NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 October 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, October 03, 2010

How Science Museums Are Promoting Civil Religion-Science Dialogue


Alan I. Leshner.CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Executive Publisher, 'Science'
Posted: October 2, 2010 07:37 AM

One of the most impressive aspects of the human origins exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History -- along with the only Neanderthal skeleton in the United States and realistic reconstructions of our ancestors -- is the completely interactive character of the hall. Visitors are encouraged to engage with trained volunteers, create self-portraits of themselves as early hominids, and, most importantly, to question what it means to be human.

The exhibit -- including a wealth of physical evidence, from fossilized skulls to stone tools -- reveals without ambiguity how hominids have gradually evolved over millions of years. Of course, this evidence stands in sharp contrast with the creationist view that God created the Earth and all its inhabitants, virtually simultaneously, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Yet curator Richard Potts reports, anecdotally, that visitors representing diverse worldviews generally seem to enjoy the exhibit without incident. Docents routinely have mutually respectful conversations with visitors from conservative Christian schools where human evolution is not being taught. Potts points out that many such visitors "can be excited about the discoveries of science." Enthusiasm for science then sets the stage for increasing visitors' level of comfort with science and the nature of scientific evidence.

The Smithsonian exhibit offers important lessons on promoting civil dialogue about scientific issues that impinge on worldviews. The Washington, D.C.-based institution is of course not alone in its quest to reach out to the public in meaningful ways. In New York City, for example, the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History supports an extensive array of public programs.

But as the Association of Science-Technology Centers gears up for its annual conference in Hawaii next week, October 2-5, it seems a fitting time to review one successful exhibit's strategies for engaging the public with science, particularly related to human origins.

Why Should Scientists Engage with the Public?

First, though, a few paragraphs on why public engagement with science is so essential at this point in American history: After all, creationist views are non-scientific. So some in the scientific community may understandably question why scientists should bother to engage with those who view Genesis as a literal description of creation. This argument suggests that science and religion simply inhabit different domains, and therefore scientists need not concern themselves with anyone who refuses to accept the facts of human evolution.

But ignoring any large component of the U.S. public endangers public support for science and science education. Surveys have shown fairly consistently that "approximately 40%-50% of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while comparable or slightly larger numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time," according to the Pew Research Center for People & the Press.

It's important to remember, as Potts has noted, that many such polls may tend to "emphasize the conflict mode" by asking respondents to choose one absolute statement versus another, whereas public views may often be more nuanced. (In fact, it would be a mistake to assume that most religious believers insist that a literal reading of Genesis is the most correct one. Many believe that the science of evolution explains the "how" of human origins, but not necessarily the "why" or "who.")

Still, many people clearly do question the scientific theory of evolution, and the integrity of K-12 science education has repeatedly come under attack as legislative efforts have been introduced to undermine the teaching of evolution. As explained by the National Center for Science Education, so-called "academic freedom" bills purport to unleash teachers to discuss a "range of scientific views," and/or to encourage students to explore the "strengths and weaknesses" of information about evolution, human origins, and sometimes also global climate change, as in South Dakota. For example, the Louisiana State Education Act now stipulates that teachers may use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." In other words, teachers in Louisiana are encouraged to call the scientific facts of evolution into question.

Such insults to science education are particularly alarming as the U.S. economy remains fragile. As science and technology are increasingly tied to every aspect of modern life, economic progress will be ever more linked to science literacy. An estimated 50 percent of America's economic growth since World War II has been directly tied to advances in science and technology.

Now Back to the Smithsonian Example

It is possible to counter the dangerous polarization within our society related to science-religion issues, as demonstrated by the Smithsonian's David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. A key to the exhibit's success, Potts says, was the decision to center the exhibit around a question rather than an answer: "What does it mean to be human?" (Similarly, The Exploratorium in San Francisco presents information about human origins by asking, "How do we know what we know?")

This central question has triggered a fascinating range of anatomical, behavioral, spiritual and philosophical responses. One resident of Illinois wrote, for example, that being human means "to walk on two feet, to think in abstract terms, to imagine." Yet the same question prompted another Illinois resident to assert that "we all walk this earth as part of God's creation and part of our Father in Heaven." Still others cited the importance of "learning and discovering many things that we don't know" and the need to "care with tenderness, while not seeking recognition."

Potts and his colleagues also established a Broader Social Impacts Committee. The committee -- encompassing Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Islamic and Jewish perspectives -- is charged with helping the museum promote public dialogue, particularly on issues "at the intersection of scientific findings and religious reflection." For example, Potts says, the committee has helped the museum answer public queries that go beyond science, and they also participate in decisions related to the training of staff and volunteers.

Training for the exhibit's 120 or so volunteers emphasizes "the importance of a respectful and welcoming place where a conversation can take place about the nature of evidence, the process of science and how people relate science to their religious views of the world," Potts explains. "We try to lower the temperature if it ever gets high." Toward that end, town hall-style public discussion groups regularly take place inside the National Museum of Natural History. Special "hot topic" events focus on a science-religion issue on the last Friday of every other month. Interactive resources on the museum's Web site also help visitors feel at ease before they set out to tour the exhibit.

All of these and other tactics have allowed the museum to move "beyond the stereotype that scientists only believe one thing and people with strong religious views can only believe another," Potts says.

The Smithsonian's Hall of Human Origins is only one case study in how science centers are successfully engaging the public on issues at the intersection of science and religion. By the way, I'm delighted that similar public-engagement strategies will be broadly leveraged during the USA Science & Engineering Festival, which will culminate October 23-24 with an expo on the National Mall. Among the many activities at the expo is, for example, an "Evolution Thought Trail" organized by a multidisciplinary coalition of scientific organizations.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers represents 600 members and 444 science centers and museums in 45 countries. The group estimates that 59.4 million visits were made to 342 member institutions in the United States in 2009. Those numbers represent a wealth of opportunities to engage the public with science, thereby easing tensions at the interface of science and religion.

Follow Alan I. Leshner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aleshner

Polarity therapy and laughter clubs offer a different way to healing


By Cheryl Anderson • Post-Crescent staff writer • October 2, 2010

There's no hocus-pocus when it comes to alternative forms of medicine, but some people certainly think there is.

When Jane Hestnes first added associate polarity practitioner to her certified massage therapist credentials, for example, she was advised to not advertise polarity therapy because of those preconceived notions.

"It's kind of like starting with the well already tainted," said Hestnes of A Tension Deficit Massage Therapy, located at Panache Salon and Spa, Appleton.

Alternative medicine has been defined as a variety of therapeutic or preventive health-care practices not typically taught or practiced in traditional medical communities. Some still don't accept their efficacy.

Hestnes recalled a conversation she had years ago with a physical therapist. While chatting about energy work, he bluntly opined it only had a placebo effect, to which Hestnes responded: "So what if it is? If a client is noticing they are feeling better even if it's just from the power of touch, then so be it. For people who dispute it otherwise, I can't prove that gravity exists, and gravity doesn't need to exist in order for me to believe in it. It just is, it's a universal law, period. … Some things are whether or not we believe in them."

In addition to polarity therapy, let's explore laughter therapy, which boosts the immune system, and the work of psychologist Dr. Albert Bellg who left his job as Appleton Heart Institute psychologist to pursue his new passion called LifePaths, which helps others find the deeper meaning of life.

Laughter therapy

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One cannibal turns to the other and asks, "This taste funny to you?"

While this may not be the funniest joke you've ever heard, if it elicited a laugh it may have lowered your blood pressure, reduced stress hormones, increased muscle relaxation, amped up your immune system and also triggered the release of endorphins, producing a sense of wellbeing. Those are the benefits of laughter, and the good news is even a fake laugh does as much as a real laugh.

Massage therapist Asja Graper is passionate about laughter therapy. But about 10 years ago, the Women's Fitness Center coordinator at the Appleton YMCA, had nothing to laugh about.

When her mother, father and 24-year-old son all died in close proximity, Graper shut down. All the self-help books and weekend retreats didn't bring back her smile.

A day seminar on laughter therapy, offered at Fox Valley Technical College, however, caught her attention. After taking the workshop, formulated by psychologist Steve Wilson of the Ohio-Based World Laughter Tour, she became a certified laughter leader, heading up the Zippity-Do-Da Laughter Club at the YMCA. She also does presentations for private groups.

"It was a self-help for me," Graper said. "My son died on the first Sunday in May in his car accident, and the first Sunday in May is World Laughter Day. So I thought this is a tribute, a positive thing that I can bring into my life."

Laughter and humor are different, according to www.worldlaughtertour.com. Humor is personal and subjective while laughter is universal. The ability to laugh is virtually inborn in all human beings.

In therapeutic laughter and laughter clubs, participants learn how to laugh without the aid of jokes by acting as if they are laughing when necessary. This simulated laughter becomes stimulated laughter.

At a laughter therapy session, Graper doesn't do standup comedy. She facilitates laughter by having participants produce the sounds of laughter.

"Some of them are rhythmic like 'ho ho, ha, ha, ha,' which kind of has a pattern to it," Graper said. "We'll start slowly until they get it. Then a lot of it is using the imagination, which spurts that childishness in us, which we have learned to avoid."

Another mixer is the "aloha laugh": aloha, ha, ha, ha. Of course these, exercises build on each other, creating laughter on their own.

"There's different ways to get people going," Graper said.

Graper has led in-services at businesses, for the elderly and recently presented a program to a support group with children with nephroblastomatosis and their parents and family.

Laughter therapy is by no means a cure, Graper said, "but it can definitely help. A positive attitude is a lot better than a negative attitude."

Polarity therapy

Polarity therapy, Hestnes admitted, can be a hard sell, but it nonetheless intrigued her when she was introduced to it while a student at the Fox Valley School of Massage in Appleton.

When she opted to leave her job as a customer service representative to pursue her passion, she went on to earn associates credentials in polarity therapy and began incorporating it into her regular massage sessions. The results were too impressive to ignore.

The American Polarity Therapy Association says energy fields and currents exist everywhere in nature, including the human body. When energy is blocked, fixed or unbalanced due to stress or other factors, pain and disease arise.

Polarity therapy, which was developed by the late Dr. Randolph Stone, blends modern science and complementary medicine and is a comprehensive health system involving energy-based bodywork, diet, exercise and self-awareness. It's a partnership between practitioner and client.

"Polarity therapy works with the body's energy system where massage works on structural issues," Hestnes said. "Both of them are very much stand-alone therapies, but when you combine (them) it's unbelievable."

In a typical session, according to the APTA, a practitioner assesses energetic attributes using palpation, observation and interview methods. Sessions usually take 60 to 90 minutes and do not require disrobing. They involve soft touch, some rocking as well as point specific touch.

