NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 July 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, July 02, 2010

Evolution education update: July 2, 2010

A special issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach in honor of Eugenie C. Scott's sixty-fifth birthday is published, and Creation is now available on DVD.


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach (volume 3, number 2) is in honor of -- if a few months in advance of -- the sixty-fifth birthday of NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. Edited by NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch (who contributed "Three wishes for Genie" by way of introduction), it contains essays by Nicholas J. Matzke, Robert T. Pennock, Barbara Forrest, Raymond Arthur Eve with Susan Carol Losh and Brandon Nzekwe, Lawrence M. Krauss, Robert M. Hazen, Kevin Padian, Jay D. Wexler, Kenneth R. Miller, Brian Alters, and Carl Zimmer. Plus there's a biographical appreciation by Andrew J. Petto, a bibliography compiled by Adam M. Goldstein and Glenn Branch, and a reflection on the importance of "Listening to Teachers" by Scott herself.

Additionally, NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Scott offered a further installment in Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education, NCSE's regular feature in Evolution: Education and Outreach. Entitled "Problem Concepts in Evolution Part II: Cause and Chance," their column discusses how the concepts of cause and chance are often confusing to students and suggests "how to address these specific challenges to understanding evolution in light of recent research." And NCSE's Steven Newton reviewed Ralph O'Connor's The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856 (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which, he writes, "presents a wide-ranging view of how geology, in its earliest days, appealed through drama and spectacle to an exclusive portion of the public."

Originally, Evolution: Education and Outreach was freely available on-line. Now, as Niles Eldredge and Gregory Eldredge explain in their editorial, "After a temporary hiatus, ... we are poised to come back free online -- the better to serve our educational outreach mission." Past issues will soon begin to appear on-line at the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central. But there's no need to wait to read the articles by Matzke, Padian, and Scott, which were published through Springer's Open Access program and are already freely available. Moreover, NCSE members will have the opportunity to receive a printed copy of the issue, which will be offered as a gift premium in the fall fundraising letter. And if you're not a member of NCSE, what are you waiting for? Join today.

For information about Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

For Matzke's, Padian's, and Scott's articles (all PDF), visit:

For information about becoming a member of NCSE, visit:


Creation, the 2009 film about Darwin starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly, will be available on DVD and for digital download on June 29, 2010. In her review of Creation at The Panda's Thumb blog, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as "a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public -- for the good."

Among the extras on the DVD version are, unsurprisingly, a commentary by director Jon Amiel and a making-of-the-film documentary featuring Amiel, Bettany, and Randal Keynes, a great-great-grandson of Darwin, on whose book Creation was based. "Digging Deeper Into Darwin" discusses the film's treatment of seven topics in Darwin's life.

Two further extras are somewhat unusual. "Debating Darwin" features a young-earth creationist as well as two distinguished British biologists -- Lewis Wolpert and Denis Alexander -- discussing issues related to the film; "Pollard on Film on Creation" is a review-cum-reflection produced by a non-denominational Christian organization in the United Kingdom.

For information about Creation, visit:

For Scott's review, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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

Intelligent Design Proponents Toil More than the Critics: A Response to Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit


A few years back Dr. Wesley Elsberry and Dr. Jeffrey Shallit co-wrote an article, "Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski's 'Complex Specified Information'," in response to William Dembski's 2001 book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence.

No Free Lunch was something of a sequel to Dembski's first major book, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998), but Dembski's work has come a long way since that time. In this regard—and it's not Elsberry or Shallit's fault per se, this is just how things go—their critique is now somewhat out-dated. The computational research of Dembski and Robert Marks at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab (as well as the Biologic Institute) has preempted many lines of objection they raised. For example, Elsberry and Shallit charged that "intelligent design advocates have produced many popular books, but essentially no scientific research." It's doubtful that charge was accurate when they first posted their article, but no serious critic could make that charge in 2010.

Dembski has written brief replies to Shallit (see here and here) where he indicated that many of their criticisms are now outdated and that he did not see the need to write a further, detailed response. I too found many of Elsberry and Shallit's critiques to be misguided and reflected misapplications of Dembski's ideas. Nonetheless, I occasionally get emails from people interested in a rebuttal to their article, so I felt some written response is necessary. My response intends to be a non-exhaustive response to some of the errors in Elsberry and Shallit's critique of Dembski. The response is titlted, "Intelligent Design Proponents Toil More than the Critics: A Response to Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit," and it can be found here. I will highlight some of its main points over the course of 2 posts on Evolution News & Views.

Elsberry and Shallit Find False Positives by Misapplying Specified Complexity

A common theme in Elsberry and Shallit's response to William Dembski is that they infer design prematurely before thinking carefully about whether the structure or event in question can in fact be explained by natural causes. In their article, they consistently seem unwilling to think hard about the objects being studied to sort out possible causal histories and determine what the right answer should be (i.e. was it designed or not?). Dembski would reply by saying that this is why we should study scenarios extremely carefully and not simply infer design until we have seriously explored the plausibility of natural explanations.

For example, in one example, Elsberry and Shallit cite pulsars as an example of a pattern that could give a false positive for design under Dembski's explanatory filter. They write:

Pulsars (rapidly pulsating extraterrestrial radio sources) were discovered by Jocelyn Bell in 1967. She observed a long series of pulses of period 1.337 seconds. In at least one case the signal was tracked for 30 consecutive minutes, which would represent approximately 1340 pulses. Like the SETI sequence, this sequence was viewed as improbable (hence "complex") and specified (see Section 8), hence presumably it would constitute complex specified information and trigger a design inference. Yet spinning neutron stars, and not design, are the current explanation for pulsars.

This reasoning misapplies specified complexity. Pulsars do produce regular repeating patterns, but those patterns aren't complex. Elsberry and Shallit are simply wrong to claim that the patterns we observe from pulsars are unlikely. Consider this description of pulsar patterns from NASA:

Pulsars pulse because the rotation of the neutron star causes the radiation generated within the magnetic field to sweep in and out of our line of sight with a regular period.

Thus, the "regular" patterns from pulsars are easily explained by natural law. The same holds for the "regular patterns formed by ice crystals," which Elsberry and Shallit claim "would constitute CSI." In Understanding Intelligent Design, Dembski writes (with Sean McDowell) why ice crystals are easily explained by natural law:

we cannot infer something was designed merely by eliminating chance. Star-shaped ice crystals, which form on cold windows, are a case in point. They form as a matter of physical necessity simply by virtue of the properties of water. An ice crystal has an ordered structure, but it does not warrant a design inference -- at least not in the same way as a Mickey Mouse landscape or Mount Rushmore. A designer may have designed the properties of water to bring about ice crystals, but such a design would be embedded in the laws of nature. The design we're interested in is more like engineering design, which looks to particular structures rather than general processes.

(William Dembski and Sean McDowell, Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language, pp. 105-106 (Harvest House, 2008).)

Likewise, the repeating pattern of atomic packing in a salt crystal is a pattern, but not a complex one. The laws of atomic packing and chemical bonding easily determine the structure of a salt crystal. In none of these cases would we infer design.

Elsberry and Shallit also claim that basalt columns could trigger a false positive for design under Dembski's methods, because they might appear to be intelligently designed stone columns, well known from ancient ruins. They write:

Let us consider the construction of tall pillars made of hard material, such as stone columns. We wish to argue that all such pillars are due to intelligent agents. Now in every case where a pillar appears and the underlying causal story is known with the certainty Dembski demands, these pillars were constructed by intelligent agents (humans). Using Dembskian induction, we would conclude that intelligent agents must be responsible for all such pillars, including the sand pipes at Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah and the basalt columns at the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. But this conclusion can only be retained by ruling out the circumstantial evidence in favor of accepted geological explanations for these features (ancient geysers and split volcanic flows, respectively; see [43]).

But an ID theorist who properly applies ID thinking would never obtain a false positive from basalt columns. For one, it's not true that "in every case where a [basalt column] appears and the underlying causal story is known with the certainty Dembski demands, these [columns] were constructed by intelligent agents (humans)." We can observe basalt lava flows in the present day cooing and then observe the columnar shapes caused by cooling basaltic lava. So we have a known, viable, natural explanation for these structures. Such columnar basalts are common in Eastern Washington State and I've observed them many times; they do NOT resemble human-designed pillars. Here are just a few reasons why basalt columns aren't like "stone pillars" known from ancient human ruins:

It seems unlikely that a careful design theorist investigator would confuse basalt columns with a designed structure. The same goes for Elsberry and Shallit's examples of rainbows, fungus "fairy rings," and circular and polygonal cracks in rocks due to freezing. None of these entail false positives for Dembski's methods. They are in every case easily explained via observed natural causes.

To be more precise, part of the reason why Elsberry and Shallit are uncovering alleged "false positives" is that they are constantly inferring design prematurely without carefully asking whether natural causes exist for that structure. Their examples infer design too quickly. They are not willing to do hard investigation to really determine if ID is in fact the best explanation, or if some natural explanation is superior. This flaw in their methodology will become increasingly clear as further examples are discussed. Specifically, my response to Elsberry and Shallit discusses this flaw in their reasoning with regards to Dembski's "Nicholas Caputo" example and other examples in more detail.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 30, 2010 5:19 PM | Permalink

Quacks and Quakery in Medicine: Truth in Healthcare


Lourdes Salvador July 01, 2010

"The medical profession is disenfranchising experts who may be vital characters in the quest for understanding about environmental illnesses," according to Tarryn Phillips of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia.

