NTS LogoSkeptical News for 7 October 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, October 07, 2010

So that's why Koch funded a major evolution exhibit


Category: Environment • Evolution • Politics
Posted on: October 7, 2010 12:27 PM, by PZ Myers

I was mystified why Chief Teabagger David Koch would invest so much in a Smithsonian exhibit on human evolution — usually those knuckledraggers object to people putting their ancestry on display. An explanation is at hand, though: his big issue is denying the significance of global climate change, and the exhibit is tailored to make climate change look like a universal good.

There are some convincing examples of the subterfuge being perpetrated. There is a big emphasis on how evolutionary changes were accompanied by (or even caused by) climate shifts, which evolutionary biologists would see as almost certainly true, and so it slides right past us. But, for instance, what they do is illustrate the temperature changes in a graph covering the last 10 million years, which makes it easy to hide the very abrupt and rapid rise in the last few centuries. They also elide over an obvious fact: we'd rather not experience natural selection. Climate change may have shaped our species, but it did so by killing us, by pushing populations around on the map, by famine and disease, by conflict and chaos. Evolution happened. That doesn't mean we liked it.

I suppose it wouldn't leap out at an evolutionary biologist because it is true: there have been temperature fluctuations and long term changes that have hit our species hard, and nobody is denying it. However, it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that we should therefore look forward to melting icecaps and flooding seaboards and intensified storms. It's probably also worth pointing out that our technological civilization is certainly more fragile than anything we've had before. The fact that we could be knocked back to a stone age level of technology without going extinct is not a point in favor of welcoming global warming.

Now we have a new question: how did this devious agenda get past the directors of the Smithsonian?

Searching for an alternative medicine center? Look no further



Published: Oct 6, 2010 20:50 Updated: Oct 6, 2010 20:50

If you prefer natural and alternative medicine over allopathic living here in the Kingdom, you have probably noticed that certified centers are hard to find. Look no further, as the Riyadh-Chinese Medical Center (RCMC) in Jeddah, founded by Dr Abdulrahman Al-Znaidy and Nouf Mohammed Al-Marwaai, has all that you want.

The center is just a perfectly furnished cozy place with a classic Indian and contemporary feel situated in Al-Hamra District. Staffed by seven friendly experts from four countries, RCMC is providing yoga classes as well as Ayurvedic, Thai, Chinese and Japanese treatments. Some good news for women is that the center also provides herbal massages that enhance beauty.

Al-Marwaai is not only a yoga and Ayurveda expert, but is also a clinical psychologist and lifestyle counselor there. Dr. Sunil Francis, Dr. Dip Varghese and Dr. Sunil Kumar are Indian Ayurvedic experts at the center. Dr. Situ and Dr. Wang Dwan are acupuncturists and have master's degrees in Chinese medicine. Japanese-born Mika Yoshikawa is a Thai massage master and an Ayurvedic medicine therapist.

Ayurveda is an ancient natural medical system that originated in India, which is fast gaining popularity as a source of alternative medicine throughout the world now. It provides a holistic approach to health, healing and longevity. It is supposed to be the oldest health care system on earth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also certified Ayurvedam as a complementary and alternative medicine system. "Ayurveda is more than a system of medicine, it is a way of life that aims at physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being. Ayurveda recommends the means of prevention and treatment of various ailments, and also the preservation of health. Ayurved views man and nature as complementary elements, unlike allopathy, which is based on functional and field oriented studies," said Dr. Francis.

So, is Ayurveda a smarter choice?

"It depends on cases. At times we refer patients to allopathic but in some cases, like nervous system disorders, back problems, slipped or prolapsed disks and joints, Ayurveda is the best choice," said Al-Marwaai.

"In some cases we advise Chinese acupuncture with Ayurvedic treatment or without. Also, sometimes it depends on the desire of patients who want only Ayurvedic or only Chinese treatments according to their preferences or experience."

Yoga is known for its medical benefits, especially with regard to stress release, back and neck pain, tummy control, joint problems, anger management and the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems. It is also known for enhancing the beauty of a person.

"Yoga is a mental, emotional and body toner. Its practitioners have balanced personality and experience less anger because of their high endurance level and respond well to changes in life because yoga helps the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and balances both of them, so yogis are active, alert and calm at the same time," she said.

She added that yoga has age defying effects. "Aging is a process that occurs in the endocrine system first, where changes and deterioration take place in the function of endocrine and central nervous system. Practicing yoga and breathing techniques with some meditation at any age helps to enhance and protects the central nervous system and endocrine system. That's why yoga practitioners and teachers look younger than their actual age," she said.

She continued that yoga enhances the production and function of collagen and elasticity of the skin, while the breathing techniques purifies the blood and removes toxins, while skin looks younger and healthier. It helps the flexibility and function of the joints and muscles and shapes the body. It helps to stabilize melatonin production so yogis do not experience sleeping disorders and depression. It reduces cholesterol and waistline fat by reducing stress because it strengthens the nerves, lowering emotional and physical sensitivity. Yoga reduces the effects of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) so women stay active and experience fewer changes before menstruation, as well as boosting their energy and helping them have a balanced menstrual cycle. Also, it reduces menopause symptoms by protecting and activating the endocrine and nervous systems, which are very important during this time.

She teaches yoga for kids too as she believes it helps children in their physical, psychological and physiological development. Kids' yoga has three stages. It starts for children aged three to five, then six to eight and lastly from nine to 12.

"Children have soft and flexible bones and tissues but don't know how to use them properly," she said.

"Yoga provides them with more control over their body systems, including the nervous, respiratory, digestive, circulatory and muscular and skeletal systems. It develops a balanced personality in a child. Yoga helps in the growth of their body, develops the functions of connective tissues and reduces the effects of the injuries easily. It enhances muscles coordination and lubrication of joints," she said.

The center is also providing traditional Ayurvedic treatments and massages, herbal face massages, spinal neck care programs and other therapies.

It also offers Chinese medicine and treatments including acupuncture and Thai massages.

Among the prominent treatments offered at RCMC are herbal massages that stimulate and rejuvenates various body systems, lubricates the joints, relieves muscular pains, improves sleep, brightens skin complexion, harmonizes the body, mind and spirit and helps to eliminate toxins.

More popular are powder massages, which improves circulation and enhances the skin's texture and appearance, making it blemish-free and perfectly smooth. It is also the best choice for body slimming and weight loss.

The best option for people with lower back pain is Kateevasti. This treatment is useful for chronic and acute backaches, a prolapsed disc, lumbar spondylosis, osteoporosis and gynecological problems.

Sirodhara is more appropriate for depressed people. It relieves stresses and strains, anxiety, chronic headaches, hypertension, improves blood circulation to the brain and slows aging, improves memory and eyesight, prevents and cures paralysis, insomnia, nervous disorders and certain psychiatric diseases as well as increasing sexual potential. According to scientific research, allopathic anti-depressants can produce suicidal instincts, while yoga and Ayurvedic treatments are free from side-effects.

Prices range between SR70 to SR2,500 depending upon the treatment and package.

Al-Marwaai is extremely satisfied from the feedback from her clients.

"I have American, European, Asian, African and Arab clients. Saudis are very happy to have a center here as a lot of them travel to India or China for these treatments," she says.

RCMC has another five-year-old branch in Riyadh that does not provide yoga and Ayurvedic treatments currently, although it will be offered soon.

Open everyday except Fridays,

from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m.

Phone: 02 6653885

Creation lecturer to talk in Canton


EVENT AT SCHOOL: Church rented space; district is not sponsor

CANTON — Miles E. Manchester's eyebrows went up when he saw a recent notice about a lecture on creationism scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the Canton Central School auditorium.

As a former school board member at Brushton-Moira Central School and as someone who bears some emotional and psychological scars from his own religious upbringing, the notice jumped out at him.

"I'm just suspicious of the purpose and motivation," he said in an e-mail.

Regardless of the feelings of individual board members or school officials, the district had no choice in allowing First Baptist Church to sponsor a lecture by Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International, which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

"If the school was sponsoring it, that would be a different story," Superintendent William A. Gregory said. "We're just providing a venue in accordance with school board policy and law. We can't discriminate."

The school board passed a policy in 2004 which allows use of its facilities by recognized civic, social, fraternal and religious organizations in accordance with law. The school is charging the church its fee for non-profit groups using the auditorium.

"We have to be open to all. It's all or nothing at all," board President Barbara B. Beekman said. "You can't just pick and choose."

According to the creation group's website, it believes that the account of origins in Genesis is fact and that life forms were made as a direct act of God.

The school district teaches evolution.

The church does not wish to suggest a school district endorsement in holding the lecture at the school, said Rev. J. Frederick Sykes, pastor. It simply wanted a public place for Mr. Sarfati's lecture on "Leaving Your Brains at the Church Door."

"Our main thinking was we wanted something outside of a church," the Rev. Mr. Sykes said. "We wanted to make it available to people in the community who might not want to go into a church but who might be interested."

Mr. Sarfati, co-editor of "Creation" magazine, also will speak at 7 p.m. Saturday at College Life Center, 57 Market St., Potsdam, at 11 a.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church, Canton, and at 6 p.m. Sunday at Fellowship Baptist Church, Canton.

A chess master, Mr. Sarfati will also appear at a chess challenge from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Silas Wright House, 3 E. Main St., Canton.


Creation magazine:


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Creationists Destroy Creationism with Their Own Words


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project Posted: October 6, 2010 03:17 AM

It's certainly not news that absolutely crazy things are regularly uttered in defense of creationism. For example, Christine O'Donnell's claim that evolution is a myth, with her supposed evidence being her question, "Why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?" has, thanks to Bill Maher, received widespread attention.

The fact is, though, that while such bizarre opinions by extremists like O'Donnell shed a great deal of light on their intellectual prowess, those statements have little to teach us about creationism itself. To really learn about creationism, we have to turn to the creationists themselves rather than their supporters.

