NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 April 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NCSE's Scott receives Public Welfare Medal


April 26th, 2010

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott received the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in a ceremony on April 25, 2010, in Washington DC. According to a January 11, 2010, press release, "the medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good"; Scott was chosen "for championing the teaching of evolution in the United States and for providing leadership to the National Center for Science Education."

Accepting the medal, Scott said, "That an organization comprised of the finest scientists in the nation would bestow this award on a small, underfunded, understaffed, nonprofit laboring to defend the teaching of evolution is both humbling and inspiring. On behalf of all the people who have worked at NCSE over the last 22 years to make it an effective organization, I thank you from the bottom of my heart." (A transcript of her remarks follows.)

Previous recipients include Neal Lane, Norman Borlaug, Maxine F. Singer, C. Everett Koop, and Carl Sagan. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Address to the National Academy of Sciences

Eugenie C. Scott

The Public Welfare Medal is awarded for "distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare." My predecessor recipients have done so in impressive ways — in politics, education, agriculture, public health, medicine — so many fields of endeavor.

For me to follow in their footsteps is nothing short of astonishing. That an organization comprised of the finest scientists in the nation would bestow this award on a small, underfunded, understaffed, nonprofit laboring to defend the teaching of evolution is both humbling and inspiring. On behalf of all the people who have worked at NCSE over the last 22 years to make it an effective organization, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Life at NCSE is rather different from what most scientists do for a living, so I should tell you a bit more about us. The elevator speech version of NCSE is that we are the people who hand out the fire extinguishers to put out the brushfires set by those who oppose the teaching of evolution. We are a clearinghouse of information and advice for those at the grassroots who are defending the teaching of modern science in their communities or states.

We teach them how to fish, if you don't mind my mixing up the fireman metaphor. Of course this involves scientific information: creationists make statements about science that need correcting, and evolution needs to be presented as we scientists understand it.

But the creationism and evolution controversy also is about religion, and education, and the law, and ultimately, politics. Science is necessary but not sufficient to solve these problems. At NCSE we cultivate an integrated approach, working with not only scientists, but also teachers, attorneys, clergy, parents and other voters, and elected officials to try to keep good science in the classroom.

NCSE's grassroots orientation began at its inception in 1981. The Academy, concerned about legislation promoting equal time for creation science, convened an ad hoc committee on creationism, to which I was invited. At the time I was teaching physical anthropology at the University of Kentucky, and we had just had a prolonged struggle at the local school board level combating a proposal by the "Citizens for Balanced Teaching of Origins" to teach the "cutting-edge new science" of creation science. (Footnote: if you read "balanced" and "origins" in the same paragraph, you have a 90% probability that you are reading a creationist tract.) It was during this controversy that I learned that these sorts of problems are not solved by scientists alone, but by a coalition of scientists, teachers, clergy, parents, and businesspeople, each of whom have overlapping stakes in good science being taught in our schools.

At the Academy's ad hoc committee meeting, I and some others with grassroots experience contended that scientists were needed at the local level, but (in 1981) the Academy, AAAS, AIBS, NSTA, and other scientific and educational associations had no efficient way to turn out their members in, say, Omaha, to testify at a school board meeting or a committee hearing. Local problems require local solutions, and what eventually evolved was a grassroots-oriented group of scientists and teachers, the NCSE, to complement the national efforts of the associations. It was after this conference that the Academy composed and distributed its extremely valuable and important Science and Creationism, and of course there are people here today who made that happen, and/or who worked on the two subsequent editions. Then as now, the Academy has taken a leadership position to inform the public about the importance of evolution in the sciences.

Contrasting with 1981, after the advent of digital communications, now scientific and educational associations can indeed correspond efficiently with their members, and provide them with information about attacks on evolution (or other antiscience actions). Wisely, they have not replicated NCSE, but instead, many associations have formed partnerships with us. Because we monitor science education issues in legislatures and schools around the country, when problems arise, we are able to provide the associations with the what, where, who, and what to do about it, and the associations pass down this information to their members in those communities or states.

It works. The association top-down/NCSE grassroots combination quickly informs scientists of what they need to know and do, and scientists have heeded the call, supporting science at the local level. We also have coordinated amicus briefs signed by associations, which have been powerful statements of the unity of scientists regarding evolution education.

The Academy has long been a leader among associations, taking seriously these threats to science, and being the Academy, has a bully pulpit, indeed. I thank the members of the Academy for stepping up to the plate on so many occasions to support evolution education, and look forward to the day when — we can all hope — the public has a better grasp of why our students should be taught 21st-century science.

Thank you for that, and for this truly incredible award.

view: Religious and scientific truths —Ishtiaq Ahmed


What we are confronting in Pakistan and the Muslim world in general is a clash between scientific knowledge and religious quackery. The Christian West has had its share of scientists who were ostracised, banished or even executed for challenging the Creation theory

An Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, has proclaimed a fatwa (ruling) that earthquakes are caused by women dressing immodestly. Why the earth should feel so excited and out of control by such provocation instead of men such as the high-level Shia cleric is a question that comes to mind rather immediately. However, Kazem Sedighi informs us that it is because God Almighty is very angry and hence the earthquake. Not very long ago, a terrible earthquake hit Iran. It claimed thousands of lives. As far as I know, the chador covering the whole body is a mandatory dress in the paradise of the ayatollahs, so why were pious Iranian men and women and indeed thousands of children annihilated in that earthquake?

I remember when a devastating earthquake hit northern Pakistan, especially Azad Kashmir, similar fatwas were issued by some Pakistani clerics, though on that occasion it was more a general list of crimes rather than just women dressing immodestly. It was the general decline of moral standards of Muslims. The argument was that since Pakistanis do not adhere to true Islam, God has expressed His displeasure by ordering an earthquake to remind misguided Muslims that He is the Sovereign of the whole universe and His will must be obeyed.

On that occasion, I wrote an op-ed in which I pointed out that among the thousands who perished under falling debris were several hundred children of very tender age who were attending a Quran school. Just when the earthquake struck their school, they were reciting the sacred scriptures. So, how could one make sense of such indiscriminate punishment when both those who follow the Almighty's will and those who did not became targets of divine wrath? Similar articles were written by other colleagues.

Science's failure to advance knowledge about earthquakes, volcanic outbursts and other natural calamities is, of course, partly the result of the fact that funding for research on trips to the Moon, Mars and beyond are easier to get than for examining things down below unless it is oil that brings great profits. While the conquest of space is undoubtedly very exciting and exploration in outer space is part of the prestige building endeavours of modern states — China and India being the most recent to take to it — what goes on inside the belly of the earth does not provide the same excitement. So, earthquakes will be able to wreck lives for quite some time, but I am sure one day it would be possible to predict them in good time so that the damage to humankind can be reduced to the minimum.

I have a feeling that once the scientists do acquire greater predictive ability about earthquakes, the clerics will shift their focus on some other issue. Mullahs and priests of other religions do not any longer open their mouth on plague, smallpox and other such epidemics, which once ravaged millions of lives because either these 'divine curses' have been eradicated, for example smallpox, or their ability to harm has been severely limited, as in the case of plague. The last time one heard of plague was somewhere in Surat, India, and that too in areas where the poorest of the people live — usually Dalits and others.

What we are confronting in Pakistan and the Muslim world in general is a clash between scientific knowledge and religious quackery. The Christian West has had its share of scientists who were ostracised, banished or even executed for challenging with different theories and discoveries the Creation theory of the origins and structure of the universe. In our wonderful neighbour, India, the BJP government's minister for science and technology, Shri Murli Manohar Joshi, wanted to introduce astrology and related pseudo-sciences such as numerology and palmistry as subjects that could be read at the university level. I am not sure if such a syllabus ever got approved and implemented.

In Pakistan, we have been busy distorting history with such intensity that Pakistan's premier historian, the late KK Aziz, had to write a book carrying a bloody true title, The Murder of History. That explains why the scope and leisure to attack other subjects with equal vigour has been suspended thus far. As far as I know, the teaching of chemistry has been the casualty of a rather novel rhetorical formula. I am told that students are supposed to say that Allah has ordained that two particles of hydrogen and one particle of oxygen will miraculously become water.

In short, the problem is more serious than some ayatollah propounding a crazy theory about earthquakes. Creationism is upheld as true knowledge in some parts of the US and Darwin's explanation of the origin of species is condemned as heresy, but as far as I know, all the Nobel prizes for physics and chemistry have thus far gone to people who in their public life do not mix their religious beliefs with their professional responsibilities.

Professor Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 for his outstanding erudition in mathematics and not because he was a highly religious person in his private life. In Pakistan, his Ahmedi faith was considered more significant than his achievements as a scientist. Therefore, he never received the respect and admiration he deserved. In our scheme of things, true knowledge comes only through true faith. That fundamental fallacy has wreaked havoc upon the intellectual milieu of our society.

In ontological and epistemological terms, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's explanation of why earthquakes take place falls into the category of claims that are an insult to the contemporary standards and methods of scientific inquiry, whether the study object belongs to the natural sciences or social sciences and history.

Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore. He is also Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University. He has published extensively on South Asian politics. At ISAS, he is currently working on a book, Is Pakistan a Garrison State? He can be reached at isasia@nus.edu.sg

Genetics researcher Francisco Ayala discusses his life, his work and creationism


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala wasn't always attracted to life in the laboratory. As a young man in Spain, Ayala was ordained as a Dominican priest. Within a year, though, he gave up it up to study genetics at Columbia University. Since then, Ayala's research has focused on parasitic protozoans, tiny organisms that cause malaria and other diseases. But what this much-awarded scientist, now 76, may be best known for are his efforts to keep creationism and intelligent design theories out of the classroom. In 1981, he was as an expert witness in a federal case that overturned an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.