In a recent issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Phillips discusses plaintiff experts and an environmental illness known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS).

The Environmental Protection Agency defines MCS as "a diagnostic label for people who suffer multi-system illnesses as a result of contact with, or proximity to, a variety of airborne agents and other substances."

MCS is often precipitated by an acute or chronic exposure to toxic chemicals. Therefore, it may lead some to file lawsuits if they were wrongly injured. However, many in Australia are surprised to find a great deal of difficulty locating expert witnesses and treating physicians for the condition as a result of peer pressure.

"When medical practitioners act as expert witnesses for the plaintiff in contested illness lawsuits, they can be stigmatized by their professional community," says Phillips. In fact, some have been called "quacks".

Quacks and Quackery

The term ´quack´ is used in reference to a person who practices medicine and dispenses advice based on observation and experience in the absence of scientific findings. In its most negative connotation, ´quackery´ refers to treatments without value based on untrue claims.

The terms date back to Paracelsus, a physician who created a salve with mercury to treat syphilitic rash. Paracelsus was called a ´quacksalver´ by physicians who believed that the rash did not go away, but rather retreated more deeply into the body.

Later, of course, it became recognized that mercury did indeed act as an antiseptic and antifungal agent and it became widely accepted for use in vaccinations as a preservative. In essence, Paracelsus was before his time and the label of ´quack´ was applied by his narrow-minded peers

The ´quack´ label is often given to actual physicians who are on the forefront of medicine, have done research, attempted to publish that research, and altruistically study emerging illness and effective ways to treat them.

Dr. Alexander Fleming, for example, was credited with the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Prior to being credited, he was called a quack for suggesting penicillin be used as a medicine. Fleming wrote, "Penicillin sat on my shelf for 12 years while I was called a quack. I can only think of the thousands who died needlessly because my peers would not use my discovery."

Phillips offers an explanation for why those who are most able to help people with environmental illnesses continue to push forward with new research and risk being called a quack.

"They rationalize their continued advocacy within a moral discourse, which includes a professional aspiration toward altruism, an ethical commitment to "truth," and the explicit emphasis that financial gain is not a motivation," says Phillips, "For their deviance the experts have been confronted with professional disillusionment and emotional drain."

The Real Quackery

There always have been and always will be legitimate quacks who promote overstated cures that are useless time and money wasters. Nevertheless, just because a physician is called a quack does not mean s/he is a quack.

The quack label is often thrown around inappropriately to protect financial interests and circumvent liability in various industries. Oftentimes job loss is cited as a concern, though jobs in toxic industries could easily be replaced with work in safer, alternative industries that are both financially viable and protect worker health.

Though science is accepted as evidence based, replicated, and reliable, it cannot be relied upon and is often behind the times. This can be seen in the large amount of drug recalls due to lack of thorough testing for side effects and safety before marketing and prescribing.

Replication of science takes years while people remain ill or pass away. Select doctors have been paid handsome sums to issue industry supported statements, conduct studies to industry specifications, and issue opinions on MCS that lead others, including doctors, lawmakers, and community members, to believe that biased findings are truthful. At its core, it´s a well-funded pharmaceutical and chemical industry campaign of disinformation designed to cast doubt over the existence of environmental illnesses.

In many cases, these special interest groups have monopolized ownership of scientific journals and publish only studies which call "alternative" medicine into question. Like Fleming, researchers who discover beneficial treatments and healing modalities report that their work, which could benefit mankind, is denied publication in medical journals on the basis of principal. This is the real quackery that is harming the health of millions.

The American Medical Association

The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 by a group of elite physician´s to protect their interests and organize against ´quacks´ (homeopaths, midwives, and herbalists) in order to increase their own business. Since then, there has been a concerted effort against "alternative" medicine and healing by the AMA, with claims that it is "unscientific". In reality, the science has been proven and is simply denied publication in journals which the AMA and pharmaceutical companies monopolize for financial reasons.

MCS is one condition that these journals continue to deny simply because it is not profitable to prescribe chemical avoidance. Avoidance is berated as non-scientific and emphasis is instead placed on finding a way to treat people with MCS so that they could be exposed to the poisons which make them ill. Logic says that exposing oneself to poison is not advisable. Yet, it would be highly profitable for drug makers and physicians to have patients on lifelong medications and going through their revolving door with continued declining health.

Drugs and surgery are profitable, but neither work for MCS. Altruistic physicians who have uncovered the biochemical pathways and tests pointing to an MCS diagnosis routinely hit the wall when they try to publish their research findings. It is much more profitable to falsely claim MCS is a psychological problem and prescribe lifelong psychiatric medication to manage it. The fact that a statistically significant proportion of subjects experience worsening health on these medications gets slipped under rug in the hopes that psychiatric medication will make the ill patients apathetic enough to stop seeking help and keep popping profitable pills.

The history of the American Medical Association and supposedly ´scientific´ treatments is hardly as noble and scientific as it seems. It includes dangerous treatments such as blood letting and mercury poisoning. The AMA lays claim to science and the safety and efficacy of expensive pharmaceutical and surgical treatments. But instead of promoting a return to health and vibrancy, the AMA promotes long-term pharmaceutical "management" of disease for profit.

Over 100,000 people are killed each year by prescription medications and another 2.1 million are injured. More people die each year at the hands of prescription medications than suicide, firearms, homicide, illicit drugs, or alternative medicine. Conventional medicine has no right to point the finger and call anyone else a quack!


Those who treat MCS do so to find the truth and help end patient suffering. This is in contrast to the typical medical scrutiny given to emerging illnesses, such as MCS, and staunch attempts to falsify new theories and treatments.

"By specializing in treating an emergent and immeasurable condition as though it is organic, experts who deviate from the accepted framework of their field can find themselves marginal and stigmatized by their professional community," says Phillips, "The informants to this research rationalized their decision to breach the professional norm by conceptualizing themselves as part of a minority moral community that prioritizes an ethical commitment to "truth" and helping those who suffer."

Those who disengage from work with emerging illnesses do so because of the social, financial, emotional, and professional constraints they are faced with as a result of their interest in helping others.

Phillips asserts that "by disenfranchising these experts, the medical profession may be inhibiting advancements in emergent illness medicine."


Phillips, T. "I Never Wanted to Be a Quack!" The Professional Deviance of Plaintiff Experts in Contested Illness Lawsuits: The Case of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 24(2),182–198.

This article is an op-ed that originally appeared in the MCS America News, July 2010 Issue http://mcs-america.org/july2010.pdf. For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.

Copyrighted 2010 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Are you are real skeptic, or are you just faithing it?


Category: Health • Skepchicon 2010 • Skeptical Skepticism • Skepticism
Posted on: June 30, 2010 11:09 AM, by Greg Laden

And by faithing it, I mean using faith rather than critical analysis of the available information to make important decisions about what to regard as valid.

Let's do a couple of informal experiments to explore this issue more closely. For the present discussion, I'm assuming that you are non-scientist and non-medical person who self identifies as a skeptic.

Do you know the following terms, without looking them up (which you can do, in part, by clicking on them)? In some cases you may be able to guess meanings, in some cases you may have a vague idea from prior reading. But that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking if you know the following terms. Like a teacher would know the terms to teach them, or a researcher would know the terms while using them in the Monday Lab Meeting, or a physician would know the term well enough to get what she is reading in the PDR or some medical journal article. Do you?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Hemagglutinin Stalk Domain
Mucociliary escalator
Treg cells
IgA, IgG, IgE, and IgM

For most of you, the honest answer is no, you don't, even though these terms are not especially esoteric.

Next question: Had you children, would you get them vaccinated? If so, why?

I'm guessing that the answer is "yes," and the reason is two fold: 1) For their health benefit; and 2) for the health benefit of society at large.

But wait, there is a controversy that indicates that vaccinating your children will cause autism and other bad effects. Yet, you say you are going to have your children vaccinated. That is the "why" I was actually getting at. Why did you decide to go with the pro-vaccination "side" of this issue rather than the anti-vaccination side?

I'm guessing that the answer is that the pro-vaccination side has the science right and the anti-vaccination side does not.

Which would be correct. However, since you didn't know the meanings of any the terms above cold, teachably, usably, pragmatically, then how do you know the science is correct? Yes, this is just a vocabulary list, but these terms are to the immune system what "left and right" are to directions. A person who understands the immune system well enough to really evaluate the claims regarding vaccines would simply know these terms, just like a person understanding directions understands that "turn left at the barn and right at the old fence" will know which way to turn at those points in space.

There are different levels at which you can understand the topic of vaccination, or any other complex medical or, more broadly, scientific topic. As a biological anthropologist interested in certain aspects of evolution, I make it a point to "understand" the immune system at a much more detailed level than the average non-medical person. But I do not work with the immune system every day. Not even close. So, reading a scientific paper or sitting in on a lab meeting could be challenging for me, but quite doable. Less challenging if I've recently "worked with" the material, more so if I haven't.