When we do just that, two things are immediately apparent. First, many of the statements written by leading creationists are so absolutely clear that there's no danger in anyone misinterpreting their intent. Second, the positions staked out by these creationist luminaries are so incredibly extreme that readers can't help but understand the radical agenda that's being promoted while recognizing that such an agenda, if broadly adopted, would do great damage to both religion and science.

There's a rich and varied history of this sort of creationist inanity. For instance, the Reverend T.T. Martin, the founder of The Anti-Evolution League, wrote the following in his 1923 book Hell and the High School:

The German soldiers who killed Belgian and French children with poisoned candy were angels compared with the teachers and textbook writers who corrupted the souls of children with false teaching and thereby sentenced them to eternal death.

And in 1977 the Creation Science Research Center laid a host of problems directly at the feet of evolution when, in their publication, The Creation Report, they asserted that the teaching of evolution has led to "the moral decay of spiritual values which contributes to the destruction of mental health and ... the prevalence of divorce, abortion, and rampant venereal disease."

Similarly, in 1998, the Discovery Institute, one of the best funded creationist advocacy groups in the world, helped everyone understand their intent in a document they called "The Wedge." Promoting the virtues of intelligent design, they noted that "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

But I don't want to focus on those statements today. Rather, I want to highlight more recent creationist statements that, while being no less dangerous, are less political. In particular, I want to focus your attention on two assertions demonstrating how creationists view the role of scientific experimentation and data acquisition in shaping creationism.

My first example comes from the newly opened, United-Kingdom-based Centre for Intelligent Design. A paragraph from an article in The Guardian nicely explains the impetus for the Centre's creation:

The Centre for Intelligent Design features a video introduction from Dr Alastair Noble, who has argued that ID should not be excluded from the study of origins. He says, among other things, that he is part of a network of people who are "dissatisfied with the pervading Darwinian explanation of origins and are attracted to the much more credible position of intelligent design" and criticise the "strident strain of science" that says the only acceptable explanations are those depending on "physical and materialistic processes".

Like the Discovery Institute before them, the Centre for Intelligent Design rails against science's insistence that it focus on materialistic rather than supernatural processes. Both want a wholesale redefinition of science.

But let's go a step deeper than the Centre's introductory video and see what they have to say about future work and what they conclude about scientific investigation. In the portion of their web page entitled "Intelligent Design is Science," they make the following, most extraordinary claim:

In one sense, research work that supports ID is not the central issue. ID is essentially an interpretation of the data that already exists. There is not much point in gathering more information if you already have enough on which to base your hypothesis.

Since every scientist understands that science proceeds by disproof rather than proof, that any future study might provide compelling data that will demand a reinterpretation of existing scientific ideas, you won't find them saying, "There is not much point in gathering more information" about anything other than concepts that have been conclusively disproven.

Let me turn to my second example because philosophically, it takes the Centre's statements to its logical conclusion, even though temporally it was made before the Centre was incorporated. Last year Phi Kappa Phi Forum focused its spring issue on the question of origins. I was honored to have been invited to write an essay for the issue on the importance of evolution. The piece immediately following mine was written by two staff members from Answers in Genesis, the group that has brought us the $27 million creation-museum-cum-theme-park outside Cincinnati.

Georgia Purdom and Jason Lisle make an astounding admission in a sidebar to their article. The title to the sidebar was "Rationally Resolving the Debate," and I believe that their first two paragraphs absolutely do resolve any lingering debate about the nature of creationism while demonstrating its distance from science. I take issue with the title, however, because there is nothing rational about their position. Here's what they had to say, so decide for yourself:

Evolutionists and creationists have a different ultimate standard by which they evaluate and interpret physical evidence such as stars, fossils, and DNA.

The biblical creationist takes the Bible as the ultimate standard -- an approach which the Bible itself endorses (Proverbs 1:7, Hebrews 6:13). The evolutionist embraces a competing philosophy instead such as naturalism (the belief that natural causes and laws can explain all phenomena) or empiricism (the belief that experience, especially the senses, is the source of all knowledge).

The Bible is the ultimate standard for evaluating scientific claims? Such an assertion from what is probably the world's largest creationist organization doesn't even need a scientific rebuttal. All by itself, it has accomplished what no scientist could possibly do as convincingly: it has removed all forms of creationism from the scientific enterprise.

Creationists themselves regularly make statements of this sort that deserve wider attention. Please share your favorite creationist embarrassment in the comments section below. To be fair, please provide the full quotation along with a citation. Let's let creationists speak for themselves, and let's let their own words destroy their pseudoscientific position.

Books & More From Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Tracking Down the Quotes John Wise Invented for Michael Behe


In my prior post, I noted that John Wise's online response to Discovery Institute used invented quotes from Michael Behe's Dover testimony. In one case, this was understandable since Wise was simply copying a misquote from Judge Jones (who copied it from the ACLU). But there's another invented misquote from Behe's Dover testimony whose origin is more puzzling. Wise stated:

During the Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education trial, Prof. Michael Behe - a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, stated under oath that "under the broad definition of science that ID proponents prefer, astrology also qualifies as science".

I tried finding the words attributed to Behe in the Dover trial transcript, but could not. The quote Wise attributed to Behe does not exist. Read Behe's testimony where this issue is discussed--the quote isn't there.

In fact as of today, there are only two hits on Google that contain that quote--and they are both from documents produced by Dr. Wise. Wherever Dr. Wise got this quote, it wasn't from any testimony given by Behe at Dover.

In an attempt to verify whether the quote existed, I contacted Dr. Wise to ask him for the source. His reply to me did not provide any source for the quote. He also did not admit any error. However, soon after I sent my inquiry, the quote marks around the erroneous quote mysteriously disappeared from Wise's online response. (You can still see a screenshot of the original version of Wise's page with the misquote here.)

Moreover, the quote Wise invented for Behe remains: Wise continues to attribute the non-existent quote to Behe in a different online lecture, still available here.

And of course Wise's scrubbing of the quote marks into a paraphrase still distorts Behe's actual meaning. Here's what Behe actually said, which is far less contentious (and much less interesting, frankly) than Wise's misrepresentation:

Q. Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A. Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.

(Michael Behe, October 18 Testimony, PM Session, pp. 38-39.)

So what really happened at Dover with regards to "astrology"? Of course Behe and all ID scientists reject astrology, something we see above that Behe made clear at trial.

Wise claims that astrology falls under Behe's definition of a science. What Wise fails to acknowledge is that 500 years ago, the ancient scientific consensus would have claimed (erroneously) that astrology even meets the U.S. National Academy of Science's definition of a scientific theory, as "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses." Put the anti-ID NAS on the stand and they would have to admit that 500 years ago, the consensus would have claimed astrology fit their definition of science. Does that mean the NAS supports astrology? Of course not.

The problem with astrology is not that it could have fit the NAS's definition of a scientific theory, or Michael Behe's definition of a scientific theory 500 years ago--for something that is "science" can still be wrong. Behe makes this point clear--the history of science is littered with disproven theories.

The problem with astrology is that it is not supported by the evidence. That is why, unlike ID, no serious scientists are advocating astrology as a good theory which could be presented to students in science classrooms. For more information, see:

500 Years Ago, Geocentrism & Astrology Would have Fit NAS definition of "Theory"!

It's also important to note that there's nothing really scandalous about Behe's definition of science Contrary to popular Dover myths, Behe's definition of science did not require the supernatural. In fact, Behe made it clear at trial that ID does not require the supernatural:

Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether intelligent design requires the action of a supernatural creator?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. And what is that opinion?

A. No, it doesn't.

(Michael Behe, October 17 Testimony, AM Session, p. 86.)

What is more, ID meets much narrower definitions of science than Behe's definition offered at trial. For example, ID uses the scientific method. For details, see:

FAQ: Does intelligent design theory implement the scientific method?

•For a comprehensive rebuttal to the Dover ruling, see Intelligent Design Will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover or Traipsing Into Evolution

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 6, 2010 6:14 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Britain's libel fighter


October 4, 2010

British science writer Simon Singh wrote two sentences in 2008 that ended up costing him £200 000. Singh doesn't regret writing them, however, because those 51 words may also end up helping to change Britain's draconian libel laws, which are infamous for stifling public debate on important topics in medicine and science.

Singh, who has a PhD in particle physics, is the author of several best-selling books, including Fermat's Last Theorem and Big Bang. He also produces documentaries and has received several awards for making complex topics in mathematics and science accessible to the public. In 2008, Singh and Dr. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine, published a book called Trick or Treatment?, which evaluates the scientific evidence supporting alternative medical treatments, including acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

"We are not anti-alternative medicine," says Singh. "We are pro-evidence."

To promote the book, Singh gave lectures and wrote articles on the topics it covered. One of those articles, a commentary published in The Guardian newspaper during Chiropractic Awareness Week, challenged claims made by the British Chiropractic Association that spinal manipulation could treat many childhood health problems (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/19/controversiesinscience-health).

"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence," wrote Singh. "This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

These two sentences did not sit well with the British Chiropractic Association. The Guardian offered the association an opportunity to reply to Singh's commentary, but it refused. Instead, it asked for a personal apology from Singh — an apology it would not receive.

"I was not prepared to apologize for saying things that are true," says Singh.

The association then decided to sue Singh for libel. A preliminary hearing was held at the Royal Courts of Justice on May 7, 2009, during which the judge ruled that Singh had stated — as a matter of fact, rather than opinion — that the British Chiropractic Association was being consciously dishonest by promoting treatments it knew didn't work. This was not a fair interpretation, says Singh, who insisted he had merely offered his opinion on the scientific merit of the treatments, not on the honesty of the association, which would be impossible to prove or disprove.

"The trouble with libel in Britain is that it is so stacked against the writer," says Singh. "Any journalist, from day one, has to fight an uphill battle."