A majority of Hestnes' clients fall into two camps, she said. One group is comprised of people going through a lot of stress issues because of work or life in general. The three career fields most represented are police officers, nurses and teachers, she said. The other camp is people who have been given a pretty heavy-hitting diagnosis such as cancer or fibromyalgia.

Hestnes' sister-in-law, Sheri Hestnes of Stoughton, who has progressive multiple sclerosis, decided to give polarity therapy a try thinking if nothing else, she'd get a relaxing massage.

That was two years ago. She now travels to Appleton on a monthly basis for the energy work that takes her pain level from 10 down to 6 after the session. The relief can last three to four weeks.

"Nothing really seemed to relieve the pain until I tried this," she said. "Obviously it doesn't cure it, but at least it gives me some relief."

The body is designed by nature to heal itself. Polarity therapy, according to the APTA, seeks to bridge the full spectrum of body, mind and spirit.

"It's amazingly simple, yet simply amazing," Hestnes said.

Going deeper with LifePath

Bellg's life's work as well as his most recent position — licensed clinical psychologist at the Appleton Heart Institute for the last eight years — allowed him to look at the experiences of patients in a different way, seeing it as a much more human process not just defined by a medical condition.

So in mid-April, Bellg, who has taught various forms of meditation and healing practices for more than 30 years, made the decision to leave the institute and start LifePath, which offers a process for discovering how to find deeper meaning in life.

"I'm doing individual work and workshops helping people find, more directly, the experience of living in ways that feel genuine to them and feel like they are tapping into what I call, the deepest truth they know," he said.

In the introduction to the book he's writing, Bellg describes his work this way: "At the heart of the process of healing and growth is an inner wisdom. That deep part of us is who we really are, and it naturally wants to move us in a direction that is positive and whole.

"Along with wanting to do this, our inner wisdom also knows how to move us in a positive direction. Given the chance to move us forward, it will — no matter what our experience in the world has been or how wounded we may be."

In addition to a handful of former cardiac patients, Bellg also sees people who are grieving, who are in the midst of changes of all sorts and even those dealing with painful changes due to the economy.

"It's a different way of counseling," Bellg said. "It's not psychotherapy in the sense I work with people who have problems to be diagnosed or someone with depression or clinical anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder or something like that. … That's not the model anymore for me."

Bellg uses talk therapy as well as therapeutic exercises such as guided mediation, compassionate heart mediation, psychotherapeutic acupressure and certain types of healing and energy work helpful in leading people through what they face at the time.

For Bellg, bringing his solid traditional experience into this work allows people to become more in touch with their inner self.

Cheryl Anderson: 920-993-1000, ext. 249, or canderson@postcrescent.com

Read more: http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20101002/APC04/10020309/Polarity-therapy-and-laughter-clubs-offer-a-different-way-to-healing#ixzz11IctpKBe

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Roger Ebert Tweets Rebuttal to Christine O'Donnell's Evolution Comments


AOL News Surge Desk (Sept. 27) -- From witches to monkeys. No, it's not time for another "Wizard of Oz" retrospective, but you could be forgiven for thinking as much given the amount of attention surrounding current Delaware GOP senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell's prior life as a TV pundit or, more specifically, a few of her key controversial comments about said topics.

Over the weekend, Bill Maher aired a 12-year-old clip of O'Donnell on his previous show "Politically Incorrect," in which she argued that "evolution is a myth" and asks "Why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?"

To answer her question: The scientific theory of human evolution (which, unlike the everyday usage of the term "theory," connotes a hypothesis that has been verified and accepted to be true, not just a plausible explanation) does not state that humans evolved from current primates, but rather that both are descended from a common ancestor, now extinct. In addition, evolutionary changes typically occur subtly over many millennia, so generally the kind of dramatic change she suggests would not be visible in real time, anyway, although examples of rapid evolution have been observed in lower-order organisms.

Film critic, occasional liberal pundit and compulsive Twitter user Roger Ebert couldn't let O'Donnell's old comments slide either, though, posting the following joking rebuttal on his feed on Sunday.

Dear Christine O'Donnell, If this doesn't convince you about the Theory of Evolution, nothing will. http://j.mp/dA1Had
less than a minute ago via web
Roger Ebert

He didn't specifically call out O'Donnell when he tweeted a link to a blog post about the Creation Museum in Kentucky, but there's a good bet it was intended as a follow-up.

A visitor from India writes about his tour of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. http://j.mp/bGcf5P
less than a minute ago via SocialOomph
Roger Ebert

Located across the state border from Cincinnati, the Creation Museum has been around since 2007 but was only recently visited by Indian blogger Krish Ashok, whose insights aren't exactly the stuff of de Tocqueville but at least worthy of Ebert's attention, it seems. And given how many photographs Ashok snapped of the various displays, his report is a good substitute for those who are unlikely to visit this shrine to Biblical literalism and creationism.

The $27 million facility already has received more than 1 million visitors, according to the museum's directors. It is funded and operated by Answers in Genesis, an Australian ministry that proclaims "the absolute truth and authority of the Bible with boldness."

And there's more boldness in situating the museum in the United States than Australia. As Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham told Australian news outlet AM upon the museum's opening: "Australia's not really the place to build such a facility if you're going to reach the world. Really, America is."

Among the beliefs the museum peddles is that the universe was created in 4004 B.C., dinosaurs roamed the Earth alongside humans, and evolution is a lie. "Did dinosaurs evolve into birds?" is a quiz question at one exhibit. The answer, according to the Creation Museum: "No. The Bible says that God made birds on Day 5 and land animals on Day 6. Dinosaurs are land animals, so they were created the day after birds."

Of course, the museum has sparked outcries from the scientific community. Last year, 70 paleontologists took a break from a nearby academic conference to visit the museum. "I'm speechless," Yale University's Derek Briggs told The New York Times. "It's rather scary." Added his colleague from Sweden, Stefan Bengtson, "I'm very curious and fascinated, because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden."

As for Ashok, he entered the museum with the impression that the visitors all would be rednecks and fools. Instead, he found them simply incurious. "I just found regular folk who didn't particularly care much about the complexities of the origin of life, the universe and everything else," he writes.

Are there enough of said "regular folk" in Delaware to propel Christine O'Donnell to victory in November? The latest poll numbers suggest otherwise.

'How's your life?' Deepak Chopra shares mind-body insights in Salem


Boxford — Deepak Chopra spoke to a crowd of about 1,600 people in Salem last Thursday, Sept. 23, about wellbeing and the "primacy of consciousness."

The event, part of Salem State University's annual speaker series, was sold out.

Chopra, a leader in mind body healing and a physician, was born in India and practiced endocrinology in Boston prior to shifting his focus to alternative medicine. In 1996, he founded the Chopra Center for wellbeing in La Jolla, Calif., with David Simon, where he offers mind-body healing classes and treatments. A prolific author, he most recently published "Muhammad: A story of the last prophet."

Standing before an eager crowd, Chopra began with a question. "So," he asked, "how's life?"

Tying together a number of complicated ideas like discontinuity and the illusion of the separate self, he concluded that our quality of lives are dependent on other people, that our suffering is caused by a failure to see the interconnectedness of all beings in one consciousness.

"If you want to get rid of our existential suffering," he said, "then we need to re-look at ourselves in a deeper dimension."

Beginning with the notion of matter, Chopra explained that "the essential nature of the material world is that it is not material … essential stuff is not stuff."

He took this further and argued that nothingness "is the womb of creation." According to Chopra, all our experiences are a product of something called discontinuity. Simply put, discontinuity is the essential nature of the universe. When subatomic particles appear and then disappear, that is discontinuity. Even our perceptions of the world around us are grounded in discontinuity through electrical impulses that send information throughout our body (vibrations which Chopra describes as discontinuity).

Believing science has been too reductionist, Chopra said that discontinuity shares attributes with consciousness. He elaborated, saying it is crucial to understand consciousness because we are sentient beings "rooted in a single consciousness."

Toward the end of his lecture he told the crowd "the separate self is a socially induced hallucination." He argued that problems in the world stem from this separate self and that people need to understand "we exist in each other."

Chopra connected science and spirituality frequently, and discussed their relationship to consciousness. Throughout the evening, Chopra united other concepts normally understood as opposites: the mind and body, the self and society, existence and nothingness, etc.

Reaching the audience

During his lecture, Chopra used humor to connect with the crowd. Talking about genetics he said, "65 percent of your DNA is the same as a banana." Later, discussing immaterial nature of consciousness he stated, "You mind is not your brain. It just speaks English with an Indian accent."

In answer to the question "who are you?" Chopra offered, "whoever it is, it never shuts up."

Following the lecture, reactions were mostly positive, although some said that parts of the lecture went over their head.

Jacqueline Rapisardi, of Boxford, enjoyed the lecture. "He took a different tact than I thought he would — the scientific connection to the spiritual. An hour was not enough," she said.

Marilyn Collins, of Salem, a retired psychotherapist, enjoyed "everything he talked about," and appreciated the connection Chopra made between biology and spirit.

Some were less impressed by Chopra's performance. Jeff Averick, of Marblehead, who was expecting a good lecture, said "I think he lost everybody. It was a firehouse presentation. He was more concerned with getting through all his material than connecting with the audience." A fan of the Salem State University Series, Averick wanted "a more focused lecture."

Salem State faculty and students were also in attendance.

Krishna Mallick, a philosophy professor at Salem State University, thought the lecture was interesting and said she felt many turn to Chopra's mind-body approach after traditional medicine fails to treat them.

Mallick, who is originally from India, described Chopra as a bridge-builder on multiple levels.

"He wants us to understand the connection between science and spirituality," she said. " … Similar ideas were found in a well-known book written by Fritjof Capra, 'Tao of Physics.'"

Explaining that Chopra is "about the connection between mind and body," Mallick said she agrees with him.

"In India the feeling about him is he is going for fame," Mallick said. "I personally like his views."

The event is part of the 2010 Salem State University Series, a lecture series that began in 1982. Since its inception, the series has hosted a number of notable speakers including former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Once called the Salem State College Series, the name was changed when Salem State gained university status this fall.

The auditorium was noticeably hot midway through the lecture. Dozens of patrons fanned themselves to fend off the heat. A college spokeswoman said they regularly shut off the air conditioning prior to events so it won't interrupt the sound. The number of people at the sold-out event, combined with the hot night, is what caused the trouble.

Copyright 2010 Wicked Local Topsfield. Some rights reserved

Evolution skipped O'Donnell


By Tyler Quillin

Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, United States Senate Tea Party-endorsed, Repbulican candidate in Delaware, is a bottomless treasure trove of absurdities, each seeming to raise the ante from the last. One of the latest to surface is a panel discussion on the TV news and analysis program "Scarborough Country" in 2003, where she contended that rather than educating young people about condoms and safe sex, she would stop the whole country from having sex.

If I were inclined to play along, I'd respond with a question as to how she feels she could accomplish stopping Americans from having sex. Not only is it an action necessary for the continuance our species, but it is also a natural, instinctual drive.