But what if you are a pipe fitter or an English literature professor? You may have less reason to encounter the technical details of vaccine science and the immune system on a day to day basis, so you would have to go out of your way to get up to speed to really evaluate research.

In fact, you may end up simply not being able to do it at all. You may have to rely on the good will of others who know about the topic at hand to summarize it for you, and to make the case so that you can get what they are saying even if you can't reproduce what they are saying. Like when the mechanic is explaining all the expensive stuff that is about to happen to your car; You don't need to be able to do the work yourself, but you want to understand it enough to convince yourself that you are not getting ripped off.

Of course in either case, you could be getting ripped off. Your source for science info and argument may be wrong, or even intentionally misleading. Your mechanic may be ... well, let's not go there, I don't want to get mechanics mad at me...

About six months ago I had occasion to ask myself this question: Is it true or not true that fluoride added to drinking water can have negative effects on babies if formula is mixed with said drinking water? There are various sources of fluoride, and it is said that adding the drinking water in the formula mix increases the dose of this element to a level that could have negative effects. I heard this, and became a bit suspicious of it because of the whole Dr. Strangelove thing, but I didn't know. So I looked it up.

I googled it. I got results like this:

...Baby Formula and Fluoride Water. Because of the risk of fluorosis, or getting too much fluoride, which can lead to tooth staining, ......The Vermont Department of Health recommends mixing powdered or concentrated baby formula with water that is fluoride-free, or contains very low levels of fluoride, for feeding infants under 12 months of age....If you're concerned about fluorosis, you can minimize your baby's exposure to fluoride by using ready-to-feed formula. You can also alternate using tap ...... Babies are sensitive to the fluoride that exists in tap water, reports the Fluoride Action Network. If you dilute your baby's formula with...

Oh. The "fluoride action network." Sounds important. Better Google that..

97% of western Europe has chosen fluoride-free water .... Fluoridated water is no longer recommended for babies.... Ingestion of fluoride has little benefit, but many risks.... Risk to the brain, the thyroid gland, the bones, cancer, kidney disease... Due to other sources, many people are being over-exposed to fluoride .

OH. OK, so the American Dental association says something about fluoride. I can click on that.

Page Not Found

Huh. A little more googling, and I get this whole page of videos on fluoride. Fluoride causes autism!!!11!!! Finally, a link!!! Elsewhere, I see this: "If you look up fluoride on the net, you will find many who feel that it contributes to children's attention deficit reactions." Wow, that's some bad shit!

OK, that was my google experience. Then, I did the same thing with Google Scholar. Google Scholar is one of the options you have when you do a Google Search, and the results are quite different in where they come from and even how they are presented on the search page. If you are unaware of it, do have a look.

Restricting results to the last few years, I find the Journal of the American Dental Association article. Regarding the issue at hand:

The ADA offers these recommendations to reduce fluoride intake from reconstituted infant formula.

- Breast milk is widely acknowledged as the most complete form of nutrition for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends human milk for all infants (except for the few for whom breast-feeding is determined to be harmful).

- For infants who get most of their nutrition from formula during their first 12 months, ready-to-feed formula is preferred to help ensure that their fluoride intake does not exceed the optimal amount.

- If liquid concentrate or powdered infant formula is the primary source of nutrition, it can be mixed with water that is fluoride-free or contains low levels of fluoride to reduce the risk of fluorosis. These include water labeled as purified, demineralized, deionized or distilled, as well as reverse-osmosis filtered water. Many stores sell these types of drinking water for less than $1 per gallon.

Parents and caregivers should consult with their dentist, pediatrician or family physician regarding the most appropriate water to use in their area to reconstitute infant formula. Ask your pediatrician or family physician whether water used in infant formula should be sterilized first (sterilization, however, will not remove fluoride).

Unless advised to do so by a dentist or other health care professional, parents should not use fluoride toothpaste in children younger than 2 years, because they may inadvertently swallow the toothpaste.

Children 2 years and older should use an appropriate-sized toothbrush with a small brushing surface and only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste at each brushing. They should always be supervised while brushing and taught to spit out, rather than swallow, toothpaste.

Fluoride mouthrinses have been shown to help prevent caries in both children and adults. Unless the child's dentist advises otherwise, the ADA does not recommend the use of fluoride mouthrinses in children younger than 6 years, because they may be more likely to inadvertently swallow the mouthrinse.

Fluoride supplements are not recommended for children younger than 6 months. Children should receive only dietary supplemental fluoride tablets or drops as prescribed by their dentist or physician based on the supplement schedule approved by the ADA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (visit "www.ada.org").


Huh. In looking further at the Google Scholar results, I could not find support for autism or ADD or other scary things being caused by fluoride, but clearly, there is a potential problem of over-dosing (as it were) with fluoride by mixing baby formula with standard (fluoridated) tap water.

This experiment was interesting for the following reason: When I was done with the standard Google search, I would have had a lot of bad information among which was one piece of good (and important) information, but no real way to tell the chaff from the wheat. Well, I suspected the talk about autism etc was a clue that some of this was crazy-talk, but that was a gut feeling, not "skeptical reasoning." Indeed, I'd wager this to be true: As you were reading through the Google results, you were thinking that the whole fluoride thing was crazy, and all of it was made up, and there was no real issue here. You were using your skeptical culture to tell you what to believe and not believe. Right?

But you were wrong! You were ready to blow off all concerns regarding fluoride because those claims generally sound (and are) crazy, but in the end, the ADA is suggesting that caution is appropriate with infants.

Is the ADA being over cautious? Are they merely responding to public pressure from crazy anti-Fluoros? I don't know. Read the article and let me know what you think. That is a real possibility, but one would think the ADA would be a primary go-to source for finding out what is scientifically supported and what is not. On the other hand, when I blogged about this topic a while back, the ADA seemed to be saying to not worry about this problem. But the link in my earlier post to the ADA document is now ... dead. Did someone get to the ADA?

Or, had someone gotten tho the ADA before, as per this item: Suppression by medical journals of a warning about overdosing formula-fed infants with fluoride , link here and see full reference below. The abstract of that paper is as follows:

Abstract In January 1990, a short letter was sent to the editor of the international medical journal, Pediatrics, to alert its readers that the standard, highly quoted paper by Singer and Ophaug on fluoride intake by infants, published in 1979 in the same journal, required revision/correction in order to protect one group of infants from receiving substantial overdoses of fluoride. This group comprises infants who are fed almost entirely on powdered formula which is reconstituted with fluoridated water.

The letter was based on the well-established pediatric guidelines of water intake by infants and the fundamental toxicological principle of protecting groups at highest risk. It did not question the fluoridation of public water supplies. Nevertheless, the letter, together with a response to it by Ophaug, was rejected by the editor of Pediatrics, "due to a large backlog of articles."; Following a protest, the letter was reviewed by three referees, two of whom conceded its main point, but was still not published.

In the present paper, the original, previously unpublished letter on fluoride intake by infants is first reproduced verbatim, and then the comments of the referees and editors are reported and examined. It is concluded that the most plausible explanation for the rejection of the letter is that it might assist the anti-fluoridation movement. Another possible contributing explanation is that publication of the letter might reduce the status of the scholars who had defended the previous position and might be perceived to diminish the status of the journal.

Wow, this is getting complicated.

The point is: Knowing what is a valid argument for or against something, for the average person who wants to be a skeptic, is not easy. One must find sources one trusts and rely in part on those sources. And then, one must ask oneself, is "trust" just another five letter word. Like "faith"?

That it is hard, that it is work, is not a new idea, and you may be thinking "WTF did I just read this whole post for just to find out what I already know." But you would be missing the point. My point is some "skeptical thinking" is faith based. Skeptics are not as skeptical as they think they are, or at least, they are not a skeptical as they claim. Very few skeptics like to hear this (see comments below for skeptics yelling at me for saying this apparent fact out loud). But it is true. And it is of concern. Indeed, what I would predict to be a standard faith-based skeptical conclusion regarding fluoride is to not worry about the extra dosing of the infant. And, that might be wrong. Wrong for bad, yet avoidable, reasons.

Getting back to the Vax vs. Antivax debate, I'd like to recommend the following items for you to read:

The Rise in Autism and the Role of Age at Diagnosis

Autism Study Examines Cause of Apparent Rise in Rate

Is the Rise In Autism Rates Real?

The MIND Institute's Second Attempt: More of the Same Type of Reasoning

Mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): A failed hypothesis

Still more evidence that it's all about the vaccines

If you read through these sources, you'll probably get a good idea of at least one aspect of the debate, and you'll be skeptically prepared, in fact, to discuss it in some detail. But, this is a biased set of references. I'm not giving you sufficient anti-Vax material for you to really see their side of the issue. But you can Google it if you want. It's pretty crazy stuff, much like the fluoride scare tactics, but with less of a history. The fluoride discussion goes back quite a ways, after all. Grand Rapids Michigan was the first US city to fluoridate its water (Janurary, 1945), according to the Caribou Coffee Trivia question of two days ago (it is important to cite one's sources). And then there's this, which if you do not know you are not properly enculturated:


Editors. 2007. "For the Dental Patient ... Infants, Formula and Fluoride. JADA Vol. 138. Download here.

