normally hope to achieve is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the basic scientific position. Over the course of a few school lessons or a run of university lectures, it is unlikely that a teacher will be able to replace a creationist world-view with a scientific one.

So how might one teach evolution in science lessons to 14- to 16-year-olds? The first thing to note is that there is scope for young people to discuss beliefs about human origins in other subjects, notably religious education. In England, the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) and the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) have published a non-statutory national framework for religious education and a teaching unit that asks: "How can we answer questions about creation and origins?" The unit focuses on creation and the origins of the universe and human life, as well as the relationships between religion and science. As you might expect, the unit is open-ended and is all about getting young people to learn about different views and develop their own thinking. But what should we do in science?

In summer 2007, after months of behind-the-scenes meetings, the DCSF guidance on creationism and intelligent design received ministerial approval and was published. As one of those who helped put the guidance together, I was relieved when it was welcomed. Even the discussions on the RichardDawkins.net forum were positive, while the Freethinker, an atheist journal, described it as "a breath of fresh air" and "a model of clarity and reason".

The guidance points out that the use of the word "theory" in science (as in "the theory of evolution") can be misleading, as it is different from the everyday meaning - that is, of being little more than an idea. In science, the word indicates that there is substantial supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community. The guidance makes clear that creationism and intelligent design do not constitute scientific theories.

It also illuminates that there is a real difference between teaching something and teaching about something. In other words, one can teach about creationism without advocating it, just as one can teach in a history lesson about totalitarianism without advocating it.

This is a key point. Many scientists, and some science teachers, fear that consideration of creationism or intelligent design in a science classroom legitimises them. That something lacks scientific support, however, doesn't seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson.

I remember being excited, when I was taught physics at school, that we could discuss almost anything, provided we were prepared to defend our thinking in a way that admitted objective evidence and logical argument. I recall one of our A-level chemistry teachers scoffing at a fellow student, who reported that she had sat (outside the lesson) with a spoon in front of her while Uri Geller maintained he could bend viewers' spoons. I was all for her approach. After all, I reasoned, surely the first thing was to establish if the spoon bent (it didn't for her), and if it did, to start working out how.

Free expression

When teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have in order to shape and provoke a genuine discussion. The word "genuine" doesn't mean that creationism and intelligent design deserve equal time with evolution. They don't. However, in certain classes, depending on the teacher's comfort with talking about such issues, his or her ability to deal with them, and the make-up of the student body, it can and should be appropriate to address them.

Having said that, I don't pretend to think that this kind of teaching is easy. Some students become very heated; others remain silent even if they disagree profoundly with what is said. But I believe in taking seriously the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it. Although it is unlikely that this will help them resolve any conflict they experience between science and their beliefs, good teaching can help students to manage it - and to learn more science.

My hope is simply to enable students to understand the scientific perspective with respect to our origins, but not necessarily to accept it. We can help students to find their science lessons interesting and intellectually challenging without their being a threat. Effective teaching in this area can help students not only learn about the theory of evolution, but also better appreciate the way science is done, the procedures by which scientific knowledge accumulates, the limitations of science and the ways in which scientific knowledge differs from other forms of knowledge.

Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London. His PhD was on evolutionary biology, and he is a priest in the Church of England.

Chopra Blames Own Meditation for Baja Quake


Katie Drummond Contributor

AOL News (April 5) -- The U.S. Geological Survey is blaming day-to-day seismological changes for Sunday's 7.2 earthquake along the U.S.-Mexico border. But Deepak Chopra, the famed alternative-medicine practitioner and transcendental meditation guru, is pretty sure he knows what really happened.

"Had a powerful meditation just now -- caused an earthquake in Southern California," Chopra wrote to his nearly 179,000 Twitter followers shortly after the quake.

And then, to clarify: "Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake," he tweeted. "Sorry about that."

Chopra might want to apologize directly to those in California, who haven't suffered significant infrastructure damage but are still bracing for more temblors, and to those in Mexico, where two are dead, hundreds are injured and thousands are still without power.

Transcendental meditation (TM) was largely popularized by Chopra, who's been dubbed "McMeditation" for the multimillion-dollar profits he's earned off books, DVDs and his Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, Calif. -- where a six-day mind-body wellness program runs around $2,500.

According to Chopra, at the crux of the meditation practice is "the field of possibilities, creativity, correlation ... where intention actualizes its own fulfillment."

Let's hope he's wrong about that, or the guru might have some explaining to do about what exactly his meditation session Sunday was hoping to actualize.