Britain's libel laws are notorious the world over for stifling free speech. The laws favour the complainant so much, in fact, that the United Kingdom is known as the "libel capital of the world" and has become a popular destination for "libel tourism." An investment bank in Iceland once sued a Danish newspaper for libel in England. A rich Russian businessman once took New York-based Forbes Magazine to a British court for libel. As long as a company has business dealings in Britain and the offending media article or book can be read by potential customers (even on the Internet), it can sue a journalist anywhere in the world for libel in the United Kingdom.

"Britain is crushing free speech in the rest of the world," says Singh. "People who have genuine concerns about drugs won't put those concerns into print because of the threat of libel."

Supporters of free speech in scientific debate quickly rallied around Singh. To draw attention to the case, the charity Sense About Science launched its "Keep Libel Laws out of Science" campaign (www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/341/). Dr. Ben Goldacre, author of the popular "Bad Science" column in The Guardian, wrote that the public is put at great risk when debate is discouraged in the field of medicine (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/15/simon-singh-libel-medical-review).

"But most damnable is that this case has taken place in the arena of medicine, where reasonable criticism of each others' practises should never be stifled, for one simple reason: it's possible, in medicine, to do enormous harm, even when you set out with the best of intentions," wrote Goldacre.

Singh appealed the judge's decision and, on April 1, 2010, the Court of Appeal ruled that Singh's criticisms of the British Chiropractic Association were "fair comment." Two weeks later, the association dropped its charges of libel against Singh. Though the case cost him £200 000 in legal fees, and two years worth of work, Singh believes it may serve as a turning point in the battle to reform Britain's libel laws.

The case bolstered support for the Libel Reform Campaign, a cause organized by several free speech advocacy groups (www.libelreform.org). The government has also taken notice. All three political parties have promised to reassess Britain's libel laws. High-profile libel cases such as Singh's may also have been a factor in the passing of a new US law, signed by president Barack Obama in August, to protect US writers from being sued for libel in other countries. The law is based on New York's Libel Terrorism Protection Act, passed in 2008 after a Saudi Arabian businessman sued a US academic for libel in a British court.

Singh would like to see Britain adopt a law permitting a defence of public interest in cases of libel. This would permit writers more freedom to discuss medical and scientific topics of importance to society without fear of being sued. He also wants the government to reduce the costs of defending against charges of libel, which are so high that many people can't afford to even try. Overall, however, the future is looking brighter for science and medical writers in Britain, says Singh. "I genuinely believe that the libel laws will change in England, which will have global significance."

DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-3673— Roger Collier, CMAJ

Homeopathy: cure or placebo?

Staff writer

Homeopathy recently came under the spotlight after Science Council of Japan President Ichiro Kanazawa urged medical workers to refrain from using the more than 200-year-old form of alternative medicine, calling it "ignorance of science" and "absurd."

Kanazawa's Aug. 24 comments were a response to last year's death of an infant girl in Yamaguchi Prefecture who died of a vitamin K deficiency when a midwife allegedly gave her a homeopathic remedy instead of the vitamin.

Nine medical groups, including the Japan Medical Association and the Japanese Associations of Medical Sciences, promptly supported Kanazawa's stance, calling on members to steer clear of homeopathy.

Homeopathic groups released counterarguments on their websites, arguing that many illnesses have been cured by the practice and that the evidence more than counts as scientific proof.

Homeopathy is used worldwide and has been spreading in Japan since the late 1990s, experts say.

Following are basic questions and answers on homeopathy.

What is homeopathy?

Established in the late 18th century by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is a system of medicine based on the principle that "like cures like."

In other words, an illness can be treated by taking highly diluted substances that cause similar symptoms in a healthy body.

For example, extracts from coffee can be used to treat insomnia, according to the "Homeopathy Self Care Bible" by physician Hiroe Nakamura.

Today, more than 3,000 different kinds of flora, fauna and minerals are used as materials for making homeopathic remedies, Nakamura claims.

Among them are substances such as mercury, aconite and breast cancer tissue. Extracts from the substances are heavily diluted with water and alcohol to the point that there is hardly a chance for even a single molecule of the original substance to be left in the water, experts say.

It is then soaked into tablets made of sugar and used as medicine in homeopathic remedies.

According to the website of the Japanese Physicians Society for Homeopathy, the practice is a system of treatment that develops self-healing powers. In this way, all illnesses that can be healed by such powers can be treated by homeopathy, it claims.

Another book by Nakamura titled "Homeopathy" says that the treatment has helped ease symptoms of atopic dermatitis and rheumatism.

If there is no trace of the original substance left in the liquid, how does it work?

Homeopathy practitioners claim it works because the water retains a "memory" of the original substance.

Homeopathic principle has it that the more diluted the substance, the more powerful and effective the medicine.

Scientists criticize such medicines for lacking factual evidence to support the claims and call it a placebo instead.

Kanazawa of the Science Council of Japan, who also serves as the physician to Emperor Akihito, said in the statement that homeopathic medicine is "just water," therefore "it has neither therapeutic effects nor side effects."

If there are no side effects, why did the SCJ urge health workers to refrain from using the treatment?

Although there are no data on the size of the homeopathy market in Japan, both practitioners and opponents of the therapy say that use of the alternative medicine has spread rapidly in recent years.

Kanazawa of the SCJ noted that one big concern is that is people may stop taking conventional medicines.

How many people turn to homeopathy in Japan?

The exact number is unknown, but the membership rosters of homeopathic groups indicate it is not small.

The Japanese Homeopathic Medical Association, founded in 1998, has more than 1,000 members. Among them, about 560 are approved by the association as homeopaths, or those who perform homeopathic treatment.

The association has 250 homeopathy centers across the nation where they conduct consultations. To be eligible for therapy, patients must become members of Tora no Ko Kai, a support club. Full membership costs ¥2,000 a year, and there are about 50,000 registered members, the association said.

Another homeopathic association, JPSH, has more than 400 physicians, veterinarians, dentists and pharmacists.

There are currently 11 schools in Japan that specialize in training people to become homeopaths, according to the JPSH.

How much does it cost to receive homeopathic treatment?

As there are no regulations for setting prices on therapy, the cost differs from practitioner to practitioner.

The Obitsu Sankei Seminary Clinic in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district charges ¥18,000 for an initial medical consultation, ¥6,000 for a followup exam, and ¥2,000 per medicine, regardless of amount, the JPSH said.

During consultations or examinations, physicians or homeopaths ask patients not only about their illnesses, but also about their lifestyles, mental states and other factors so they can provide a holistic treatment, according to the JPSH website. After the consultation, a homeopath will prescribe medicines.

For those who prefer self-treatment, homeopathic medicine can be purchased online at such websites as Neal's Yard Remedies. A 14-gram bottle of homeopathic medicine costs ¥3,255, while a set of 42 different medicines is currently priced at ¥23,940.

How popular is homeopathy in other countries?

According to the JPSH, homeopathy is practiced in over 80 countries, and in Europe, about 30 percent of people use homeopathy as a form of health care.

In Britain, homeopathic medicine has been funded by the National Health Service since its inception in 1948, although the treatment has remained controversial.

Earlier this year, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee called on the NHS to stop funding homeopathic treatment, saying that there was no scientific evidence to prove it works and that it only produces a placebo effect.

The Department of Health, however, decided to continue the funding.

Are there any celebrities known to use the therapy?

Britain's Prince Charles is widely known to be a fan. In Japan, singer Sunplaza Nakano-kun is a homeopath and has published a book on the topic. Recently, actress Erika Sawajiri praised the treatment in fashion magazine Glamorous.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk

Monday, October 04, 2010

Responding to John Wise's Table Pounding at Southern Methodist University


There's an old saying in the law that goes like this: When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the facts are not on your side, pound the table. If the responses to Discovery Institute's recent conference at Southern Methodist University (SMU) are any indication, the facts are not on the side of anti-ID faculty at SMU.

To be more precise, SMU biology lecturer John Wise wrote a letter to the SMU Daily, co-authored with SMU anthropology professor Ronald Wetherington, which made no less than 8 express or implied accusations of "dishonesty" against Discovery Institute.*** In 7 instances they claimed ID is pseudoscience or religion.*** Quite a feat for an under-700 word op-ed. His online response is no different. I wouldn't want to be Dr. Wise's table.

To be fair, Dr. Wise does attempt to pound some facts in his response. For example, his online responses to ID include quotes from Michael Behe. But some of these are invented quotes. In one case, which will be discussed in a forthcoming blog, Dr. Wise himself appears to have been the sole originator and sole user of an invented quote he attributes to Behe.

Regardless, nearly all of Dr. Wise's substantive arguments have been rebutted long ago by ID proponents. This is in large part because many of Dr. Wise's arguments appear borrowed from Ken Miller, or even Wikipedia. But before I provide a brief list of some of Dr. Wise's errors and mistakes (with links to responses), try this exercise for fun: Contrast Dr. Wise's table-pounding (see his /letter or his online response) with some of our prior responses to Dr. Wise or Dr. Wetherington from the past couple years.

While their writings are liberally sprinkled with ad hominem attacks like "dishonesty" or "deception," etc., you won't find those words anywhere in our responses to them. Our rebuttals take the high road, employing objective scientific discussions devoid of personal attacks. Collectively they cite to dozens of sources in the mainstream scientific literature.

At the end of the day, however, table-pounding is only a likely indicator of who is right, and who is angry. To make a final determination, we must undertake an investigation of the evidence. Below is a brief discussion of 14 assorted errors in Dr. Wise's online rebuttal to Discovery Institute's recent "4 Nails in the Coffin" event at SMU. This decidedly non-exhaustive list of errors is sorted into three categories: errors of science (9), errors of law (1), and errors of table-pounding (4).