Diesendorf, M., & Diesendorf, A. (1997). Suppression by medical journals of a warning about overdosing formula-fed infants with fluoride Accountability in Research, 5 (1), 225-237 DOI: 10.1080/08989629708573911

Cellphone industry attacks San Francisco's ruling on radiation


Correction to This Article
The article about the wireless industry's reaction to San Francisco's passage of a law requiring retailers to disclose the levels of radiation emitted by cellphones incorrectly said that the trade group CTIA had canceled its fall trade show scheduled for that city. The organization says it will honor its contract for this year's show but will not return to San Francisco anytime soon.

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; A01

San Francisco, a city that banned the plastic bag, now has waded into the muddy territory of cellphone radiation, setting off a call to arms in the $153 billion wireless industry.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors passed a law -- the first in the nation -- requiring retailers to inform their customers how much radiation the cellphones on their shelves emit, so shoppers can figure out how close the devices come to the upper limits on radiation set by the Federal Communications Commission.

The law, which goes into effect early next year, didn't mention the word, but it was all about one thing: cancer, and whether cellphones cause it.

The cellphone industry answered with its own C-word -- cancel. After the vote, the CTIA wireless trade group called off its fall show, scheduled for San Francisco. Elsewhere in the country, the industry has been more successful. Earlier this year, similar laws in Maine and California were beaten back by the makers of the iPhone and Droid and the telecom giants that carry those phones on their networks.

"San Francisco has gotten out front on a number of issues historically," said John Walls, a CTIA spokesman, "but in this case, we are concerned they are leading the pack down a wrong and misleading road."

Lacking conclusive evidence one way or the other, studies relating to cellphone safety are being hurled about frenetically as cellphones grow ever more powerful and pervasive: Americans have more than 285 million mobile phones at their ears, and the number in use globally reaches 4.5 billion.

In 2006, Lennart Hardell, a professor of oncology and cancer epidemiology at the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, reported that adults he followed who had used cellphones for more than 10 years "give a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma," forms of brain tumors. That study has been used as the basis for public health alerts by way of commercials, billboards and warning labels in nations including Britain, Israel, Finland and France, but it has had little resonance in the United States.

Hardell published a report last year that said teens and children have a fourfold increased chance of getting brain cancer.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institutes of Health, is about to begin a $20 million study using rodents to test the effects of cellphone radiation. But a study on animals has its limitations, and it won't tackle questions about the effects on children, said Ronald Herberman, former director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

"I believe we have ample evidence for questioning the long-term impacts of cellphones on health and solid grounds for concerns about the long-term implications of their use," he said.

The last major study done by the U.S. cellphone industry was published in 2002. Citing privacy concerns, corporations have declined to release records of heavy cellphone use to match against incidence of brain tumors.

The issue of children and cellphones has not been widely studied, even as three out of four teenagers use a cellphone.

In a Senate subcommittee hearing in September, a member of the NTP said there is potentially a greater risk that children, with their thinner skulls, would suffer from the absorption of radio frequencies in their brain tissue. But when asked by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) whether he would recommend limits for children, NTP Associate Director John Boucher said, "I don't think we are in a position yet to make that recommendation."

Studies prompt concern

A cellphone call is carried over the same kind of radio frequencies as those that funnel the evening news and "Dancing With the Stars" into living-room televisions. For a call to be placed, radio frequencies move at lower powers between a device and a cell tower. Since the 1980s, scientists have questioned how those microwaves affect the body.

"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk," the World Health Organization states on its Web site. "To date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use."

The Food and Drug Administration and the FCC, the agencies that oversee cellphone use and health, say users who want to reduce exposure to radio-frequency energy should limit conversations and use hands-free devices, which place more distance between a phone and the head.

Last month, 13 nations in Europe and Asia released the results of a decade-long study on long-term use. Scientists debated the results, saying the study was flawed because it relied too much on the subjects' memories of how much they used their phones.

The report, funded largely by the biggest global cellphone trade group, said that there was no conclusive link between cellphone use and cancer but that there were "suggestions" that heavy use could increase the risk of glioma. NIH issued a statement after the report's release, emphasizing that the study showed no link.

But some experts said even the suggestion of a link warrants concern.

"When you have suggestive evidence, you don't wait until you have everything conclusive before you start warning about it," said David Carpenter, a University of Albany public health physician and professor. "That is the essence of cautionary principle."

Warning efforts opposed

U.S. standards mandate that the amount of energy seeping into the body, known as the specific absorption rate, can range from 0.2 watts per kilogram of body tissue to 1.6 watts.

Some companies offer guidelines of their own. The Nokia 1100, for instance, warns that the phone meets radio-frequency guidelines only when it is held at least 1.5 centimeters from the body. Motorola recommends keeping the antenna of a device at least 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from the body. BlackBerry warns that one of its devices "SHOULD NOT be worn or carried on the body" without a BlackBerry-approved belt clip.

But attempts to require warnings or explanations have sparked strong opposition.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco area Democrat, introduced a California bill he said would simply highlight the information some cellphone companies already note in user manuals. AT&T, a perennial supporter, stopped contributing campaign funds. The company declined a request for an interview.

"My bill was not about warnings or a call to reduce cellphone use; it was about education and letting people decide on their own from information provided," Leno said. It failed.

Earlier this year, a Maine bill proposed labels on cellphones warning of potential health risks for young users.

The CTIA, the high-tech industry group TechAmerica and the Maine Merchants Association hired local lobbyists to convince legislators that a proposed warning label showing an X-ray image of radiation penetrating a child's brain was fear-mongering. They were joined by Apple, Verizon and AT&T, according to state lobbying disclosure records.

Dane Snowden, a vice president for the CTIA and former FCC head of consumer protection, said at a hearing in Maine that federal standards protect users.

"As you can see, this isn't the wireless industry's opinion. . . . it's science," Snowden said.

The bill failed, and Andrea Boland, who introduced it, didn't understand all the fuss.

"It's very unpopular to bring up this subject because cellphones are so celebrated -- seen as glamorous, fun and important for safety," Boland said. "But I'm left asking, why are people so resistant to this? It's a precaution only. No one is saying, 'Don't use your cellphone.' "

Science educator on guard against evolution foes


Posted in Phil_haslanger on Thursday, July 1, 2010 4:40 am Updated: 2:08 pm. Phil Haslanger, Science, Evolution, School, Creationism, Religion

In a place like Madison, it's easy to think about the battles over teaching evolution in schools as something from another time and place.

Don't be too smug about that, warns Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

"You don't have to go far to find a teacher afraid of teaching evolution or who is teaching creationism," she said in an interview. "Teachers will often soft-pedal evolution or skip over it if there is a chance of a confrontation."

Scott knows more than a little bit about Wisconsin. She was born in La Crosse, was a teen in Milwaukee and got her bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

And she knows more than a little bit about the battles over evolution. She has been head of NCSE for the last 23 years, playing a central role in debates about teaching evolution all across the U.S.

Wisconsin requires public schools to teach evolution, although there was a flap out in Grantsburg in northwest Wisconsin in 2004 when the school board required students to explain "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory."

That's the approach that foes of teaching evolution are adopting all over the nation, Scott said.

For a while, advocates of the idea based in the Bible that God created the world in six days within the last 10,000 years were arguing for that view of creationism to be taught. Then they called for the teaching of something called intelligent design, which says a force in the universe has a plan for how things change, that they are not the result of random natural selection. As those efforts have run aground, the emphasis now is on trying to do what Grantsburg did — require teachers to address what opponents call the weaknesses of evolution.

"They cast this is terms of critical thinking and fairness," Scott said. But what they wind up doing, she argues, is "wasting time teaching students a bunch of erroneous information."

While much of the opposition to teaching evolution comes from fundamentalist Christians, Scott is quick to point out that for the majority of Christian groups in this country, evolution is accepted as a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation for the development of the world. Adding the belief in a divine being that may have set everything in motion is compatible with things then evolving along the way.

Scott herself grew up with a church community. As she moved through college and began to get a sense of the breadth of the religious beliefs in the world, she wondered if all of them could be right or if perhaps none of them was. She says not having religious faith herself does not lessen her regard for those who do. She works closely with many religious leaders in defending a scientific approach to teaching about the development of the world.

But she is right there to help those teachers and parents who find foes of evolution trying to get in the way of solid science education. She has been honored on many fronts, receiving an honorary degree recently from the University of Missouri, which cited her work defending how science is taught.

"I'm quite pleased that the university would make that statement," she said.

The honor is nice, but the struggle goes on in the face of groups that don't accept solid science when it bumps up against a deeply held worldview.

Phil Haslanger is pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg. phaslanger@gmail.com

The Times They Are A-Changin': Good Evolutionary News from Oklahoma


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
Posted: June 30, 2010 06:04 PM

A short while back, I wrote about very good news coming out of Texas on the evolution front. As you'll remember, Federal District Judge Sam Sparks demolished the Institute for Creation Research's request to offer a graduate degree in science education. Judge Sparks's most memorable line in a devastating rebuttal of creationism was:

[T]he Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS's causes of action in turn, to the extent that it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information.

Given how unfriendly the Lone Star State has been to evolution, in particular, and education, in general, at least at the level of the Texas State Board of Education, this was very big news.