Today, Ayala says he lives "in heaven" in a house with a view of the Pacific Ocean just a mile from his office at the University of California at Irvine, where he is a professor of biology and philosophy. On May 5 he will be honored at Buckingham Palace when he receives the 2010 Templeton Prize for what the Templeton Foundation said was his "clear voice in matters of science and faith."

We spoke to Ayala on the phone about both those matters -- and about what he plans to do with the $1.5 million in prize money.

-- Rachel Saslow

Why did you leave the priesthood?

I became a priest out of idealism, is the best way I can describe it. I wanted to be a missionary and go to remote places like the Amazon. It was a slow, gradual process that culminated in the last two years of the five that I studied theology. I decided, "I don't want to live the life of a priest. . . . I want to become a scientist."

How did you decide on genetics?

I had studied science as an undergraduate at the University of Madrid, and I continued to be interested in it. When I was studying theology, I started to read much more about human evolution and genetics. In particular, "The Phenomenon of Man" by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was also a priest.

I studied genetics because it seemed to me that the best way to approach the evolution of humans was genetics.

Do you spend most of your time researching parasitic protozoans or talking about evolution and intelligent design issues?

My work is mostly doing science, not only in malaria, but genetics and evolutionary biology. And a good part of my time is spent teaching, which I enjoy.

Firing over creationism e-mail leads to appeal



NEW ORLEANS — The former director of the science program for Texas' public schools asked a federal appeals court Monday to revive a lawsuit over her firing for forwarding an e-mail about a forum opposed to teaching creationism.

The agency that runs Texas public schools argued that Christina Castillo Comer's e-mail broke its policy of neutrality toward any potentially controversial issue, including creationism. A lawyer for Comer says the agency has an unwritten, unconstitutional policy of treating creationism as science.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments Monday in Comer's lawsuit against Robert Scott, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency.

A federal judge in Austin, Texas, dismissed her claims in March 2009. Comer is appealing that decision. The 5th Circuit panel didn't indicate when it will rule.

Comer says she was told to quit or be fired in 2007 after forwarding an e-mail about a presentation by a Southeastern Louisiana University philosophy professor viewed as opposed to teaching creationism in schools. Her only comment on the forwarded e-mail was "FYI."

The agency says Comer violated her employer's "neutrality" policy by airing her personal opposition to creationism.

Douglas Mishkin, a lawyer for Comer, said the agency's neutrality policy violates the First Amendment's establishment clause because it endorses a religious belief.

"It takes something that's not science and treats it as if it is," he said.

Judge Fortunato Benavides pressed Mishkin to explain how the agency violated the establishment clause.

"I can see a free speech claim," the judge said. "This looks like to me a First Amendment claim in the robe of an establishment claim."

James Ho, Texas' solicitor general, said Comer doesn't dispute that her e-mail violated the agency's neutrality policy.

"This is a policy of employee neutrality, and neutrality is the touchstone of the establishment clause," Ho said. "It's certainly not a violation of it."

The agency says Comer was fired for "repeated subordination." Besides violating the neutrality policy, she allegedly attended meetings and presentations without agency approval and disclosed details of the school board's deliberations to non-board members.

"What makes this case unique is that there is a pattern of misconduct," Ho said.

Comer's lawyers say no other agency employee has been warned, reprimanded or fired for failing to remain neutral on an issue before the board. Mishkin said the neutrality policy requires teachers to "pull your punch" if students ask about the relationship between creationism and evolution.

"They said, 'You must do your job with one hand tied behind your back,'" he said.

Creationism is the belief that the Earth and its creatures were created by a deity. It's an alternative to the origin of life explanation taught in public schools under the theory of evolution, which puts forth that all living organisms descended from a common ancestral gene pool.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press.

Origins belief leads to demotion


Answers in Genesis - 4/27/2010 10:50:00 AM

For an employee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in the Los Angeles area, sharing his views on the origins issue in the workplace was allegedly grounds for a demotion.

The employee, David Coppedge, is an information technology specialist who was formerly a leader on the Cassini space probe's system administration team. But Coppedge was "harassed and demoted," reports the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, after he loaned such DVDs as Unlocking the Mystery of Life to what the Discovery Institute's Evolution News & Views calls "interested co-workers."

Coppedge has responded with a lawsuit California's Fair Employment and Housing Act that requests a court order allowing him to share his beliefs. However, Loyola Law School professor Gary Williams told the Tribune, "If an employee is talking about anything in the workplace that is not related to work, the employer is entitled to say that 'I don't want you to do this.'"

On the other hand, Discovery Institute attorney Casey Luskin, a consultant on the Coppedge legal team, noted, "Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design." If Coppedge was indeed singled out, it certainly suggests his pro–intelligent design views may have been the reason.

While the details of the case have yet to be disclosed—a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Lab declined to comment because the lawsuit had not yet been delivered—the treatment of Coppedge portrayed by media reports certainly sounds like discrimination on the basis of origins belief. Whether a Los Angeles County courtroom agrees is yet to be seen.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Evolution education update: April 23, 2010

New articles from Reports of the NCSE are available, while Kentucky's antievolution bill is dead.


Selected content from volume 29, number 6, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are Virginia Yue's report of "A Creationism Row in Hong Kong" and Beth E. Leuck and Greg Q. Butcher's investigation of "The Effect of Viewing NOVA's Judgment Day." Plus Keith Thomson reviews Ralph Colp Jr.'s Darwin's Illness, Timothy H. Goldsmith reviews The Genius of Charles Darwin (hosted by Richard Dawkins), and Kevin Padian reviews The Paleobiological Revolution: Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology, edited by David Sepkoski and Michael Ruse.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? Featured in the upcoming issue (volume 30, number 3) are timely articles on "Americans' Scientific Knowledge and Beliefs about Human Evolution in the Year of Darwin," by George F. Bishop, Randal K. Thomas, and Jason A. Wood, and "Teaching Evolution in Muslim States: Iran and Saudi Arabia Compared," by Elizabeth Burton. And there's history, too: Shelley Emling discusses the fossil hunter Mary Anning and Randy Moore discusses the flood geologist George McCready Price. Don't miss out -- subscribe (or renew) today!

For the selected content from RNCSE 29:6, visit:

For subscription information, visit:


When the Kentucky legislature adjourned sine die on April 15, 2010, House Bill 397, the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, died in committee. Modeled on the Louisiana Science Education Act (Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1), HB 397 would, if enacted, have allowed teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A minor novelty in the bill was the phrase "advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," a variation on the familiar "strengths and weaknesses" and "evidence for and evidence against" rhetoric. Kentucky is apparently unique in having a statute (Kentucky Revised Statutes 158.177) on the books that authorizes teachers to teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and to "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation."

For information about Kentucky's HB 397, visit:

For the text of KRS 158.177 (PDF), visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Dr. Jobe Martin presents on April 6, 2010:

" Where We Are in the Fight for the Biblical Truth of Creation"

Although great strides have been made for Creation teaching around the world, it is not encouraging to see the continued defiance of Biblical Truth, even in, if not especially in, the Church and Christian community. Hosea 4:6 states that we are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Psalm 78 tells us to pass on truth to our children. The truth of Genesis 1-11 is critical and crucial to impart to our children and yet we are not succeeding in great degree based on what we see in so many churches, Christian schools and colleges as we travel. We praise God for the inroads that have been made through so many Creation organizations and a rising awareness of this issue, but we also see the enemy blinding the eyes of not only the unbelieving, but the believing. We must continue to contend for the faith and always be ready to make a defense, to give an account, of the hope that is within us (I Pet. 3:15). Dr. Martin will give some continuing statistics and quotes and information regarding how the battle continues to rage and our need to be faithful and diligent to the end as soldiers of Christ.

Dr. Martin did his undergraduate work in Biology at Bucknell University, his dental degree from University of Pittsburgh School of Dentistry, he served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, was in private practice at NASA in Houston for three years, taught at Baylor College of Dentistry for eleven years and then attended Dallas Theological Seminary from 1982 to 1986 and graduated with a Masters of Theology in Systematic Theology. He also has an associate degree in Business from Eastfield Community College. He has written a book, The Evolution of a Creationist and is featured in the Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution & Creation Proclaims series. He also has a four part series that follows the book, The Evolution of a Creationist. He and his family travel and lecture extensively on the Creation issues, Relationships in the Family, Discipleship, Biblical Prophecy, and the New Age Movement.

Dr. Pepper StarCenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
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Tuesday, May 4th--- 7:30 PM

Friday, April 23, 2010

ID is Not Religion; Anti-ID is Religious Discrimination


Posted on: April 19, 2010 12:02 PM, by Ed Brayton

Once again we find the Intelligent Design crowd engaged in a convenient bit of hypocrisy where they claim that ID is not religious, but if anyone is not allowed to advocate for it then they are being discriminated on the basis of religion. The Discovery Institute is backing a guy from the Jet Propulsion Lab who is suing for allegedly being demoted for giving out pro-ID DVDs to co-workers.

Let me say this up front: I don't know the facts of this case. I certainly don't trust the DI, which has been flagrantly lying about alleged discrimination cases against Sternberg and many others -- anything to create a false martyr -- since years. But if that accusation is true, if David Coppedge really can show he was demoted because he gave out some pro-ID information to co-workers, Coppedge should win the case.

He would deserve to win the case because he was demoted for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance on the job. He would deserve to win because he is being punished for advocacy that does not diminish his ability to do his job. That's a free speech issue even if it's not a free exercise of religion issue and Coppedge should win his suit.

In fact, this case would -- if those factual claims are accurate -- quite closely mirror the case of Chris Comer in Texas, where she was forced out of a job merely for forwarding an email announcing an upcoming speech by Barbara Forrest. The Texas Education Agency forced her out, claiming that as an education official in the state she had to remain "neutral" on the evolution/creationism controversy.