Hold the phone, though. This is not the first time O'Donnell has breached the topic of sex, or made outrageous statements, for that matter. In 1996, she also advocated for a worldwide cessation of masturbation.

Recently, political comedian and host of HBO's "Real Time" Bill Maher vowed to show a new video each week of O'Donnell's borderline lunacy and completely erroneous beliefs until she appears on his show. O'Donnell appeared on Maher's old show "Politically Incorrect" more than 20 times in the 1990s and provided more than a flurry of outlandish commentaries for Maher to choose from. In one such appearance, she asserted her firmly held "no lying" lifestyle. Hey, she does not lie! That's a good thing, right? We teach our children not to lie. However, when pressed by fellow panelist, comedian Eddie Izzard, proceeded to ask, "If Hitler was at the door and you had Anne Frank in the attic, you wouldn't lie?" She responded, "No."

Now, yes, we do teach our children not to lie. However, we also hope to teach them other values of right and wrong, i.e. we attempt to foster in them a moral compass that can guide them through the complex situations human beings find themselves in. Most everyone can firmly agree that if Hitler was at the front door and Anne Frank was upstairs in the attic, that they would lie. Not because if he found her he would probably kill her, and you for hiding her, but because it is the right thing to do. Despite being a grown woman, O'Donnell has not dispensed with elementary notions of moral correctness when it comes to just actions. Rather, she holds on to the black and white perception that rests diametrically opposed to a clearly vivid world of grays.

It confounds the basic notions of forward progress as a species and offends the intellectual sensibilities of thinkers everywhere that people such as O'Donnell are given airtime on our nation's stage, as if we, as a country, care what they have to say.

On Maher's show in 1998, O'Donnell stated, "Evolution is a myth." She followed the laughter and Maher's response, "Have you ever looked at a monkey?" with a question of her own, "Why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?" This is someone who either blatantly rejects the science of evolution or is incapable of comprehending it - both options leave much to be leery of. Plenty of people reject evolution, which is another debate altogether that I do not wish to broach. But, what I am drawing attention to is that O'Donnell has taken a stance without fully understanding what "evolution" is to begin with. What does that say about her decision-making skills? Is that someone you would like representing you in the U.S. Senate?

The only refutation I have that might potentially help O'Donnell's case here is, if evolutionary science is so concrete, why do we still have people walking this earth failing to accept facts as facts? Perhaps, she will rekindle some magic of her olden days when she was "dabbling in witchcraft" and put a spell on the great state of Delaware to elect her.

Nevertheless, it is most interesting to delve into how someone can be taken seriously without the necessary sense to know what statements are completely offensive to anyone with sixth-grade critical thinking skills. How is someone who works with an MS-DOS version of realistic feasibility, supposed to run in-step with those running Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" or Windows 7?

Hi. I'm an analytical thinker and rejecting ignorance was my idea.

- Tyler Quillin is a senior majoring in philosophy and English. He is also the academic affairs executive director for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

Dietary Supplements -- Navigating a Minefield of False Claims and Tainted Ingredients


Alyssa DiEdwardo Contributor
Posted by Alyssa DiEdwardoSeptember 28, 2010 12:08 PM

Dietary supplements are big business! Annual sales of dietary supplements have spiked to over $25 billion a year, with 50% of United States adult population taking some type of dietary supplement.

Based on the use of substances by over 22 million Americans and expenditures of over $1100 per person annually, one would think the government would see the wisdom in regulating those substances.

Not the case currently. Dietary supplements (also called complimentary alternative medicine or the acronym CAM) are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. These are usually combinations of several substances, in which most of the individual substances have not been tested by the FDA. The resulting combinations and their effects are never tested by the FDA and, more often than not, are also not sufficiently tested by the manufacturer.

"Congressional Investigation" has become an over employed activity by Congress and many Americans stopped being impressed long ago when one is launched. In May of this year, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released some startling statistics about dietary supplements. The information seems to substantiate wildly false claims of effectiveness and disturbing indications of high levels of contamination of dietary supplements and their component substances. This represents a worthy basis for a Congressional Investigation".

Thankfully, Congress is investigating dietary supplements and, according to the New York Times, here are some of the disturbing findings about dietary supplements:

Some supplement manufacturers made claims that their substance can cure cancer, treat Alzheimer's, prevent diabetes, and could be taken instead of a doctor prescribed high blood pressure medicine. Any product that "claims to treat cure, prevent or mitigate a disease" is considered a drug by the FDA and is required to go through the mandated approval process to which drugs are subjected. But, these supplements are not being subjected to the FDA evaluation process.

The G.A.O tested 40 dietary supplements of which an alarming 40% were reported to have contained "trace amounts of at least one potentially hazardous contaminant. 37 of the 40 supplements tested positive for trace amounts of lead; of those, 32 also contained mercury, 28 cadmium, 21 arsenic, and 18 residues from at least one pesticide. Promises of improving memory circulation among other health woes have caused sales of herbal dietary supplements to multiply in the older population; specifically ingredients like chamomile, echinacea, garlic, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on an unprecedented food safety bill that is expected to "mandate that supplement makers register annually with the F.D.A. and allow the agency to recall supplements suspected of being dangerous."

On the heels of the recall of Vita Breath after dangerous levels of lead contaminants were found Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein principal deputy commissioner of the FDA "was not concerned about the safety of the supplements tested" by the G.A.O. Consumers have been continually reassured by the FDA that these trace amount of contaminants are not unsafe.

Statistics recently published by ConsumerLab.com tell a different story. According to ConsumerLab, 2,000 dietary supplements, made by more than 300 manufacturers were tested. Of these, 25% were found to have quality problems ranging from "inadequate quantities of the indicated ingredients and those contaminated with heavy metals."

Also growing is the amount of imported supplements from China spiked with illegal drugs. The FDA is neither required to nor do they test these products for safety, efficacy or purity; however, a growing number of nongovernmental agencies are testing them.

The FDA is responsible to oversee that supplements are safe and that health claims are substantiated. It is troubling though, that the FDA, in spite of the growing evidence of contaminants, spiking and misleading and false claims does not see supplements as a threat. Could it simply be that the FDA is hesitant to "open the door: because they do not have the financial resources to put products through rigorous testing requirements they do with regulated drugs?

Dietary supplement-related hepatotoxicity from contaminants or non-listed ingredients is largely underreported due to the lack of Governmental reporting requirements that were only recently made mandatory (MedWatch). A part of the reporting problem is that physicians who have little experience with dietary supplement related toxicity, must first be able to "connect the dots" to arrive at the appropriate diagnosis and cause. In complete liver failure cases, for example, the patients often are transferred to a Transplant Center and it is only here that they finally are given more rigorous investigation and the cause of their organ failure is finally determined or at least narrowed down; often to ingredients in dietary supplements.

Duke University has a dedicated study to begin tracking drug induced liver injuries. The Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network (DILIN) which will "collect and analyze cases of severe liver injury caused by prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and alternative medicines, such as herbal products and supplements." According to the DILIN website, they are currently conducting retrospective studies, to establish a nationwide registry of people who have experienced liver injury within the past 10 years after using any of 7 specific drugs and one drug category (quinolone antibiotics). They are also conducting a prospective study, to establish a nationwide registry of people who have experienced liver injury within the past 6 months after using certain drugs or dietary supplement products."

With studies like those at Duke University and renewed interest on the part of legislators, there is still hope that dietary supplements can finally receive the type of regulation of quality that can only lead to better supplements and increased safety for consumers.

Royal Society's climate change guide cuts confusion out of the hard science


UK's 'definitive voice of science' hopes guide will counter misunderstanding and bogus claims about man-made global warming

Duncan Clark guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 September 2010 00.01 BST

The Royal Society, the UK's leading scientific establishment, today publishes its own layman's guide to the science of climate change, in the hope of countering the confusion and inaccurate claims that continue to surround the topic.

The new guide Climate Change: A Summary of the Science – seeks to cut through the confusion by summarising the degree of consensus and depth of understanding surrounding different aspects of the science of global warming caused by human activity.

The report, written by a panel of prominent scientists chaired by Professor John Pethica, Royal Society vice president, breaks down the subject into three sections: aspects on which there is "wide agreement", "a wide consensus but continuing debate and discussion" and those which are "not well understood".

The document entirely supports the mainstream scientific view of man-made climate change as summarised by the UN's climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In previous years, the Royal Society has lent its weight to joint communiqués on climate change issued by leading science academies around the world, and these have even extended to making policy suggestions, such as calling on world leaders to agree emission reductions at the climate change summit held in Copenhagen in December.

The Royal Society's new report, by contrast, limits itself entirely to the physical science of climate change, and it is careful to lay out every qualification and uncertainty. But Pethica stresses that this approach does not signify an acceptance of criticisms that scientists had overstated their case in the past. "If the report sounds cautious, that's because the IPCC is cautious … There is no change in the science."

Solitaire Townsend, the communication specialist in sustainable development, said: "The Royal Society has for hundreds of years been the definitive voice of science – and unlike the IPCC it is not a politically appointed body. The new guide should have a strong impact on the UK, where policymakers, business leaders and others do pay attention to Royal Society briefings. However, it's less likely to change views in China, America and elsewhere."

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute, described the new guide as "excellent" and "an authoritative summary of the current state of knowledge". However, he stressed concern that two of the Royal Society fellows listed as contributors to the early stages of the report are also involved with Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, Ward claims, "campaigns against climate researchers and promotes inaccurate and misleading information about climate change".

Although public concern about the impacts of global warming remains high in the UK, several polls taken in the past year have suggested a rise in number of people who are uncertain or sceptical about the scientific basis of man-made global warming.

This shift in opinion could be related to a range of factors, including the very cold winter, the Climategate affair involving leaked emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia, and one well-publicised error in the most recent scientific assessment by the IPCC.

Intelligent Design as State of the Art


[NOTE: Today we welcome a new contributing writer to Evolution News & Views, Guy Coe. Mr. Coe graduated from the University of California at Davis with a B.A. in Rhetoric and a minor in political science. As a lifelong student of argumentation and logical analysis, his career has taken him from Executive Salesman, to News Reporter, to U.S. Senate Communications Aide, to Tour Guide, to Retail Management, to father of a budding teenager, "where all communications logic begins to break down." With a lifelong interest in the issues of intelligent design and origins theories, his status as "interested layperson" allows him to continue to follow the evidence where it leads, while showing proper respect for the lifelong dedication displayed by practitioners of the hard sciences. And, somehow, he still manages to communicate with his teenager...]

Much ink has been spilled, and heat generated, over the "intrusion" of the intelligent design hypothesis into the now seemingly exhausted "creation vs. evolution" debate.