Amazingly, there is also some very good news, albeit on a far more local level, coming out of Oklahoma. Like Texas, historically, the Sooner State hasn't been particularly friendly towards evolution. Indeed, in 1923 Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to pass an anti-evolution bill - and the arguments back then for such terrible legislation weren't very different from what's being promoted now.

In his wonderful 1985 book, Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution, Edward J. Larson quotes the author of Oklahoma's 1923 law that banned the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools as saying, "I'm neither a lawyer or (sic) a preacher but a two-horsed layman and I'm against this theory called science!"

Since then, many of Oklahoma's legislators have gone on, year after year, introducing legislation to limit what students can learn about science. So, good news out of Oklahoma on the evolution front is not something to be taken lightly. And yet it has just occurred.

Here's the story.

This past semester, a student in an introductory biology class at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) complained in his blog that his biology instructor was promoting creationism rather than evolution. According to the student, the instructor argued for a "5000 year old earth" and the absence of evolution at any level. Supposedly the instructor noted that the college wanted him to teach that evolution was correct but, having closed the classroom door, he asserted the primacy of creationism.

When the story got picked up by the Bad Astronomy blog at Discover magazine, a faculty member wrote in to defend OCCC. "Our school is the fifth-largest college in the state and supplies qualified people to all of our 4-year Universities....We are in dire need in the US, especially in Oklahoma, of a high level of academic rigor in the sciences. Otherwise it seems we may plummet into a technological and political dark age. In defense of our college, Oklahoma City Community College is NOT a creationist stronghold, on the contrary. All of our full-time biology faculty understand the actual age of the Earth and that Creationism (AKA ID) is not science. My own area is paleontology, so this series of blog postings is especially embarrassing to me."

At the end of the semester, after grades were turned in, the student approached the administration to complain about the instruction he received.

I'm delighted to report that Max Simmons, the dean of the division of science and mathematics, undertook an investigation into the student's claims and he has assured me that the situation has been resolved in a manner that protects the integrity of science education. All sections of the course in question are supposed to follow a common syllabus and all are supposed to share common learning objectives. As with all modern biology courses, evolutionary theory is supposed to be central to this course.

Because neither the syllabus nor the learning objectives were followed as they should have been, the part-time instructor and OCCC agreed that he would not be returning to teach. Dean Simmons was pleased that the biologists had carefully delineated learning objectives for the course. The instructor wrote me that he didn't want to comment on the situation.

The bottom line is that an Oklahoma student raised a problem with the way young earth creationism found its way into his biology course, pushing aside evolutionary theory, and the situation was resolved in favor of mainstream science.

When, in such a short time span, creationism is beaten back in Oklahoma and Texas, one of the first things to come to mind is the well known song written by a Zimmerman far more famous than I am. Robert Zimmerman, probably better known to all of you as Bob Dylan, in 1963, wrote The Times They Are A-Changin'.

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'"

There is hope for science education when locales that have been bastions for creationism begin to recognize that creationism is not scientific and that evolution is not a threat to religious belief. The times they are a-changin'.

And that's something all of us should celebrate.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You Have Superpowers


How to tap the strange power of being wrong

Mind Matters - June 29, 2010

By Adam Waytz

On October 5, 2006, the BBC reported that the second most senior leader of terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, Abu Ayyab Al-Masri, was killed in a raid in Haditha, Iraq. This event would have been a crowning achievement for global anti-terrorism efforts, except that Al-Masri was not in fact dead. The international media and U.S. military forces were mistaken about Al-Masri's whereabouts in the raid. Proving to be a slippery and elusive figure, Al-Masri was declared dead at least once more on May 6, 2007 by The Economist, and then most recently in April 2010 by numerous reputable newspapers and websites. This failure of major media sources and military intelligence points to humans' pervasive susceptibility to misbelief; and in matters far more mundane than the death of a top terrorist official, misperceptions of the truth plague our daily lives.

False beliefs carry a bad reputation for bringing turmoil and misunderstanding. No less an enlightened thinker than Thomas Jefferson noted, "It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong." Mistaken beliefs can mean the difference between war and peace in the case of conflicts such as the Cuban Missile Crisis or the more recent pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Even common, small mistaken beliefs come with severe consequences like misbeliefs about appointment times that result in missed flights, missed jobs, and missed opportunities.

More recently, however, in an issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, psychologist Ryan McKay and philosopher Daniel Dennett posed the question of whether it can ever be right to be wrong. They argued that false beliefs can be good for you, in at least one particular way. McKay and Dennett systematically assessed a variety of different types of false beliefs—from pathological delusions to biased approximations of facts—for evolutionary value. Misbelieving that everyone is out to get you, for example, would not be adaptive for human survival because it impedes the ability to establish close relationships with others. Misbelieving that simply wearing a copper amulet will cure an illness when medicine is readily available is similarly maladaptive to staying alive.

McKay and Dennett concluded that only one mistaken belief passes muster, something that they called "positive illusions." Positive illusions refer to unrealistically positive views of oneself, unrealistically positive optimism toward the future, and unrealistic views of personal control. McKay and Dennett argue that positive illusions are adaptive because they not only enhance psychological well-being—who doesn't enjoy thinking of themselves as better than others—but because they enhance physical health as well.

A body of research spearheaded by psychologist Shelley Taylor and colleagues over the past 25 years consistently demonstrates a relationship between positive illusions and benefits to physical health including recovery from disease. Taylor's work has shown that HIV-positive individuals with unrealistically positive views of their health outcomes survived longer and showed a slower illness course. In a similar set of studies, Taylor conducted extensive interviews with breast cancer patients and showed that those who fared the best with the disease were those whose positive illusions allowed them to attain a sense of meaning, a sense of mastery, and a positive view of themselves. Such findings are not to suggest that receiving a diagnosis for a fatal disease should immediately be cause for smiling and celebration. Indeed, it can be tremendously difficult to find optimism in dire circumstances: Author Barbara Ehrenreich described frustration with receiving advice to consider her own breast cancer diagnosis as a "gift" rather than a problem, in her recent screed against positive thinking, Bright-Sided. Nonetheless, a significant body of psychological research supports a relationship between positive thinking and positive health outcomes.

Positive illusions work their magic through a variety of psychological mechanisms, even directly influencing physiological and neuroendocrine response as well. Taylor's work has shown that people who typically engage in unrealistic self-enhancement also showed lower cardiovascular responses to stress, more rapid cardiovascular recovery, and lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with increased stress.

Despite the robust nature of findings on the benefits of unrealistic optimism, not everyone agrees that positive illusions are all that positive, and some psychologists argue they do more harm than good. Psychologist David Dunning, for one, wrote a response to McKay and Dennett's article, noting that people smoke cigarettes while mistakenly believing they can avoid serious disease, and are overly optimistic that they alone are capable of handling their high blood pressure despite doctor's orders toward a stricter diet. Summarizing his argument, Dunning asked whether one would agree or disagree with the following statement: " When flying, I prefer my pilot to have an overconfident view of his or her ability to handle rough weather."

Whereas some disagree with positive illusions' adaptive value, others suggest that positive illusions are not the only category of misbelief valuable for human functioning and survival. In another response to McKay and Dennett, psychologists Josh Ackerman, Jenessa Shapiro, and Jon Maner note that negative beliefs (unrealistically pessimistic beliefs about oneself, the future, or one's personal control) might be just as important in the context of close relationships and intergroup interactions. For example, in the context of relationships, there is a well-documented tendency for women to underestimate men's interest in romantic commitment, a belief that actually leads men to expend more effort in courtship, thereby stabilizing the relationship.

In response to these critiques, Dennett and McKay concede that there may be situational variation in whether particular false beliefs are adaptive or not. What is undeniable is that misbelief, misunderstanding, and self-deception are unavoidable in daily life. The growing body of research on this topic suggests that we can understand that our inaccuracies, misbeliefs and errors may be healthy in certain circumstances, and that is a belief—whether illusory or not—that should provide comfort.

The Recapitulation Myth


Casey Luskin recently posted two blogs showing that textbooks still misuse Haeckel's long-discredited embryo drawings when attempting to provide evidence for Darwinian evolution (see here and here). Luskin provided ample documentation to demonstrate that these drawings are still printed in some recent textbooks.

Over at The Panda's Thumb blog, apologists for Darwinian theory have defended (see here and here) Ernst Haeckel from the charge of fraud and have argued, albeit unconvincingly, that, in principle, the concept of recapitulation is a valid one.

According to Nick Matzke:

Haeckel didn't ignore the differences in embryos in the earliest period just after fertilization (differences which are visually significant but mostly fairly trivial, due to the different amounts of yolk in different vertebrate eggs).

Apparently Matzke missed some of the authorities cited by Luskin, which contradict Matzke's claims. All the necessary refutations of Matzke can be found in Luskin's original posts:

I. Post 1: Contrary to Matzke's claims, authorities acknowledge that Haeckel did "ignore the differences in embryos":

1. Stephen Jay Gould: "Haeckel had exaggerated the similarities by idealizations and omissions. He also, in some cases -- in a procedure that can only be called fraudulent -- simply copied the same figure over and over again." [Stephen Jay Gould, "Abscheulich! (Atrocious!)," Natural History, Mar. 2000, at 42, 44–45.]