An hour after Chopra's Twitter confession, he vowed to one Twitter user, @WhiteMoon7, "Won't do it again -- promise."

But even the guru himself must not know his own strength. Since the promise, dozens of aftershocks have rattled the U.S.-Mexico border.

All the while, Chopra's staying safely above the reach of the ongoing quakes. According to his Twitter feed, the guru boarded a plane from California to Denver earlier this morning.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson (ICR) presents on April 6, 2010:

"Almost Like a Chimp:
Reevaluating the Evidence for Biological Similarity"

Has science proven evolution? In this talk, Dr. Jeanson describes how the term "science" has been misapplied to the origins issue, and he explains how the eyewitness testimony of Scripture confirms the creation model. He then applies this perspective to modern biology and molecular biology to show how the "problem" of similarity among creatures is based on assertion and ignorance rather than a straightforward interpretation of the evidence. Finally, he deals with the genetic similarities among primates and humans to dispel the notion that mankind derives its origin from the monkeys.

After receiving his Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Harvard Medical School in 2009, Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson, joined ICR as a research associate. While at Harvard, he assisted in adult stem cell research, specifically on the role of Vitamin D in regulating blood stem cells. Dr. Jeanson also had the opportunity to be a stem cell panelist at the Massachusetts Citizens for Life convention and to submit testimony when the Massachusetts legislature tried to overturn laws prohibiting the use of human embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Pepper StarCenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy

Farmers Branch, TX

Tuesday, April 6th--- 7:30 PM

Doubts cast about trendy sports medicine therapy


The Associated Press
Sunday, April 4, 2010; 12:24 PM

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With opening day around the corner, Cliff Lee didn't have time for another abdominal strain.

The former Cy Young Award winner had a similar injury twice before in spring training, and on both occasions it kept him out at least six weeks. This time, Lee was anxious to get back much sooner to help his new team, the Seattle Mariners.

So the pitcher chose an unusual treatment in which his blood was drawn, then a solution created from it injected back into his body. The technique, known as platelet-rich plasma injection therapy, has become trendy among top athletes - even though there's doubt in the medical community about whether it works.

"It's helped a lot of athletes speed up their healing process," said Lee, who had the treatment on March 19. "I'm hoping it does the same for me."

A recent study in the Netherlands found the treatment was no better than a placebo, the kind of conclusion reached about more common alternative therapies like ginkgo biloba (for memory) and glucosamine (arthritis) by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Other athletes known to have undergone PRP therapy, also known as "blood spinning," include Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward, golfer Scott Verplank, Denver Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin and figure skater Patrick Chan.

The Associated Press spoke to seven pro athletes who have tried PRP therapy. While not a scientific sampling, none of them could definitively say that it improved their condition.

"It has not produced the results I was hoping for," said Verplank, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who used it on his injured left elbow. "I wouldn't say it was a failure, but after six weeks, I didn't feel like I had a new elbow."

The procedure involves withdrawing about an ounce of blood and spinning it down for about 20 minutes in a centrifuge. That typically yields about a teaspoon of PRP, which is then injected directly into wounded tissue. The idea is the platelets contain proteins known as growth factors that are thought to promote cell growth and healing.

"It actually feels like a cramp," said Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy, who had the treatment for a hamstring injury. "They shoot it in there and my leg is sort of cramping."

PRP has been used in surgery and other fields for at least two decades to help with bone and tissue healing. More recently, sports medicine specialists have used PRP injections in outpatient settings as an alternative to surgery.

The therapy has gained notoriety in the past few months partly because of the case of Dr. Anthony Galea, a Canadian sports medicine doctor at the center of a drug investigation in both his country and the United States. Galea told The Associated Press last month that he has been "spinning blood for seven, eight years."

Its use by athletes also has stoked controversy because of allegations that some may have combined PRP with bioengineered human growth hormone, a banned substance in sports. Some agencies also consider PRP a potential performance-enhancer, although doctors who use it insist it merely helps the healing process.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, whose policies govern Olympic sports, has restricted PRP use because injections into muscle can have potential performance-enhancing effects. Injections into tendons and other tissues are permitted by WADA, but athletes must document that a treatment is for medical reasons.

Dr. Kenneth Mautner, a sports medicine specialist at Emory University, likens PRP treatment to fertilizing the lawn. "It's almost like you're jump-starting the healing process," he said.

Mautner insisted "there's absolutely nothing performance-enhancing with it." However, he cautioned that "it would be very easy in the wrong person's hands to add substances like growth hormone to the mixture."