Part I: Errors of Science

Error 1: Missing Fossils from his "list of the different fish-amphibian transitions"

Dr. Wise name-drops a series of 9 fossils allegedly showing "fish-amphibian transitions." He lists the fossils in chronological order. However, his list has a major omission: it's missing any mention of tetrapod tracks at 397 Ma, found before any of the other fossils in the list which are supposed potential ancestors of modern tetrapods. As Philippe Janvier and Gaël Clément put it in Nature, these tracks "lob a grenade" into common wisdom about tetrapod evolution. Or, as Henry Gee put it, these tracks, first reported in January, 2010, imply that "an enormous evolutionary void has opened beneath our feet." For details, see:

•Philippe Janvier & Gaël Clément, "Muddy tetrapod origins," Nature 463:40-41 (January 7, 2010).

•Rex Dalton, "Discovery pushes back date of first four-legged animal," Nature news (January 6, 2010)

•Henry Gee, "First Footing," (January 6, 2010)

Evolutionary Biologists Are Unaware of Their Own Arguments: Reappraising Nature's Prized "Gem," Tiktaalik

Error 2: Discovery Institute Has Never Asserted "there are no transitional intermediates"

Dr. Wise claims that Discovery Institute would "assert that there are no transitional intermediates between forms or species." He provides no quote from anyone at Discovery Institute actually saying anything like that. In contrast, some Discovery Institute fellows, such as Michael Behe, accept common ancestry. While transitional fossils are rare and many overhyped intermediate fossils are of dubious significance, no one would say that there is not a single transitional intermediate fossil known from the fossil record. For details, see:

Ken Miller's Only a Theory Attacks Straw Man Version of Intelligent Design on Common Descent

Error 3: Overstating the Molecular Evidence for Common Ancestry

In response to Discovery Institute's non-existent claim that "there are no transitional intermediates," Dr. Wise states "there is an enormous amount of scientific evidence in addition to the fossil record that supports 'common descent'." He then cites "commonalities as the common genetic code," "the huge number of related protein families," and "the relatedness of whole genomes (including those of humans and our closest ancestors)" which supposedly "reveal this common ancestry where ever it is looked for."

Given that Neanderthals are not thought to be our ancestors (they're thought to be an offshoot of the line that led to modern humans, or perhaps a sub-race that interbred with modern humans), it's unclear what "whole genomes" of our "closest ancestors" have been sequenced or studied by scientists. Charitably assuming that Dr. Wise meant to say "closest relatives," here are rebuttals to these points:

•See Reply to NCSE on Universal Genetic Code for documentation of the non-universality of the genetic code

•See A Primer on the Tree of Life for documentation of how molecular systematics is failing to converge upon a tree of life

•See The myth of 1% human-chimp genetic differences for a discussion of how genetic similarity between humans and our supposed closest ape-relatives is of dubious relevance when trying to show common ancestry.

Error 4: Wrongly Claiming the Type III Secretory System means "Irreducible Complexity Fails" in the Flagellum

Dr. Wise claims that "irreducible complexity fails" due to the existence of the Type III Secretory System ("T3SS"). As this long-refuted objection goes, because the T3SS contains about 10 proteins also found in the flagellum, the flagellum is not irreducibly complex. In fact, this is not the correct test of irreducible complexity. Pro-ID scientists like Michael Behe or Scott Minnich properly test irreducible complexity by assessing the plausibility of the entire functional system to assemble in a step-wise fashion, even if sub-parts can have functions outside of the final system. What is more, phylogenetic data indicate the T3SS was not a precursor to the flagellum, and genetic knockout experiments (the proper way of testing irreducible complexity) have shown the flagellum is in fact irreducibly complex. For more information, see:

Spinning Tales About the Bacterial Flagellum

Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response to Ken Miller & Judge Jones's Straw Tests of Irreducible Complexity for the Bacterial Flagellum

Still Spinning Just Fine: A Response to Ken Miller

Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part VIII: Important Facts Left Out About ID Research

Error 5: Discovery Institute Embraces the Fact that Antibiotic / Antiviral Drug Resistance are Observed Natural Phenomena

In another example of Dr. Wise fighting against non-existent arguments from Discovery Institute, he apparently thinks that by citing antibiotic resistance or antiviral drug resistance that he is somehow responding to something we said. He thus oddly states:

I would like to point out to the Discovery Institute employees that the HIV virus, left unchecked can mutate every nucleotide in its genome in a single patient, generating every single mutation and huge numbers of multiple mutations every day.

Perhaps Dr. Wise should read Michael Behe's book The Edge of Evolution, where he would quickly learn that ID proponents fully acknowledge that viruses like HIV readily undergo all sorts of mutations--with little evidence that new functions can evolve. In fact, Behe gladly cites HIV evolution since it shows that even when Darwinian evolution is given its best shot, its creative powers are limited.

Wise also wrongly suggests that Discovery Institute thinks antibiotic resistance is medically unimportant. He calls our position "irresponsible" because supposedly "If all scientists held such a position, thousands, if not millions of people will die." Apparently Dr. Wise is not aware that ID proponents readily acknowledge that the evolution antibiotic resistance is a real--and dangerous--natural phenomenon. We also observe that it shows little about the ability of evolution to produce new complex biological features. In fact, medical researchers rely on the fact that there are limits to evolution to create antibiotic and antiviral drug cocktails that can stop resistant strains from evolving. For discussions of the actual ID perspective on antibiotic or antiviral drug resistance, see:

•Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Free Press, 2007).

Antibiotic Resistance Revisited

NDM-1 Superbug the Result of Bad Policies, Not Compelling Evidence for Evolution's Creative Powers

Swine Flu, Viruses, and the Edge of Evolution

Error 6: Overstating the Length of the Cambrian Explosion

Dr. Wise must get nervous when he hears that essentially all of the major living animal phyla appear in 5-10 million years in the fossil record, because he feels compelled to state that "We have, therefore, a period of at least 25 million years and likely even longer for the animal body form radiations to have occurred," elsewhere alluding to a 50 million year "fuse" for the Cambrian explosion. The problem for Dr. Wise is that leading authorities (who are not pro-ID) have stated that the Cambrian explosion took place in only 5-10 million years. For details, see:

An Analysis of the Expert Testimony of Prof. David Hillis before the Texas State Board of Education on January 21, 2009 (scroll to Point D for discussion and documentation)

Error 7: Misrepresenting Behe's Arguments on the Blood Clotting Cascade

Dr. Wise takes the Ken Miller approach to irreducible complexity and the blood clotting cascade, misquoting Behe's arguments on this matter. Wise thus argues "Whales and dolphins lack Factor XII and their blood still clots. Irreducible complexity fails" and "Eliminate the whole contact pathway in Puffer fish (Factors XII & XIIa and XI & XIa) and their blood still clots. Irreducible complexity fails." The problem is that Wise quotes Behe out-of-context, since Behe expressly stated in Darwin's Black Box that he did not include the intrinsic initiation pathway of the blood clotting cascade (to which Factors XI, XIa, XII, and XIIa all belong) in the irreducible core of the system.

In Darwin's Black Box, Behe only argues for irreducible complexity for the components after the "fork" in the blood clotting cascade. Behe makes this unmistakably clear, writing: "Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where some details are less well known, the blood-clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity." Since Factors XI, XIa, XII, and XIIa all come before the fork, Wise's arguments don't touch Behe's argument. For detailed rebuttals to Miller's identical misquote-based error, see:

Kenneth Miller, Michael Behe, and the Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade Saga

•Kenneth Miller, Michael Behe, and the Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade Saga

How Kenneth Miller Used Smoke-and-Mirrors at Kitzmiller to Misrepresent Michael Behe on the Irreducible Complexity of the Blood-Clotting Cascade

Misrepresenting Michael Behe's Arguments for Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade

Ken Miller's Only a Theory Misquotes Michael Behe on Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade

Error 8: Behe Didn't Say Dover Immunology Papers Were "Not 'Good Enough'"

Again copying errors from Ken Miller (and Judge Jones), Wise attacks Behe personally stating that "Behe when confronted by the brilliant lawyer for Kitzmiller et al. in the Dover Trial loses credibility as a scientist: 'Professor Behe was presented with fifty- eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not 'good enough.' (23:19 (Behe))."

As has been discussed many times before, Behe never said those papers were "not 'good enough'" and in fact Judge Jones copied this misquote of Behe's testimony from an ACLU brief. Instead, Behe actually said "These articles are excellent articles I assume. However, they do not address the question that I am posing. So it's not that they aren't good enough. It's simply that they are addressed to a different subject." For details, see:

Ken Miller and the Evolution of the Immune System: "Not Good Enough"?

There He Goes Again: Ken Miller Misrepresents Behe's Arguments on the Immune System

A Comparison of Judge Jones' Opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover with Plaintiffs' Proposed "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law"

Error 9: Wrongly Presuming Alu Sequences are Genetic Junk

Like many ID-critics before him, Dr. Wise is so eager to refute ID using junk DNA that he wrongly presumed that non-coding DNA was functionless. In particular, he cites Alu sequences as evidence that "Biological organisms are not intelligently designed; they are cobbled together". He writes:

The human genome (our DNA) is composed of 3 billion bases of DNA arranged in specific sequence. About half of this DNA is from the replication of a parasitic transposon called the AluI repeat sequence. Reviewing Meyer's Signature of the Cell, Francisco Ayala notes that the human genome contains ~25,000 genes and "about one million virtually identical Alu sequences that are each three-hundred letters (nucleotides) long"

Dr. Wise must be unaware of Dr. Richard Sternberg's devastating responses to Ayala which show clear evidence of function for Alu sequences. Not only is there direct evidence of function for Alu sequences due to conserved signals in the sequences, but the signals are conserved in a way that conflicts with the standard mammalian phylogeny. For details, see:

Ayala and Falk Miss the Signs in the Genome

Discovering Signs in the Genome by Thinking Outside the BioLogos Box

Beginning to Decipher the SINE Signal

Richard Gallagher Frames Intelligent Design Proponents While Rewriting the History of Junk-DNA (Part 3)

For a few papers reporting function for Alu sequences, see:

•Ling-Ling Chen, Joshua N DeCerbo and Gordon G Carmichael, "Alu element-mediated gene silencing," The EMBO Journal (2008), 1-12

•Galit Lev-Maor, Rotem Sorek, Noam Shomron, Gil Ast, "The Birth of an Alternatively Spliced Exon: 3' Splice-Site Selection in Alu Exons," Science, Vol. 300:1288-1291 (May 23, 2003).