That's an idiotic argument of course, but it is legally identical to the argument being made here -- just for the opposite reason. If the JPL decided that one had to "remain neutral" rather than advocating ID (or decided that they had to be on the pro-evolution side, for that matter) and did the same thing to Coppedge, why would they be wrong to do so but not the TEA?

Need I mention that the DI has downplayed the Comer situation and claimed that she deserved to be fired?

The DI, as usual, is trying to have it both ways -- to claim simultaneously that ID is not religious at all AND that any attempt to suppress the expression of ID is anti-religious discrimination.

Evolution's New Foe: Timid School Administrators


By Brandon Keim April 23, 2010 | 9:49 am | Categories: Biology

Evolution education is under attack in Weston, Connecticut, but not from the usual direction.

Nobody is promoting intelligent design in the curriculum, or asking schools to teach evolution's "strengths and weaknesses." There's just an administration afraid that teaching third graders too much about Charles Darwin will cause trouble.

"They might have just been looking to avoid controversy, but that has the same effect," said Steve Newton, programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education. " If you're not looking to teach children the best science, that harms their education."

At issue is a class section proposed in 2008 by Mark Tangarone, teacher of the third, fourth and fifth grade Talented and Gifted program at the Weston Intermediate School. Tangarone wanted his third graders to study and compare the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

To learn about Darwin, students would have retraced the path of the HMS Beagle, the expedition that inspired a young Darwin's theory of evolution. Each student would study a stop in the voyage, reporting on the animals and adaptations that Darwin observed.

When Tangarone ran his class plan by then-principal Mark Ribbens, he was denied.

In an email obtained by the Weston Forum, Ribbens explained that his objections had nothing to do with the soundness of the theory of evolution. Instead, he was worried about parent reaction.

"While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life. I could anticipate that a number of our parents might object to this topic," wrote Ribbens. "It is not appropriate to have [Darwin's] work or the theory part of the TAG program since the topic is not age appropriate."

Ribbens explained further, "Evolution touches on a core belief — Do we share common ancestry with other living organisms? What does it mean to be a human being? I don't believe that this core belief is one in which you want to debate with children or their parents, and I know personally that I would be challenged in leading a 10-year-old through this sort of discussion while maintaining the appropriate sensitivity to a family's religious beliefs or traditions."

However, the class wasn't out of step with official state science standards [.doc]. At the time, these instructed teachers to impart to third graders the ability to "describe how different plants and animals are adapted to obtain air, water, food and protection in specific land habitats." That section of the standards was subtitled, "Heredity and Evolution — What processes are responsible for life's unity and diversity?"

Ribbens left the school this year, and Tangarone asked to teach his Darwin program again. The request was rejected, and Tangarone submitted a letter of resignation on February 12, the date of Darwin's birthday. "I feel that Weston has become anti-science and no longer a place I feel comfortable teaching in," said Tangarone, who will retire two years early.

"I never dreamed this would be an issue in Weston," he said. It's a highly educated community. Many parents work in New York. There are authors, artists and scientists. They're committed to education for their children."

Weston Public Schools superintendent Jerry Belair did not respond to requests for an interview.

According to Newton, the motives of school administrators are not in doubt. "They just wanted to avoid controversy," he said.

Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/04/evolution-controversy/#ixzz0lzBuJyRS

Intelligent Design is not Science


By Josephus

You don't need to tell that to a scientist, but in 2005 a Federal Judge had to tell the Dover Area School District with a slam of the gavel and a severe tongue lashing. Lest you think he was an "activist judge legislating from the bench," he is a conservative Republican appointed to the bench by George W. Bush. Even he couldn't be convinced "Intelligent Design" was science. It took him 139 pages before he was done explaining why, from a legal perspective, ID is not science. You may read that decision on line. It's a 139 pages of stuff like this:

"The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

That should keep ID out of public schools for awhile, but what about the work place? You're at work trying to do your job and a coworker keeps bugging you about something not work related. What can be done? It depends on the nature of the harassment. If the harassment is of an explicit nature or includes unwanted advances, it is clearly sexual harassment and it's open and shut. But if it is religious, is there not some free speech issues? What if it's ID?

David Coppedge works at NASA's JPL. He, among other annoying behaviors, distributed DVDs to his coworkers on the subject of Intelligent Design. He was asked by his employer to stop, he didn't, and he was punished for his insubordination by being demoted. Now he is suing for discrimination. What kind of discrimination is he suing for? Religious Discrimination!

Isn't ID supposed to be science?

One last thing: Coppedge sits on the board of directors of Illustra Media, the group that publishes the DVDs that he distributed to JPL employees! Perhaps he will use the "Girl Scout Cookie" defense.

Responding to "Thomist" Critics of Intelligent Design


Preliminary Matters

I'm currently editing a volume called God and Evolution that deals with the general subject of theistic evolution (to be released by Discovery Institute this fall), and I am contributing a couple of chapters to the volume on Catholicism and ID. I'm also working on a book-length treatment of the same subject. As a result, over the last six months, I've been studying the relationship between Catholic theology and contemporary arguments for intelligent design.

Various "Catholic" assessments of ID have been appearing on for years, and no doubt will continue to do so. (See this 2007 article from the New Oxford Review, for instance.) But recently, a certain "meme" has begun to emerge that ID is somehow un-Catholic, contrary to the Catholic intellectual tradition, or some such. This seems to me to be a serious mistake that needs to be challenged directly. So one (though only one) of the purposes of the publications I've been working on is to respond to a cluster of criticisms of ID by some recent Catholic critics, including those by Ed Feser, Frank Beckwith, Michael Tkacz, and Stephen Barr. Some of these criticisms have taken place online, others in printed publications.

Unfortunately, the issues at stake are subtle and complicated, and often involve translations into somewhat different "conceptual schemes"; so it's hard to deal with them adequately in the drive-by fashion appropriate to the blogosphere. Moreover, I don't think that these gentlemen are all making exactly the same arguments, though their criticisms are related. So there's a danger of over-generalizing.

Since print publications have such a long gestation period, however, and the debate seems to be creating far more heat than light, I've decided to weigh in more promptly. My first response, to Stephen Barr, appeared several weeks ago. I'll offer a few more responses here at Evolution News & Views, one at a time, over the next couple of months. (See also Vincent Torley's response to Ed Feser over at Uncommon Descent, including the discussion in the comments section. Torley has promised more along these lines in coming weeks.)

I should say upfront that this and future posts on this subject are my responses and I'm responsible for any glitches I introduce. At the same time, my arguments should not be seen merely as a clever Catholic gloss on ID. While not all ID proponents share exactly the same philosophy of nature—which would be unlikely, since it's a big, diverse tent—I have taken the time to talk to or correspond with at least fifteen of the most publicly identifiable ID advocates—including Bill Dembski, Steve Meyer, Mike Behe, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Witt, Guillermo Gonzalez, David DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin, Rick Sternberg, David Klinghoffer, Bruce Gordon, and others—to make sure I understand both their personal views and what they intend to argue (those aren't quite the same thing). (I have privileged access to my own views.) I've done the same with some ID-oriented scientists and scholars of diverse theological backgrounds, but will not mention them by name here.

As it happens, there is a surprising amount of consensus on many of the big issues I will discuss (even among those who disagree on certain matters). For instance, I have yet to find a public, theistic proponent of ID who thinks that the only places where God is active, or where design is discernible or relevant, are in those loci in nature that often get the most attention—coding regions of DNA, bacterial flagella, etc. I have yet to find an ID proponent who thinks that it's a problem for philosophers to pursue arguments akin to St. Thomas' Fifth Way. Nor have I found anyone who objects to the idea of an explicitly Thomistic rendering of ID.

And since I've been personally involved in the ID "movement" since 1996 (and reading the relevant materials for several years before that), I think I've got a pretty good sense of the lay of the land. So while I hope to see various explicitly Catholic articulations of ID (may a thousand flowers bloom!), in my responses I'm trying to represent the actual views and arguments of the ID proponents I discuss, rather than giving simply my way of appropriating their arguments.

I understand that there's a difference between one's personal views and any particular argument one makes. It's possible to make an argument unwittingly that doesn't actually reflect your view of a subject. I've discovered myself doing it when I read back over a draft of something I've written after being away from it for weeks or months. It can be very hard to say exactly what you mean, especially when you're dealing with a hard subject. It's possible to fall back into an easier, "default" way of thinking about a subject with which you don't quite agree. But I've found very little evidence of disparity between the personal views and public arguments among the ID folks I've read and corresponded with. Of course, some ID proponents have modified, expanded, or clarified their arguments in later publications to take account of criticisms or confusions that may have resulted from their first pass. But this is a normal part of the process of discovery and scholarship, and fair critiques should take account of that.

What Kind of Criticisms Are These?

I'll try to take issues one at a time. First, what type of criticisms are Feser, Beckwith, Tkacz, and Barr making? I think they're best understood primarily as theological, philosophical, and sometimes rhetorical criticisms, and not, say, as attempts to reconcile Darwinism with Catholicism. For the most part, these gentlemen don't deal with the empirical arguments made by ID proponents. (In fact, Stephen Barr has suggested that some of the empirical arguments made by ID proponents may have merit.) In large part, these critics and some others are targeting what they take to be a false or inadequate philosophy of nature that is presumed to lie behind the arguments of ID proponents. This is usually identified as a "mechanistic" philosophy of nature, a rough-hewn category that I will discuss at a future date.