Cases in which PRP is typically used include tendinitis in the elbow, knee and Achilles' tendon, but that list is growing. Braves reliever Takashi Saito underwent PRP treatment on his right elbow, avoiding surgery and helping the Los Angeles Dodgers to the playoffs in 2008.

Saito said through an interpreter that he wasn't sure if it worked because doctors later determined the injury was in a tendon higher in his arm and not in the elbow area.

"I never had a vision it would work for all types of problems," said Dr. Allen Mishra, an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Medical Center and one of the first researchers on PRP.

PRP treatment is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and it's not cheap - each injection costs between $500 and $1,500. More than one injection is often needed and insurance usually doesn't cover the treatment because it's considered experimental.

Rigorous scientific evidence on its effectiveness is sparse. Several small studies have had mixed results, and even doctors who endorse PRP treatment say more extensive studies are needed to prove its usefulness.

"It's a promising treatment that has shown a lot of clinical success and is probably going to be used more and more in the future," Mautner said. "But I definitely think we need to make sure the science backs up all the excitement."

The Dutch study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that PRP patients with Achilles' tendon injuries fared no better than those who received a placebo injection of salt water. Both groups improved after six months.

Dr. Victor Ibrahim, a sports medicine specialist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., who has used the procedure on professional and amateur athletes, claimed the study was flawed. He pointed to a small sample size - only 54 participants - and said injecting salt water could also cause inflammation that might help healing.

Ibrahim said PRP represents "a paradigm shift" in treating pain. Unlike rest, ice and other conventional methods to reduce swelling, PRP injections promote inflammation by revving up the body's natural response to healing. This in turn may help regenerate damaged tendons.

The New York Giants, D.C. United of Major League Soccer, and the San Diego Padres are among other pro sports teams that have had players give it a try.

New York Mets star Jose Reyes tried PRP to help a torn hamstring, though it didn't work.

"I had to get the surgery anyway, so it didn't do anything," Reyes said. "What can I say? I felt better for a few days, but as soon as I started running, it came back."

Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery, recently finished a randomized study that showed little difference between patients with rotator cuff injuries who got PRP versus those who did not.

Rodeo agreed the treatment has potential, but also said, "There's a lot we don't know about it," including what is the appropriate dose and timing of treatment to achieve the best results.

As for Lee, the Mariners shut him down last month in hopes that simple rest would get him healthy. Still, he won't be the Opening Day starter on Monday at Oakland.

"I don't think the injection did anything bad," Lee said. "I'm no scientist, but it's injecting my own blood back into me, so I don't see how it could be a bad thing."

Twins closer Joe Nathan did some exploring to see whether PRP could help him avoid surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. But he decided to go the more proven method of Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season.

"That's the new hot thing out right now, sure," Nathan said, "but it's still yet to be seen. How's it going to help a complete tear except maybe delay the inevitable? I could have had a temporary quick fix and then three months later be back to square one."

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago, AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Orlando, Fla., and AP Sports Writers Gregg Bell in Seattle, Joseph White in Washington, D.C., Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore., and Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this story.

Father wants biology book ban


Man says text shows bias against Christian faith
By Lola Alapo
Posted April 4, 2010 at 11:47 p.m.

A Farragut High School father is appealing the findings of a review committee that recommended the continued use of an honors biology textbook the man said has a questionable description of creationism.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre is recommending that the Knox County school board hear Kurt Zimmermann's request. But he's also asking that the board uphold the review committee's finding.

The matter will be among discussion items today during the board's monthly work session. The board votes Wednesday on the appeal.

Zimmermann in December requested that school officials immediately remove the book "Asking About Life" from use in his son's class as well as from all students' use because it contains "a clear bias" by the authors against Christianity, according to documentation he submitted to school officials.

On page 319 of the text, the authors describe creationism as "the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days."

Zimmermann said the useof the word "myth" could "mislead, belittle and discourage students in believing in creationism and pointedly calls the Bible a myth."

In place of this material, he recommended that "non-bias textbooks" be used.

Zimmermann could not be reached for comment.

As is protocol, school system officials established a textbook review committee comprising six members, including Farragut's principal, a biology teacher, a parent and a student.

One reviewer's first impression of creationism's definition was similar to Zimmermann's in that "the authors must be offensively biased against this Christian view of the world," the reviewer wrote.

"Upon further investigation, however, I quickly realized there is more than one definition of the word 'myth.' In this case the word is used appropriately to describe a traditional or legendary story … with or without a natural explanation," the reviewer wrote.