•Wojciech Makalowski, "Not Junk After All," Science, Vol. 300(5623) (May 23, 2003).

Regarding the last citation, consider this discussion of function for Alu sequences and how neo-Darwinian thinking has hindered investigation of function for them. Note that when it says "evolution," it just means Alu sequences are found to serve functions which can then be preserved by selection:

Early DNA association studies showed that the human genome is full of repeated segments, such as Alu elements, that are repeated hundreds of thousands of times ( 2). The vast majority of a mammalian genome does not code for proteins. So, the question is, "Why do we need so much DNA?" Most researchers have assumed that repetitive DNA elements do not have any function: They are simply useless, selfish DNA sequences that proliferate in our genome, making as many copies as possible. The late Sozumu Ohno coined the term "junk DNA" to describe these repetitive elements. On page 1288 of this issue, Lev-Maor and colleagues ( 3) take junk DNA to new heights with their analysis of how Alu elements in the introns of human genes end up in the coding exons, and in so doing influence evolution.

Although catchy, the term "junk DNA" for many years repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding DNA. Who, except a small number of genomic clochards, would like to dig through genomic garbage? However, in science as in normal life, there are some clochards who, at the risk of being ridiculed, explore unpopular territories. Because of them, the view of junk DNA, especially repetitive elements, began to change in the early 1990s. Now, more and more biologists regard repetitive elements as a genomic treasure.

What's most amusing about this section is that Wise claims that ID is falsified by examples of so-called "cobbled together, non-sensible evolutionary design." Yet he recommends resources which claim ID is not testable, such as the NAS's 1999 Science and Creationism booklet which says intelligent design (and other views) are "not science because they are not testable by the methods of science." So which is it? Is ID untestable, or is it testable and false? The reality is that ID is falsifiable, just not in all the ways that Dr. Wise thinks it is, and it has passed many tests.

Part II: Errors of Law

Error 10: Uncritically Recommending the Dover Ruling

Dr. Wise uncritically cites the Dover ruling as if it is an inerrant treatment of the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design, writing:

Intelligent Design is not science and uses deceptive tactics to promote its acceptance. See Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education. See here for Judge Jones' fascinating, occasionally humorous, occasionally bitingly sarcastic and easy to read decision.

Of course Discovery Institute has never supported or defended some of the underhanded actions taken by the Dover area school board. But readers who would like to read our rebuttals to the Dover ruling's attacks on ID might wish to read:

•David K. DeWolf, John G. West, Casey Luskin Intelligent Design Will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover, Montana Law Review (2007)

David K. DeWolf, John G. West, Casey Luskin, Jonathan Witt, Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision (Discovery Institute Press, 2006)

FAQ: Does intelligent design theory implement the scientific method?

Those sources discuss that just some of the problems in Judge Jones' Kitzmiller ruling include the fact that the decision:

•Employed a false definition of ID that presumed that ID requires "supernatural creation" -- a position refuted during the trial by ID proponents who testified in court;

•Ignored the positive case for ID and falsely claimed that ID proponents make their case solely by arguing against evolution;

•Ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific publications that were in fact testified about in his own courtroom;

•Ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID scientific research and data that was in fact testified about in his own courtroom;

•Overstepped the bounds of the judiciary and engaged in judicial activism by declaring that ID had been refuted when in fact the judge was presented with credible scientific witnesses and publications on both sides showing evidence of a scientific debate;

•Used poor philosophy of science by presuming that being wrong precludes being scientific;

•Dangerously stifled scientific advance by taking the level of support for a theory as a measure of whether an idea is scientific;

•Adopted an unfair double-standard of legal analysis where religious implications, beliefs, and motives count against ID but never against Darwinism;

•Violated a fundamental cardinal rule of constitutional law by declaring a religious belief to be false from the bench of a U.S. government court;

•Engaged in much judicial activism by presuming that it is permissible for a federal judge to define science, settle controversial social questions, settle controversial scientific questions, settle issues for parties outside of the case at hand so that his ruling would be "a primer" for people "someplace else," and declare certain religious beliefs to be false.

Part III: Errors of Table-Pounding

Error 11: Darwin's Dilemma Doesn't Misrepresent James Valentine

Dr. Wise posts a statement by James Valentine, a UC Berkeley paleontologist who is interviewed in the film Darwin's Dilemma. In the statement, Valentine makes it clear that he is not pro-ID, and disagrees with the film's pro-ID conclusions. Dr. Wise claims that the film "misrepresented" Valentine's views.

But if one reads Dr. Valentine's statement carefully, he does not actually officially accuse the film of any wrongdoing--he only gives a wishy-washy conditional warning starting using the word "if...". So does the film misrepresent Valentine's views? In fact Darwin's Dilemma, never claims nor suggests that Dr. Valentine is pro-ID. There is nothing in the film that contradicts Valentine's description of his own views in the statement posted by Dr. Wise. The film merely portrays Valentine as an expert on the Cambrian fossil record, and does not try to construe Valentine's views in any other way. For details, see:

Questions about the Cambrian Explosion, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (see question #9 on page 10 of the FAQ)

Reality Check: Oklahoma Darwinists' "Gotcha" Moment at Cambrian Explosion Film Falls Flat

Error 12: The IDEA Center Does Not Require IDEA Club Presidents to have Any Religious Affiliation

Dr. Wise's online response claims that "The IDEA Center requires its club presidents to be Christian." That's an odd claim since the IDEA Center has not had any requirements about the religious beliefs of club leaders for over 4 years. As the IDEA Center website has long-stated "There are no requirements regarding the religious beliefs of IDEA Club leaders or founders. (Indeed, there are currently IDEA Club leaders who are not Christians.)" Even if Dr. Wise was right on this point, it is irrelevant to whether ID is science. For details, see:

Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit

Error 13: Stephen Meyer is not "co-founder" of Discovery Institute

Dr. Wise claims that Stephen Meyer is "Discovery Institute co-founder." This claim has a chronological problem, since Dr. Meyer did not even join Discovery Institute until the mid-1990s, a few years after it was founded. This error may appear trivial, but what it shows is that Dr. Wise is uncritically copying information from Wikipedia, which inaccurately claims Meyer "helped found the Discovery Institute (DI)." Is Wikipedia where Dr. Wise gets his information about ID?

As an aside, Dr. Wise attacks Discovery Institute for allegedly not saying who the designer is, but then contradicts himself by attacking Steve Meyer for saying he believes the designer is God. Wise can't have it both ways. For details on this fallacious objection, see:

Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why Intelligent Design Doesn't Identify the Designer

Error 14: Scraping the Bottom of the Rhetorical Barrel by Citing the "Wedge Document"

No anti-ID screed would be complete without mention of the so-called "Wedge Document." It is here that Dr. Wise did not fail to disappoint, citing and quoting from the "Wedge Document." Discovery Institute has responded to this non-argument many times before. For details, see:

The "Wedge Document": "So What"?

Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part IV: The "Wedge Document"

Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit

The Truth About Discovery Institute and "Theocracy"

***: Breakdown of Dr Wise's Letter to SMU Daily:

Express accusations of "Dishonest": 3

Other accusations of dishonesty ("doubt that the Institute sincerely..." / "pass themselves off" / "not interested in honest debate" / "a concerted effort to distort the truth" / "propaganda exercise"): 5

Total accusations of dishonesty: 8

"not engaged in legitimate scientific enquiry" / "fringe" / Pseudoscience: 4

ID is "religion": 3

Total attempts to marginalize ID with pseudoscience or religion labels: 7

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 4, 2010 7:20 AM | Permalink

A quick lesson for the public on what scientific theories are and are not.


By Hontas Farmer | September 26th 2010 11:23 AM
Quantum Gravity

If you are a scientist in any field you have had to deal with a member of the public who did not understand the word theory. This blog post intends to be a simple explanation for the willing but confused.

What are theories how are they arrived at?

The word theory has it's roots in the scientific method. (In order to divorce this from creationism or the theory that the ancient Egyptians were really black Africans and other emotionally charged topics I shall write in Abstract terms. )

The scientific method has several basic steps.

1.Observation of some phenomena.

2.Then forming a hypothesis on how the phenomena works.

3.Then testing the hypothesis by experiment.

4.Then based on experiment the hypothesis is accepted as being a correct hypothesis or it is replaced by a new on based on the new data.

5. A well tested hypothesis can become an empirical or phenomenological theory.

That's one and only one way to get to a theory. The other way is to....

1.Propose that S is an underlying symmetry or M is a mathematical proposition that could make predictions about nature.

2.Derive "equations of motion" or otherwise derive a testable predictions or hypothesis from the propositions M and S.

3.Test the hypotheses and predictions by the simple scientific method.

4.The end result is a pure or fundamental scientific theory.

Theories can give rise to a number of hypotheses but basically never the other way around.

Common public misconceptions about theories.

XXXXX is just a theory not a fact. Most commonly heard in debates of evolution vs creationism. Creationism fails to be a scientific theory and therefore not teachable as science because you cannot test it's hypothesis. We cannot ask god to create life in science class.