These gentlemen obviously disagree with the philosophical assumptions of most Darwinists. They of course deny a materialist understanding of nature, and they believe we can have knowledge of God that derives from our knowledge of nature. So they share these assumptions with (theistic) ID proponents. But they accuse ID proponents of holding more or less the same philosophy of nature as the materialists with whom they disagree. Their impression is that ID folks depart from materialists on only a few details, such as when God has to step in to sequence some base pairs in DNA or to put together a bacterial flagellum. (I'm exaggerating of course; but I think that's the basic complaint.) Otherwise, they think, ID is OK with a materialist view of nature in which natural laws and nature itself are not in need of explanation.

For a long time, I've thought that ID and Thomism (both broadly construed) could benefit from interaction. (Incidentally, Thomism, like ID, is not one, simple, monolithic idea, but a cluster of related ideas. Not all ID proponents agree with each other about everything. And not all Thomists agree with each other about everything.) But, alas, rather than mutually beneficial interaction, in which similarities and differences are either clarified or resolved, most of the interaction so far has been in service, I think, of mutual incomprehension and at times, misunderstanding and mischaracterization.

Ways to Mischaracterize an Argument

Of course, a misinterpretation can be the result of several things. If I write an article and make an argument, and someone mischaracterizes my views or my argument, it can be the result of: (1) unintelligence on the part of the critic, (2) reading things into my argument that I have not maintained or implied, (3) failing to read or attend carefully to my argument in the context of my wider views, (4) unclear or imprecise writing or thinking on my part, or (5) any combination of the above.

Moreover, option (2) splits into two categories. A critic may read something into my argument because (2a) he is working in a different conceptual framework and uses words similar to mine, but with different meanings, or he doesn't like certain words I use because he identifies them with a view he opposes, or (2b) he's being uncharitable for some reason.

The Main Problems

In the current debate, we can easily rule out (1). (I doubt any really unintelligent people are even following the debate.) I would maintain (and hope to show) that most of the trouble in the current controversy between ID proponents and (a few) Thomists results from a combination of (2), (3), and (4), with the majority of the trouble resulting from (2) and (3).

One of the recurring complaints is that ID arguments, and the presumed philosophy of nature implicit in those arguments, differ (in some illicit ways) from the view of St. Thomas Aquinas. While there are certainly differences between, say, Michael Behe's argument in Darwin's Black Box, and Thomas' Fifth Way, I'm convinced that the stark contrasts between Thomas and ID presented by these critics are mostly the result of the above problems,

The other problem, which we will see over and over again, is the unfortunate tendency by some Thomists to make Thomas a straight-up Aristotelian, which he was not. Feser is helpful in this regard, because at least he talks about "Aristotelian-Thomistic" conceptions, so that one is free to maintain that such conceptions might, in some relevant cases, be different from Thomistic conceptions. Though I don't know if Feser would be happy with the distinction, getting clarity in this debate requires that we clearly see the places where Thomas and Catholicism differ from Aristotle. We'll return to this point over and over again, on the question of "immanent" or "intrinsic" teleology, the diverse modes of divine agency, the origin of natural objects versus their ordinary operation, the similarities and differences between artifacts and natural objects, the metaphysical implications of an eternal, uncreated universe versus a temporally finite, created universe, the difference between a view shaped by biblical revelation and one that is not, and so forth.

So, for clarity in this debate, we'll have to remember several important distinctions. Among them are the following:

• Thomism A does not equal Thomism B. (That is, there are lots of different versions of Thomism).

• Thomism A does not equal Thomas Aquinas' actual views. (That is, many Thomists depart dramatically from Thomas himself, though many fail to indicate that fact clearly to lay readers.)

• Thomism does not equal Catholicism.

• Thomism does not equal Aristotelianism.

• Strict Aristotelianism and textbook Cartesianism are not the only options when it comes to a philosophy or theology of nature.

Obviously there's a lot of stuff to cover, but we have to start somewhere. So let's start with this question: What was Thomas Aquinas' view of creation? I'll deal with that question in the next post.

Posted by Jay Richards on April 19, 2010 12:00 PM | Permalink

Stranger in a Strange Land: A Scientific Review of the Creation Museum


By Alex Ross-Stuart · April 21, 2010

Filed Under Creation Museum, Creationism, Evolution, Review

Creationism vs. Evolution

I, like any number of people raised in the era of field trips, have visited many museums in my life. Some were devoted to art, others to history, and still others to science. Until a short time ago, however, I had never been to a museum that taught a literal translation of the Bible as science. The Creation Museum, located in the outskirts of Hebron, Kentucky, teaches that the Earth was created in seven days, that the Universe is roughly 6000 years old, and that dinosaurs and humans lived side by side. Despite my total disagreement with the museum's teachings and my objections to several aspects of the museum, I surprisingly found my experience there to be one of the best I'd had in years.

The most striking aspect of the Creation Museum at first glance was its sheer size. Its all-glass facade rose dozens of feet above the surrounding landscape, dwarfing the gardens, lakes, and petting zoo that comprise the museum's grounds. The large number of cars, representing states from Michigan to Tennessee, indicated that even on a rainy weekday, plenty of visitors came from all over to visit the museum. Built at great cost by Answers in Genesis, an organization that promotes young earth creationism, the museum is filled with exhibits, theaters, animatronic dinosaurs, and even houses a planetarium. While these are things that typify an average museum, the content itself is what separates this museum from most others.

The museum illustrates the creation of life as the Bible tells it, starting with two humans and a few hundred "kinds" of animals, birds and fish, along with the planets, moon, stars, etc. There is even a walk-through Eden exhibit, showing Adam naming each creature, from cat to pachycephalosaurus. Not every species we see today is represented though, and this is where the term "kind" mentioned earlier comes into play. The museum states repeatedly that animals were created "after their kind" as written in Genesis, and that today's diverse species are descended from these original kinds. This aspect of the museum was the most surprising to me. The museum actually supported natural selection, claiming that rats and capybaras came from the same original creatures, but adapted over time into their present forms. Despite this seeming acquiescence to evolution, the museum makes it quite clear that it in no way supports claims of billion-year time scales or the slow march of life from complex organic molecules to humans.

The museum is just as much an indictment of evolutionary science as it is an argument for creationism. It scoffs at such ideas as mutations adding genetic information and planets forming by accretion around stars. However, in doing so, it tends to step too far and chooses to mislead or speak blatant untruth. The museum includes statements that there are no examples of expanded supernovae (Kepler's Supernova is a good example), that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not fit in an environment without drugs (if this were true, multi-drug resistant staph could not spread) and that scientists have never observed stars being formed (the Orion Nebula is a well known center of such formation). Deceptions like these have no place in a museum, and call into question the legitimacy of many other statements made throughout the building. So how, even after being disgusted by the inclusion of such inaccuracies in the museum, did I find the experience to be quite enjoyable?

Simply put, I learned more from this museum than most others I have been to because I went in with a skeptical mind. I took mental notes of claims made in exhibits or presentations and researched them later. I looked into the criticisms the museum had made on evolutionary theory and researched answers that scientists had for these criticisms. I even researched scientists who have made contradictory claims to certain tenets of evolutionary biology. The thing about such criticisms and contradictions is that science welcomes them. Whether a criticism of established ideas is proven or disproven, it strengthens our knowledge of what we are trying to understand. This is why I hope that visitors of every museum, be it the Smithsonian or the Creation Museum, come out asking questions.

Fairy tale for grown-ups

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2010 12:00 am

In his April 14 letter ("Creationism is not science"), Russell Hawley gives his definition of a "theory" as that supported by a vast body of evidence. He then gives an example of evolutionary "fact"; Australopithecus, a link from ape to man.

More recent computer studies show them to be totally ape-like in bodily proportions. Another study which examined the inner ear bones (used to maintain balance) show them to be very similar to apes and gorillas, but greatly different from those of humans. Dental development is that of chimpanzees, not humans.

Claims of a missing link that walked upright were based on one 3 1/2-foot tall fossil (Lucy). However, more recent studies of Lucy's entire anatomy, not just a knee joint, show this to be highly unlikely. Lucy was most likely an extinct ape similar to pygmy chimpanzees, just as Neanderthal man, Heidelberg man, and Cro-Magnon man are now considered to be completely human.

These are just more examples of the extreme measures many will go to try and prove evolution. Sciences' own law of bio-genesis (life comes only from life) contradicts evolution. Mendel's laws of reshuffled genes, not mutated, contradict evolution. Mutations are necessary for evolution, but no known mutation has ever produced a more complex form of life than its ancestors. All organs are found fully developed in all species; they show design. There are no partially developed eyes, skin, arteries, veins, etc.

The fact is there are thousands of books showing very convincing evidence for creation ("In the Beginning" by Walt Brown being one of the best). Unfortunately since our schools' curriculum is currently controlled by evolutionists, it is up to all truth-seeking individuals to examine the evidence for creation on their own (I challenge Russell to read the above-mentioned book). Creationism is not a religion, but a theory of origins based on much more solid evidence then evolution. After hundreds of years of Darwin and much teaching on evolution, the vast majority of humanity believes in creation and a supreme being.

Evolution is simply a fairy tale for grown-ups who wish not to answer to a higher power.


NASA threatened by talk of intelligence


Charlie Butts - OneNewsNow - 4/22/2010 5:00:00 AM

A NASA employee in Pasadena, California, has filed suit over action taken against him for discussing intelligent design with other employees.

David Coppedge, an information technology specialist and system administrator on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's mission to Saturn, claims he was harassed and demoted from a high-level job because he distributed DVDs that explain intelligent design.

Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute, tells OneNewsNow that NASA officials claimed intelligent design is religious material when it is really scientific.

"The evolution lobby has long claimed that intelligent design is religion and cannot be advocated in public schools," Luskin reports. "But now they are claiming that intelligent design is religion and cannot even be talked about at scientific research organizations, whose primary goal is to study the origin of life."