2. Michael Richardson: "It looks like it's turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology." [Elizabeth Pennisi, "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," 277 Science 1435, 1435 (1997).]

3. Richardson et al. 1997: "His drawings are also highly inaccurate, exaggerating the similarities among embryos, while failing to show the differences" [Michael K. Richardson et al., "There is No Highly Conserved Embryonic Stage in the Vertebrates: Implications for Current Theories of Evolution and Development," 196 Anatomy and Embryology, 91, 92–104 (1997).]

II. Post 2: The differences between vertebrate embryos at their earliest stages are not said to be, as Matzke puts it, "fairly trivial, due to the different amounts of yolk in different vertebrate eggs":

1. Collazo (2000): "Recent workers have shown that early development can vary quite extensively, even within closely related species, such as sea urchins, amphibians, and vertebrates in general. By early development, I refer to those stages from fertilization through neurolation (gastrulation for such taxa as sea urchins, which do not undergo neurulation). Elinson (1987) has shown how such early stages as initial cleavages and gastrula can vary quite extensively across vertebrates." [Andres Collazo, "Developmental Variation, Homology, and the Pharyngula Stage," 49 Systematic Biology 3, 9 (2000)]

2. Richardson et al: "...it is preceded by variation at earlier stages, including gastrulation and neurulation." [Michael K. Richardson et al., "There is No Highly Conserved Embryonic Stage in the Vertebrates: Implications for Current Theories of Evolution and Development," 196 Anatomy and Embryology, 91, 105 (1997)]

3. Later in embryo development, the differences at the supposedly conserved "pharyngular" stage are even greater. Richardson also writes, "We find that embryos at the tailbud stage -- thought to correspond to a conserved stage -- show variations in form due to allometry, heterochrony, and differences in body plan and somite number ... Contrary to recent claims that all vertebrate embryos pass through a stage when they are the same size, we find a greater than 10-fold variation in greatest length at the tailbud stage ... The wide variation in morphology among vertebrate embryos is difficult to reconcile with the idea of a phylogenetically conserved tailbud stage. ... Our survey, however, does not support the second claim, and instead reveals considerable variability -- and evolutionary lability -- of the tailbud stage, the purported phylotypic stage of vertebrates."

According to these authorities, it sure sounds like among early embryos there are more than "mostly fairly trivial" differences "due to the different amounts of yolk in different vertebrate eggs."

Recapitulating Recapitulation

While Matzke had the decency not to defend recapitulation theory, blogger Matt Young also responded. His approach, quite incredibly, was not to challenge Luskin's discussion of textbooks, but rather to defend a modified version of Haeckel's long-discredited ideas about recapitulation!

My colleague Paul Strode wrote a very clear and concise explanation of Ernst Haeckel's "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" law for our book Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails). In Chapter 11, Strode explains that Haeckel was wrong in thinking that embryos resemble the ancestral adult forms; rather, early embryos resemble the embryos of ancestral forms. In other words, Haeckel was on to something, but he didn't get it quite right. Strode explains further, "Recapitulation nevertheless provides helpful insight into evolutionary relationships and ancestry," and argues that von Baer's law is closer to the truth.

The base principle behind any variation of "recapitulation" is that higher taxa evolved by the addition of developmental stages to the end of the morphogenesis of lower taxa. Karl Ernst von Baer demonstrated that development is a process of progressive specialization towards the adult form. While early-stage embryos may well superficially resemble one another, this is because of their unspecialized form. The embryos progressively diverge as they become specialized. For example, von Baer could recognize, in the development of a chick, a stage at which it could be identified as a vertebrate, a later stage at which it could be identified as a bird, etc. Only later could it be identified as a particular type of bird. While there is a marked similarity among early vertebrate embryos, they are still distinctively vertebrate. They do not pass through a form at which it resembles an invertebrate.

I would ask the bloggers at Panda's Thumb to point to a single case in which evolutionary modifications of ontogeny have taken the form of addition of a new terminal phase to the previously terminal phase during ontogeny. It is all of the stages of ontogeny that are modified during the process of evolution. Indeed, many structures arise early in the development of higher taxa that are missing from the embryos of lower taxa. One example would be the placenta in mammals.

The matter becomes still more problematic when one considers instances of species that have similarities of adult form but radically differ in early forms. In order to account for this, one needs to postulate that the forms evolved in a convergent fashion. Then there are the tissues that arise in the opposite order from the sequence in which they are presumed to have evolved, one example being the development of teeth prior to the tongue (whereas the tongue is presumed to have evolved first).

As Jonathan Wells observes in Icons of Evolution:

If the implications of Darwin's theory for early vertebrate development were true, we would expect these five classes [bony fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal] to be most similar as fertilized eggs; slight differences would appear during cleavage, and the classes would diverge even more during gastrulation. What we actually observe, however, is that the eggs of the five classes start out noticeably different from each other; the cleavage patterns in four of the five classes show some general similarities, but the pattern in mammals is radically different. In the gastrulation stage, a fish is very different from an amphibian, and both are very different from reptiles, birds, and mammals, which are somewhat similar to each other. Whatever pattern can be discerned here, it is certainly not a pattern in which the earliest stages are the most similar and later stages are more different.

Posted by Jonathan McLatchie on June 29, 2010 12:06 PM | Permalink

Op-Ed Defends Louisiana Academic Freedom Law


Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum recently published an op-ed in the Shreveport Times defending the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), passed in 2008. Titled "Law provides framework to handle controversial scientific issues," his article explains that criticisms of the LSEA made by an ACLU-affiliated lawyer are logically and legally baseless.

Charles Kincade's op-ed June 19 in The Times shamelessly belies that contempt, demanding censorship over academic freedom! Anyone who repeats Kincade's tired old line that the LSEA will "permit the teaching of religious creationism" needs to be administered either a literacy test or a lie detector test: the statute expressly prohibits, at Louisiana Family Forum's (LFF) insistence, "discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

Besides, who would oppose providing science teachers with a framework to address controversial scientific issues such as fossil fuel-induced global climate change, the origin of life or human cloning? Science is filled with controversy, which can excite and inspire young minds to listen, learn and engage.

Kincade claims Louisiana ranked "47th in the nation for education in 2008"; but he confuses cause with effect. Rules for implementing the LSEA were not even promulgated by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education until February. Louisiana's low education rankings are the problem the LSEA seeks to remedy, not the effect of this beneficial law.

Mills goes on to cite an article from Science that we recently highlighted here on Evolution News & Views:

And it's not hard to anticipate the kinds of benefits the LSEA will bring. A recent article in Science found that students study science best when they use "argument and debate" and "discriminate between evidence that supports "» or does not support" the scientific theory being studied.

This is the exact approach recommended by the LSEA — an approach Kincade opposes in order to maintain the status quo of Darwinian dogma in our schools.

Read Mills' full op-ed here.

Posted by Robert Crowther on June 28, 2010 11:27 AM | Permalink

Promoting Intelligent Design to the Spanish-Speaking World


In the latest ID the Future Podcast, I interview Mario Lopez, founder of the Organización Internacional para el Avance Científico del Diseño Inteligente (OIACDI), a group dedicated to promoting awareness about intelligent design (ID) to the Spanish speaking community. The group's website, OIACDI.org, contains a variety of online resources in Spanish, including articles, news updates, and an ID FAQ in Spanish. OIACDI also recently published a book, Diseño Inteligente: Hacia Un Nuevo Paradigma Científico," which contains articles by leading ID thinkers like William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and Stephen Meyer translated into Spanish.

As discussed in the podcast interview with Mr. Lopez, a large part of OIACDI's goal is to network with Spanish-speaking scientists, assisting them in making contributions to ID research and thinking. OIACDI also has more book projects in the works and, as time goes by, hopes to branch out into additional media..

As part of their efforts, some of the folks affiliated with OIACDI have launched a blog, "Darwin o Diseño Inteligente" (DarwinoDI.com) which aims to become the premier blog in the Spanish-speaking community for those interested in serious and civil dialogue about intelligent design.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 29, 2010 1:29 AM | Permalink

Monday, June 28, 2010

What is Mooney going on about now?


Category: Communicating science
Posted on: June 28, 2010 9:41 AM, by PZ Myers

Chris Mooney has another vacuous op-ed in the Washington Post. It's aggravating because he actually starts out well, saying stuff that I agree with entirely, and then suffers a massive failure of either nerve or logic to offer meaningless noise as a solution.

The part I agree with is that he points out that education is not the only answer to our problems with creationism, climate change denial, and anti-vaccination movements. Many of the noisemakers behind these denialist machines are quite intelligent and well educated, and there isn't a clean and simple correlation between, for instance, having a college degree and accepting evolution (this does not diminish the importance of education—without it, your views are at the mercy of popular fads).

The real drivers of anti-science are toxic ideologies: modern Republican politics (there is a deeply buried strand of Republicanism that is pro-science and industry, but it seems to be lost among the Beckians and Palinites), naive libertarians, fear of exploitation by Big Pharma, and one that Mooney strangely omits from his list, religion. Republicans and Libertarians and Christians are not necessarily stupid people at all, and the reason they turn to denialism isn't always because they are ignorant, but because their ideology skews their perspectives in destructive ways.

I actually agree with Mooney on this.