Is intelligent design only reworked creationism, or is it something dynamically different? Now that intelligent design has "evolved" a little, and the theory of evolution has been a little more "intelligently designed," the focus of our attention has been changed back to the very puzzling questions of the origins of the complexity within cellular organization, while the "old regime" merely argues over the vestiges of an assumed progression from this unexplained point.

For their parts, many creationists and evolutionists are at such an impasse in old paradigms that each of them are left shaking their heads in wonder at the apparently willful ignorance of their opponents -- building their knowledge base on two supposedly vastly different approaches, and being at a loss to explain how the "convincing" evidence each position marshals can be so blithely dismissed by the "other side" -- to the point that charges of irrationality, and even willful self-deception, are rife.

As an eager observer of this unfolding drama over the last several decades, I have to say that my honest impression is that both sides manage to play fast and loose with the facts, ignore the anomalies, and distort the evidence, by virtue of prior philosophical convictions. Or perhaps it is more charitable to say that, given the same set of facts, many come to vastly different interpretations by virtue of poorly-constructed logic, selective evidence, and poor methodology.

And, on the whole, historical creationism does seem to make these mistakes more often. It undertakes the additional burden of trying to synthesize wider branches of seemingly disparate knowledge. Yet evolutionism, as an "answer" to the question of the origin of life, has also vastly overestimated itself.

Perhaps this persistent (even proliferating) confusion is to be expected -- because in the meantime, the expanded fact-sets and technological precision available to us today have completely changed the picture from even half a century ago. The world of cellular biochemistry we know today has vastly expanded from its infancy. And integrating these new facts into either worldview has become mind-boggling.

Probabilistic calculations, developments in physics and biochemistry, algorithmic modeling of biochemical scenarios, and technological innovations that allow for more accurate measurements have all both greatly complicated and greatly clarified the issues.

At precisely the time when "strict naturalism" was supposed to have completely prevailed, wider philosophical and scientific observations have enlarged our imaginations, and the old "either-or" approaches now seem stilted and unimaginative.

It is possible today for the scientific evidence alone to unite us around the conclusion that an abiogenetic scenario for the origin of life on earth simply couldn't have taken place in the relatively short timeframe available here, and that life must be the product of "importation" or "imputation" from elsewhere.

The "multiverse" hypothesis, the only other nearly adequate competing explanation, leaves very little by way of testable arguments, and the philosophical shoe seems now to be on the other foot. Instead of a "god of the gaps" fallacy, we now face a "multiverse of the gaps" assertion, and once again we walk away, scratching our heads at the "we just happened to be so lucky" explanation, which seems more like a faith statement.

Intelligent design theory has recently refocused the debate around the presence of what is surely one of the most inexplicable biochemical cellular systems we know -- the genetically encoded digital information storage and dynamically-partitioned selective information retrieval system used in the organic manufacture of a wide variety of infra-cellular nano-machinery, of staggering complexity, within a cell's membrane, to accomplish self-assembly. Consider that the same coding goes on to regulate, not merely reproduction, but cellular differentiation and specialization with an even broader set of schema designed to produce intra-cellular coordination towards ever-increasing levels of sophistication, to the point of comprising a functioning meta-organism.

How DNA came, in an incremental fashion, to contain this information, and even how DNA could have originally assembled, given its homochiral strictures, are completely open questions. No known processes of unaided nature have adequately accounted for them. No plausible abiogenetic scenario has been offered yet, in light of the proliferating evidence.

The principles of intelligently-directed nanotechnological design and assembly are only now being compiled. And once again, scientific "innovation" is proceeding more on the basis of mimicry, rather than of originality, with the already existing complexities of the natural world. The closer we look, the more in awe we become.

Is this a prediction of strict naturalism?

Methodological naturalism by itself, as heurisitic as it has been, may not be able to help us make the most breathtaking discoveries of all. If we insist that "matter is all that matters," we predispose ourselves to confusion, a wooden literalism, and an unsupportable and unimaginative biochemical and thermodynamic fatalism.

Is the origin of life, and its development, a matter of intelligent design, or of chance and necessity? What if the laws of nature are, themselves, the product, not only of design, but of active maintenance? In a quantum universe, it would seem, anything stable and predictable ought to be considered a bit of an anomaly.

False dilemmas often have a way of taking far too long to be discovered. Most really intractable arguments are not really about correct versus incorrect, but about how much versus how little.

It's time to allow our science, our imaginations, and our spirit of discovery to grow up a bit.

Posted by Guy Coe on October 1, 2010 1:29 PM | Permalink

4 (More) Nails in Discovery Institute's Coffin


Lauri Lebo
October 1, 2010 10:53AM

Last week, the Discovery Institute took its creationist road show to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Titled 4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin, the event was sponsored by a student religious organization known as Pulse and the Victory Campus Ministries and included a showing of the pro-intelligent design movie Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.

As Discovery Institute fellow Jonathan Wells said about the event in a news release, "The evidence is clear: Darwin was wrong about the origin of new species, organs and body plans. We are ready to show the next generation of young scientists just how wrong Darwin was."

Of course, one of Discovery Institute's featured tactics is to pretend that Darwin's theory exists in a vacuum and that the scientific world has learned nothing in the past 150 years to advance knowledge of evolution and how it works. Destroy Darwin, destroy evolution.

http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0393060160-3 But in order to make that argument, they must conveniently discount, ignore or just lie about the vast amount of information made since then in the fields of genetics, molecular biology and evolutionary development. Perhaps to bring him up to speed a bit on the past century and a half, I'd like to make a helpful suggestion to Wells. He should read Sean Carroll's wonderful book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Norton, 2005) for an understanding of how the evolution of genetic switches led to the formation of complex body forms in all their infinite and amazing variations.

As always, the discussions were from the same old playbook. Wells addressed the role of genetic switches in evolution by simply dismissing him with his tired argument that mutations in flies can only cause deleterious effects or no changes, saying, "DNA mutations cannot change the body plan." He's been making the same argument for years, evidence be damned.

Fortunately, SMU's science faculty attended the lecture, so they are able to correct the record. John Wise, an SMU biology professor who, I'm told, suffered a painful headache from the event, has helpfully provided an informative page that explains why intelligent design is not science.

It's really a good source for correcting the deceptive and deceitful assertions and I'm having a hard time picking out just one good example:

The Discovery Institute in their "Darwin's Dilemma FAQ" state that "there are no clear evolutionary precursors to the Cambrian fauna." The Cambrian explosion is generally accepted to have occurred around 520 million years ago.

Some of the known peer-reviewed science not cited in the film that completely demolishes this assertion by the Discovery Institute was reported by Gordon Love and colleagues last year:

Love found a very specific chemical, a variation of the steroid cholesterol, that is only made by the most primitive of animals, the porifera (click here for his paper). What is very interesting is that he found this "chemical fossil" in 635 million year old rocks!

115 million years before the Cambrian explosion animals already existed!

Love et al. state that these finds "represent the oldest evidence for animals in the fossil record."

And he found them continuously in rocks dated closer and closer to the Cambrian, which tells us these animals survived all the way to the Cambrian radiation.

This work all by itself simply demolishes the assertion by the Discovery Institute that "there are no clear evolutionary precursors to the Cambrian fauna."

The entire piece is worth a read, but if you only have time for a quick scan, I suggest the section, Did the Cambrian Explosion Require an Intelligent Designer? As a matter of fact, it would be terrific if someone sent a link to Don McLeroy to read. Last year, the Texas Board of Education member and ardent young earth creationist successfully led efforts to insert language into his state's science curriculum that question evolution as it relates to the Cambrian Explosion.

Still, after looking over all this, I do have one question. If the DI folk argue that evolution can't account for the living diversity of the 60 million year time span of the Cambrian explosion, what exactly are they arguing? Are they saying that the omnipotent designer intentionally created all those various extinct life forms just to kill them off later?

'Inherit the Wind' to screen in Malibu


By Susan King, Los Angeles Times

October 2, 2010

Fifty years after its release, the film about evolution remains sharply relevant today. Director Stanley Kramer's widow will participate in a panel discussion about the picture.

In his Academy Award-nominated 1960 drama, "Inherit the Wind," director Stanley Kramer offered a fictionalized depiction of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, in which Tennessee high school instructor John Scopes was tried for violating the state's Butler Act, a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Fifty years after its initial release, with activists on the political right and left still bitterly divided over social issues, the film remains sharply relevant, something the Malibu Film Society hopes to underscore with a special anniversary screening and panel discussion Sunday.

"If you ever listen to the Christian stations on the radio, they are still upset over this film," said Karen Kramer, the director's widow, who will participate in the discussion, along with her daughter Kat Kramer and Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education, the only national organization that defends the teaching of evolution in schools.

"I finally called them one day and said, 'It is not about the Scopes trial. It's about freedom of thought, freedom of speech. It is the 1st Amendment.'"

In fact, both the movie and the 1955 Broadway play on which it was based were responding to the blacklists of the McCarthy era. "In the 1950s, everybody realized that," said Edward J. Larson, a Pepperdine University professor who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the Scopes trial, "Summer for the Gods," and also is set to appear on the panel Sunday. "What happens was they set up the Creationists as strawmen for McCarthy and they didn't think there were any Creationists left. But the strawmen outlived the McCarthyites."

It was the allusions to McCarthyism that initially attracted Stanley Kramer to the project, Karen Kramer said. He wanted to "take another shot at the blacklist and hire the same writers he hired for 'The Defiant Ones,' Harold Jacob Smith and Nedrick Young." (Young was a blacklisted screenwriter who used the pen name Nathan E. Douglas.)

Scott is careful to point out that "Inherit the Wind" is not 100% historically accurate; it's a work of fiction that takes liberties but still has plenty to say about the real-world events that served as its inspiration.

"I always tell people, 'Don't look at it as a movie reporting on the Scopes trial,'" she said. "It does capture a very important mood that reflects the anti-evolution movement, [which contends that] evolution is not biblical, so it should be opposed. That theme is particularly strong in the movie and is central to the Creationist message today: Evolution leads to evil, and evolution means that you can't believe in God and you have no moral rudder."

In her view, Scott said the film remains compelling "because it's a great story. It engages your interest and deals with serious issues. The Scopes character … he does what is right."

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Friday, October 01, 2010

"4 Nails" in Professor Response


By JERRET SYKES, Director of PULSE, sykes@smu.edu

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010 23:09

This past Monday, eight different SMU faculty members submitted an opinion article entitled "SMU professors speak out against Darwin presentation." They argued that the presentation "4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution" put on by Discovery Institute (DI), was a "dishonest attempt to present a particular form of religion and science." This allegation was then followed by a few dishonest, misunderstood and slightly biased claims of their own.