The only employees who received the DVDs were willing recipients, and the Discovery Institute attorney explains that Coppedge "would offer these pro-intelligent design DVDs to his coworkers, and if they said that they were not interested, he would drop the matter. He was not pushy in trying to share these DVDs with his coworkers," Luskin assures.

Nonetheless, the NASA employee was accused of promoting ideas in a fashion that was unwelcome and disruptive, and he was charged with creating a hostile work environment. Action was taken without Coppedge being allowed to even see evidence against him, so now he is suing for religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation, violation of his free-speech rights, and wrongful demotion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Complimentary medicine


by Dr. Stephen E. Lewis

Do you want me to shoot straight or sugar coat it?

Thoreau said for every thousand hacking at the branches of evil there is only one hacking at the roots.

Cancer is a very devastating disease that has struck fear in the hearts of millions. As our government seems to recommend rationing of early detection measures (lowering mammogram recommendations) it is always wise to leave that decision between the patient and their physician.

While early detection is imperative, there are things that can be done to lower your chances of getting cancer and many avenues that should be pursued to help you through conventional treatment.

One should educate yourself by understanding some of the causes by reading: Hormonal Chaos by Sheldon Krimsky, Life's Delicate Balance, The Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer by Dr. Janet Sherman, and others that outline endocrine active chemicals, pesticides, plastics and radiation.

Before we talk about ways to help you or your loved one through your treatment, let's review a little research:

1. The environment causes 80 percent of cancers (New England Journal of Medicine, 2000, 343:78

2. Refined Sugar? Cancer associated with insulin resistance (J.Science, 23 March 2001).

3. Heavy Metals (Lead, mercury and so forth) trigger cancer (Scandinavian J. Work and Environmental Health, 1993, 19:103)

4. Pesticides lead to lymphomas, breast cancer and ADD (J. Environmental Health Perspectives, 1993, 101, 378; 2001, 100:35).

5. Endocrine disrupters (ED), chemicals that mimic estrogen, cause cancer (JAMA, 2000, 284:2380).

In the fall of 2001 the National Institute of Cancer joined the National Council for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine to study in depth the nutritional and herbal approach to cancer treatment. Some of the things a patient should know are:

1. Have your Vitamin D levels checked. Approximately 92% of Americans are deficient. Vitamin D can help your body boost its immune system.

2. Lipoic Acid protects against radiation.

3. Fruits and vegetables affect genes that fight cancer. Organic is greatly preferred due to much higher potency and absence of pesticides.

4. Greatly reduce refined sugars.

5. Reduce red meat, especially grilled and well done.

6. People with high fiber diets have much lower rates of cancer. (Fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.)

7. Antioxidant and COQ10 help protect us.

8. There are many other nutrients that have been researched to help your body function at optimal levels and to greatly speed up the detoxification processes.

Also remember that 60% of your immune system is in your intestines. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1999, 91:1288) has shown how healthy intestinal flora help the liver with its detoxification and is indispensable to the replication of genetic information. In other words, the health of your intestinal flora determine how your genes work!

My suggestion would be to educate yourself, then find a practitioner that can help you safely detoxify, then use specific nutrition based on your individual needs. Remember that there are great variances in quality of nutritional supplements. You need someone that will work with your oncologist to help you optimize your outcome and reduce your side effects of treatment.

Do you want me to shoot straight or sugar coat it?

Thoreau said for every thousand hacking at the branches of evil there is only one hacking at the roots.

Cancer is a very devastating disease that has struck fear in the hearts of millions. As our government seems to recommend rationing of early detection measures (lowering mammogram recommendations) it is always wise to leave that decision between the patient and their physician.

While early detection is imperative, there are things that can be done to lower your chances of getting cancer and many avenues that should be pursued to help you through conventional treatment.

One should educate yourself by understanding some of the causes by reading: Hormonal Chaos by Sheldon Krimsky, Life's Delicate Balance, The Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer by Dr. Janet Sherman, and others that outline endocrine active chemicals, pesticides, plastics and radiation.

Before we talk about ways to help you or your loved one through your treatment, let's review a little research:

1. The environment causes 80 percent of cancers (New England Journal of Medicine, 2000, 343:78

2. Refined Sugar? Cancer associated with insulin resistance (J.Science, 23 March 2001).

3. Heavy Metals (Lead, mercury and so forth) trigger cancer (Scandinavian J. Work and Environmental Health, 1993, 19:103)

4. Pesticides lead to lymphomas, breast cancer and ADD (J. Environmental Health Perspectives, 1993, 101, 378; 2001, 100:35).

5. Endocrine disrupters (ED), chemicals that mimic estrogen, cause cancer (JAMA, 2000, 284:2380).

In the fall of 2001 the National Institute of Cancer joined the National Council for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine to study in depth the nutritional and herbal approach to cancer treatment. Some of the things a patient should know are:

1. Have your Vitamin D levels checked. Approximately 92% of Americans are deficient. Vitamin D can help your body boost its immune system.

2. Lipoic Acid protects against radiation.

3. Fruits and vegetables affect genes that fight cancer. Organic is greatly preferred due to much higher potency and absence of pesticides.

4. Greatly reduce refined sugars.

5. Reduce red meat, especially grilled and well done.

6. People with high fiber diets have much lower rates of cancer. (Fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.)

7. Antioxidant and COQ10 help protect us.

8. There are many other nutrients that have been researched to help your body function at optimal levels and to greatly speed up the detoxification processes.

Also remember that 60% of your immune system is in your intestines. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1999, 91:1288) has shown how healthy intestinal flora help the liver with its detoxification and is indispensable to the replication of genetic information. In other words, the health of your intestinal flora determine how your genes work!

My suggestion would be to educate yourself, then find a practitioner that can help you safely detoxify, then use specific nutrition based on your individual needs. Remember that there are great variances in quality of nutritional supplements. You need someone that will work with your oncologist to help you optimize your outcome and reduce your side effects of treatment.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creationism activist files suit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory


April 21, 7:33 AM Skepticism Examiner

A computer system administrator and creationism activist has filed suit against his employer, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), alleging that a recent and unspecified demotion was the result of his views on Intelligent Design (ID). ID is a pseudoscience promoted as an alternative theory to evolution, but the program has been recognized by the courts as creationism, a non-scientific, religious belief.

In the suit (download), long-time anti-evolution commentator David Coppedge names three defendants and sues fifty unidentified defendents, saying he was "charged with violating his employer's anti-harassment and ethics policies by promoting his religious views" for discussing ID with co-workers. Coppedge was allegedly told that JPL had received numerous complaints from other employees about his activities.

In the court document, Coppedge seems particularly troubled that his supervisor referred to ID as religiously-based, and that he was asked to stop distributing DVDs on the subject at work. "Such overt discrimination and harassment had a powerful impact on Plaintiff, since it clearly communicated to him the message that his views were misunderstood, misperceived and challenged an entrenched ideological orthodoxy..." says the suit.

Given that personnel issues are legal matters seldom commented on publicly by companies, it is unlikely that JPL will provide any details. Nevertheless, the Discovery Institute suggests that the failure of JPL to comment is an indication that the agency is "cloaking the investigation in secrecy" and that "investigators may have twisted the comments of those they interviewed to justify the investigators' predetermined conclusions."

News of the suit was first released by the Discovery Institute, which created Intelligent Design and has been actively trying to see it taught in public schools nationwide. Versions of the Discovery Institute text on the suit began to appear on creationist websites April 19th, and the Associated Press (AP) picked up on the story with a sketchy report that JPL had not yet received the suit and could not comment on it.

As soon as the AP story appeared, so did a blog from the Discovery Institute saying that the mainstream media had begun picking up on the story, linking to the one AP article, and stating that "The AP report is short, but this is just the beginning."

Sunday, April 18, 2010



04/18/2010 - 8:00a.m. to 04/19/2010 - 9:00p.m.


The Reverend Michael Dowd is one of the more inspiring speakers in America today, He has been called "America's evolutionary evangelist." Michael's book, Thank God for Evolution, has been endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. His bridge-building ministry has been featured in The New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, and Discover Magazine, and he has appeared on television nationally on CNN, ABC News, and FOX News.

Since April 2002, Michael and his wife (popular science writer Connie Barlow) have lived entirely on the road, providing Sunday services and workshops at more than 700 churches and other organizations across North America. Rev. Dowd will be the guest preacher at St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 18 at 8am and 10am.

In addition, he will present a richly illustrated talk on his book at The Branches (located in the Village Shoppes at the intersection of N. 2nd Street and Vermont Avenue in Rio Grande) on April 19 at 7 p.m. This talk is similar to one he delivered recently at the United Nations. Michael and Connie support their itinerant educational ministry mostly by selling their books and professionally produced DVDs of their best and most popular programs. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit their product tale during coffee hours following each Sunday morning worship service and during Monday evening's talk. All are welcome to Sunday worship and to Monday evening's talk.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Punished David Coppedge for His Views on Intelligent Design


David Coppedge has worked on the Cassini mission since 1997. In 2000 he earned recognition for excellence, receiving the important role of "Team Lead SA" (system administrator), a role he held until his demotion in 2009.

SA oversees 200 Unix workstations, several high-capacity date storage units, networking equipment, and other specialized computing equipment across America and Europe. He has a wide breadth of knowledge about technical aspects of Cassini's computers and networks and was heavily involved in all the mission operations. Coppedge has been a faithful and highly regarded JPL employee for many years, has led tours of the lab and has served as an outreach speaker presenting the Cassini findings to civic and astronomy clubs and school groups.

Now, though, this exemplary employee has been demoted. Why? Did he do something to jeopardize the mission? No. Was he guilty of incompetence? No. Was he lazy or just lackadaisical in his work? No. David Coppedge's sin was a thought crime, the mere willingness to challenge the ruling authority of Darwinian evolution. In conversation he asked colleagues if they'd be interested in watching a documentary that dealt with evolution and intelligent design. For this he was harassed and discriminated against.