Unfortunately, he ruins it all with his conclusion, which is a fantastic example of do-nothingness.

Experts aren't wrong in thinking that Americans don't know much about science, but given how little they themselves often know about the public, they should be careful not to throw stones. Rather than simply crusading against ignorance, the defenders of science should also work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes.

Go talk to the social scientists? Now the social sciences are wonderful tools, and I agree that we need to get their insights, but Mooney has already given us the perspective of social science research: that bad ideas aren't simply the product of bad education, but of bad ideological priors. Fine. Let's move on. Now how can we weaken the influence of the know-nothing wing of the Republican party and religion? Once upon a time, Mooney was one of the better artists of confrontation, who did an excellent job of tearing up Republican policies and making positive suggestions for strengthening the influence of science. Since he started listening to certain 'specialists in public opinion', he has lost his fire and turned into a passive follower who seems to do nothing but advocate deference to the very ideologies that are elevating anti-science into the public discourse.

We don't need any more acquiescence to the status quo. That's how we got here in the first place.

What we need from social scientists is better strategies for dismantling the influence of religion and demagoguery on American politics, and that requires clearly identifying and targeting those bad beliefs as the enemy of good science and good education. I already know that Mooney will run away from that kind of forthrightness.

Let's also not forget that the one group that is growing fast and challenging the hegemony of Christian politics in this country is the aggressive, assertive, affirmative, activist atheist advocates (that A stands for more than one thing, you know) — and that Mooney detests them. We are going right to one of the roots of the problem, we aren't assuming that simply educating everyone about science will make creationism and global warming denial and anti-vax lunacy go away — we're promoting more science education and criticism of superstition. We seem to be putting into practice what Mooney only mumbles ineffectually and non-specifically about.

Darwin, Creationism, and Creation


Steven Newton Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education
Posted: June 27, 2010 08:04 PM

Charles Darwin , Creation , Creationism , Discovery Institute , Evolution , On The Origin Of Species , Paul Bettany , Randall Keynes , Ray-Comfort

No other scientific idea has endured as much unfounded hostility as evolution, and no scientist as much undeserved scorn as Charles Darwin. One hundred and twenty-eight years after his death, Darwin's good name is assaulted daily by all manner of creationists, who hold Darwin responsible for everything from the Columbine school shootings to the Holocaust.

It is refreshing, then, that the movie Creation comes out this week on DVD, which means you can finally see it. This movie--released last year in very few theaters--tells the story of how Darwin agonized over whether or not to publish On the Origin of Species. It was indeed a momentous decision, for as Darwin presciently understood, the controversy generated by his magnum opus would follow him the rest of his life--and indeed, long after his life.

Creation, based on a book by Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-great grandson, is well worth seeing. Paul Bettany plays Darwin, and in effect reprises his role as naturalist Stephen Maturin, from the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. His tender and moving performance brings Darwin to life as a man driven by curiosity about the natural world, passionate about his family, and deeply worried about how publication of his revolutionary scientific ideas might affect them.

This view of Darwin as a full human being is a far cry from how Darwin is portrayed by many creationists.

"Darwin was nothing but a blatant racist, a bigot of a man." Thus intoned creationist Ray Comfort, who recently distributed thousands of free copies of Darwin's On the Origin of Species on college campuses. Comfort added his own introduction to Origin, blaming Darwin for a host of atrocities.

The Discovery Institute, the main hub of intelligent design creationism, regularly launches personal as well as "scientific" attacks on Darwin. One Discovery Institute fellow, Richard Weikart, has written not one, but two books arguing that the roots of the Holocaust can be found in Darwin. Another Discovery Institute associate, David Klinghoffer, has tried to link Darwin to Dr. Mengele, H.P. Lovecraft, Chairman Mao, and Charles Manson--although Klinghoffer hastens to point out:

"I am not in any way blaming gentle Charles Darwin for murderous Charles Manson. But [the anniversary of Darwin's birthday] does remind us of another stitch, a bizarre one, in the fabric of Darwinism's moral legacy."

It is rather strange to distinguish Darwin from Manson, then claim that Manson is part of Darwin's moral legacy. Klinghoffer is more explicit when talking about the evil of Dr. Mengele:

"What would inspire a human being to such devilry? What influence, perhaps early in life, might have nudged him off the course of what could have otherwise been a conventional medical career?"

Klinghoffer's answer, of course, is that Charles Darwin "nudged" Mengele toward evil.

Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker went to great lengths to attack Darwin in his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. As one reviewer of the book put it, Wiker went so far as to blame Darwin for:

"...eugenics, Nazism, abortion, euthanasia, sex education and contraceptives for the poor, cyber-pornography, and cannibalism."

[Which is silly, of course. Everyone knows cannibalism is Jonathan Swift's fault.]

Why do creationists blame Darwin for such creative lists of malfeasance? To many creationists, Darwin is one of a triad of thinkers whose influence creationists blame for the horrors of 20th century. In Marx, they see a "science of human history" manifested in systematic mass murder and unimaginable suffering. In Freud, they see a "science of the human mind" responsible for sexual licentiousness and the breakdown of traditional values. And in Darwin, they see a "science of the human species" responsible for eugenics and the denigration of man to the status of an animal.

The movie Creation is important because it shows Darwin as a man, a deeply thoughtful man, filled with compassion and fears over the implications, as well as the reception, of his revolutionary ideas. One striking scene from Creation follows the death and decomposition of a young bird. In another part of the movie, Darwin tries to comfort his children after they witness a fox killing a rabbit. Creation is not oblivious to what can seem like the brutality and pointlessness of an evolutionary view of the world. But rather than portraying Darwin as a blood-thirsty Hobbesian relishing a world red in tooth and claw, the film presents his empathy and sad acceptance of a world imbued with so much suffering.

Creation shows Darwin as human being, and his famous theory not as some scary conspiracy, but as a reasoned and reasonable scientific idea. This is a welcome contrast from the misinformed hyperbole and ad hominem attacks that so often flow from creationists.

Creationists will be hostile to Creation for its humanizing of Darwin. Indeed, the group Answers in Genesis found even the title of the film "offensive" and labeled it a "Hollywood hagiography." The Institution for Creation Research called the movie part of "a strategy of evolutionists to win the hearts and minds" of viewers. There is perhaps no better recommendation for the film than their scorn.

Reiki uses hands-on technique to promote healing


Published: Monday, June 28, 2010, 12:00 AM

When television's Dr. Mehmet Oz promoted Reiki as the top alternative medicine secret in 2010, the energy-based healing therapy took a giant leap forward in America's alternative and complementary medicine arsenal.

Reiki (pronounced RAY-kee) is a gentle, hands-on healing practice developed in Japan by Mikao Usui in 1914. It is based on the idea that every person possesses an energy source or life force that supports the body's ability to heal itself. A Reiki practitioner can help guide that person toward finding that energy and being in balance, enabling the body to heal.

"When you're not feeling well or are overly stressed, what's missing? Energy," said Gigi Jantos, certified Wellness Program coordinator and Reiki master in Harrisburg. "Your life force feels compromised. Reiki is a way to support the inner ability that your body already has to use your life force to create well being."

The therapy helps people achieve balance physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, said Rickie Freedman, a Reiki master who practices at the Alta View Wellness Center in Lower Paxton Twp.

"I am not manipulating their energy in any way," she said. "I don't take away their energy. I don't give away any of my energy. The person will draw through me, not from me, whatever energy their body is in need of to help them to get closer to their place of balance."

In a Reiki session, a client lies on a table, fully clothed. The practitioner places his hands lightly on or just above the client's body, palms down, and uses a series of 12 to 15 hand positions. Each position is held for a few minutes or until the practitioner feels that the flow of energy — experienced as sensations of heat or tingling in the hands — has slowed or stopped, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Sessions usually last a little more than an hour.

Most people generally feel deeply relaxed, many fall asleep and may feel a warmth or tingling, Freedman said. The number of sessions depends upon the client's individual needs.

Billed as a self-healing tool, Reiki has grown in popularity with people suffering from chronic illness, pain and cancer. Others use it as a stress-management device.

Taught in three levels, the first level can be learned quickly, and "the person would be off and running and doing some self care in one day," Jantos said.

"Self-healing needs to come before you put your hands on anyone else," said Freedman, also a physical therapist. "It is a practical tool to have in your hands to help yourself."

Jantos serves cancer patients by offering Reiki sessions through Partners in Wellness, a grant-funded program in partnership with the YWCA in Carlisle. The program, which she co-founded five years ago, offers Reiki, massage and yoga so patients can choose what works best for them. Many of her other clients are "interested in stress management and in a more preventive approach to well-being."

Citing studies and anecdotal evidence, Jantos said Reiki can ease symptoms, provide a sense of calm and lessen the need for medication.

"It creates a healing environment with a personal touch and may improve the medical outcome because of these things," she said. "It empowers people to regain a sense of control."

She surveyed 100 clients from October 2007 to September 2008, and of the 57 percent who completed the survey, she said 61 percent reported less pain, 76 percent lower anxiety and stress, and 63 percent less fatigue and a better quality of life.

"It's well-documented scientifically that when our body relaxes through whatever means, it is a healing benefit and all kinds of things can happen from lessening of pain and anxiety, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure," Jantos said.