First of all, let me begin by stating that I will not attempt to challenge or argue the science that was presented or discussed in either the aforementioned event from last Thursday or in the article published on Monday. I intend full respect of the professors and scientists as well as their accomplishments and successes in their respective fields. As Doug Axe, one of the featured speakers at the event said in his article "A Word to the Wise," "serious science is being done on both sides of the debate, and that should give us confidence that a truer picture of biology will become visible as the smoke clears." I agree and am thankful that there are great minds searching out the complexities of where, exactly, we came from.

I will, however, speak to a handful of things that I read in the professors' article that I found to be false. For example, the professors claim that the Discovery Institute is "a well-financed organization." I wonder, compared to what? The established scientific institutes of higher education, government agencies and even the SMU science departments are by any definition, better funded than the Discovery Institute.

Secondly, they pointed out that a representative of DI "thanked the SMU administration" (which is true) "for permitting the event, which we took to be a suggestion that it was organized by an academic program of the University." They went on to say that neither the SMU administration nor any academic program organized the event. That part is also true. It was organized by PULSE (aka Victory Campus Ministries), a non-denominational, Christian student group that is chartered through the Office of the Chaplain. I announced this to the entire crowd at the beginning of the event, as I am the director of PULSE.

The representative who "thanked the SMU administration" was aware that the 2007 DI event entitled "Darwin vs. Design" (which is mentioned in the professors' article) was brought before President Turner by members of the SMU academic community in an attempt to have it canceled, which he did not. The statement made by the DI representative was a simple "thank you" to the president and a way to give honor to the hosting university and nothing more.

Thirdly, the professors stated that they were "outraged by the dishonesty" of the presentations and that the speakers at the event brought "pseudo-scientific" arguments. To claim that the Discovery Institute Fellows are "pseudo-scientists who are busily trying to pass themselves off on the unwary as legitimate scientists" is a strong claim. All of the presenters possess PhDs (some more than one), most from top-tiered universities. Most of them have also taught or done research at institutions such as Cambridge, UC-Berkeley and even the Smithsonian Institution. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions these scientists have drawn from their research doesn't disqualify their credentials. It just makes their conclusions different from yours.

Finally, and this is my biggest disappointment: If the presentation was just another example of dishonesty and deception, why didn't any of the undersigned professors who authored the article in contention and who attended the presentation, speak up publicly on Thursday? What a great opportunity to address the issues in front of a crowd that is obviously interested in the science of it. If the professors are that concerned and disturbed that the claims made were "false or misleading," why not voice it at the time and put an end to the debate?

The speakers did a fantastic job in communicating science in a way that non-scientific people, like me, could understand. My biggest hope in bringing the DI group here was to bring a scientific view that contrasts what is largely taught in universities, and they did that well. Our goal was to resurrect the conversation about our origins and the meaning of life, and I believe they succeeded in that as well.

Again quoting Doug Axe's article, if you had spoken up, you would have "certainly [received] a respectful hearing. At the same time [you would have shown] that Darwinism can still be defended the way scientific theories ought to be defended. As things stand now, though, you can hardly blame people for wondering how many Darwinists really believe it can."

You were given the opportunity to speak up and "protect the people who attended from believing dishonest science" – you did not. You were invited to publicly question the DI representatives face-to-face – you did not You had the chance to engage in debate that "advances the cause of truth" – you did not.

The university should be a place for free and vigorous academic discussion, as it is the locale of shaping the minds and beliefs of our future leaders. It should grieve us all that many in the science department at SMU fear such dialogue.

Jerret Sykes is the Director of PULSE, the weekly gathering for Victory Campus Ministries at SMU. He can be reached for comments or questions at sykes@smu.edu.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Melee In Modesto: California Community Debates Creationism In Science Class


September 28th, 2010

By Sandhya Bathija
Evolution & Creationism, Religion in Public Schools

Most scientists and educators believe ID shouldn't be taught as part of science, and they find no conflict between that decision and their religious beliefs.

It's the debate that never ends – thanks to an aggressive minority that insists religious beliefs belong in the science classroom.

California public school teacher Mark Ferrante belongs in that group. According to the Modesto Bee, Ferrante recently announced that he planned to teach the latest variant of creationism, "intelligent design" (ID), alongside evolution at Modesto's Roosevelt Junior High, sparking quite the community discussion.

The newspaper reported that since Ferrante's announcement, some of the school's trustees and other science teachers have admitted their belief that ID should be included in science courses.

"The current curriculum states that the evolution of man, Darwinism, must be taught as a theory," trustee Nancy Cline said in an e-mail to the Bee. "I feel we do our students a disservice by not helping them become critical thinkers when we forbid the teaching of competing scientific theories, such as intelligent design."

Cline couldn't be more wrong. ID is not a "competing scientific theory" at all.

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Public Schools, a 2005 case brought by Americans United and our allies, a federal judge held that intelligent-design instruction at a Pennsylvania school violated church-state separation. The court held that ID is not scientific concept but a religious one.

Still, creationists continue to push for ID as a way to bring religion into science classrooms. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, leads the movement.

But most scientists and educators believe ID shouldn't be taught as part of science, and they find no conflict between that decision and their religious beliefs.

"The problem is that intelligent design is trying to somehow wed science to faith and it can't because in intelligent design you start with an assumption and it's unquestionable," a California Catholic high school teacher told the newspaper.

Most parents understand the issue as well.

"Science versus religion is a false dichotomy," a Modesto parent said. "They are coming from two entirely separate spheres, as religion doesn't seek answers, it has them. Science is an ever-learning body of knowledge; it is the application of that same objectivity that gives us heart transplants, blood transfusions, and theorizes about our origins based on data."

Fortunately, this school district knows going along with Ferrante would be a big mistake and has assured concerned parents that it's never going to happen.

"He will not be teaching intelligent design," said Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Emily Lawrence. "He has been instructed to teach the state standards and intelligent design is not the state standards."

Officials at Modesto City Schools so far have been wise to keep ID out of the curriculum, and the board of trustees should keep it that way. Parents have the right to teach their children religious beliefs at home – they don't need public school teachers to do that, whether it's in science class or in any other.

UK Group Announces Michael Behe Lecture Tour This Fall


The UK-based Centre for Intelligent Design has just announced a fall lecture tour featuring Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Michael Behe. The tour will include lectures in Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, and London. Here is the group's press release about the tour, which will take place in November:

Controversial ID Scientist tours UK

Professor Michael Behe, a key figure in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, will challenge his critics in a lecture tour of the UK in November.

Prof. Behe is one of an increasing number of scientists who believe that modern biochemical evidence undermines the basis of Darwinian evolution. The author of two ground-breaking books on ID - 'Darwin's Black Box' (1996) and 'The Edge of Evolution' (2007) - Behe's theory of irreducible complexity has drawn attacks from many neo-Darwinists, but not one of them has been able to refute it.

As Behe himself writes, in the years since the publication of 'Darwin's Black Box', "the scientific argument for design is stronger than ever. Despite the enormous progress of biochemistry in the intervening years... despite implacable opposition from some scientists at the highest levels, the book's argument for design stands... there is very little of the original text I would change if I wrote it today.

"In short, as science advances relentlessly, the molecular foundation of life... is getting exponentially more complex. As it does, the case for the intelligent design of life becomes exponentially stronger."

Behe's 'Darwin or Design? What Does the Science Really Say?' tour runs from 20-27 November and will comprise evening lectures at the Babbage Lecture Theatre in Cambridge and the Caledonian University in Glasgow, plus events in London, Belfast and Leamington/Warwick. He will also be the main speaker at a day conference (27 November) at Oxford Brookes University.

The tour is organised by the UK-based Centre for Intelligent Design, which exists to promote the public understanding of ID.

For more details of the tour and booking information see: www.darwinordesign.org.uk

Posted by John G. West on September 29, 2010 7:03 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

USA Today: Decrying Scientific Ignorance While Endorsing Creationism?


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
Posted: September 27, 2010 05:01 PM

USA Today just ran a story about the release of a major report by the National Academy of Sciences lamenting the poor state of science education in America. Given how serious the problems referenced in the report are, it's encouraging that the newspaper devoted significant space to the issue.

However, USA Today seems completely oblivious to the fact that some of its own reporting has exacerbated the very problem the report discusses. Indeed, one of the problems with science literacy today is that far too many people find it all but impossible to differentiate between science and pseudoscience. Unfortunately, it appears that USA Today falls into the group unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between the two.

About two months ago, the paper ran a story about Rachel Held Evans' new memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town. Evans grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, the home of the Scopes Trial in 1925, and her book discusses her personal transformation from someone who was taught that she had to choose between religion and science to a person who recognized that there was no need to make such a choice. "I learned you don't have to choose between loving and following Jesus and believing in evolution."

The article noted that "Evans is part of a movement of mostly Protestant writers and scientists trying to reconcile faith and science, 85 years after the trial ended." So far so good! But the article went on to claim, "Instead of choosing sides, some prefer the middle ground of intelligent design ... "

It is a huge error to offer intelligent design as a middle ground between religion and science since intelligent design has absolutely nothing to do with science. As many scientists, religious leaders, theologians and teachers have noted, intelligent design is nothing more than creationism dressed up to look like science. And, as they've noted, the costume is so ill-fitting that it isn't fooling anybody, except perhaps some at USA Today.

The hallmark of a scientific idea is the ability to express its essence in a manner that makes it falsifiable. If it is impossible to conceive of data that could prove an idea to be false, that idea falls outside the bounds of science. Intelligent design fails this simple test and thus while it might stimulate some interesting religious discussions, it has no place within any science classroom or laboratory.

The National Academy of Sciences has stated in no uncertain terms what it thinks of intelligent design: "Intelligent design is not a scientific concept because it cannot be empirically tested."

The United Methodist Church is equally unequivocal in its rejection of intelligent design. At their 2008 General Conference, United Methodists overwhelmingly passed a resolution "opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools."

Even intelligent design's main proponent, Michael Behe, was forced to testify under oath at the 2005 Dover "intelligent design" trial that its scientific underpinnings were nonexistent. Consider the answer Behe provided to this question about the scientific allies of intelligent design posed by ACLU attorney Eric Rothschild: "But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?" Behe's answer? "Yes, that's correct." Intelligent design and astrology are seen to have similar scientific stature by its foremost supporter.

The U.S. legal system has also weighed in on the issue. Federal District Judge John E. Jones III, after noting the inability of Behe and others to defend the scientific merits of intelligent design in the Dover case, came to as clear a decision as is possible in any legal case: "We find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science."

It's particularly ironic that USA Today opted to confuse religion with science in this manner in this article since the position they've staked out, that intelligent design is a "middle ground" between the two, runs counter to the beliefs of Rachel Held Evans, the person whose book prompted the article in the first place. As she explained to me, "I certainly do not advocate an intelligent design position."