Intelligent design offers scientific evidence that life's development is best explained as reflecting the design of an intelligent cause, citing mainstream research in biology, cosmology, and paleontology. The DVDs that Coppedge distributed, intended for viewing after work hours, contain no religious arguments or references. They are:

Unlocking the Mystery of Life, which presents the case for intelligent design based upon information coded in DNA, much as in computer software, while illustrating the nanotechnology in cells with vivid animation;


The Privileged Planet, which presents the case from current cosmology that the universe was "fine-tuned" for life to emerge and to allow exploration of the cosmos. The film even features scientists associated with JPL.

Coppedge had every reason to think his raising scientific issues related to intelligent design and life's origins fit well into his job responsibilities:

•The Cassini mission is part of NASA and JPL's overall program of exploring how galaxies, stars, planets begin, as well as how life began. NASA initiated a 1996 program on Origins to investigate the origins of life and other features of galaxies and the universe.

•Within the Origins program, what JPL calls its "premier mission," the Terrestrial Planet Finder, seeks knowledge of how life might originate in the chemistry of another earth-like planet. The Cassini program frequently discusses the possibility of the life originating on Titan and Enceladus.

•JPL regularly has scientists speaking on the origin of life, and the topic of origins is commonly discussed at JPL; it was a topic entirely appropriate for Coppedge to engage with his coworkers.

Coppedge's case would correctly be described as ideologically based persecution:

In a blatant double-standard, JPL has restricted Coppedge from freely discussing his intelligent design views while at the same time allowing other employees to express themselves freely on a wide variety of topics in the workplace, including attacks on the intelligent design viewpoint.

Coppedge was punished for expressing support for intelligent design despite the fact that he never forced those views on anyone. When someone was not interested in watching one of his intelligent design videos, he dropped the matter.

Until Coppedge's supervisor began harassing him, Coppedge never saw an indication that anyone resented his discussing intelligent design. In fact, Coppedge's administrators eventually admitted that they had never received a single complaint about his sharing DVDs prior to targeting him for investigation.

In America's legal and ethical culture, a person has a right to confront his accusers, a right enshrined in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. While Coppedge was not subject to any criminal investigation, it is noteworthy that JPL has refused to inform Coppedge who among his colleagues supposedly had concerns about being offered DVDs and has even failed to inform Coppedge of these unnamed co-workers' alleged concerns with enough specificity that he could have the opportunity to rebut them. JPL's refusal to disclose any specifics about those supposedly upset with Coppedge raises severe questions about the impartiality and credibility of JPL's "investigation." To be specific, JPL's effort to cloak its investigation in secrecy raises the possibility that investigators may have twisted the comments of those they interviewed to justify the investigators' predetermined conclusions.

Posted by Robert Crowther on April 16, 2010 8:31 AM | Permalink

NASA lab accused of crackdown on intelligent design


Complaint alleges harassment, secret investigation, gag order

Posted: April 15, 2010 10:01 pm Eastern

By Bob Unruh © 2010 WorldNetDaily

The Cassini project by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab captures the image of lighting on Saturn (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

A complaint has been filed against NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which sent Galileo to Jupiter and dispatched a ship named Dawn to orbit asteroids Vesta and Ceres, claiming managers there discriminated against and demoted a key project worker because he shared intelligent design videos with co-workers.

The case has been filed by David Coppedge, an information technology specialist and systems administrator on the lab's Cassini mission to Saturn, which has been described as the most ambitious interplanetary exploration ever launched.

"For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design," said attorney Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Luskin serves as a consultant to the Coppedge lawsuit, which is being handled by Los Angeles First Amendment attorney William J. Becker Jr. of the Becker Law Firm and includes allegations of free speech violations and wrongful demotion.

"Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design," Luskin said.

Get the ultimate in logic: the book "Nothing Created Everything" which reveals the holes in the theory of evolution.

The complaint was filed in California Superior Court. Officials at the JPL today told WND they had not yet seen the court filing and could not comment.

The action explains that a division of the California Institute of Technology JPL operates under a contract with NASA.

Coppedge was a "Team Lead" Systems Administrator on the Cassini mission until JPL demoted him for allegedly "pushing religion" by loaning interested co-workers DVDs supportive of intelligent design.

Coppedge is suing JPL and Caltech for religion discrimination and harassment, retaliation, violation of his religious rights and wrongful demotion.

"Intelligent design is not religion, and nothing in the DVDs that Coppedge shared deals with religion," said Luskin. "Even so, it's unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion."

Among the coming JPL projects is Aquarius, which is to offer the first-ever global maps of salt concentrations in the ocean surface needed to understand heat transport and storage in the ocean.

Its Deep Space 1 left Earth in 1998 and tested an ion engine that could power future solar system explorers.

The case alleges Coppedge's supervisors demoted and humiliated him for advancing ideas that superiors labeled "unwelcome" and "disruptive."

The situation reach a boiling point in 2009 when a supervisor angrily harassed Coppedge, claiming "intelligent design is religion" and that Coppedge was "pushing religion."

Coppedge's complaint about that harassment resulted in a retaliatory investigation and "severe limitations" on Coppedge's free speech rights, the case explains.

The actions against him continued, even though supervisors eventually admitted they had no complaints about him, and other employees were allowed to discuss whatever topics they chose, the case explains.

The complaint said, "Intelligent design offers scientific evidence that life's development is best explained as reflecting the design of an intelligent cause, citing mainstream research in biology, cosmology, and paleontology."

The DVDs included "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet."

The Discovery Institute notes this is just the latest in a series of disputes involving intelligent design.

Previously, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, a state agency, was sued following its "discriminatory cancellation" of a contract to screen an intelligent design film.

At Iowa State in 2006, supervisors denied tenure to and forced out a distinguished astrophysicist for co-authoring a book on intelligent-design in cosmology.

In 2005, supervisors at the Smithsonian investigated, harassed and demoted an evolutionary biologist for editing a pro-intelligent design article in a peer-reviewed technical journal.

And in University of Idaho in 2005, the university's president banned faculty on campus from teaching against evolution-theory orthodoxy.

"Anyone who thinks that today's culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken," said John G. West, associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech."

'Raw milk' advocates, health officials step up dispute


By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

Maybe you can't cry over spilled milk, but that doesn't mean you can't have big fights if it's unpasteurized.

To a small but dedicated community, it's "raw milk," a life-giving, vitamin and enzyme-rich miracle cure for asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and multiple other illnesses. The viewpoint, championed in the past decade by the Weston A. Price Foundation, which follows the nutritional teachings of a mid-century Ohio dentist, has gained a life of its own on the Internet.

To public health officials and state departments of agriculture, unpasteurized milk can be a dangerous, germ-ridden drink that is especially hazardous to children and their immature immune systems.

An outbreak of campylobacter tied to unpasteurized milk in Middlebury, Ind. sickened at least 20 people in March in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, according to the state departments of health.

New website launching

The latest round in this dispute at the intersection of food, alternative health and anti-government activism took place this week, first with a national conference of pro-raw-milk advocates in Wisconsin on Saturday followed by today's launch of a well-financed website warning of raw milk's risks.

The Madison, Wis., symposium featured more than a dozen speakers, including Fresno, Calif., dairyman Mark McAfee, delivering the keynote titled "Raw milk as medicine Proudly violating FDA drug laws."

Emily Matthews, a supporter of raw milk and a registered nurse, keeps a cow so her family can produce its own raw milk in Schleswig, Wis. Selling unpasteurized milk except at the farm is illegal in the state. She doesn't believe unpasteurized milk is dangerous, especially if it comes from cows fed on grass rather than corn.

"I have seen more kids directly harmed by vaccines," she says. "I've never seen anybody whose kids were harmed by raw milk."

Most states disagree. Retail sale of unpasteurized milk is legal in only 10 states and banned in another 10. In the rest it is legal only at the farm, via "cow-share" (when people buy shares in a cow so they're drinking their own milk), according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

The Food and Drug Administration simply wants to protect the public from disease, says John Sheehan, director of FDA's division of plant and dairy food safety. Unpasteurized milk is unsafe, a view held not only by the FDA but also by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Virtually every scientific association there is is saying exactly what we do, which is that raw milk can contain pathogens and it shouldn't be consumed," he says.

Milk can be contaminated with pathogens such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7 carried in manure via unclean udders or milking equipment, Sheehan says. Pasteurization, which was invented in the 19th century and has been common in the USA since the 1920s, is the process of heating milk to at least 161 degrees F for at least 15 seconds to kill pathogens.

It's that heating raw milk advocates object to, as they feel it destroys health-giving vitamins, enzymes and organisms.

The Real Raw Milk Facts site (www.realrawmilkfacts.com), launched today, was created by more than a dozen scientists and health educators. It's meant to carefully lay out the research on raw milk, without being as dogmatic as government sites that just tell people not to drink it. But the site is not to be confused with similar ones, some several years old, such as www.raw-milk-facts.com, www.realmilk.com, www.rawmilktruth.com and www.rawmilk.org, all hosted by advocates of raw milk.

'Granola tea-partiers'

The site gets funding from a surprising source: Seattle-based food-safety lawyer Bill Marler, who made his fortune suing food producers. He has underwritten the $20,000 cost, even though it might cost him business if fewer people get sick. "Raw milk is where the right and left come back together. It's an intersection for the 'back to nature' and the 'don't tread on me,' people — they're the granola tea-partiers," he says.

What might be most convincing to those trying to decide about raw milk are the videos on the new site of three children and two adults hospitalized by illnesses linked to drinking unpasteurized milk.

One of them is Kalee Prue, 29, who got E. coli O157:H7 from the first bottle of unpasteurized milk she ever drank, in 2008. Her son, who was still nursing, had skin problems, and she had read online that raw milk might help.