Another said the word "myth" has many uses and could be misinterpreted in the context of the book. The reviewer noted that "the author tends to 'sensationalize' a few concepts … possibly to stir one's interest in the subject matter."

A third said the writers used the word "myth" "for shock value."

But the reviewers did not deem the material questionable and said they did not think the book should be banned.

The school board now must decide whether to affirm or revoke the committee's findings.

McIntyre said, "I believe the outcome in this instance was appropriate."

He added that this is the first time in his almost two-year tenure as superintendent that a parent has asked for a textbook ban.

"I think it's relatively rare for it to come up before the board of education," he said.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

Facebook Friends For Evolution: Support Evolutionary Theory


Without intending to be hypocritical, I'm going to recommend an action about which I have mixed feelings! On the whole, however, I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives and thus I hope you will follow my recommendation.

My recommendation? Go to Facebook and become a fan of the page entitled "We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June."

Let me explain my two main reservations.

The best place to begin is by saying simply that the concept of "belief" in science makes little sense. Scientists, and I hope the general public, accept scientific ideas because experimentation and observation have provided a wealth of data in support of their claims. Belief, or a conviction that something is true regardless of evidence, should play no role in science.

The National Academy of Sciences addresses this point clearly while differentiating religion from science. The Academy writes, "Many religious beliefs do not rely on evidence gathered from the natural world. On the contrary, an important component of religious belief is faith, which implies acceptance of a truth regardless of the presence of empirical evidence for or against that truth. Scientists cannot accept scientific conclusions on faith alone because all such conclusions must be subject to testing against observations. Thus, scientists do not 'believe' in evolution in the same way that someone believes in God."

My second concern is that the validity of a scientific idea is absolutely independent of its popularity in the general population. Even if the vast majority of non-scientists attested that they did not believe in evolution, it would have no impact on the scientific legitimacy of evolutionary theory. Again, scientific advances proceed on the basis of experimental and observational evidence rather than on popular opinion. Collecting signatures in support of a scientific concept is thus an utterly meaningless action from a scientific standpoint.

And yet, I'm encouraging you to join with me in signing on to this Facebook page! And I'm doing so for political rather than scientific reasons.

The page itself began as a political response to a creationist ploy. Earlier this year, creationists began a Facebook page designed to sign up 1,000,000 people who did NOT believe in evolution and while this page is every bit as meaningless from a scientific perspective as is the pro-evolution page, it is possible that it will generate significant media attention. So, the pro-evolution page was created to provide balance and to demonstrate that lots of people support evolution.

This is important stuff because the evolution/creation controversy, after all, is all about politics. It's clearly not about science since the world's scientific community has spoken out regularly about the centrality of evolution, the power evolutionary ideas have to explain much about the natural world, and the overwhelming data from a host of biological subfields supporting evolutionary theory.

And the evolution/creation controversy is clearly not about a conflict between religion and science since more than 13,000 clergy members have joined The Clergy Letter Project and said that evolutionary theory is fully compatible with their religion. It's also well worth noting that Christian religious denominations in the United States representing a majority of Christians are comfortable with the teaching of evolutionary theory.

No, the evolution/creation controversy is solely about people with one particular religious belief wanting to impose that religious belief on the rest of the world. Political outlets, from school boards to state legislatures, have regularly been used to promote this narrow religious perspective. This has been the case regardless what the creationists have called their ideas, from creationism through "scientific creationism" to "intelligent design." The Discovery Institute, the world's foremost proponent of the non-science of "intelligent design," has made this point more clearly than I ever could when it wrote that "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

I'm not in the least interested in "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and I suspect that neither are the vast majority of people. Rather, I'm interested in a science that helps us understand the natural world. Religion, whatever you may think of it, exists for a different purpose.

So, for the political statement it will make, I urge you to go to Facebook and become a fan of "We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June." Even though this page was started after its creationist counterpart, as of this writing it has exceeded the creationist version by more than 200,000 fans. Spread the word and increase the margin!

(I want to conclude with an aside to deflect a criticism that I'm certain some will level against me and The Clergy Letter Project. I've made it clear that I don't believe that the validity of evolutionary theory is enhanced by petitions and yet, some will surely say, "isn't that exactly what The Clergy Letter Project is all about?" The answer is a simple and unqualified NO! The purpose of The Clergy Letter Project is to demonstrate that thousands of religious leaders see no conflict with their religion and evolution. These people are uniquely qualified to make this statement, a powerful statement that is both theologically and politically based.)

Books & More From Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity

Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art

Living with Uncertainty: The Moral Significance of Ignorance