Bob Smietana, the author of the article, acknowledged to me that he believed that it would be illegal to teach intelligent design as science in public schools but he justified the article's wording by asserting that "there's more science in it than in 6 day creationism." Actually, Smietana has it backwards! Six-day creationism makes an explicit, falsifiable prediction, that the universe was created in six days, and scientific data have conclusively demonstrated that this is a false proposition. Intelligent design, on the other hand, makes absolutely no predictions -- which is what removes it from the realm of science.

The import of this issue goes far beyond the evolution/creation controversy. The point that should not be missed is that there are grave consequences for society when we conflate and confuse science with pseudoscience. When we do that we cannot possibly produce a scientifically literate citizenry. And, as the National Academy of Sciences report demonstrated, we are already paying a stiff price for our scientific ignorance.

According to the report, K-12 math and science education in the United States ranks 48th internationally and China has now replaced the U.S. as the world's leading exporter of high-end technology. The report demonstrated how these facts can have huge effects on the nation's economy. For example, if U.S. students matched the scientific acumen of students in Finland, the report estimated that our economy would grow by between 9 and 16 percent.

Over the years, I've liked to point to the continuum that ranges from science through nonscience to nonsense. It's critical to educate people about the best way to place ideas in their appropriate place on this continuum, and it's essential that media outlets do so in their news reports. USA Today failed to do this in its coverage of Evans' book, and thus it failed its readers. Intelligent design is a purely religious concept and passing it off as anything else is confusing at best and intentionally misleading at worst.

Discovery Institute, the All-Purpose Boogey Man


http://www.amazon.com/Day-Without-Yesterday-Lemaitre-Cosmology/dp/1560259027/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 It always amazes me how if you want to bash intelligent design, Discovery Institute, or Darwin doubters generally, you can pretty much say anything you want, however ridiculous, and everyone in the Darwin choir will sing hallelujah and never bother to fact check what you say. At the Huffington Post, science writer John Farrell debuts with an awkwardly written blog trying to pick a fight with John West on Darwinism's sinister race-war theme ("Bad Faith (in Science): Darwin as All-Purpose Boogey Man?"). The post struck a nerve, garnering 1,266 comments as of this writing.

Says Farrell,

West wants his readers to realize that Darwin's racism had murderous overtones and that therefore the science of evolution must be suspect.

Farrell means that West wants readers to "think" or "believe" not "realize," which implies that he actually agrees with West. But never mind Farrell's incompetence as a writer, the second half of his sentence is clearly false, an absurd straw man. I challenge Farrell to show me anything John West has written that implies such a thing -- namely, that because Darwinain science is well suited to justify and inspire evil, that by itself makes the ideas "suspect" as science. What any reasonable person would say is that the racist element in classical Darwinism, along with the wicked uses it's been put to historically, together form a good reason to take a second, fresh, and objective look at the science -- evaluating it, however, strictly on its own scientific merits. That's very different from the caricatured stance attributed to West by Farrell.

Farrell goes on to quote at length the famous passage from the Descent of Man that ranks human races in order of their being near or far from apes and that predicts that races closest to the apes -- "negroes and Australians" -- will be "exterminated," leaving a more yawning gap than at present between "civilized" men and the lower apes.

The interpretation of the passage is beyond doubt. What's so chilling about it is, first, Darwin's presentation of genocide as an inevitable outcome of human history, and second, his dispassion in the face of that (as he sees it) fact. Yet Farrell blithely proceeds to turn the obvious meaning on its head. "Darwin's point," we learn, "is that eventually these populations, too, will become more civilized than even his own Caucasian race, and the resulting larger gap between humans and their relatives will be due to the greater degree of civilization present in human populations."

So Africans will become more civilized in Darwin's view -- how? By being dead, killed off by Europeans? Because obviously that's what the man was in fact talking about. It is by the "lower" human races and the "higher" apes being exterminated that, in Darwin's sanguine prophecy, the gap between man and ape will widen. Can Farrell neither read nor write? If he can read, he might want to take a glance at Richard Weikart's brief and lucid comments on Darwin's exterminatory thoughts, confirmed even by Desmond and Moore's recent Darwin's Sacred Cause. In their view, which is pretty authoritative even with Darwin defenders, it was following Darwin's digesting of Malthus in 1838 that his thinking took the sinister turn that it did.

Farrell concludes by lamenting "these ceaseless ideological attack on Charles Darwin," with Discovery Institute "smear[ing] the character and the motives of the founders of evolutionary biology." Again, a lie. No one I work with doubts Darwin's personal character -- his rectitude and gentleness as a family man, his personal kindness, his genuine concern about the evils of slavery. However, opposing the enslavement of Africans doesn't mean you regard them as your equal or that you do not foresee, even with a shocking indifference, their ultimate "extermination." Opposing cruelty to animals similarly doesn't mean you regard them as your equal.

This is all so straightforward. It's been stated so clearly by so many scholars so many times, that it boggles the mind that someone like Farrell can fail to understand unless, his admiring readers, he really does not want to understand. If I misjudge him, I'd be delighted to see a further explanation of his views published on Huffington Post -- which bans the opposing point of view from being expressed, as I've discovered personally -- by all means.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on September 28, 2010 8:12 AM | Permalink

Monday, September 27, 2010

The science media make my head hurt


Category: Communicating science • Creationism
Posted on: September 27, 2010 12:48 PM, by PZ Myers

First, read this parody of science journalism. It's the template for just about every science story you'll find in a newspaper, and it's so depressing.

Second, imagine something even worse. Hint: it's the media's coverage of every scientific "controversy" you might think of. It takes a few of the tropes mentioned in the parody, like "shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist" and "quotes from some fringe special interest group of people who, though having no apparent understanding of the subject, help to give the impression that genuine public 'controversy' exists." and "Special interest group linked to for balance" and expand those to fill the allotted space. There is no possibility that a journalist will actually examine the evidence and show which side is clearly bonkers.

For an example of this phenomenon in action, examine this article about a teacher in Modesto, Mark Ferrante, declaring that he will teach intelligent design in biology classes. It's a moist sopping wallow in the so-called middle ground, getting quotes from teachers on both sides of the issue, and making special care to include a theist teacher mumbling platitudes about "Let science tell us what and how. Let religion tell us who and why."

And of course, they go to the Discovery Institute for their story about ID, and set them against the NCSE, as if these two groups have an equal investment in the scientific truth. They do not. Intelligent Design has no credibility, no empirical support, and no reasonable proposals for scientific investigation. When will the media wake up and realize that their constant pushing of a false equivalency is a major factor in feeding this pseudo-controversy?

To top it all off, then they do something quite common that the media parody forgot to include: they included a poll. Of course they did, because that's how you settle an issue in modern journalism…whatever view the majority holds must be true.

Should "intelligent design" be taught in public schools?

Yes, it should be taught in science classes 37%
Yes, but only in religion or culture classes, not in science 18%
No 44%

The school district is taking the correct route and has declared that ID will not be taught. Why can't the local newspapers recognize reality?

SMU professors speak out against Darwin presentation


By SMU Professors

Published: Monday, September 27, 2010

Updated: Monday, September 27, 2010 17:09

Last Thursday evening, the SMU community witnessed another dishonest attempt to present a particular form of religion as science, entitled "4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution". It was designed and presented by Seattle's Discovery Institute (and its subsidiary the Biologic Institute). This was a follow-up to their equally dishonest 2007 presentation "Darwin vs. Design".

We were outraged by the dishonesty of Thursday's presentation, but not entirely surprised by it. The Discovery Institute is a well-financed organization that has repeatedly attempted to discredit Darwinian biology and thereby advance its brand of religion called Intelligent Design. We do not object to religion as such. But we do object to blatant distortions of Darwinian thinking, and to pseudo-scientific alternatives to it that are falsely alleged to be better supported by the evidence.

The evening began with a slickly-produced movie in the style of a science documentary entitled "Darwin's Dilemma". It focused on the supposedly inexplicably-sudden appearance of new phyla of animal forms during the early Cambrian era, about 600 million years ago. There were also other arguments made that alleged that the processes that Darwin described could not explain any significant evolutionary change in any organism at all, let alone those of the "Cambrian Explosion". The Discovery Institute employees who were interviewed in the movie were present to elaborate on these arguments in person. They suggested that the supposedly glaring inadequacies of Darwinian theory could be remedied if we instead accept the 'theory' that a vaguely-described intelligent designer produced life and all of its intricate features. Although a flyer invited attendees to "bring questions", none were allowed until about three hours into the program, thirty minutes after its announced ending time! This leads us to doubt that the Institute sincerely wishes to engage in dialogue or debate. We will also mention that a representative of the Institute, standing in front of a podium with the SMU logo on it, thanked the "SMU administration" for permitting the event, which we took to be a suggestion that it was organized by an academic program of the University. Make no mistake: this is false. The program was not organized by any SMU academic program.

Many of the more general arguments presented against Darwinian theory have been around for a number of years, and have been thoroughly demolished by experts. The strong suggestion made in the movie and by the Discovery Institute employees that there is serious doubt in the scientific community about the adequacy of Darwinian theory is completely false. The Discovery Institute is a fringe group of pseudo-scientists who are busily trying to pass themselves off on the unwary as legitimate scientists.

We cannot present here a detailed discussion of all of the distortions presented on Thursday evening. We are all seriously disturbed by various particular claims that we believe are false or misleading, and by the fallacious objections presented to Darwinian theory as such.

Anyone interested in learning about the fatal flaws in the claims that the Discovery Institute makes about Darwinian thought in general, and the Cambrian Explosion in particular, can find that detailed information on this website: http://faculty.smu.edu/jwise/big_problems_with_intelligent_design.htm

The site also has background information on the Discovery Institute.

But we wish to state here our firm conviction that Darwinian theory is solidly supported by masses of evidence, and that it can explain innumerable characteristics of the biological world, from the genetic features of individual organisms to the appearance and disappearance of phyla and other large-scale patterns of biological change.

We are fortunate at SMU in having an intelligent student body that places great value on honest intellectual debate and inquiry. As faculty members we are eager to engage in such debate, which we believe advances the cause of truth. We strongly believe that the Discovery Institute is not interested in honest debate, and is not engaged in legitimate scientific enquiry. It is engaged in a concerted effort to distort the truth. Unlike the serious discussions of evolution that occurred here during our "Darwin Year" activities in 2009-10, the event last Thursday was a propaganda exercise. We are troubled to think that some of the people who attended it still might not understand this.

Edward Countryman, History         John Ubelaker, Biology
Justin Fisher, Philosophy          Pia Vogel, Biology 
Randall Scalise, Physics           Ronald Wetherington, Anthropology
Steven Sverdlik, Philosophy        John Wise, Biology

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Modesto science teacher's plan to teach intelligent design sparks debate



This story is taken from Sacbee / Our Region / AP State News / McClatchy California News

Published Sunday, Sep. 26, 2010

Of all the much-wrangled issues in public school education, the case of evolution may be the most fragile peace.