Prue, of East Hampton, Conn., was in the hospital for 33 days and now has kidney damage and can't have more children.

Prue still believes people should take their health into their own hands but says "there are many ways of getting similar benefits" without drinking raw milk. "I would tell them to research it more ... and make sure they understand the risks, because they're real, not just statistics."

Weston teacher, school at odds over evolution


Posted on 04/15/2010


Hour Staff Writer

Weston school administrators denied the connection between one teacher's early retirement and an alleged clash in 2008 over the instruction of evolution.

Mark Tangarone, who leads the Talented and Gifted program at Weston Intermediate School, tendered a letter of retirement in February after he said administrators rejected a proposed lesson plan to teach third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about Charles Darwin.

"I was flabbergasted to know this could be an issue in this day and age," Tangarone said.

Assistant Superintendent Thomas Scarice said although administrators did ask Tangarone to focus on a different lesson plan, that decision was of "sound professional judgment" intended to pair teacher and students with more appropriate content. He said Tangarone's decision to retire was a personnel issue, not one related to curriculum.

"Quite honestly, it's not surprising that this attack was launched by Mr. Tangarone," Scarice said. "He was recently disciplined for unrelated issues concerning attendance and insubordination. He's not very happy being supervised."

Scarice said that Weston schools teach concepts of evolution from kindergarten through 12th grade -- a practice aligned with state and national standards for science education.

"Weston is a first-rate district, and our curriculum is top-notch," he said.

Tangarone said he saved an e-mail exchange with the school's former principal that removes any doubt the administration censored his curriculum. However, he said he could not forward the messages because he had been reprimanded for sharing them in the past couple of days.

The lesson Tangarone designed is called "AustralAsia," intended to teach students about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. The two historical figures share a birthday. Scarice said administrators asked Tangarone to focus on just the leadership unit, which revolved around Lincoln.

Tangarone said the portion dealing with Darwin would have addressed the theory of evolution and introduced students to Darwin's research practices.

"Of all kids, I think TAG students should have Darwin as a role model," he said. "He struggled over information and what it was telling him, and he developed a theory that had never existed before."

Tangarone said he has no plans to pursue legal action. His retirement becomes effective this June.

Complementary medicine: Health risk or the real heal?


A controversial book questions the value of complementary medicine, says Jane Alexander.

By Jane Alexander
Published: 1:58PM BST 16 Apr 2010

Disillusioned: authors Professor Edzard Ernst, top, and Simon Singh, above, say complementary treatments can be a waste of money and dangerous to some users' health Photo: PAUL GROVER; REX FEATURES

Do you receive reiki or put your feet in the hands of a reflexologist? Have you ever tried crystal therapy? Does an acupuncturist give you a needle? In short, are you one of the estimated 5.75 million people in Britain who visit a complementary health practitioner?

Acupuncture should be offered on NHS for back painIf so, according to Professor Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh, authors of Trick or Treatment, you're not only potentially wasting your money, you could be putting your health at risk.

''Millions of patients are wasting their money and risking their health by turning towards a snake-oil industry,'' they say.

Unsurprisingly, practitioners of complementary medicine have been less than ecstatic about the authors' stance. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) accused Singh of libel over an article he wrote in The Guardian.

The BCA claimed he was, in effect, accusing chiropractors of knowingly supporting bogus treatments. The Court of Appeal has ruled that Singh can use the "defence of fair comment" in the ongoing dispute.

While Singh is a science writer and documentary maker, Ernst is Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University. Qualified as a conventional doctor, he consequently trained in homoeopathy and practised this and other therapies.

However, as he looked at the research, he became ''increasingly disillusioned''.

His main complaint is that, according to his reviews of the available research, it simply doesn't work. If people get better, they do so because of the placebo effect or by sheer coincidence.

Homeopathy, Ernst says, ''makes no scientific sense''. He also claims it can be dangerous because it can prevent patients seeking medical attention for serious ailments.

Acupuncture, he continues, is also fundamentally unproven by clinical trials. In addition, if wrongly performed, Ernst says it can cause infection and that needles might even puncture a nerve or an organ.

Chiropractic also comes in for a panning (you can understand why they took umbrage). Ernst expresses concern if patients are being X-rayed unnecessarily, and adds: ''patients can also suffer dislocations and fractures". Herbs, he concedes, can have physiological effects and a few, such as St John's wort, Devil's claw, echinacea, garlic, ginkgo and horse chestnut, do respond well in trials.

However, he points out that herbal treatments have side-effects and that some herbs interact badly with conventional medicine.

The 50 per cent of doctors who refer patients to therapists of unproven treatments receive a lambasting, with Ernst suggesting that they are either ignorant, lazy or desperate.

Prince Charles, a long-term advocate of complementary health, also gets an earful. ''The Prince of Wales ought to start listening to scientists, rather than allowing himself to be guided by his own prejudices.'' Ouch.

It's based on science, so surely Ernst must be right? Well, not everyone agrees that it's that simple. Prof George Lewith is Professor of Health Research at the University of Southampton – hence in the same business as Ernst.

While Lewith firmly believes that complementary medicine ''should be trialled and tested'', he expresses concern about the scientific basis of Trick or Treatment.

''Synthesising one or two rather inadequate trials and coming to a negative conclusion is a very limited and often inaccurate way to look at clinical evidence,'' Lewith says. ''The honest answer when we have inadequate evidence is that we don't know. Ernst routinely spins 'don't know' into 'doesn't work' by implication and this theme tends to run through Trick or Treatment.''

So are these therapies safe after all? ''If we applied the same scientific rules used in Trick or Treatment to surgical intervention, we would probably never agree to let a dentist or indeed any surgeon ever approach us,'' Lewith says with a shrug.

''All medicine needs to be aware that it should operate safely and honestly, but Ernst and Singh seem to be waging some sort of religious war against complementary medicine.''

The book does seem curiously slanted. Ernst mentions in passing that some forms of complementary health do produce measurable results – osteopathy, massage therapies, yoga and autogenic therapy fare reasonably well, for example.

Yet the praise is faint.

I, for one, would have felt more convinced by the negative commentary if there had been more emphasis on the parts of complementary health that do seem to stand up to rigorous testing.

There was also little acknowledgement of why some patients seek natural therapies in the first place.

While pharmaceutical drugs are extensively tested in the manner Ernst approves, they are scarcely devoid of side-effects. Also, many people seek help for issues that conventional medicine finds difficult to treat.

Research shows that the most common ailments seen by complementary practitioners are musculoskeletal problems, stress, anxiety and depression. Interestingly, these are all conditions that respond well to the therapies which were given grudging applause in Trick or Treatment.

The bottom line? It seems the jury is still out.

Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst is published by Corgi (£7.99)

I hope Simon Singh's victory will make my women friends ditch alternative therapy


By Cristina Odone Health and lifestyle Last updated: April 16th, 2010

Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter.

Simon Singh is a hero, and for once the good guy won. Singh, a science writer, won a lengthy and expensive (he still stands to lose £60,000 in legal costs) battle against chiropractors who sued him over a Guardian piece in which he argued that claims made about chiropractic medicine and children's health were wrong.

I hope his victory will serve as a wake-up call for my women friends. Because although all are intelligent and well-educated, and many are professional and tough as nails, my friends (at least, the women among them) are still dabbling in alternative therapies. We are talking reflexology for stress and acupuncture for fertility, St John's Wort for depression and light therapy for menopausal blues. I could scream when I hear yet another woman has spent £80 for a session to have a Chinese woman rub her forehead and tell her she feels a current of pent-up emotions dissipate in the air as a result. I can't bear the thought of friends scraping and scrimping to afford another consultation at the Hay Clinic, the shrine of alternative medicine in London. Read the research, I implore. Look at the figures.

But no: you can't rely on scientists' findings or doctors' figures, because these professionals are jealous of the alternative magicians. Meek and mild mannered women who wouldn't say boo to a lout become tiger like in their defense of their therapists. How dare you knock Min, or Chin, or Lin? How can you question the motives of Dr X or Dr Y? Unlike the medics of the NHS or the consultants in Harley Street, the gurus in their little candle-lit rooms are not in it for the money. No, they are missionaries with a spiritual objective: to deliver inner and outer health.

I tried an alternative doctor once. I was desperate with flu-like symptoms I couldn't shake off and a friend made me get an appointment with her guru. It didn't cure me but I'm glad I went into that warm, softly-lit, candle-scented room because I now know what the appeal is. The guru, you see, listened. He asked a thousand questions that had nothing to do with my earlier chest infection or my wheezing in the mornings. He wanted to know about how hard I worked, how my lovelife was, how much sleep I managed to get with an infant. He touched me gently, stroked my feet and hands as he dripped a few drops of oily water on my forehead. He reassured me that every obstacle is surmountable with a potion, a cream, a pill. And everything, everything he prescribed would be natural. I was taking nature's path to wellness, and that would ensure that I would be in synch with the beautiful world around me.

An hour of this, and I lay there, oiled and massaged, warm and cosy, thinking to myself that this man was Gandhi and Mother Teresa rolled into one. This was Enlightenment. This was Good.

It was only when I emerged from the reception with its whale music, and stood blinking in the bright light of day, that I realised I'd just spent £50 for a sponge bath and a chat. I was cross — and then thought of how many women would spend even more to have someone, anyone, do just that for them. Yes, by all means, do go to alternative therapists for human touch and consolation. Just don't think they can cure your cold.