A theory is a well tested body of knowledge which are not controversial. NO! While some theories are well tested bodies of knowledge they are not facts either! A theory can be something as crackpot as Eugenics or as well tested and solid as Electromagnetism. In fact a theory that is not subject to possible falsification is no longer a theory it's an article of faith. Even supposed classical inviolable "laws" of nature have their limits. i.e. Newton's "Law" of gravity was replaced by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

I wrote up this webpage where I tell a nice story about how XY or Z may have occurred...My theory of how the Nuwabians were the first people of the Americas... NO it's not a theory. Theories have to make predictions that are at least in principle able to be tested. What you have written is at best folk history at worst it could be slander of a person or a ethnic group or even theft of their cultural achievements.

Last but not least the most common misconception. Hypotheses are the same as theories, a theory is just a well tested hypothesis. No in general that is not the case. Some theories are basically well tested hypotheses. However those are just one kind of theory. Their are theories that are not born of any hypothesis. They are generally consider more fundamentally theoretical and abstract. If you thought this one was true well at least [you're] trying. :-)

Maher's monkey business: Academic travesty and 'religulous' obsession with O'Donnell


Saturday, October 2, 2010 - Not Your Average Read by Amanda Read

Last week, Bill Maher didn't unearth an archived youthful indiscretion to make Christine O'Donnell the laughingstock of her critics. Rather, he insulted not only O'Donnell, but an untold number of people who question the scientific status quo.

"Evolution is a myth, and Darwin himself..." O'Donnell began to explain before being interrupted by Maher in a clip from 1998.

"Evolution is a myth? Have you ever looked at a monkey?" was Maher's comic rebuttal.

We can cut him some slack, because he was, after all, the comedian on the stage. But, otherwise, a creationist might as well attempt to refute an evolutionist by saying, "Creation is a myth? Have you ever looked at a DNA molecule?" It would be interesting to see which visual experience makes the more compelling argument.

I would probably be on Maher's side in this argument if the people who had doubts about evolution were only a bunch of backwoods hicks who had never seen a microscope before. But that in itself is a myth, because that simply isn't the case. There are very serious, highly educated scientists who have realized certain facts in the natural world are not adding up in favor of the Darwinian tradition. Not all of them are creationists or even religious at all.

Contrary to the average media slant, it actually isn't religion that is criticizing Darwin. Many dapper theologians have happily merged their belief in the Bible with belief in evolution, and, however soaring or sappy the result may be, it has earned them the highest approval rating Richard Dawkins can muster for a religion: Harmless. A serious Darwinian doubter is a different sort of person entirely -- a seeker who looks beyond religious and professional boundaries.

Maher enjoys perpetuating the misconception that denial of evolution is directly linked to unintelligence. It actually has nothing to do with basic intelligence. My Ivy-League educated father has been disbelieving Darwinian evolution for decades -- even while he would regularly take my siblings and me to the American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo.

It is also a misnomer to automatically label a person as "anti-science" just because he or she disbelieves the Darwinian extrapolation of macroevolution. All a Darwinian skeptic wants is every last iota of data spread upon the dissection table -- no secrets, no cover-ups, no manipulation. Come to think of it, we could use a good dose of that mindset in Congress!

Even if O'Donnell once confused carbon dating with potassium-argon dating (an unsurprising layperson's mistake), at least she showed enough interest in the subject to investigate beyond the status quo. The awareness and consideration of more than one informed opinion is an appealing feature in a senatorial candidate.

O'Donnell said quizzically on Maher's show, "Then why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?" However hastily formed that question may be, the "time did it!" sort of answer she was given was just as inadequate.

A common atheist argument I've come across claims, "I looked up in the sky today and didn't see God, and therefore he doesn't exist."

That sounds remarkably naïve, in my opinion, but Maher would probably consider it brilliant. Evolutionists say we can't directly observe the macroevolution process, and creationists say we can't directly observe God, yet both say the handiwork of each is evident. That leaves us fairly even.

An atheist claims to not see enough evidence for God's existence, and a non-Darwinist claims to not see enough evidence for the Darwinian concept of macroevolution. For some inhuman reason, the act of not being convinced is upheld as brilliant in the former case, but considered brain-dead in the latter case. That is an academic tragedy.

History education is rife with reinterpretation of solid artifacts and writings made by people of the past. Even President Obama twice omitted "creator" within one week when referencing the famous statement inscribed in the Declaration of Independence that people are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Ironically, that creator-acknowledging statement was written by Thomas Jefferson, atheists' favorite and most exploited founding father.

Perpetual attempts to seize the red pen and infuse new controversies into established pages of history and literature is bewildering, but nevertheless welcomed. Yet the one field that actually thrives most off of new observation and ideas – science – is the one subject where thinking outside of the politically correct box is forbidden. Why?

Many fail to understand or share my convictions about academic freedom. This frustrated me deeply until it dawned on me recently: How could they understand when so few have experienced the level of educational independence that I have had?

I come from an academic family. My grandfather studied botany at Cornell and later became president of the University of Alabama. He also knows evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson. I was raised in a household with shelves full of materials by both evolutionists and creationists. My bedroom and schoolroom were occupied by National Geographic and Scientific American issues way before Answers magazine was in print. Henry M. Morris' "The Genesis Record" resides in the family library along with an astronomy book that claims to recite the universe's first three minutes of existence after the Big Bang.

My high school science textbooks were very committed to the scientific method, offering differing hypotheses and theories next to the currently known data of every major topic. One of the greatest impressions left on me from that curriculum was the way the text candidly admitted that science is such an expanding field that many things I learned in it might be outdated in a few years. By the way, those textbooks were written by a scientist who believes the Earth is young not for theological reasons, but solely because he thinks the data we have today shows strong evidence for a young Earth.

When I began taking science classes at a state university, I experienced academic confinement for the first time in my life. The college textbooks that I was issued said the very same things my high school textbooks said in the beginning -- that science can never ultimately prove anything, that the ability to be disproved through test or observation is key to a good scientific theory, and that the textbook would mention disagreements among scientists and where intriguing questions remain in the field. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the subject I was studying, I was disappointed -- yet not surprised -- that the college textbook failed to keep its promises.

The increasingly politicized nature of the science debate is highlighted in this Delaware election. Democratic candidate Chris Coons cast in a negative light O'Donnell's supposed desire to see public schools teach creationism. To be honest, this characterization is a rather pointless diversion in the debate over science education.

There is no need for science classes to open with a narrative of the universe being brought into existence, such as what is found in Genesis. Historical documentation belongs in history class. Science education should consist of instruction in the scientific method and observation of data. If schools would even teach Darwinian evolution in its entirety - facts and failures, warts and all -- we would possibly see a vastly more independent electorate infused with new enthusiasm for inquiring about the natural world.

Would there not be outrage if every political science and economics class forced students to study the system and predictions of only capitalism or only socialism instead of both? Would there not be suspicion of an elitist agenda at play if such were the case and no criticism of the predominant theory was allowed? Why, therefore, is this very thing happening in the field that is supposed to be the most open minded and expansive of all - science?

If you can't take criticism of your ideas, then you do not need to be working in science or government. Perhaps there is a comfortable, mindless religion out there that will suit you well instead.

Amanda Read is a scholar who never set foot in school, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn't been a churchgoer in 16 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay "The Crusading Chemist." Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Jacksonville State University.

Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SincerelyAmanda and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmandaChristineRead.

What are we teaching at taxpayers' expense?


Oct 3, 2010 | Comments
Guest Columnist

Evolution is the dumbest and most dangerous religion in the world.

In the interest of full disclosure, I believe in the literal six-day creation of the universe as recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis. I freely admit that my acceptance of the Genesis account is purely by faith. I don't have to prove my beliefs nor do I have to defend them because I am not asking the taxpayer to fund the research of or the teaching of my beliefs in the public schools.

Evolution also is of faith. Sir Julian Huxley said, "I suppose the reason why we leapt at "The Origin of Species" was that the idea of God interfered with our sexual mores." Sir Arthur Keith, who wrote the forward to the 100th anniversary of Darwin's book, said, "Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it only because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable." George Wald, a Nobel Prize-winning evolutionist, said, "I will not accept creation philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible."

This country was founded on the basis of a creator who endowed mankind with certain unalienable rights, among which (but not limited to) are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Constitution was drafted with the idea that government does not grant rights, but its greatest duty was to protect the rights of people. In contrast, evolution is the basis for humanism, the belief that I am my own final authority, and it removes the boundaries of governmental expansion and oppression.

Creationism is a religion of life while evolution is a religion of death. Evolution necessarily requires the death of the less evolved species. This is known as "survival of the fittest." With Darwin's book came the excuse for one "race" of people to eliminate another. Sir Arthur Keith wrote of Hitler, "The German Fuhrer ... has consistently sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution." Karl Marx tried to dedicate his book "The Communist Manifesto" to Darwin (although he declined). Joseph Stalin went to a Christian school until he read Darwin's book and became an atheist. He went on to kill between 60 and 100 million of his own people.

Dr. Leo Alexander, a holocaust survivor, said, "There is a difference between those who look upon their fellow human beings as common creatures of a common creator and those who look upon them as a conglomerate of biological chemicals."

While I have only begun to indict the theory of evolution, which has made no positive contribution to science, I hope you will begin to question what we are teaching our children. Do we even need to teach theories of the origin of the universe in public schools? Can we not just teach science and let each parent and each child decide what to believe?

In closing, I would like to ask those who believe in evolution this simple question, "If evolution is true, how do we determine right from wrong?"

Dahlke is a local pastor and resident of Perryton.

Textbook company official: "We teach evolution, and we teach it to the Sunshine State standards."


Leslie Postal, Science education — posted by lesliepostal on October, 4 2010 6:32 AM

The criticized "sidebar" passages in a marine science textbook proposed for Florida high schools were meant to be a "critical thinking exercise for students" and not a way to undermine the teaching of evolution, said a vice president with Current Publishing, the text's publisher.