Last month, a Modesto science teacher announced at a back-to-school night that he would teach the theory of intelligent design alongside evolution. Modesto City Schools district officials say that will not happen.

However, some trustees and other science teachers say it should. Parents on both sides of the divide are discovering that it is.

"I agree that some science and other teachers (teach intelligent design), yes, and it is unethical when they do so," retired science teacher Mike Kennedy of Oakdale said in an e-mail.

Intelligent design is the theory that living things are too complex to have happened randomly in nature. Proponents say science proves there was a master designer.

Skeptics argue a theory that can't be disproved is not science, it is faith, and as such does not belong in science class.

"The problem is that intelligent design is trying to somehow wed science to faith and it can't because in intelligent design you start with an assumption and it's unquestionable," said Central Catholic High School science teacher Chris Wilde.

Wilde's classroom has a life-size cutout of Albert Einstein by the window and a crucifix over the door. The 34-year teacher, who holds master's degrees in physical sciences and theology, said there is no conflict between evolution and her faith.

"I love this quote by Pope John Paul II: 'Let science tell us what and how. Let religion tell us who and why.' Truth is truth. We just answer different questions," she said. "We believe in a God that is so powerful he could create it all, then allow it to unfold. To me, that is a far more awesome God."

Wilde added, "I think it's so wonderful that I'm related genetically to every other creature that's ever lived. ... I think it's an honor."

Schools standards differ

At Big Valley Christian High School, science teacher Francesca Orr works within a more conservative Christian standard. The school is attached to Big Valley Grace Community Church, which states on its Web site, "We believe that man was created by God in His own image, and not the product of evolution or animal ancestry."

Orr said in an e-mail, "All of our content subjects are taught in accordance to rigorous California state standards, while our instruction is delivered from a Biblical world view."

Wilde and Orr teach in private schools, where religious instruction is approved and high-stakes state tests are not such a driving force.

In public school, teachers don't have time to expound on personal views, said Megan Gowans, executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association.

"Typically, in these days of testing, the district has looked askance at that. You really can't deviate from that (pacing) calendar," Gowans said.

She said the union was not notified of any problem in the case of Roosevelt Junior High teacher Mark Ferrante, the instructor who last month told parents of his intention at back-to-school night. Ferrante did not answer e-mails seeking comment.

"He will not be teaching intelligent design. He has been instructed to teach the state standards and intelligent design is not in the state standards," Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Emily Lawrence said last week.

The administration hews to the official policy, set by the board a decade ago, of not teaching intelligent design. Today, as then, the Modesto City Schools board is divided on the issue.

"The current curriculum states that the evolution of man, Darwinism, must be taught as a theory. I feel we do our students a disservice by not helping them become critical thinkers when we forbid the teaching of competing scientific theories, such as intelligent design," trustee Nancy Cline said in an e-mail.

Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?

Board President Kim Spina said she believes creation theories belong in Modesto's world religions class.

"About 11 years ago my son was given a book about Noah's Ark. ... The author had a picture of the Ark stuffed to the gills with animals, and a dinosaur. I was aghast. I had never heard of intelligent design and had no idea there existed people who actually would put dinosaurs on the Ark," she said.

A former teacher, trustee Steve Grenbeaux sees both sides.

"When the subject came up in my fifth-grade class, I explained both theories as best as I could. Then I told them that if they wanted more information on the Biblical theory to talk to their parents or pastor. As far as I know the only place intelligent design is taught is in Comparative Religions in ninth or 10th grade. I agree with concept of it being taught there. ... I believe that teachers should have the right to briefly explain other theories than what the book covers," Grenbeaux said.

Board Vice President Sue Zwahlen said she believes intelligent design belongs in the religions class.

"Even that topic is ambivalent. (Intelligent design) means different things to different people," Zwahlen said.

Shannon Johnson, Modesto mother of three, said she doesn't want her children taught religion in science class.

"Science versus religion is a false dichotomy. They are coming from two entirely separate spheres, as religion doesn't seek answers, it has them. Science is an ever-learning body of knowledge; it is the application of that same objectivity that gives us heart transplants, blood transfusions, and theorizes about our origins based on data," Johnson said.

Dilemma for devout teachers

Still, deeply devout Christians become teachers and find checking their faith at the door is a moral dilemma.

In Turlock, Dutcher Middle School teacher Don Moon, who teaches a math-science block, said he believes in intelligent design, but teaches evolution.

"I teach macro-evolutionary theory because it has much evidence supporting it to establish a possible explanation for some of the diversity of life found on earth. I do not teach intelligent design because it implies probable creation, which implies a creator, which is strictly forbidden in science ... Is there evidence that intelligent design has taken place? I certainly think so," Moon said in an e-mail.

"If intelligent design were to be viewed as simply aliens seeding the earth to accomplish a living planet, it certainly should be considered a viable alternative theory to evolution. Even that would be more probable than macro-evolution's explanation," Moon wrote.

Students now in high school said there was discussion of intelligent design in his class, which makes sense to Turlock Unified Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

"There's never been any discussion that talks about limiting discussion (about evolution) or broadening discussions at the district level," Da Marto said. "To the broader question of 'do you look at different theories,' well, that's what we do all the time. ... We want individual youngsters who think for themselves."

He added that he did not know if any Turlock teachers brought up the theory.

"You don't know what happens when the door closes," Da Marto said.

The same is true in Modesto schools, said Barney Hale of the Modesto Teachers Association.

"The truth is, most administrators don't know if it's being taught. They don't have the manpower to watch every class," Hale said.

One trustee, who did not wish her son identified, found out while speaking with a reporter that he learned intelligent design theory in science class.

The debate over intelligent design is a national one.

Intelligent design proponents, through the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, are waging a national campaign to include the view in science classes on equal footing with evolution.

Scientists, through the National Center for Science Education, are waging a national campaign to block their efforts.

The Oakland-based organization worked on a 2005 Pennsylvania lawsuit, Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which federal district Judge John E. Jones ruled intelligent design was religion, not science, and declared teaching it unconstitutional.

'A responsibility to respect'

Modesto High teacher Ron Vincent said he doesn't need a court case to tell him to stick to the material. Vincent, who holds bachelor's degrees from Oral Roberts University and Texas A&M, and a master's degree from Notre Dame, has taught Advanced Placement biology and philosophy courses.

"My job there is to teach curriculum and not to convert anyone to my views," Vincent said.

"Everyone has an abiding right to their point of view. ... Philosophy can be somewhat antagonistic to a person of faith," he said, adding "the diversity is staggering," in his classrooms.

"Parents basically want someone who would not be unkind to their kid, would not put down their point of view. ... There's a responsibility to respect." Vincent said. "Respect and kindness go a long way."

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or 578-2339.

New intelligent design centre launches in Britain


September 24, 2010

Intelligent design (ID) has never really gained much of a foothold in the UK - at least compared to the United States where evolution isn't as widely accepted and a high-profile think tank, the Discovery Institute, peddles its philosophies.

The newly launched Centre for Intelligent Design aims to change all that. So far the centre has a crisp-looking website and a small office in Glasgow. Its director Alistair Noble hopes to launch a series of public lectures promoting ID. The first, which he plans to announce soon, will feauture a prominent American proponent of ID. The centre has no formal connection to other ID-promoting organizations in the United States or the UK, and it is only informally linked to the Discovery Institute, Noble says.

For the time being, the organization isn't looking to promote ID in Britain's schools, Noble says. "I would stress that we're not targeting schools."

Yesterday, Britain's Department for Education, said in a statement that ID and Creationism have no place in the science curriculum.

James Gray, at the British Humanist Association, had not heard of the new ID centre, though he does not think it represents much of a sea change for ID in Britain. "There's only a small number of people who are into this kind of stuff and it tends to be same few people," he says.

Cyber Attacks Attempt to Shut Down Discovery Institute's Websites on Day of Event Challenging Darwinism


Since early this morning, the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute has faced repeated denial-of-service attacks on its server in an effort to shut down the Institute's various websites. The attacks coincided with the scheduled appearance tonight of Institute-supported scientists at the "4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin" event at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. Want to bet there is a connection?

Because of the cyber attacks, the web page providing information about tonight's event was unavailable several times today.

Last fall, Darwinist cyber bullies similarly attempted to close down the website for a conference on intelligent design in Colorado in order to prevent people from registering for the event. Fortunately, more than a thousand people showed up anyway.

Regardless of one's view of Darwinism, this sort of cyber censorship ought to be out of bounds in a free society. It's nothing less than an effort to win a debate through brute force rather than persuasion.

The more Darwinists resort to these sort of thuggish tactics to close down free discussion, the more fair-minded people are going to wonder why some Darwinists are so insecure that they don't think they can prevail unless they shut down anyone who disagrees with them.

Posted by John G. West on September 23, 2010 4:02 PM | Permalink

Recent Study Proves Supplements Do Work


The European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Big Pharma may all seem to be in cahoots to veto the future of alternative medicine and the use of natural remedies but one study from down-under brings hope for all of us. Australian researchers, from the University of Western Sydney, have found that herbal preparations and omega-3s are effective treatments against an array of illnesses including osteoarthritis, heart disease and depression. Best yet, the study also found that these treatments could save Australia more than $220m every year!

While we mustn't stop our efforts to campaign against the outrageous measures threatening our freedom to make our own health choices, there is a tiny spark of light at the end of this dark tunnel.

The European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Big Pharma may all seem to be in cahoots to veto the future of alternative medicine and the use of natural remedies but one study from down-under brings hope for all of us.

Complementary treatments effective against an array of illnesses

Australian researchers, from the University of Western Sydney, have found that herbal preparations and omega-3s are effective treatments against an array of illnesses including osteoarthritis, heart disease and depression. Best yet, the study also found that these treatments could save Australia more than $220m every year!

Now, I don't know about you, but in my eyes, $220m is a massive saving especially when we are in the midts of a global economic down-turn and governments around the world are making huge cut-backs to essential services such as healthcare.

In 2009, the Australian National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) commissioned researchers to undertake a series of studies involving complementary medicine interventions. These included:

•Acupuncture for chronic low back pain;

•St John's wort for 'mild' to 'moderate' depression;

•Omega-3 fish oils for secondary prevention of heart disease;

•Omega-3 fish oils to reduce non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drug use in rheumatoid arthritis; and

•A proprietary herbal medicine for pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.

The findings of the study were recently published in a report, Cost effectiveness of complementary medicines, and found, amongst other things, that St John's wort could be used effectively as an alternative treatment for 'mild' depression.

The researchers added that first-line treatments for depression should remain non-pharmacological, by using cognitive behaviour therapy, for example. In addition, patients receiving St John's wort would most likely still be monitored and treated by medical practitioners.

The researchers agreed that, moving forward, further work is needed to standardise St John's wort and to closely examine potential interactions with other drug treatments... At least now Australians know the option is there...