Quacks fly in all directions as alternative medicine regulation fails


As panic and confusion spread among the practitioners of alternative medicine, Martin Robbins calls for the industry's products and practices to be brought under mainstream medical regulations

Martin Robbins guardian.co.uk, Friday 16 April 2010 18.06 BST Article history

The government's alternative medicine regulator – dubbed OfQuack by sceptics – has failed to take off. Photograph: Matko Biljak/Reuters

A plethora of recent news stories have highlighted a growing problem with the regulation of alternative medicine in Britain. Together they reveal an industry that is increasingly out of control in the absence of any coherent government policy. The consequences are bad for the public, and bad for alternative medicine practitioners themselves.

The British Homeopathic Association was criticised for giving misleading evidence to parliament, homeopathy was savaged by a select committee report and the 10:23 campaign proved beyond doubt that "there's nothing in it" by staging mass overdoses.

Police began an investigation into alleged fraud at a charity founded by Prince Charles, the Foundation for Integrated Health.

And Simon Singh yesterday finally defeated the libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association.

In many cases, the wounds are self-inflicted. Many questioned the BCA's wisdom in pursuing Singh through the courts, but perhaps a more pertinent question for chiropractors is what on earth a professional body was doing spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of members' fees protecting its own interests?

The consequences haven't stopped there. A quirk of the General Chiropractic Council's rules means that chiropractors who make claims that are incompatible with previous Advertising Standards Authority rulings must be investigated by the regulator. It's a curiously ad hoc approach to regulation, and it has been exploited by sceptics to the extent that one in four chiropractors are now being investigated by the council for allegedly making misleading claims to the public

Similar stories of regulatory strife can be found across the industry, with an alphabet soup of regulators and professional bodies – often in direct competition with each other – attempting to enforce some sort of order. The results range from apathy to the sort of pitched battles raging in homeopathy. Regulators themselves are running amok, with the Society of Homeopaths and Homeopathy Action Trust continuing to fund the homeopathic treatment of Aids in Africa.

Conventional medical regulators aren't free of this confusion either. I recently asked the General Medical Council about homeopathy. They told me that doctors "must provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence" (they declined to comment on the evidence for homeopathy), and yet a complaint by Merseyside Skeptics about a GP advocating homeopathy on the news was met with the reply that they "do not require doctors to use only evidence-based treatments".

Stepping into the middle of all this mess is a new government-backed regulatory organisation, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), or "OfQuack" as it was inevitably dubbed by critics, set up by Prince Charles' Foundation for Integrated Health with an additional grant from the Department of Health.

The Department of Health insists that the charity and council are now completely separate organisations. But how a charity that lobbies on behalf of the alternative medicine industry came to be funded by the government to set up a regulator for the very same industry is unclear, because meetings between Prince Charles and the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, are among the most closely guarded secrets in government. They're probably filed in a basement somewhere between UFO sightings and the real reason for the big cloud of volcanic ash sitting over the country.

The government's response to a Freedom of Information request I submitted read like something out of Yes Minister:

"The Department neither confirms nor denies that it holds information falling within the description specified in your request ... This should not be taken as an indication that the information you requested is or is not held by the Department ... To be clear, the Department is not neither confirming nor denying whether the Secretary of State met with The Prince of Wales ... The Department is neither confirming nor denying whether it holds any information within the specific terms of your request."

The CNHC launched with a target of registering 10,000 practitioners across a variety of disciplines. Almost immediately it became apparent that it would not attract enough members, and more than a year later a little over 2,000 practitioners have signed up, 8,000 short of the number required for the council to be self-financing, as revealed in a recent public meeting.

Part of the reason for this shortfall has been explained as "inaccurate business information" due to a lack of research into the industry – leading to the overestimate of its scale – but a bigger problem is the amount of hostility the council faces from the alternative medicine community. Suggestions from Andy Burnham that herbal medicine practitioners be brought under the CNHC umbrella have not been received well, while homeopathy groups have pretty much rejected the idea outright.

With a new government set to assume power and all parties likely to take a hard look at budgets and quangos, the future of the CNHC is far from certain. And even it it were, the fact remains that the council is a voluntary register, and one that is not required to scrutinise the medical claims made by its members.

It is thus about as powerful as, well, most of the medicine it regulates.

Why is there a need for an alternative medicine regulator in the first place? This question has never been answered satisfactorily. Either a product is a medicine, in which case it should be allowed to make health claims and be regulated as a medicine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), or it is not, in which case it shouldn't be allowed to make health claims and should be regulated in the same way as, say, a packet of Tic-Tacs.

Allowing this bizarre pseudo-regulation to continue risks legitimising a whole range of bogus medical practices.

The Texas Curriculum Massacre


What a conservative rewriting of history tells us about how Texans view the world, which is, for them, Texas.

By Evan Smith | NEWSWEEK
Published Apr 16, 2010
From the magazine issue dated Apr 26, 2010Given the redness of my home state of Texas at the moment—more crimson than rosé—you'd be forgiven for dismissing the recent headline-making flap over revisions to our high-school social-studies curriculum as pure politics. A near majority of the duly elected 15 members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) is locked in a hyperconservative embrace, aligned as a bloc to promote a social-issues-centric view of the world. Other contemporary controversies involving the SBOE have centered on neutering the sex-education component of the science curriculum, taking anything even vaguely PG-rated out of health textbooks (say, a line drawing of a woman's bare breast in a section on self-exam), and questioning the appropriateness of teaching the "theory" of evolution without also teaching creationism. But if those fights were largely relegated to the undercard, the social-studies controversy is a top-draw heavyweight brawl, with the jeering eyes of the nation upon us.

Every 10 years, the SBOE reexamines what the 4.7 million students in public high schools are taught on a variety of subjects. (As opposed to how it's done in other states, this process is conducted outside the purview of the commissioner of education or the state education agency.) After appointing and then hearing from panels of expert "reviewers," the board considers and votes on a variety of curriculum changes: add this, tweak that, outright eliminate something else.

This time around, the vote is in May, but trouble's been brewing since January, when it became clear that the list of historical figures deemed worthy of inclusion in civics textbooks was up for discussion: at various points, Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez were among those on the chopping block, while the inventor of the yo-yo (I'm not making this up) was cheerfully inserted and the laundering of Joseph McCarthy's reputation was contemplated. Aesop's fables were found wanting, as was a discussion of the separation of church and state. There was also a problem of race and ethnicity—or lack thereof. Board members not allied with the conservative bloc complained that the non-Anglo history of the state was getting increasingly short shrift—despite the demographic makeup of the Alamo battlefield, or the fact that Texas will soon be majority Hispanic.

All over the country, educators and progressives recoiled, believing that the befouled byproducts of this process would force changes to their own curricula, given the Lone Star State's massive footprint as a consumer of textbooks. Although the executive director of the Association of American Publishers has called the pervasive influence of Texas "an urban myth," the damage was done—as goes Texas, it was feared, so goes the country.

It's certainly true that some of this owes to conservative ideology asserting itself in a conservative state that Barack Obama lost in 2008 and would lose even more resoundingly today. But there's something else at work—and a clue to it can be found in another revision pushed by one of the most vocal participants in the process. Bill Ames, a conservative gadfly appointed by former board chair and creationism proponent Don McLeroy, attempted to rally everyone round the flag of American exceptionalism—which he described as the belief that America is "not only unique but superior," and that its citizens are "divinely ordained to lead the world to betterment."

May I suggest that a state-level version of this philosophy is behind the SBOE contretemps—and that it's part of a larger argument playing out all across Texas? Remember (would we ever let you forget?) that this is a state that was once a nation. It's a "whole other country," as the tourism slogan boasts, and a wicked independent streak remains a defining—perhaps the defining —feature of our character. Texas and Texans have never cottoned to answering to outsiders. We don't like being told what to do. And we don't like it when our ability to chart our own course, to control our own destinies or the way we live our lives, is in any way hampered.

Consider how else Texas politics and public policy have made national headlines lately and it all seems of a piece. A year ago, on April 15, Gov. Rick Perry was filmed at a tea-party rally playing footsie with those who believe secession is a cure-all for perceived intrusiveness by the federal government. More recently, both Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott invoked the 10th Amendment to the Constitution in discussing the state's options in response to health-care reform, and Abbott committed to joining with attorneys general from around the country in a lawsuit against the federal government. During the GOP primary, gubernatorial candidate and tea-party darling Debra Medina talked openly of the state's right to negate any law passed by the feds that it believes to be unconstitutional. Around the same time, Perry made a prideful show of rejecting the chance to apply for the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top grants, asserting that even a single string attached to federal funds was too many.

One way to view the attempt to revise the social-studies curriculum, then, is as a bunch of Texas patriots drawing an Alamo-like line in the sand against an invading horde of elites. Don't tell us who is and who isn't an important historical figure. Don't tell us to view history through glasses tinted by political correctness. Don't deny us our God-given right to question the validity of evolution or the separation of church and state. We know better. Don't mess with us. Don't mess with Texas … exceptionalism.

Of course, outrage is one thing and outcomes are another. Perry's secession talk solidified his ties to the Republican base and steeped him in tea but has amounted to nothing, policy-wise. It remains to be seen whether Obamacare can be kept legally from our borders. Medina herself was negated in the primary: she finished a distant third to Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (whose candidacy was itself the victim of a Texas-vs.-Washington mentality). And with a budget deficit of $11 billion or more looming in the next biennium, even some conservatives are rethinking an out-of-hand rejection of federal funds.

Likewise, the May meeting at which the State Board of Education will cast an up-or-down vote on the curriculum changes could produce fewer fireworks than we've seen to date. Anger is a catalyst, but too much anger can lead to overreach. In the spring primary, both Don McLeroy and another reliably conservative member of the board were defeated by moderate Republicans who want to depoliticize the SBOE, and a third moderate was elected to replace yet another member of the ruling bloc. The board's view of Texas exceptionalism remains deep-rooted, but the state's continued success at asserting its otherness is no sure thing.

Smith is editor in chief and CEO of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public media organization based in Austin.

© 2010