The textbook Life on an Ocean Planet was developed for Florida's marine science courses in 2005 and revised recently to meet the state's new science standards, said Dean Allen, the company's vice president and general manager.

The book doesn't attempt to mislead or undermine the teaching of evolution, he insisted.

"Everywhere else in the book we teach evolution, and we teach it to the Sunshine State standards," Allen added.

As we reported previously, the two sidebar pages prompted criticism because some thought they pushed a pro-creationism agenda — citing the work of a man, for example, used by those arguing for the teaching of creationism in schools — and others noted they contained factual errors.

The company is removing the passages and all references to them that might have appeared in the index or on other pages, Allen said.

The textbook was written by a team, with help from a panel of advisers, Allen said, though he didn't say who provided the text for the sidebars in question. The same passages likely appeared in earlier versions of the textbook, he said, though he couldn't immediately say for sure.

The sidebar passages were meant to be optional material a teacher could use to promote discussion and debate. But because of the concerns raised — and the scientific errors noted — the textbook (both the computer and print versions) will be scrubbed clean of them, he said.

No other information in the book presents the same material, Allen said. "That's the only two pages that went off track a little bit."

The company doesn't want to promote bad science and is eager to make sure Florida is happy, he said. The book, though now sold nationally, was meant for Florida.

"Florida is our number one market," he added.

The text was recommended for "adoption" by the state by an advisory committee, if the passages were removed. Textbooks on the state-adopted list are often the ones school districts purchase for use on their campuses.

The Creationism of Conservationism


The cherished dogmas of the politically correct Marxist elite that dominates American intellectual and political life are based on a pre-Darwinian world view as much as those of fundamentalists By Dr. Alexander Nussbaum Sunday, October 3, 2010

Evolution, the central concept in the study of life, is as certain any human knowledge. Many people of faith can integrate evolution into their religious world view, for example see evangelist minister Michael Dowd's "Thank God for Evolution!", or the writings of Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught, or those of Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and evangelical Christian. However many people of faith can not. But the "politically correct cultural elite" is every bit as creationist as fundamentalists when it suits their dogmas.

My doctoral dissertation was on evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is controversial and denied by many of the leading intellectuals. It has been at times violently denied (see Harvard professor's Edward O. Wilson's autobiography for the doings at Harvard)). Despite overwhelming evidence, it violates the teachings of a religion- the Marxist church of unbridled social engineering.

The cherished dogmas of the politically correct Marxist elite that dominates American intellectual and political life are based on a pre-Darwinian world view as much as those of fundamentalists. Political correctness has long made a mockery of history and sociology. Sciences however really on the rule "show me the evidence", and thus are a little more immune to dogma, but apparently not immune enough. After all NASA, the very symbol of scientific achievement when I was a child, is today a Islamic self-esteem organization.

Marxist ideas have trickled into evolutionary theory to muddle its concepts. As stated by Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin " There is nothing in Marx, Lenin or Mao that is or can be in contradiction with a particular set of phenomena in the objective world." Contrary to ideas that have seeped in from group identity politics, evolution does not select for the group or the species, but for the genes nestled in an individual. Those genes either are able to make copies of themselves and those copies are able to make copies, or they disappear. Everything is built bottom-up. Individuals are only temporary containers for genes and "species" convenient labels for related individuals at a given point in time.

Evolution is the free enterprise system operating in nature. The Darwinian algorithm of individual entities replicating with variability and selective survival was able to produce the complex majesty of nature, in the same manner the free enterprise system, with many individuals making small free choices, was able to produce all economic value. Neither nature nor the free enterprise system produce perfection, but both produce value. It should be noted that discredited "Social Darwinists" actually advocated a central authority manipulating society in the same manner collectivist dictatorships like China, North Korea or Cuba do today, rather than valuing nature's "free enterprise".

"Species" are temporary points in the life history of groups of genes banded together for common reproductive success. Species are transitory and semi-arbitrary labels that are useful in describing the evolving diversity of life at a given moment, a given split second in eons of time, and no more. All species are in constant change. This may not be apparent, but only because human lifespans are so incredibly short. From the perspective of a being with a lifespan of a second the weather is unchanging too, and from the perspective of a being with a lifespan in the billions of years, life is a kaleidoscope.

There is nothing "special" about the species that exist today It is only humanity's brief existence, which gives the illusion that all "species" can be protected and "frozen" in place. Attempts to preserve every species alive today is literally the attempt to stop evolution. Certainly protect especially interesting endangered species, such as great white whales, just as extremely historical buildings should receive landmark status. But realize its being done for our own amusement, and at a cost. In New York City, the landmarking of buildings is tremendously overused, protecting buildings of dubious worth and impeding progress.

Radical conservation is in effect the notion that every rock, every grain of sand, every leaf must remain in the same exact state it was in on October 3, 2010, 15:22:18 hours EST, and we are willing to stop progress, waste billions, and cause human suffering to make sure. Of course in the long run the goal of radical conservationism can not succeed, and is just another costly left-wing dogma in their on going campaign to end the free market system, and so end all freedom.

The law of evolution is constant change. All species will go on changing and dividing into untold new species. Impeding progress and causing human misery in the misguided attempt to protect some insignificant species is madness.

There are now scientific positions taken by the media and the intellectual and political establishment such as radical conservationism, man made global warming, gender as a social convention that have been selected for to serve Jihadism. Whether a given proponent of man made global warming realizes it or not is irrelevant, genes do not realize what they have been selected for either. Such is the Darwinian algorithm's bottom-up production of organized complexity.

The flotilla supporting left-wing accepts that snails evolved, but their science is that the human brain miraculously sprang into being in perfect configuration to serve Marxism. And that like imaginary man-made climate change, the reality of evolution should be stopped in the name of protecting "fixed" species.

Owls are hardly endangered. There are over 200 living species. Some of you might recall the controversy surrounding the infamous spotted owl. There are three subspecies of spotted owls which are only minimally different than the 4 subspecies of barred owl, with whom they can successfully mate and produce viable offspring. They could very well have been considered seven subspecies. The subspecies of spotted owls are in decline because barred owls are more successful in direct competition, with some interbreeding going on. In the long run new subspecies are forming- that is evolution in action, Nevertheless it has been mandated that 13,500 square miles (twice the size of New Jersey or Israel) are off limits to protect spotted owls!

George Will noted in his February 8, 2009 Washington Post article "How Congress Trumps Darwin", that the Endangered Species Act passed by Congress in 1973, makes it law to protect species threatened by disease, predation, threats to habitat and other natural factors. Will quoted columnist Edwin Yoder who compared this law to Tennessee's "monkey law" that lead to the Scopes trial, "Tennessee's ambitions were comparatively modest. It sought only to conceal the disturbing evidence of natural selection from impressionable school children. The Congress of the United States, one is intrigued to learn, intends to stop the nasty business in its tracks."

Religious studies professor examines Intelligent Design academically


By Dr. Mark A. Chancey, chair of the Department of Religous Studies, mchancey@smu.edu

Published: Monday, October 4, 2010

Updated: Monday, October 4, 2010 10:10

Why are some SMU professors disappointed in last week's Intelligent Design event, which was sponsored by a campus ministry? Why do they question the credentials of the speakers and characterize their presentations as "pseudoscientific" and even "dishonest"?

I cannot, of course, speak for my colleagues in the sciences, and readers interested in scientific issues should go to biologist John Wise's detailed critique of errors, flawed logic and misrepresentations from the event (http://faculty.smu.edu/jwise/big_problems_with_intelligent_design.htm). But as a scholar who studies what is sometimes called the "Religious Right," I hope that I can clarify aspects of this controversy.

Intelligent Design (ID) has not gained much traction in the scientific community. It originated within certain religious circles and has credibility only within those same circles-mostly theologically conservative Christian groups that find aspects of evolutionary theory threatening.

Some ID proponents have degrees from prestigious institutions, an accomplishment that merits respect. However, a degree alone is not enough to gain legitimacy in the academic community.

Few ID advocates hold full-time professorial positions in pertinent fields at mainstream colleges and universities. Those who do hold such positions have often seen their institutions and immediate colleagues openly distance themselves from ID. Many ID proponents with academic positions work at religious institutions devoted to promoting particular theological views.

ID proponents have published very few articles in peer-reviewed journals. To make up for this lack, they have created their own in-house journals that they describe as "peer-reviewed." Suffice it to say that universities do not consider a self-serving house organ as truly peer-reviewed; such venues are regarded as fake journals.

As has been observed before, in the entire history of the ID movement, all of its advocates combined have published so few articles in legitimate scientific journals that often a single scholar at a research university like SMU has a longer list of publications.

IDers sometimes publish books-but most of these are with religious, not academic, presses.

When scientists argue that ID representatives are not genuinely doing science, they are in part observing that ID research is not rigorous, substantial or convincing enough to be published in genuine academic venues. Rejecting such research is not "censorship"; it is quality control, which is at the very heart of the academic enterprise.

Why the sensitivity over IDers' appearance at SMU? Here, historical context is important.

Unfortunately, the Discovery Institute has a track record of using SMU's prestige and academic reputation to bolster its own claims to legitimacy. Consider this quote from Phillip E. Johnson, a chief ID architect: "The movement we now call the Wedge made its public debut at a conference of scientists and philosophers held at Southern Methodist University in March 1992."

Johnson goes on to characterize that conference as "a respectable academic gathering." This language implies that SMU sponsored an academic conference in which ID proponents participated as full-fledged scholars. In fact, the 1992 event, too, was sponsored not by any academic unit of the university but by a campus ministry-a detail conspicuously absent from Johnson's description.

Unpacking Johnson's reference to "the Wedge" is essential for understanding why so many scholars regard the ID movement's representation of itself as a scientific and academic group misleading.

In 1998, the Discovery Institute drafted an internal strategic plan called the "Wedge Document."