Now, if that is not forward-thinking, I don't know what is — and the saving to the Australian government will be a whopping $50m annually in anti-depression pharmaceutical spending alone... Big Pharma must be breaking out in a cold sweat after hearing this news!

The report also shows that arthritis sufferers can hugely benefit from the osteoarthritis herbal blend, Phytodolor — a herbal anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medicine, for osteoarthritis.

Phytodolor (containing aspen, ash bark and golden rod herb), was highlighted as having the potential to save $178m annually if patients taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) switched to this herbal preparation.

Apart from saving the Australian government a heap of money, arthritis sufferers will also see huge health benefits, because as we've reported time and again, NSAIDs can cause nausea, abdominal pain, heartburn, dizziness, constipation, diarrhoea and vomiting – to mention just a few common side effects.

Furthermore, acupuncture for chronic low back pain was found to be cost effective if used as a complementary therapy to standard care, which includes medication, physiotherapy, exercises and education.

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils — when used as an adjunctive treatment in people with a history of coronary heart disease — were found to reduce death and morbidity. These findings are consistent with previous international studies that have been conducted in this area.

Improving the health of the healthcare system... and so much more

It's refreshing to see that, some countries, at least, are open to the important role complementary medicine can play in improving the health of patients.

The evidence shows that complementary medicines can lower the high costs of modern health care by offering better disease prevention and effective management of chronic conditions... which ultimately, let's face it, can pay off in more ways than one — keeping people healthy (with effective treatments) and able to work in an already over- stretched healthcare system.

To quote Professor Alan Bensoussan, NICM executive director "The health of the nation and the national budget may ultimately rest on a full scientific and economic analysis of complementary medicine."

Perhaps the European Commission and EFSA should take a page from his book instead of trying every back-handed trick to stop alternative medicine and natural remedies from finding their rightful place in fighting and preventing disease.

Just think how healthy the world's population would be if governments and medical authorities started thinking along the lines of Professor Bensoussan.

EU Crackdown: Related Reading

Harmonising Maximum Permitted Levels of Supplements is a BIG Mistake...

Alzheimer's: Big Pharma Homes in on Vitamin and Supplement Market

The Scandal That Removes Your Freedom To Choose


EFSA Crackdown: Are You Taking 'Illegal Drugs' for Your Health, Without Knowing it?

Heart Disease: Statins With Your Burger and Chips?

Not Even Major Law Suits Can Stop Big Pharma in its Tracks

Slouching Toward Washington


Op-Ed Columnist
Published: September 25, 2010

Christine O'Donnell doesn't understand why monkeys can't turn into people right before her eyes.

Bill Maher continued his video torment of O'Donnell by releasing another old clip of her on his HBO show on Friday night, this time showing one in which she argued that "Evolution is a myth."

Maher shot back, "Have you ever looked at a monkey?" To which O'Donnell rebutted, "Why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?"

The comedian has a soft spot for the sweet-faced Republican Senate candidate from Delaware, but as he told me on Friday, it's "powerful stupid to think primate evolution could happen fast enough to observe it. That's bacteria.

"I find it so much more damaging than the witch stuff because she could be in a position to make decisions about scientific issues, like global warming and stem cells, and she thinks primate evolution can happen in a week and mice have human brains."

In the Republican primary, O'Donnell beat Congressman Mike Castle, who had the temerity to support stem-cell research and acknowledge global warming. O'Donnell's numbers are dropping, while Castle is still beating the Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, by almost 20 points in a theoretical matchup.

In 2007, O'Donnell frantically warned Bill O'Reilly, "American scientific companies are crossbreeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."

The field of human-animal experiments is dubbed "chimera" research, named for the she-monster in Greek mythology that has a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail.

Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, did the first experiments injecting human brain-forming stem cells into the brains of immune-deficient mice 10 years ago.

He assured me that the mice did not suddenly start acting human. "There were no requests for coffee from Minnie," he said. "The total number of human brain cells in the mouse brain was less than one in a thousand. I don't think we would get a mouse with a full human brain. And even if the mouse made it to a human mouse it would still have a mouse-brain offspring."

Dr. Weissman is sensitive to ethical questions and has tried to ensure that "the nightmare scenario" won't happen: putting embryonic stem cells into mice at the earliest stages, which could give rise to every tissue in the body including human sperm and eggs, which could lead to two mice mating and the early formation of human fetuses in the body of a mouse.

He is working toward breakthroughs on multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, strokes, breast cancer and a host of other diseases, and is worried by the retrogressive attitude about science and medicine among the new crop of Tea Partiers.

Sarah Palin will believe global warming is a hoax until she's doing aerial hunting of wolves underwater. And in a 2009 clip, Sharron Angle, the Republican Senate candidate from Nevada, suggested that autism — a word she uttered with air quotes — is a phony rubric. She suggested that people are taking advantage of such maladies to get extra health benefits, adding that she doesn't see why she should have to subsidize maternity benefits for other people either, especially since, as she said, she's not having any more babies.

Dr. Weissman said, "The question they should be asked is, if it were their child or wife or selves or parents and there was this whole list of diseases treated by stem cells, would they deny these therapies?"

Maybe the problem is not so much chimeras in science as chimeras in politics.

We seem beset with spellbinding hybrids with the looks of Fox News anchors, the brains of mice and the power of changing the direction of the country.

President Obama was supposed to be a giant leap forward in modernity, the brainy, rational first black president leading us out of the scientific darkness of the W. years. But by letting nutters get a foothold, he may usher us into the past.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Jim DeMint and some Tea Party types don't merely yearn for the country they idealize from the 1950s. They want to go back to the 1750s.

Joe Miller, the Palin-blessed Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska, suggests that Social Security is unconstitutional because it wasn't in the Constitution. The Constitution is a dazzling document, but do these originalists really think things haven't changed since then? If James Madison beamed down now, he would no doubt be stunned at the idea that America had evolved so far but was hemming itself in by the strictest interpretation of his handiwork. He might even tweet about it.

Evolution is no myth, but we may be evolving backward. Christine O'Donnell had better hope they don't bring back witch burning.

Alternative medicine a prickly subject



Many patients turn to alternative medicine. But such treatment may not be covered.
By Tammy Worth, Special to the Los Angeles Times

September 27, 2010

There are few things more frustrating than finding a health care treatment that works for you — a chiropractic adjustment that relieves nagging lower back pain or a yoga class that helps reduce anxiety — only to find that your insurance won't pay for it.

But this is often the case when using products and services deemed "alternative" or "complementary medicine."

Most individuals with private insurance have little, if any, coverage for alternative medicine. Those with employer-based insurance often have some coverage, but it typically applies only to a few select treatments and comes with more stipulations — like higher deductibles and preauthorization — than traditional care.

This is in spite of the fact that alternative medicine is rapidly moving into the mainstream. Americans spend more than $33 billion annually on complementary treatments, amounting to just over 11% of the total out-of-pocket health care spending in the United States, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Much of this spending likely comes from people who are insured.

"Folks who have had really good insurance expect that all kinds of treatments will be covered," said Janet Shaffer, a licensed acupuncturist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., which is affiliated with Duke University. "People often end up disappointed."

What is covered varies according to a number of different factors, including the employer, the insurance provider and even geography.

At Blue Shield of California, most of the PPO plans include some chiropractic and acupuncture coverage, said Julie Lintz, the company's senior network management specialist in San Francisco. The company began offering chiropractic benefits about 25 years ago and has added coverage for other non-traditional services as demand has grown.

"Customers have increasingly asked for alternative benefits," she said. "Being proactive about staying healthy is important in keeping costs down."

Across the board, the alternative treatments insurers are most likely to cover are chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy, all of which have been validated by medical studies.

"The common factor for chiropractic, massage and acupuncture is that there is evidence that these have therapeutic value for certain conditions," says Mark Slitt, a spokesman for Cigna Corp. in Bloomfield, Conn.

The Cigna plans that cover chiropractic care do so for most conditions. Those with acupuncture coverage only provide it in some cases, such as to treat chronic pain and nausea related to chemotherapy or pregnancy. Cigna also covers massage therapy when used in conjunction with another approved treatment for chronic pain or physical therapy.

Other, lesser-known therapies are not covered because there is no "proven evidence of therapeutic value," Slitt says.

Aetna Inc. covers the same three services on some of its plans, with similar stipulations, says spokeswoman Anjie Coplin.

For members of Kaiser Permanente's health maintenance organization, complementary and alternative treatments typically aren't covered under employer-sponsored and individual plans. If an employer chooses, they can add a supplemental plan to their coverage for services like chiropractic or acupuncture. Otherwise, a treatment is only covered if it is ordered by a primary care physician, which does not happen frequently, according to Jim Anderson, a Kaiser spokesperson in Oakland.

Like other insurers, Blue Shield requires its providers to go through a credentialing process. Credentialing for PPO network providers is handled in-house; for HMO providers, it is taken care of by a company called American Specialty Health Inc., a specialty benefit plan provider that works with many insurers.

American Specialty ensures that all providers have proper education, a valid license, and haven't been hit with state sanctions or malpractice claims, according to Douglas Metz, the company's chief health services officer.

Insurance companies sometimes offer their members discounts for alternative medicine, even when the treatments aren't covered as part of their plans.

For instance, Blue Shield offers a 25% discount for services such as massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture as long as they are offered through the American Specialty network. They also offer discounts of up to 40% on vitamins and natural supplements, fitness and yoga equipment, health books and DVDs.

Aetna customers can get discounts of at least 25% for chiropractic visits and other treatments. Through an Aetna website, they can buy more than 2,400 health-related products — including aromatherapy, homeopathic remedies and herbal supplements — at reduced cost.

Cigna Healthy Rewards program gives members discounts on natural supplements, subscriptions to Yoga Journal, and other products and services, Slitt says.

Even if your health insurance plan doesn't cover alternative therapies, there are things you can do to get the most out of your policy.

First, if you want to use a treatment that isn't covered, ask your insurer if there are conditions under which you might get approval. For instance, some plans pay for acupuncture to help reduce nausea in patients on chemotherapy.

Also, if you can show that conventional treatments have not worked for your condition, you might be able to get approval for complementary ones.

Another way to reduce the cost of alternative treatments is to pay for them with pre-tax dollars from your flexible spending account. To find out which treatments qualify, check with the IRS. (Last year, for instance, acupuncture and chiropractic services were eligible, as were nutritional supplements recommended by a doctor to treat a specific condition.)

Finally, some insurers offer a rider benefit that can add coverage for alternative treatments to your insurance policy for an extra fee. Kaiser Permanente, for one, offers a chiropractic rider. Whether this would be a worthwhile option depends upon the cost of the rider, the charge for the services and how frequently you use them.

And if all else fails, be the squeaky wheel. Shaffer said she once worked with a group of nurses who were able to boost the number of acupuncture visits covered in their plan just by asking.


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