The medical community is growing increasingly interested in Reiki and alternative therapies, especially for pain management.

More than 1.2 million adults and 161,000 children had used an energy-healing therapy, such as Reiki, in the previous year, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. Additionally, the American Hospital Association reported that Reiki was offered as a standard part of patient care in 15 percent, or more than 800, of U.S. hospitals in 2007.

Jantos has trained nursing staff at Lancaster General Hospital in Reiki for pain management and provided similar training for other area health care professionals.

Freedman offers a free mini-Reiki session every month for anyone in hospice care or receiving cancer treatment and serves on an Integrative Medicine Committee, which holds educational meetings regularly at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. It has held a fair for doctors and students to learn about alternative and complementary medicine as well.

Many other prominent facilities, including New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic, offer Reiki programs, and Dr. Oz, who practices at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, has had a Reiki practitioner present during open heart surgeries and heart transplants.

"It's consumer driven," Jantos said. "People want it."

The Catholic church is not a supporter, however. In 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared Reiki unscientific and inappropriate to be practiced at Catholic institutions. The bishops said Reiki lacks scientific credibility, has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy, and falls into the realm of superstition.

In response, the International Center for Reiki Training in Michigan contended the bishops' research relied on inaccurate information, cited a number of studies showing the practice is therapeutic and noted that its use as an adjunct therapy in hospitals is growing.

"There's a big difference between healing and curing," Freedman noted. "Reiki heals. It may not make cancer go away, but it can heal by helping [patients] have less pain, less side effects from their treatments or medications. All of those things are healing."

Thinking about trying Reiki?

Qualified practitioners:

Reiki practitioners' training and expertise vary, and no licensing or professional standards exist. However, Reiki must be learned from an experienced teacher. Usui Reiki has three levels of training. The first two can be learned in a few days; master-level training can take years.

SOURCE: Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scott F. Gilbert, Developmental Biology, and Michael Behe


Scott F. Gilbert's "Developmental Biology" (eighth edition) provides a stunning overview of the elegant biochemical mechanisms controlling the development of organismal form during ontogeny. The final section of the book, chapter 23 ("Developmental Mechanisms Of Evolutionary Change") is devoted to a discussion of the new evolutionary synthesis, encompassing the new science of 'evo devo' (short hand for 'evolutionary developmental biology'). The book even contains a short rebuttal directed at proponents of intelligent design and, in particular, Michael Behe.

Gilbert writes on page 749:

"Leaving developmental biology out of evolutionary biology has left evolutionary biology open to attacks from promoters of 'intelligent design.' According to one of them, Michael Behe (1996), population genetics cannot explain the origin of structures such as the eye, so Darwinism must be false.* How could such a complicated structure have emerged by a collection of chance mutations? Mutations, claims Behe, would serve only to destroy complex organs, not create them."

The asterisk (*) denotes a footnote at the bottom of page 749, which reads:

"Behe (1996) makes this point explicitly, using the example of the eye. Although he attempts to disprove the theory of evolution by using the eye as an example, he never mentions the myriad studies on Pax6 or reciprocal induction. Rather, Behe mentions theories from the 1980s (based solely on population genetics) and puts them forth as contemporary science."

Where is this attempt at a rebuttal in error? In Darwin's Black Box, Behe did not use the eye as an example of an irreducibly complex system. Rather, Behe argued that the biochemistry of vision is irreducibly complex. These systems are not equivocal. On page 22 of Darwin's Black Box, Behe stated:

"Now that the black box of vision has been opened, it is no longer enough for an evolutionary explanation of that power to consider only the anatomical structures of whole eyes, as Darwin did in the nineteenth century (and as popularizers of evolution continue to do today). Each of the anatomical steps and structures that Darwin thought were so simple actually involves staggeringly complicated biochemical processes that cannot be papered over with rhetoric...Anatomy is, quite simply, irrelevant to the question of whether evolution could take place on the molecular level."

After having misrepresented Behe's work in this manner, Gilbert proceeds to explain how evolutionary novelty can be accounted for by developmental mechanisms:

"But once development is added to the evolutionary synthesis, it is straightforward to see how the eye can develop through induction, and that the concepts of modularity and correlated progression can readily explain such a phenomenon (Waddington 1940; Gehring 1998). Moreover, when one sees that the formation of eyes in all known phylogenetic lineages is based on the same signal transduction pathway and uses the Pax6 gene, it is not difficult to see descent with modification forming the various types of eyes."

Behe discusses this concept fairly extensively in his second book, The Edge of Evolution, written the same year as Gilbert's Developmental Biology.

In a 2005 Nature review, evolutionary geneticist, Jerry Coyne, expressed skepticism of the proposed mechanism of evo devo:

"The evidence for the adaptive divergence of gene switches is still thin. The best case involves the loss of protective armor and spines in sticklebacks, both due to changes in regulatory elements. But these elements represent the loss of traits, rather than the origin of evolutionary novelties...We now know that Hox genes and other transcription factors have many roles besides inducing body pattern, and their overall function in development - let alone in evolution - remains murky."

Moreover, mechanisms involving evo devo are not necessarily inconsistent with a broadly-defined ID theoretic. It is possible for evolutionary mechanisms involving such processes as 'facilitated variation' to bias evolutionary trajectories in a fashion that some (such as Mike Gene) have described as 'front loading'. While much work remains to be done, it is conceivable that principals of evo devo and 'facilitated variation' could serve to feed research from the standpoint of ID.

At the time of the Cambrian, when the major distinctive body plans (phyla) first emerge, we find that the organisms become endowed with their set of toolbox components such as Hox genes, which play a fundamental role in conventional evo devo mechanisms. But that does nothing to explain the origin of the developmental pathways controlling the morphogenesis of an organism. Can such systems be built up one step at a time, whilst maintaining at least some degree of functional utility before the emergence of a viable embryo? At present, there is no known materialistic or mindless process which is able to account for this type of system.

Posted by Jonathan McLatchie on June 26, 2010 9:31 AM | Permalink

Creationism in Illinois Public Schools?


Jim Breeling on 06.26.10 at 1:26 PM

Creationism is the name given to belief that the Judeo-Christian Bible story of Creation--creation of the universe and of humankind--is absolutely true. Vociferous belief in Creationism is more commonly associated with evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. However, various opinion polls have found that a majority of Americans subscribe in some degree to belief that the Bible story of Creation is true--that God created Heaven, Earth and Man. Degree of belief is shown to range from the fundamentalist convention that God created everything in its current unchangeable form about 10,000 years ago, to less rigid conceptions that God's act of creation occurred sometime in the past and then God stepped back to let everything run on its own within certain guidelines.

People who hold strongly to Creationist belief often see science, and the scientific method by which science is done, as a threat to their Creationist faith. This is especially the case for the Creationist view of the biological sciences--and most especially for the scientific understanding of biological evolution. The Creationist account of Creation of the universe and humankind is metaphysical--beyond human underatanding. It stands in opposition to alternative non-metaphysical explanation. It stands in opposition to the idea that non-metaphysical biiological evolution can explain how humans (Homo sapiens) evolved into our present form from earlier non-human and near-human biological entities.

People who believe strongly in Creationism often believe that it should be inerted into the science education curriculum in public schools, and be taught as an alternative metaphysical explanation for how the universe and humans came into being.

I bring this subject up because the question of whether or not to insert Creationism into the public school science curriculum may be forced onto the agendas of local and community school board in Illinois if Bill Brady wins the Gubernatorial election in November. Brady has spoken frequently (but not in his campaign for the Governor office) about his belief in Creationism. He has said that he would favor having the subject taken up by local and community school boards. (He has spoken of favoring dissolution of the Illinois State School Board).

The subject of Creationism in public education is inflammatory. Creationists may see it as fairness; opponents see it as a wrongful; and indeed un-Constitutional insertion of religion into public education. Battles over Creationism in public education can tear communities apart.I hope itdoes not happen in Illinois. I understand why believers in Creationism may try to make it happen.

I do not believe it is necessary because I do not believe that the way our ancestors explained Creation and how science seeks to understand and explain it are necessarily in opposition. Creation stories are common to all cultures. They represent Man's first addressing of the question that anstrophysicist Stephen Hawking has named the most fundamental question to be addressed by science: Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

We don't know precisely how the Creation stories came to be, but the poet W.H. Auden offered a definition of what they are--a poetic response to events beyond human control. Viewed through Auden's lens, Creation stories can be savored as poetry--often great poetry. The poetry has evinced poetic reponse through the ages. Stand in the great cathedral in Chartres and be stunned by the response of artists to the Christian story. Read Dante. I have five editions of his "The Divine Comedy"--four English translations and one in the original Italisn with Gustave Dore's magnificent steel engraving illustrations. I read Danto not because I believe he describes a physically existing Hell, Purgatory and Heaven but because I am moved by his description of the human condition. I read the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and understand how ideas about Creation were percolating through the cultures from which the Bible story arose.

If the Judeo-Christian story of Creation is taught as truth in opposition to science, should fairness not dictate the teaching also of Creation stories of India, the Navajo, the Mandan and the Maya? Or, would it be more enlightening tostudents to teach all of them, as the powerful poetry they are--not in opposition to science, but on their own terms as words that have held men in awe ror 5,000 years?