Eventually leaked, the document described the group's intention to be a wedge that would split the tree of the dominant scientific paradigm and "replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Its goals included fostering religious renewal movements that would "repudiate theologies influenced by materialism," having "major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation"; encouraging seminaries to "repudiate naturalistic presuppositions"; and bringing about a "positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God."

The document is well worth reading to understand why ID is best understood primarily as a religious and political movement rather than an academic or scientific one (http://libcom.org/library/wedge-document-intelligent-design-exposed).

Thus, ID spokespeople often attract the ire of scholars for multiple reasons. Unable to publish their work in legitimate academic venues, they nonetheless present it as cutting-edge science. Unable to gain acceptance in the scientific community, they nonetheless claim to be gaining momentum. They deny or obscure the fact that ID is grounded in a particular religious worldview and yet regard it as a tool to promote socially and theologically conservative Christian positions.

It is perhaps unsurprising that both the National Academy of Sciences and a federal court have identified ID as a religious belief rather than a scientific theory.

Many religious groups-Christian and other-do not regard evolutionary theory as a threat. For many people of faith, science and religion go hand in hand. When scholars criticize ID, they are not attacking religion. They are only asking ID proponents to be transparent in their agenda, accurate about their representations of scholarship, and willing to play by the same rules of peer review and quality control that legitimate scholars and scientists around the world follow every day.

Dr. Mark A. Chancey is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies. He can be reached for comments or questions at mchancey@smu.edu.

Should Intelligent Design Be Taught as Science?


Monday, October 4, 2010, 9:30 AM
Joe Carter

Should Intelligent Design be taught as science? Stephen Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware (and First Things contributor), debates that question with Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

You can listen to the audio or watch the video at the website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Evolution education update: October 1, 2010

A new survey includes questions about Darwin and the Scopes trial. Plus a free excerpt from Stones & Bones, and NCSE's Steven Newton discusses the economic importance of science education with USA Today.


A new survey on American knowledge about religion included two questions relevant to evolution education. The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, "covered a wide range of topics, including the beliefs and practices of major religious traditions as well as the role of religion in American history and public life" in order to "provide a baseline measurement of how much Americans know about religion today."

The media's coverage of the survey understandably focused on the general lack of knowledge about religion that it revealed, with The New York Times (September 28, 2010) reporting, "On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith." But the questionnaire also asked nine general knowledge questions, including one about Darwin and one about the Scopes trial.

Respondents were asked, "Which of these people developed the theory of evolution by natural selection?" and offered the choice of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Clarence Darrow. Seventy-one percent of respondents selected the correct answer of Darwin, 6% selected Freud, 3% selected Darrow, and 20% said that they didn't know. (In a 2009 survey conducted by the British Council, 84% of American respondents said that they had heard of Darwin.)

Respondents were also asked, "And which of these court trials focused on whether evolution could be taught in public schools?" and offered the choice of the Scopes trial, the Salem witch trials, and Brown vs. Board of Education. Only 31% of respondents selected the correct answer of the Scopes trial, 36% selected Brown vs. Board of Education, 3% selected the Salem witch trials, and 30% said that they didn't know.

The Pew Research Center's report describes the survey as "a nationwide poll conducted from May 19 through June 6, 2010, among 3,412 Americans age 18 and older, on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish. Jews, Mormons and atheists/agnostics were oversampled to allow analysis of these relatively small groups." The margin of sampling error for the total sample of 3412 respondents was +/- 2.5%.

For the Pew Research Center's report on the survey (PDF), visit:

For the story in The New York Times, visit:

For NCSE's story about the British Council's survey, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Char Matejovsky's Stones & Bones (Polebridge Press, 2007), with illustrations by Robaire Ream. Aimed at children 4-8, Stones & Bones is a charming introduction to evolution, with catchy verses like "Evolution's the solution / to the data that we find / when we study bones and fossils / and we keep an open mind" and with beautiful and whimsical full-color and full-page drawings. (The book is packaged with a CD of the Stones & Bones Song and a bonus recording of The Song of the Meadowlark, for those who like to sing, as well as read, along.) NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott writes, "Stones & Bones will delight the picture-book set with its rhythmic verse and gorgeous, intricate pictures. Readers (and the read-to) also are likely to learn the real science of evolution, a definite plus."

For the excerpt from Stones & Bones (PDF), visit:

For information about the book, visit:


NCSE's Steven Newton was quoted in a USA Today story (September 24, 2010) about a new report on the economic importance of science education. The report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, lamented that "in spite of sometimes heroic efforts and occasional very bright spots, our overall public school system -- or more accurately 14,000 systems -- has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science." Newton commented, "The current economic crisis makes the link between education and employment very clear."

In remarks on the newspaper's Science Fair blog (September 24, 2010), Newton wrote, "The NCSE welcomes this report, and we hope that the call for improving education -- particularly in science, math, and technology fields -- is heard by many." He added, "Cuts to education are almost always short-sighted; there is a direct link between education and the economy. Educated citizens earn more, and pay more taxes. When states save money by not fixing roads, more drivers get flat tires. But when states try to save money by short-changing public education, they rob kids of their futures and they rob America of its economic growth."

For the story in USA Today, visit:

For Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, visit:

For Newton's remarks on the Science Fair blog, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

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

When (Anti-Vax) Politics Intrudes


Published by Steven Novella under Public Health, Science and Medicine, Vaccines

Over the last decade there has been a needed discussion about the relationship between politics and science. This has mostly been spawned by the perceived "Republican War on Science," at the center of which is the global warming debate. In reality, both ends of the political spectrum (as evidenced, for example, by the Huffington Post) tend to trump science with ideology. That is the nature of politics. But at least the issue has been raised.

Briefly, defenders of science have pointed out that science should inform politics, not the other way around. Ideologues should not be allowed to put their thumb on the scale of science in order to get the result their ideology demands. Further, the optimal policy emerges from an honest assessment of the relevant science. Values still come into play for many issues, so science alone is not enough, but the science has to be right.

Within medicine this issue often involves the regulation of the standard of care and public health policy. An example of the former is the law passed last year is Connecticut that essentially exempts professionals who treat "chronic Lyme disease" from the standard of care – the department of health cannot act against their license for treating this controversial condition with unproven therapies.Rather than allowing experts to determine the standard of care, which is an ever moving target, this law locks into place a very controversial, and in my opinion dubious, practice.

Another issue that frequently is caught between politics and science is vaccinations – and just such a conflict is heating up in Florida. Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp report in the Miami News Times that a wealthy chiropractor, Gary Kompothecras, is using his political connections, earned by generous campaign contributions, to promote his apparent anti-vaccine agenda. Kompothecras has two children with autism and he blames thimerosal in vaccines for their condition. Readers of SBM know that thimerosal (which contains ethyl mercury) has not been connected to autism. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccines are not to blame. Most notably with regard to thimerosal specifically, this preservative was removed from most childhood vaccines over 8 years ago in the US, and autism rates have not plummeted as proponents of the thimerosal hypothesis predicted. Yet some, like Kompothecras, still cling to this discredited notion.

A year ago Kompothecras (who calls himself the "rainmaker" – a reference to his political connections) was pushing for a law that would have weakened Florida's vaccine requirement for public school. Such measures are always sold as parent choice or health freedom, but they are really just anti-vaccine. The bill, which is still languishing, would outlaw certain vaccines with thimerosal and would allow parents to space out and delay vaccines.

This is a good example of the disconnect between science and politics – there is no evidence that delaying or spacing out vaccines has any health benefit, but it does leave children vulnerable to preventable diseases for longer. So delaying vaccines has risk but no benefit.

This is therefore an example of one man who is using political connections to push for legislation that is not based upon science and runs contrary to the consensus of expert opinion. Kompothecras is now at it again, using political pressure to "bully" the Florida department of health into releasing confidential vaccine records. Kompothecras is a friend and contributor to governor Charlie Crist, and was appointed to the governor's task force on autism (a scary thought in itself). He wants the DOH to give this confidential information to the infamous father and son team of Mark and David Geier.

We have written extensively about them as well – most significantly their recent trial of lupron (a chemical castrating agent) and chelation therapy (a risky procedure) for autism. The Geiers have been publishing research alleging to show a connection between vaccines and autism, but their results are at odds with other researchers and seem highly flawed and dubious on review. Bullock and Thorpe summarize their career thusly:

Since Mark Geier embraced the autism theory, his appearances in federal courts have led judges to label his testimonies "intellectually dishonest" and "not reliable." The Institute of Medicine has called his work "uninterpretable." The American Academy of Pediatrics said one of his studies exhibited "numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements."

Now, I am always in favor of transparency of information. As we learned with climate gate, keeping data from those who you perceive to have an anti-scientific agenda can backfire. But confidential medical records are not temperature data. There is an issue of confidentiality that needs to be dealt with. Medical information can be released for legitimate research that is in the public interest – but there's the rub.

The Geiers have a dubious scientific history of misinterpreting data, apparently to serve an anti-vaccine agenda and to support their lucrative practice of treating alleged mercury poisoning. No one has a right to perform medical research, or a right to privileged medical information. You have to earn the privilege of access by being an ethical and legitimate researcher. In my opinion, the Geiers do not meet these criteria.

Apparently the Florida DOH agrees, but the normal process of assessing the legitimacy of requests for information is being subverted by political pressure from a wealthy and connected chiropractor with an apparent anti-vaccine agenda.

This is a bit of a no-win scenario for the DOH – whether or not they release the data it can be used for anti-vaccine propaganda purposes. Perhaps one compromise would be to release the data to an independent panel of researchers with no conflicts of interest to do an independent and transparent analysis.


Unfortunately, this example of using political pressure to subvert science is not isolated. In many states there are laws to subvert the vaccine program, or to protect dubious practitioners from being held to the standard of care.

The bigger issue is that "alternative medicine" is an industry that has learned to use the political process to advance their interests over that of the consumer and the public health.